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Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also – Br. James Koester

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One of the amazing things I find about Scripture is that the human emotions which underlie so much of life are so evident throughout its pages. It’s not hard to imagine the fear and confusion of Mary as she encounters the angel at the annunciation, because it’s right there in the pages of Luke. We don’t need to dream up the pride of Peter as the Lord tries to wash his feet at the Last Supper, because it’s right there in John. We don’t need to read into the text the care of the centurion for his sick servant, because it’s right there in Matthew. And today we don’t need to wonder about the rich young man because it is right there in Mark:

When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. [Mark 10: 27]

All of us know something of shock, so we have some hint as to how the young man felt being told to “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” [Mark 10:21] All of us know something about attachment to things that when something is lost, or broken or goes missing, we know the grief that it causes. It doesn’t take much for me to dredge up the sadness and loss and frustration I still feel over one broken Christmas present from 45 years ago to know in part the grief the rich young man felt as he turned away from Jesus in order to return to his precious possessions. It doesn’t take much to imagine this young man.

But it doesn’t take much to imagine another young man just a couple hundred years later and his reaction when he heard this same story read aloud in church. His name was Anthony and he came from a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt and lived from about AD 250 to AD 356. He was about 20 when his parents died leaving him to care for a young sister and the family estate. His Vita tells us that:

Going according to custom into the Lord’s House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles left all and followed the Saviour; and how they in Acts sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles feet for distribution to the need, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven. Pondering these things he entered the church, and it happened that the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, ‘If thou wouldst be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor; and come and follow Me and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.’ Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints, and the passage had been read on his account, went immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villages – they were about three hundred acres, productive and very fair – that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister. And all the rest that was moveable he sold,…. [Vita S. Antoni #2]

For Anthony this encounter we read today was not an encounter between Jesus and a nameless young man, but it was one between the Lord and Anthony himself. Anthony was in no doubt that HE was the rich young man and unlike the young man in scripture, Anthony responded to the call of God then and there.

I often wonder though about this other young man, the one in the gospels. What happened to him? Did he spend the rest of his life wondering what might have happened had he responded to the invitation from the Lord? Did he wonder about the riches in heaven that Jesus spoke about? Did he, days, or months, or even years later do exactly what Jesus told him and discover for himself that treasure in heaven?

Father Benson reminds us that “our coming to Christ changes everything, and therefore even to the old scenes we return with changed hearts and new powers.” [Benson, Spiritual Readings: Christmas, p. 260] Anthony’s encounter with Christ certainly changed him and in changing him, the history of the Church was changed because Anthony went on to become what his is often referred to as, the “Father of Christian Monasticism”. Had Anthony responded to the gospel in the same way that the rich young man did, you and I might not be here today. As I often remind you, we are here today in this monastery chapel, because Anthony was there nearly two thousand years ago. Who will be here in a week or a month or a century, because you and I were here today?

Like the rich young man and Anthony, the gospel demands a response from us. We can either choose to turn away, and many did, and many do. Or we can choose to follow. In either case we will be changed just as I believe the rich young man was changed, and as Anthony certainly was. The question is not “will we be changed by the Gospel”, but “how will we be changed by it?” We may not, like Anthony, do mighty things for God, but God will certainly do mighty things for us and in so doing shall change us.

How have you been changed by the Gospel and your encounters with the Lord? Have you become a different person, or are you the same person doing things differently? Have you followed a new path or have you returned to the old, but by way of a new and heavenly life? Again as Father Benson teaches us: “It is indeed a greater thing to return to the old world by way of a new way of heavenly life, and to live, therefore, in the world as those who have been with Jesus, than it is to enter upon new spheres of life but with the old heart. That would be to set about new things in the old way. The necessary thing for us rather is to set about old things in a new way.” [Benson, Spiritual Readings: Christmas, p. 260 – 261]

Today we have the opportunity to encounter Christ once again in the gathered community of Church, in the word of Scripture proclaimed and in the Bread of Heaven broken and offered. Once again we have the opportunity to respond to the invitation of God to follow him and to discover the riches of heaven as Anthony did, or we can turn away sad and grieving as did the rich young man, believing that God is asking too much, or that the cost is too great. In either case, the choice is ours, but the result is the similar: we will be changed.

As you come forward for the Eucharist today open your hands and your heart as Anthony did stretching them out to God and the treasures of heaven which will be placed there. Allow God to change you from what you are now, to all that you can be in response to Christ’s love. Look upon you life and your path not with an old heart of selfishness but with a new heart of love and generosity and discover for yourself what it might mean for you to follow Christ and thereby find treasure in heaven.

