Sermon 08-07-2022 Rev. J. Stickney

August 7, 2022
St. Alban’s Church
Pastor Jim Stickney
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Genesis 15: 1 – 6
Psalm 33: 12 – 22
Hebrews 11: 1 – 3; 8 – 16
Luke 12: 32 – 40

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I’d like to start this sermon with a story about a thief who came in the night.
This story comes from a period in the early church when monks lived in rustic caves.
One night a monk came back from a Tenebrae service to find a thief rushing out
with his arms filled with food. As the robber stumbled in the darkness, the monk noticed
the thief had dropped some loaves of bread. So the monk picked them up
and rushed out after the thief, crying, “My brother, make room for these as well!”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our reading from Hebrews tells us that it is by faith we come to understand that this world
is created by the word of God, so that things we see come from what is unseen.
What we see came from what we do not see. When we look around at the world’s beauty,
we can trace its origins back to what we do not see, an even more beautiful Word —
God’s Logos, existing from before time and forever. But we only know this by faith.

I don’t think faith is simple. Living a life based on faith in the unseen — it can be tough.
A colleague of mine once preached a sermon in which he let the people know
that he never had any had doubts about faith in his entire life (he was in his mid-30’s).
I’ve never forgotten it — nor the reaction of some parishioners who became upset.

Here’s a brief summary: “Well, I have plenty of doubts! I look around at this world’s suffering
and I think, that makes no sense if God is all-loving.” “Maybe there is no God —
maybe life is just a random arrangement of elements from some primordial soup.”
“This is grim — now my preacher is telling me he never has any doubts at all —
maybe I don’t belong here in church — maybe I’m really a hypocrite and should just leave.”

Well — I ‘m not taking that approach. In fact, I respect the power of doubting.
Faith is good, but it’s doubt that gets you an education! Think about parents teasing children
by presenting nonsense explanations, just so their kids can say “you’re being silly.”
Faith and doubt are like partners in authentic search for the truth — each needs the other.

If you believe everything you hear, you’re naive. (So don’t believe everything you think.)
If you doubt everything you hear, you’re a cynic, not trusting any wisdom tradition.
The opposite of faith is not doubt — the opposite of faith is knowing for sure — certitude!
Especially as authentic Anglicans, we respect ambiguity. Faith in dancing with doubt!
After a memorial service several years ago, one of the family told me
that when she was a teenager, living in rural Clayton, she’d ride her horse to church!
She’d sit toward the back and keep an eye on it, tied to a fence outside the window.
She didn’t have to believe in her horse — she could just look at it outside the window.
You don’t need to believe in the vehicle that brought you to church this morning —
it’s a certainty that it brought you here. You have a reasonable faith that vehicle
will take you back after church. Certitude is about the past, but faith is for the future.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Does our Gospel passage today help us find the kind of faith we need to follow God?
What kind of an example does Jesus give us? Well, at first, it seems our faith
is supposed to resemble the faith of servants in a lord and master who is absent —
he’s at a elaborate wedding feast, and we’re supposed to wait up for him
so that when he finally gets home, we can open the door to him, ready and alert.
If we’re faithful, he’ll reverse roles and wait on us — no matter how late it is.

But then we have one of those twists we’ve learned to expect from Jesus’s teaching.
God’s arrival is now compared to a thief in the night. The householder doesn’t know
just when the thief might strike. If we follow this image out, then a break-in is inevitable.
No householder can stay up all the time. God is going to break through the barriers.

So I’m going to take this parable in a rather different direction today. We can admit
that all of us have some protection around our vulnerable selves. We realize this
when our phone rings and it’s someone on the other end who wants to sell us something.
It’s quite an effort to be civil and polite. We all have barriers about our money.
Even for something we choose to support, like the church we love, we have barriers —
if there were no barriers about money, we wouldn’t need an annual pledge campaign.

So how are we to keep our faith, if God sometimes act like a thief in the night? Just this —
God only steals from us the things we really don’t need — God leaves us the

God asks us to have faith, despite all the temporary setbacks in our best-laid plans.
God takes away the scaffolding, to reveal that our souls can stand upright on our own.

I’d like to end this sermon with another story about a thief in the night.
This story comes from the Japanese tradition of Zen Buddhism. There’s a full moon out,
and a Zen monk leaves his hut to walk outside and contemplate the night sky.
When he gets back to his hut, he finds that everything in it has been stolen. So he sits down,
thinks about the thief, and says, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.