Last Sunday we worshipped in a Baptist Church, the Mother Church of Colgate University, in Hamilton, NY. The pews, windows, edifice, organ, and structures have not overly changed in fifty years. The kindness, grace, joy, reverence, humility, and care of the congregation roundly resemble those from decades ago. It is a rare chance, a gift of some significant dimension, to be welcomed into a community of faith, come Sunday, particularly when such opportunities each year, given one’s vocation, are limited. The Baptists welcomed us, mere Methodists, as they have regularly in the summer in the past in the Spirit.
It should be noted that the welcome required the welcome of six children/grandchildren as well, who happily explored the pews, hummed the hymns, joined in the children’s moment and, with some sharp exceptions, impeded not the liturgy of the day. It takes courage to open your doors in a Baptist church, or any, come Sunday, not really knowing what sort of Methodist others might descend upon you, a baker’s dozen with their kids.
The children are immersed in summer, with its changed schedules, alternating child-care systems, and various other forms of mayhem. They are busy with 8 year-old things, and the things of childhood, wonderfully overheard in their jokes. You know these, but maybe you have forgotten. What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence? What is the biggest pencil in the world (or biggest boss or biggest ant)? Why is six afraid of seven? And endless ‘your momma’ jests. See me following worship if you have forgotten these. Those who care for children, such a noble and beautiful career and calling, deserve our salutes, particularly come summer. Thank you. Thank you Aunt Millie. Thank you Uncle Fred. Thank you in the day care. Thank you at home child care. Thank you Mom. Thank you Dad. Thank you Gramma. And thank you for those who agree to work at summer camp, especially church camp.
The bell tolled, as it does on the hour, every hour, in that small town. We sang familiar hymns—Crown Him, Seek Ye First, O Zion Haste. We heard the interpretation of the Scripture from a venerable pulpit known to Harry Emerson Fosdick, Adam Clayton Powell and Colgate students beginning in 1819. (Colgate that began with ’13 dollars, 13 men, and 13 prayers’.)
In the prayers for the day was included the Lord’s Prayer, as you would expect. Also, by tradition, the wording was slightly different therein to the venerable usage employed here at Marsh Chapel, and elsewhere. That is, we prayed forgiveness for debts, not trespasses. Forgive us our debts. And following worship, we returned home, as we say, the Baptists to their debts and the Methodists to their trespasses. (☺) Except that there is something truly good about hearing a familiar prayer in a different mode. These good American Baptists use a version of our shared prayer that emphasizes the substantial, material, physical nature of what is to be forgiven. Yes, it misses the larger, varied multiplicity of the more common translation—trespasses—it is more narrow, more hedgehog than fox, say—but, for all that makes a strong point. There is a treasure, a heart’s treasure, a treasured physicality in the grace of the gospel. When you have to throw yourself on the mercy of the court, it is a great gift to experience that mercy present to you in all its substantial, material, physical nature. Speaking of which: We are coming to the Lord’s Table, to bread and cup, to thanksgiving, presence and memory, after all. Forgive us our debts…
A Lukan Horizon on Treasure
Given the cultural prominence in America this year of the rhetoric of racial hatred, religious animosity, and rhetorical ugliness, the ‘gift’ to our time and culture from one particular candidate and now, sadly, too, his party of record which has disowned what can only be disowned, a grand, even an old party, we may be open to a reminder, a gentle one, about the heart’s treasure, about treasure in and from, from within the heart. Life is brief, rounded by a little sleep. What we say lasts longer than what we do. So, damage already done, it is a travesty and a tragedy to have a beloved culture arrested and assaulted this this year by the rhetoric of demagoguery, birtherism, demagoguery, America Firstism, demagoguery, misogyny, demagoguery, racism, demagoguery, xenophobia, demagoguery, bigotry. You perhaps remember that this candidate, given to vitriol, recalled demolishing his earlier adversary, saying, yes, that was great, I really got him, with one phrase, ‘low energy’, that phrase destroyed him, that was ‘a one day kill’. A one day kill. And then: words are beautiful things. My, oh my. And people seem to like it. One wonders what the children in New Hampshire and Ohio and elsewhere will hear, remember, and make of this, and how they will think of their parents and grandparents, regarding this, in years to come. ‘Grandpa, what did you say, what did you do, in 2016?’
The Gospel of Luke, a multi-layered Gospel of compassion, today takes us to a moment of preparation, and to a holy call, to a holy calling, to a holy experience, to a holy readiness, estando listo, a word for you today, to a quickened courage even in the face of dark death, cultural and existential. Luke has prepared us. You know how to live. Fear not. Sell and give. Hold onto what lasts. Foxes have holes but the Son of Man no place. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho who fell among thieves. Give us this day our daily bread. Woe to you, if you neglect justice and the love of God. This night your soul is required of you. So we are not entirely surprised by today’s gospel. The way has been prepared.
Treasure is important to life. The heart’s treasure is the importance of life. Treasure has its place in life. The heart’s treasure is the point of life. Treasure makes a way for life. The heart’s treasure is the way of life. Eternity gracing time—here is the heart’s treasure.
Horizon and Shadow
Purses that do not grow old…treasure in the heavens that does not fail…so you also must be ready…
We are cleaning through, now, the papers and photographs in our mother’s home, since she has been moved to assisted care. Many of you have done the same. Which pictures do you save? Which documents? Which furniture?
