Sermon preached by the Reverend Adam Yates
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 8, 2010
This morning marks one month since my cat and I packed up all our belongings. It has been one month since we got into the car and left Chicago, on the shores of Lake Michigan and arrived here in this community, on the shores of the Long Island Sound. It has been a big transition for both of us. My cat left behind his friends, the pigeons that roosted in the windows. I left my friends and seminary community, and I left my partner back out in Illinois. I had a lot of time to think about the inherent risk I was taking with this transition during my thousand-mile drive between where I was and where I am now.
And there was some risk involved. I didn’t know anyone out here in Connecticut, I didn’t have a permanent housing situation figured out yet, and I had never even seen worship here at St. Paul’s—I was in an insecure and uncertain position in many ways. I distinctly remember lining up in the hallway back there with the choir and the rest of the altar party on my first Sunday here, thinking to myself, “well soul, now we’re going to find out what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
You know what? I made the right choice. I did not know anyone when I moved here, but I have been welcomed as a friend into your community and lives. I did not yet have a home, but with grace and generosity I have been provided a place to live as I secured housing. And I had never worshipped with you before, but the liturgy and music here has lived up to everything that I was told it would be—and I have high standards.
Now before I let you believe that I am a lucky person, which I am not, or that I have some great ability to judge risk—you should never take stock advise from me—I need to come clean to you. My decision to come here to this community was not much of a gamble, or least not a very fair gamble. You see I had assurance that this gamble would turn out well, assurance that this was the right place to be.
During the course of conversations with the staff and vestry during my interviews and over meals shared when I came out to Connecticut for a visit, I caught a glimpse of a glimmer. It was a glimmer that told me that here in this place on the shores of the Long Island Sound was a great treasure, a treasure that more than justified my moving halfway across the country, a treasure that assured me that this was a gamble that I would win.
Our Gospel reading today speaks of treasures with the unusual claims that, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” As was pointed out during the Tuesday morning lectionary group, a more expected claim would read something like, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.” I think that we like to tell ourselves that we decide with whom or what our hearts reside, but I think that Jesus’ insight into human nature is right on.
You see, our treasures have an uncanny ability to make us serve them, to bind our hearts. I know that when I pause for honest reflection that Jesus’ claim is true for me. Today’s reading challenges us, forcing us to stop and consider the many ways in which our individual hearts are bound, and ponder which of those bindings are of God.
The problem with this gospel is that it is written in such a way to make us think that we only have to do this examination for our own person and that we can be content with ourselves after such self-examination is complete, saying to ourselves, “soul, now your work is done and you can rest easily in righteousness.” But the truth is that what is true for the individual is true for the community.
When we speak of treasures, we tend to think of our own individual treasures—belongings, savings, stocks, property, etc… Being the social creatures that we are, we also amass treasures as a community.
Churches are very good at gathering treasures. Sometimes those treasures are very physical: a collection of antique vestments, religious objects, artwork, or even a particularly beautiful or historic building. Sometimes those treasures are programmatic: such as Sunday school, a music program, or even the liturgy itself. And sometimes those treasures are relational: a certain way of doing community.
Are any of these things bad? Well, no. In fact, many of them are quite good. The problem is when they bind the heart of the church. At that point the mission of the church ceases to orient itself out, towards God and the world. Instead, the mission of the church turns inwards and becomes the maintenance of the treasure. I have seen churches that have become bound to many of these things. I have known churches that feel more like museums than churches because of their drive to acquire ever more religious accoutrements; churches so bound to a liturgy that it is not always clear what is being worshipped, the liturgy or God; and churches terrified of growth or change lest it alter their community.
But that is what caught my eye here, that glimmer of treasure on these shores, in this community. Here we are in a beautiful building, surrounded by inspiring artwork, enjoying the wonderful music of our choir, in the middle of an elegant liturgy, and among a network of friendships that make up our community. There are so many candidates for our church’s treasure, so many things that could bind our hearts! Yet, when I look out over all these things, I do not see a glitter or a glimmer.
No, this church’s treasure is not in these things. This church’s treasure is in God’s work, specifically in the work of recognizing and valuing all people, without exception. Our church’s treasure is in God’s radical welcome to the world.
I caught my first glimpse of this treasure during my phone interview when I was asked if I would have an objection to practicing open communion, where all people without exception are invited into the sacrament. I have continued to spot our treasure since arriving here a month ago, it’s glint shining bright like the sun, at the front door on Sunday mornings when our greeters welcome people into worship, in the stories people share with me about their experiences at this church, and in the way our congregation is allocating its resources.
This October we are moving to three services on Sunday morning because we need more room if we are going to continue radically welcoming people into our church, inviting people into a relationship with God. We are preparing the new Warner Center because we recognize that radical welcoming means that we must foster opportunities for children and youth to build their own relationships with God. And volunteers from this congregation are working on our community life, not to maintain the status quo, but to support new opportunities for community as our congregation continues in God’s work.
This is the treasure that drew me here from the shores of Lake Michigan. It is a great treasure and it has bound the heart of our church to the work of God. And my friends, as we go into this fall, it will only grow.