Where Your Heart Is
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
March 4, 2007
Scripture: Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 12: 22-34
“For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” –Luke 12:34
Today’s Gospel text on which this sermon is based is out of lectionary order. I looked up the reading some time ago and composed a sermon in my mind only to find when it came to the point of writing that I had mistaken chapter 12 for chapter 13. By that time I was in love with my hard won ideas and since I do not have to toe a line I decided to make a virtue of inaccuracy and preach on this out of order but nevertheless immensely blessed text, “For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”
I have seen in the chapel of one of the Oxford colleges, I forget which, the following inscription beneath a funeral container, of the kind which the Egyptologists might call a canopus jar, “Ubi thesaurus, ibi cor.” With the elegant brevity of Latin, this inscription states our text, “Where the treasure, there the heart.” With touching literalness the benefactor, who had given his treasure to build this beautiful chapel, had his heart buried in it when he died. Fundraisers were more flexible in those days. When I was Dean at Memorial church I tried to persuade the Stanford administration to institute a cemetery on the 8500acre campus, in response to pressure from some faculty and alumni. I got the usual bureaucratic answer, “If we allow it for one we shall have to allow it for everyone,” which is of course simply a ruse; but the cemetery was kiboshed and so no matter how much treasure you give to Stanford you cannot ultimately have your heart where your treasure is.
This is of course a joke made possible by the sense of humor of a long ago giver to Oxford. The meaning of the metaphor Jesus uses is that the only important thing is the goal of your ultimate desire. St Augustine said, and I paraphrase, “Don’t tell me what you believe, tell me what you love, and I will tell you who you are.” Wisdom, – that economy of insight that comes with advancing years, – tells us that there is very little profit in arguing about words, ideologies, theologies, mythologies – these are games for young people who have time and energy to wander in such thickets, before diminishing energy and deja vue reveal that such wanderings are smokescreens to conceal who we really are. Who we are, is what we love and that is evident not in what we say but in what we do. Not beliefs, but loves control our deeds. Our question is what or who is our treasure?
A friend signed me up for the Vatican news service, Zenit, and so weekly I can read significant sermons from there, and I must say, that the Vatican sermons are consistently superior, better than most others I read or hear. For instance, last Ash Wednesday I heard a sermon in the Episcopal church in Lake Oswego, Oregon, from one of those elegant women priests the Episcopalians seem to produce so effortlessly. I compared it with the sermon the 78 year-old retired archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, preached on February 28th at the Pope’s initial Lenten retreat. The latter was true and full of life, the former probably also true, but deadly boring. What made the difference? The Episcopal priest told us to focus on ourselves for 40 days, go deep to discover and root out the spiritual weeds that have grown in our souls, the Italian archbishop told us to look to Christ. These two messages came to me in Augustinian terms as follows: “There are two cities, one organized around the love of self to the exclusion of God, the other organized around the love of God to the exclusion of self.” As a consumer of sermons these days I note that male preachers urge us to change the world and female preachers urge us to change ourselves, and very few have the faith to leave anything to Christ.
Cardinal Biffi took as his guide the Russian spiritual writer Vladimir Sergeyevich Solovyov who calls this distraction from Christ the work of antichrist, a very harsh name to use in this regard. “The Antichrist presents himself as pacifist, ecologist, ecumenist…Days will come in Christianity in which they will try to reduce the salvific event to a mere series of values.” Do you remember the days when most of evangelical Protestantism in this country urged us to stick close to Christ and stay out of politics, while the Liberal Protestants were urging civil rights and a Great Society? How I long for those days again, when the fundamentalists stayed in their churches and left the unsaved to run the world! They might have known something about Solovyov’s antichrist then that the Liberal Protestants did not, and still do not know; the sad development of course is that now they are worse contaminated with values than we Liberals.
Biffi also took Benedict XVI as his guide. In his encyclical “God is Love,” the Pope wrote, and repeated in his sermon on the first Sunday of Lent, “…only by gazing on Jesus, dead on the Cross for us, can we know and contemplate this fundamental truth: God is Love.” Not by looking within ourselves for weeds to pull, nor by projects of pacifism, environmentalism and ecumenism – all of which have their place – but by looking to Jesus as he directs his dying love to me, shall I find what I seek, – the treasure that claims the heart.
This is an Augustinian sermon so let me conclude with the well-known opening of his Confessions, ‘You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.” Our Gospel passage comforts us in our anxiety. Don’t worry about material things, what to eat, drink, wear, but seek the Kingdom of God, an all you need will be given you. When we achieve freedom from anxiety we shall be in heaven, so this passage is hortatory rather than indicative, nevertheless when the heart finds its treasure it will have found Christ. So why not just cut out the middle man and go straight to the Cross and there contemplate the water and the blood that flows from his side and tells that he loves us, unreservedly. “Ubi thesaurus, ibi cor.” “Jesus priceless treasure!”