When I was 13, my mother chastised me for something I had said to our neighbor, a woman of her own age. The infraction itself is blessedly forgotten, but not the cure. ‘You must go and apologize to her’, she said. I did so, reluctantly. But I did so, at her direction. ‘You must tell her that you are sorry’. I did so, not happily, but in person, up the porch, to the door, knocking and speaking. (Later she became quite a good family friend. In meeting the couple, my parents went to dinner in their home with others. The host was carving a turkey, having no success. To make light of the moment my mother said, ‘What we need is a surgeon.’ Silence followed all around followed by my father’s laughter and honest whisper: “He is a surgeon”. (☺) ) All the materials in our mother’s house, letters and books and yearbooks and newspaper clippings and cards and Christmas cards and photos and photo albums, all of it, and all of them, and we are still moving through them, are as nothing compared to that word—go, apologize. Forgive us our debt. There is a word that is substantial, material, physical.
The heart treasures forgiveness, either given or received, because pardon comes by grace alone. Like the gift of life, and like the promise of eternal life, forgiveness is the gift of God’s grace. This gift we receive again this morning in Holy Communion. Whether the forgiven is debt or trespass, the forgiveness is lasting treasure, treasure buried in a field, the imminent and immanent presence of God.
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Sometimes the forgiven is substantial, material, physical. Even financial.
This summer, near and far, people are giving of their time, energy, talent and money to give children a week at summer camp.
And what a gift it is! To see a boy or girl learning to swim, learning the prone float for the first time; to see a girl or boy who has never held a fishing pole before, catch a fish or two or three; to see a boy or girl view the whole firmament at night for the first time; to see a group of young people across many divisions of background, race, gender, orientation, class, temperament and personality come to friendship; to hear prayers and songs and hymns and psalms lifted in young voices morning and evening—what a privilege, what a gift.
Our granddaughter spent her first week at camp, at a campground at which her great grandfather, her grandfather and her mother had worked long before her arrival. A place, you might say, for the discovery of the heart’s treasure. It is not a small thing for a nine year old to go away for a week, to sleep away at camp. It requires levels of trust, confidence, and assurance in multiple directions.
She went with a friend, whose family had only recently become involved in church. Her friends parents themselves had an experience at camp. It happened this way. The parents went to pay their bill. Like many, they had paid half the tuition, but had to complete their payment. So they stood in line in front of a desk, out on a lawn, looking on a beautiful long lake. In front them was a mother, alone. Her turn came. They watched as she went slowly to the desk, and stood, silent. The camp worker waited. The mother said nothing, but finally held out her hands, empty. She had paid the first half, hoping to have enough to pay the second, but, as happens, pay check to pay check, something happened. She couldn’t pay the bill. But she had brought her daughter, hoping. Hoping that her daughter could go to camp like others were going. Making the drive, taking the chance, hoping against hope, that there might be a way. Love has a hidden strength. Or, she might have reasoned, it is a church camp, even a Methodist camp. When you throw yourself on the mercy of the court, you just hope there is some mercy there. She just stood, hands out, and whispered, ‘I’m sorry’.
In a fast motion, the woman at the desk came forward, took her arm, saying, ‘This is no problem. Just come with me. Your daughter is going to camp this week. You come with me. What is your name? Where are your from? Do you have a home church? We will take care of this.”
I have a lover’s quarrel sometimes with my church. But then, sometimes, sometimes in the summer, sometimes in the simple things, sometimes there is a reminder of who we hope we are, who we think we are, who we have promised to become. Do you know God to be a pardoning God? Do you know God to be a pardoning God? Do you know God to be a pardoning God?
I know you can’t run an economy on these terms. I know people have to pay their bills. I know you can’t run a business or a school or a city, or even run a church if people don’t pay their pledge. You can’t keep a campground open very long if that is the way things go. I got it. I know. But you know what? Sometimes people need a little help. Sometimes there needs to be a space made, an opening, a little forgiveness. I am really proud of that church camp, Camp Casowasco, where we grew up, worked, learned, and over three summers lifeguarding chose to go into the ministry, because of the ministers we met there. ‘Somebody let you grow up’ my parents would say. There was room, there. There was a place, there. There was a forgiveness, there, not just of trespasses, whatever they are, but also, sometimes, of debt. Forgive us our debts.
It was the story of the bursar line, by the way, the account of a passionate moment in the lineage of faith, like that in Hebrews, the moment of a mother’s faith when faith is really faith which is when faith is all you have to go on, her faith that somehow her daughter would get a bunk and take the swim test and sing at campfire and be like the rest of the kids, it was that account that her friend’s parents recalled and retold. ‘No problem. We will take care of this. Come with me.’
What is going on with us in this country, anyway? Have we forgotten who we are? A cultural amnesia? A Christological amnesia? Have we forgotten the love we had at first? Have we forgotten how to make a place for someone left out, someone somewhat different, someone ‘other’? Have we mixed up our heart and our treasure? What is our heart’s treasure? What do we stand for, when push comes to shove? There is a reckoning coming for us, as people and as a people.
If you leave that camp ground on Owasco Lake, and drive southeast for a while, either on the road four hours or in the mind’s eye four minutes, you may come down to the Hudson River, and then right out toward the Atlantic Ocean. There is harbor down there. In the harbor there is a statue. On the statue there is a statement. It reads as follows:
Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The restless refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the lost, the tempest tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
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