SERMON 8/1/10 Proper 13C
I am a huge fan of British sitcoms! I’m not sure exactly when this love emerged for me. It may have been the first time I saw the strange and unruly “Monty Python’s, The Holy Grail,” or the overly posh London department store sitcom “Are You Being Served,” or the incredibly irreverent slapstick of “Benny Hill.” I love “Brit” comedy because it is unique and sometimes outrageous. One of my recent favorite shows is “Keeping Up Appearances,” a Brit comedy that was popular in the 1990’s and has found a more recent following now that it is in syndication. The star of the show, Hyacinth is a pretentious, stickler for details, who although grew up in a poor family in the London suburbs, has become a London socialite, if at least in her own mind. Hyacinth has an immaculate personal appearance, a superiorly decorated modest flat, is obsessed with the perfect tea party and candlelight dinner, and she causes undue mental stress on her unpretentious, modest middle class husband. Hyacinth is a unique character with a slight obsession for compulsion.
Hyacinth’s primary concern, as the title of the show indicates, is all about “keeping up appearances.” She accumulates the best silverware, the best clothes, the best furniture, and the best of everything. Why? To keep up with the Jones’s (as my mother used to say). Hyacinth leads a mis-guided existence, in which her heart’s only desire is to overcome her meager beginnings in a poor working class family, by “keeping up the appearance” that she is much more than the poverty in which she grew up. In her quest for more, she totally misses the point of life itself. She never recognizes that her acceptance, security and very being is really grounded in the fact that she truly is a child of God. In her quest for the best, she misses the mark of the Kingdom of God.
In today’s gospel, there was a man who approached the crowd to whom Jesus was teaching and asked Him to settle a family dispute. “Make my brother divide the family inheritance with me,” he said. Jesus refused to become the arbitrator of the dispute because the heart of the dialogue that followed, had far less to do with an estate dispute. Jesus taught using a parable that outlined how a rich person stored up his treasure, but forgot that what was most important in life. The rich man chose STUFF over God and God’s kingdom. What does a relationship with God have to do with the stuff we we gather and accumulate? Let’s look back at our Brit comedy star Hyacinth for a moment. She gathers and stores the best of everything, so that she can feel secure in her current social status. Her personal identity is defined by things! The rich man gathered and stored up all of his STUFF in his barns, so that he could feel the security of the abundance which he had acquired. The idea here is that Hyacinth and the rich man both are seeking a security, an assurance, a feeling of acceptance that really can be found only in God. When we are growing in relationship with God, our sense of security and acceptance comes from our reliance on God and not on our reliance on things.
Jesus taught the disciples that they should not worry about life … “And why are you troubled about clothing? See the flowers of the field, how they come up; they do not work, they make no thread.” He adds, “I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” In which do you trust, God or things? The point is not about clothes and food, but about where your heart is. The question really is, if our hearts are focused on God, then are our hearts will be focused on God’s Kingdom. We come to realize our reliance on God, our grounding in God, our position in God’s creation, when we accept our call to Kingdom living.
An example of Kingdom living is how we respond to the needs of others in the Kingdom of God. In a New York Times article “Poverty is Poison,” Paul Krugman wrote, “In 2006, 17.4% of children in America lived below the poverty line.” Krugman adds, “neuroscientists have found that ‘many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.’ The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.” Recent statistics show that 3.8 million people in the US are living well below the poverty line and just in the area near us, right here in Englewood, about 1,500 folks 7% of our population are barely eking out an existence. The plight of the poor is only one of many ways that we can be about the work of the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom work of St. David’s community touches so many lives. Our Pastoral Care team visits sick folks in the hospital and nursing homes. Our Outreach team feeds the homeless and provides the basics of life to the impoverished. Our Service Team through affiliations with groups like FISH, provides needed transportation to the homebound. Our Thrift Shop provides affordable goods to folks in the community and it provides a place where we can be a witness to the Gospel in our community. For the impoverished children in our community, our Day School provides affordable childcare, Christian education, and a stable daily life experience right here on our campus. Our quilters and knitters make and send beautiful quilts and other items to the poor of Appalachia. There are many other ministries that support our worship and the life of our parish as well. Our Altar guild, ushers, greeters, lectors, chalice bearers, musicians, singers, the men who cook breakfast and other meals, and others also support the ministry and mission of St. David’s. We have teachers who teach our children in Sunday School, small groups that meet with the desire to grow closer to Our Lord, musicians who sing and play, people who pray each week for those in need. The ministry opportunities are endless but the needs are endless as well. We at St. David’s are truly about the work of the Kingdom but it takes many hands to be about God’s work.
Each of us have been given so much through our gifts of Time/Talent/Treasure. God equips us and then God calls each of us to offer ourselves, our souls and our bodies to be about the work of the Kingdom. We have been gifted with many talents that if not already alive and active, can be resurrected and put to use in the Kingdom of God. Some have been Teachers or stay-at-home moms or dads. Sunday School needs you, the youth group needs you, the Day School needs you, and the prayer team needs you: be about the work of the Kingdom. Some have been business executives or managers. There are families in our neighborhoods that could use your talents for budgeting and financial planning skills. Be about the work of the Kingdom. Some have been musicians and singers. The choir, bell choir, and praise team needs your talents to lead us in praise to God. Be about the work of the Kingdom. Some may have other gifts from life’s experiences. The Kingdom of God needs you to be about the work of the Kingdom. The work of the Kingdom cannot be done without treasure resources too.
From the bounty each of us have received, we are called to offer to God our very lives, so that others may come to know the same grace, forgiveness and mercy, which we ourselves have received. St. David’s is a place of worship, education, preparation, and encouragement for all God’s people in this community and beyond. We are called to be a lighthouse in the broader community which shines the light of Christ to the least, lost, and lonely. We are called to fling open wide the doors, so that all God’s people can experience the love and grace of Our Lord. We are a people called to grow deeper in our love and commitment to Christ so we may draw others closer to Him.
On a particular episode of “Keeping Up Appearances,” the priest from the local parish came to visit Hyacinth. She went on and on about her new porcelain cups, silver spoons, and fancy doilies. The priest only smiled and listened. Although he said nothing at the time, I imagine that under his breath he was saying, “Hyacinth, you need to set your heart on the things of God and not on “keeping up appearances.” We at St. David’s through our many ministries and missions, are not just “keeping up appearances.” We have already flung open wide the doors of our storage barns and we are letting our abundance flow. So much has been give us, but we cannot rest now, because the Kingdom work of God is demanding even more of us.