“Guarding Our Treasures”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
October 5, 2019
I got a text the other day from one of my closest friends. After a long decline and many hospital visits, his dad had passed away that morning. I called him and we chatted for a while. It was OK, he said, because his dad was in his 90’s and he was suffering — and, he added, they weren’t all that close anyway.
Losing a parent is hard enough, but when grief is complicated by a longing for what might have been between father and son — or by regrets of any kind, it is so much harder to go through. I know that my friend will need extra support in the coming weeks and months, more than he imagines.
I also feel sad for him because he used to be a regular church goer, but hasn’t been for years. His faith has faded as well. I wants much for him to have a community like ours during this difficult time and I want him to have a connection to God so that he might feel a sense of peace and of hope in the midst of his loss.
Having something larger than ourselves in our lives — whether it is a community of human beings or an awareness of the Divine or both — makes such a difference.
The reading from Lamentations is a metaphor that imagines Jerusalem as a grieving widow. At the time of its writing, the nation of Judah, which included Jerusalem, has been besieged by Babylon and its most important citizens have been taken into exile. Any feelings of security or hope or joy they had has vanished. The community has been shattered both physically and spiritually.
They feel that they are being punished by God for their sins.
Just as we feel lost when we lose connection with family, community, and faith, my friend will most likely feel lost in the near future. Once Babylon came down on them, the people of Judah must have wondered who they even were and where their lives were headed. It must have been equally disorienting to be stuck in Babylon or left behind in Judah, just in different ways. In both places, connections to others were broken and cherished traditions were interrupted, sometimes permanently.
In our second reading, which is an excerpt from a letter Paul wrote in prison to his protege, Timothy, Paul is doing his best to reassure his friend. He acknowledges Timothy’s sadness over Paul’s imprisonment, but reminds him of some important truths.
Paul first of all reminds Timothy that he is cared for, that he’s loved. That comes through very clearly. Then he reminds him of the faith that his grandmother and mother and Paul himself passed on to him. He reminds him of the loving and hopeful message of Jesus. He reminds him that he has a calling to serve and lead and teach in the church and beyond.
At the very end of the passage, he says, Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
In other words, all of these things Paul has mentioned are extremely valuable in Paul’s opinion, especially the message of the gospel, God’s good news for us all.
Paul seems just as concerned about Timothy’s mission in the world as he is about his feelings of grief. And that’s understandable because of Paul’s incredible passion for the church and his own role in its establishment and growth.
He treasures it and he doesn’t want to see it fail.
In this era of change and decline within churches in the US, I have the same concern. To me, the church is one of our greatest treasures and it is incredibly important not only to guard and preserve it, but to help it thrive and grow in any way that we can.
Faith is often shared within families and among coworkers and neighbors. It shared on the radio and on TV, of course, and on the internet. But the in-person church community is where faith truly deepens because of what we do here, our interactions and conversations here. Our common work. Our play. Our music and our prayer.
Guard the good treasure entrusted to you.
We have so many treasures entrusted to us, don’t we? But let’s stay with the church for just a minute.
Chris and Julie reminded us this morning that the church is worth guarding and building up through our giving. We also guard the church through leadership, service, and just showing up. It is hugely reassuring to the person next to you in the pew when you get here on a Sunday morning because it says that there are others who value this community, too, and will walk with them through life with a sense of and desire for faith.
So, thank you again, Chris and Julie, for your message earlier, and thank you to all of you for just being here this morning. I am determined to buck the societal trend around church participation and giving. Let’s all work together to do that. Let’s guard this treasure.
Speaking of Chris and Julie, they just had a beautiful wedding a couple of weeks ago. Congratulations again. Now — like many of us — you have a new treasure to guard: your marriage. Not everyone gets married to their partners, and that’s totally OK, as long as they do what they can to care for each other with love and respect.
There are many ways to guard and nurture a marriage or partnership. One of them is teaming up and becoming part of a spiritual community. We’re so happy that you are doing that and I am grateful to all of our couples who are showing you that example.
Obviously, not everyone has children or even wants them, but those of us who do consider them to be our greatest treasures. The truth is, we don’t own our children, and as they grow up, we are less and less able to guard them from the various kinds of dangers in the world — physical, emotional, and more. And really, we shouldn’t. One of the most important tasks of growing up is learning how to handle ourselves safely in the world. Trusting our kids to be able to do that is a true gift we can give them.
Parenting never really ends, right? It just changes. Letting go of being in protection mode is one of the hardest changes for parents to accept. One thing we can always do for our kids, though — no matter their age — is to nurture a loving and supportive relationship with them.
Friendships are treasures, too. The friend I’ve been telling you about? We’ve been close for over 40 years. We’ve supported each other through professional challenges, marital struggles, and family tragedies. Our trust in each other is something I value extremely highly. I hope you have at least one person like that in your life. If you do, I encourage you to do as much as you can to guard that relationship.
This afternoon, we will hold our third annual Blessing of the Animals. Our pets are also treasures. They offer us comfort and companionship and unconditional love. Well, maybe cats have a few conditions. But, no matter what kind of animal we may have, they fill a need that nothing else can.
I hesitate to mention possessions as treasures, but there are some “things” in our lives that we value greatly, and that’s OK. Your grandfather’s watch. Your grandmother’s plates. Your mother’s ring. A musical instrument that brings you peace and joy as you play it.
There are many “things” in our lives that we feel we must protect because they remind us of people we’ve loved and lost or because they create meaning for us beyond the possession itself.
Your home. Your vacation place. Your boat. These are spaces where your family and friends, the people you love most, surround you. Of course we should guard these things and these places.
Yes, we all grew up in a highly materialistic society, and one challenge for us is to not treasure any of our possessions too highly and to avoid accumulating too many of them. This is something the millennials in our lives are teaching us.
We cannot leave out our earth when we are speaking of treasures. I look forward to learning more and more alongside you about how we can guard it better than we have.
According to Paul, if you read all of his letters, our most important treasure is our faith. And I have to agree. The pursuit of faith can connect us with others. Faith can soothe our worries and our fears. It can get us through even our worst moments of grief and help us walk toward the light on the far side of the valley. Faith guides our moral decision making. It gives our lives meaning and plants hope for the future deep within us.
Let’s guard it. Let’s nurture it in ourselves and in each other. That’s what this place is all about.