© 2009

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8 Comments

  1. Rhode on September 3, 2017 at 11:37

    Where your treasure is your heart is…O so profound it even made it into the final Harry Potter book!
    This Gospel message today is not to make us feel guilty or pry out of our hands what or whom we hold dear …this message gives us freedom from the entrapment that can happen when priorities get shifted. Our love for anything or anyone to the negligence of God upsets God so much He gave us the first commandment. Jesus did not die for our tithe or for our 50 or even our 100 percent or to have us martyr ourselves in sacrifice to a cause (or commandments) …he died to free us from the chains of thinking we have to offer something tangible or sacrificial to earn access to the Kingdom. His offer of Grace is for the believing and unbelieving … a blanket of snow on a stained world. Yes, God does require our love and obedience if we step forward to accept that Grace over our actions. Our love and obedience then become our ‘sacrifice’ to God. Anthony’s sacrifice of land was the after effect of grace not the act of obtaining it… the rich young ruler went away sad as Gods’ grace / love was still hidden to the the fact the young man still felt he neeeded to earn it by doing something showy. I believe Jesus wanted him to seek a higher vantage for a better perspective….Seeking first the Kindgdom and His righteousness, especially after we accept Gods’ grace, will always give us a treasure and enable us to give out of that treasure accordingly.

  2. Ruth West on May 9, 2015 at 12:25

    Br. James, this was and is such a good message!
    As a widow, living frugally as of necessity, I would so like to give more. God has blessed me richly in so many ways! Praise be to Him!

  3. Marta e. on May 8, 2015 at 07:26

    I think that we all wrestle with these issues. Maybe “possessions” also means the intangible things, the time, the graciousness, the hospitality, etc. for without these “possessions”,giving anything with a (poor) heart is not a gift. So we can “give” begrudgingly, which is not a “gift”. Giving with “joy” is a better gift. Hosannah!

  4. John Backman on May 7, 2015 at 10:02

    Muriel, I wrestle with this same issue, though in a slightly different context. Like many people, I’ve worked to build up a modest but necessary retirement fund. I tell myself this is good from a societal standpoint–I’m doing my part to sustain myself so I don’t burden the system unduly–and from a spousal standpoint too. This mollifies me somewhat, but then that gospel imperative to “sell all you possess” rings out again in my mind. It is a hard and daunting problem.

  5. george on May 7, 2015 at 09:15

    Thanks to all—our imperative is to love, i think. Jesus thinks desire for treasure is blocking the man’s cacpacity for love somehow. In others it might be a desire for power or popularity..we all have our faults (especially me). Fortunately for us, God’s love can overcome all that, if we let it flow.

  6. Lee Davis on May 7, 2015 at 05:46

    There Simply IS a Gospel Imperative
    How would you define “Gospel Imperative”? What is a Gospel Imperative to you? Think about it. “Gospel” means it’s true and “Imperative” means “you gotta”, it’s not optional. If you believe anything from the Gospels then you have to believe in Gospel Imperatives. After all, the Gospels aren’t just for reading, they lay out an action plan for our lives.
    There simply is a Gospel Imperative to visit the imprisoned. There are others too, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked. Jesus doesn’t suggest these in a complicated parable; he says it clearly and unmistakably (Matthew 25:34-36). That makes it imperative.
    We want to suggest to you this morning that when you respond to a Gospel Imperative God insures dramatic results not just to the receiver, i.e. the naked, the hungry, the imprisoned but to all that assist in answering the call. We think there are four players in this drama, this response to Gods call.
    The Receiver – This is the recipient, the child of God that is desperate, hungry, down trodden or imprisoned if only in their minds. This is the target, the intentional object of the effort. They are the receivers, maybe for the very first time, of our Loving Gods amazing grace. They see and feel agape love, non-judgmental love, Christ in action. They are blessed to receive. (Luke 6:22)
    The Responder – This is the missionary, the one that heard Gods still small voice calling them to do something special in His name. This is the sinner, the imperfect but selfless, now empty vessel that has prayed their way to the point of redemption and now longs to share the gift of grace they have received. God has moved them in a mighty way, changed their lives and now works through them, as His hands and feet. They are blessed to share. (Luke 6:35)
    The Team – The band of brothers (or sisters, or both) that have joined together in love to serve. They have prayed together, they have prayed for each other, they have prayed for the Receivers and they have become the Body of Christ. They have planned, they have organized, and they have quietly listened. They have washed each other’s feet and have humbly accepted that which God has given them to do. They are blessed in community. (Matthew 28:19)
    The Supporters – The behind-the-scenes Christians that make the mission trip possible. They are the back bone of the effort, the unsung heroes that do their part to answer the Gospel imperative in a way often known only to God. They are part of the home church, the Responders’ family or a friend from work. They share their gifts to answer Gods call and they are blessed. (Luke 6:38)
    Each of us is called to answer the Gospel Imperatives in some way. It is our responsibility as believers in God and in the gift of His Son, to be still and listen; listen for where your Heavenly Father wants you to be. Oh there is a Gospel Imperative all right.
    Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

    • John Vance on May 7, 2015 at 16:05

      I agree my brother. As you know, we get more out of serving the incarcerated than we ever give. Follow the imperative, live the abundant life! (John 10:10)

  7. Muriel Akam on May 7, 2015 at 04:53

    Thank you for this sermon. I pray the gospel changes me and I like to give by nature and enjoy doing so but sometimes feel a little bullied especially by some organisations which are doing good deeds in poor countries.I love beautiful things too and treasure some objects in my possession which somebody has made lovingly. Is this wrong? I work to develop more generosity.

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