Sharing Our Treasures
October 14, 2012
The Reverend Paul Roberts Abernathy, Rector, and Cecilia Carter Monahan, Senior Warden
Today, we inaugurate our annual fall Canvass. I ask all of us between now and November 25 to make a financial pledge to sustain the vitality of the life of our St. Mark’s community in 2013.
Today, to assist our individual contemplations, our Senior Warden, Cecilia Monahan, and I offer a book-ended meditation on Jesus’ word regarding the relationship between substance and self, possession and person: Where your treasure is, there is your heart, on which I will reflect. Cecilia will consider the converse: Where your heart is, there is your treasure.
Where your treasure is, there is your heart is the capstone to Jesus’ teaching about worldly wealth, advising (perhaps, depending upon the depth of our acquisitive attachment, admonishing) us about placing too much self, too much heart in our things. When that happens, we, maybe without knowing it, become captive (as the rich man in today’s gospel); fixated on gaining more and afraid of losing what we have acquired. Ironically, that fixation and fear can blind us to an awareness that we already have lost ourselves, our ontology (who we are) and our autonomy, our independence. We become indistinguishable from our property, hence losing sight of our truest treasure, which Jesus offers: the eternal life of an authentic humanity; that way of living in connection (not in competition or in conflict) with ourselves, others, God, and all creation.
So, I ask, where, indeed, what is your treasure? For there is your heart. For me, it’s a work in progress. Sometimes, more progress. Sometimes, more work.
My father, born in 1911, and my mother, 1915, were teenagers during the Great Depression of 1929. Each entered adulthood with a deeply embedded internal economy of scarcity, considering abundance an illusion or, at best, the possession of other people. My father, constantly preaching about those benighted souls who “don’t have two nickels to rub against each other”, oft quoting Shakespeare’s Polonius, “neither a borrower nor a lender be”, taught his children to hold fast to every thing.
I am sixty years of age. It has taken me a long time to unlearn the lesson – the truth of which I still believe when moments of fiscal uncertainty spark my fear – of tight-fisted, bloodless frugality and to claim generosity with my treasure as the locus of my heart.
I am a priest by vocation and, as the chief cleric of a parish community, a rector by title; that word derived from the Latin, regere, meaning “to rule”. I retain the label largely for purposes of convention, for, though it has taken me a long time to come to this, I more favor the designation parson, derived from the word, person. To be a person wholly engaged in holy living with you, my community, here is my treasure, here is the source of my generosity with my substance and my self, here is my heart.
Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3, 75
Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. A simple flipping of two words in this sentence creates a statement of intention. Do you want to know what I love and cherish? What is the most real and essential for me? Then look at where my money goes. This is not to say that I don’t have perhaps an inordinate fondness for shoes and overcoats, but on balance, I want my money going where my values lie, and I hope that there is a good solid paper trail to confirm it.
Twenty years of living on Capitol Hill have taught me not to get too attached to material things; they come and go. We have been fortunate, but in that time, four bicycles, a Christmas wreath, a red wagon, several large potted plants, countless parking quarters, a mini-trampoline and a six-foot high Rubbermaid tool shed, have all been spirited away from our property. I’ve learned a little something about non-attachment, and about filing police reports.
When my husband, Bill, and I pledge to give money to St. Mark’s each year, we are not buying a shiny object for ourselves; rather we’re opening our hearts to something bigger than ourselves, something we can share, something that, when pooled with the resources of hundreds of other pledging members, will assure that St. Mark’s will thrive.
Well, really we do get something in return. We can retain professionals of the caliber of Paul and Justi and Marcella and Jeff and Susan; we create a place for the arts to flourish; we support vibrant Outreach and Christian education programs.
In pledging our money to St. Mark’s, we also have a say. We can vote for our leadership; we can show our support for open communion, creative and inclusive liturgy, and for families in whatever shape they may take.
Bill and I give to St. Mark’s until it hurts, at least a little. I’m not necessarily advocating that for everyone, but for me, if I really notice the outward flow of money to St. Mark’s every month, every year, it is a good reminder to me of the values that we share as a couple and as a family and the central role that this church plays in our lives.
We aren’t able to send a whole mortgage payment to St. Mark’s, our spiritual home, but we can treat it as a utility of the spirit—the spirit made flesh in a community of shared values and shared stories. When we pay our essential expenses, among the electric and gas bills and the insurance premiums is the material expression of our intention to support the solvency and the success of St. Mark’s—a place that that is essential to my spirit.
Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also. We reveal our hearts in the placement of our treasure as we choose afresh each year, to pledge to St. Mark’s. The Canvass for 2013 has begun. I hope that you will take time to look into your own heart and discern for yourself where you will put your treasure. Amen.