The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 14C)
8 August 2010
A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Hebrews 11:1-3 (4-7) 8-16
One of the most interesting recent references in popular culture to today’s Gospel is in the last installment of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published in 2007. In the middle of the story, Harry and his friend Hermione set off to the Welsh village of Godric’s Hollow to visit the place where Harry’s parents had been murdered by Lord Voldemort seventeen years before.
One of the first places they visit there on this midnight journey on a snowy Christmas Eve is the village graveyard. Before locating the tomb of Harry’s parents, they stumble upon a different tomb, that of his mentor Professor Dumbledore’s mother and sister.
[Hermione] pointed to the dark stone. Harry stooped down and saw, upon the frozen, lichen-spotted granite, the words Kendra Dumbledore and, a short way below her dates of birth and death, and her daughter Arianna. There was also a quotation: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also .... Hermione was looking at Harry, and he was glad that his face was hidden in shadow. He read the words on the tombstone again. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. He did not understand what these words meant. Surely Dumbledore had chosen them, as the eldest member of the family once his mother had died (1).
One of Rowling’s many critics might, of course, point out that the young wizard hero from a series about a magical world that exists in the shadows and corners of our society would of course not recognise a quotation from Scripture, let alone understand it. But there is something more interesting going on here. Indeed, an interview Rowling gave the summer that the book was published, and that was overshadowed in the media by other comments she made about how she imagined Dumbledore’s sexual orientation, is quite revealing. In the conversation, Rowling herself came out ... as a Christian (she is, in fact a Scottish Episcopalian, so I think we can all approve) (2).
Harry’s brief encounter with this very interesting pronouncement by Jesus points him towards one of the central truths about how the world really works. We are able to come to an understanding of a person’s values by examining those things in which he or she has invested—invested not just money, but also time, labour, study, and attention. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It is not surprising, however, that Harry would find this puzzling. Usually one thinks of this question the other way round: where your heart is, there your treasure will be. Usually we think of our hearts, our intention first, and follow where that leads. Jesus has inverted the question.
In the world that God made and announced was “good,” things and actions matter. What we do and what we do with the things of this world matter. Jesus calls us to look upon a person’s actions, a person’s deeds, even a person’s possessions as a window into his heart. In a way this is what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews meant when he said, “By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do
not appear.” Those things that do not appear, those truths and realities beyond our vision are manifested in that which we do see. It is in this way that in a kiss, we see love.
Harry’s journey, his quest to defeat Lord Voldemort, is a journey that will ultimately show the victory of love over death. It will show how the treasure to which God calls us is relationship, reconciliation, and love. Towards the end of the novel, Dumbledore himself, who had learnt after the death of his own sister where the real treasure lies, puts it this way:
That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocense. Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped (3).
Those things that Voldemort does not consider “treasure,” he considers not worth contemplating. In this wizarding world, Voldemort gives no regard to those on the margins. He does not value the wisdom of children and their stories, He scoffs at love. For him all that matters is magic and power. Voldemort’s treasure shows where his heart is. Indeed it was in the very first Harry Potter book, when Harry gazed into a mirror that showed a person their heart’s desire, that we learnt that he wanted nothing more of value than to have parents and friends who love and care for him, who wanted nothing more of value than to see evil defeated. These indeed are treasures that rust and moth can not consume, that thieves can not break in and steal.
We are called by Jesus in today’s Gospel to examine our priorities, to see ourselves plainly as we are today. We are called to recognise for better or worse where our treasure lies, for that will truly show us where lie our hearts also. He calls us to account now, while there is still time, now when we can still act. For it is while we have life and breath that we can re-orient our lives towards those things to which God calls us. God calls us to be ready so that when we see him present we can respond and we never know when we will experience his presence.
Jesus came at an unexpected time and in an unexpected place—that small corner of the Roman Empire. He comes to us in our lives, showing us love manifested in the words and deeds of others, when we least expect it. He will return at an unexpected time and in an unexpected way to fulfill the promise of the city, of the kingdom that God has promised his people since the time of Abraham, and that is already here but not fulfilled. This means that the hour is now. Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. We need to act now, to value that which God values, to use the things of this world that we have been given, and align our will with God’s will for us that we be reconciled with him and each other in love.
Reconciliation with God in Christ and with each other, a new relationship with God in Christ and with the world is the treasure that Eliza will receive this morning in baptism. This treasure is nothing more, nothing less than the “full stature of Christ,” into which her parents and Godparents will promise to help her to grow. I pray that she may, in Dumbledore’s words, come to treasure “house-elves and children’s tales, ... love, loyalty and innocense,” and be ready at any moment to meet God incarnate, to meet, know, and respond to Love love’s-self.
Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, 6 August 2010
(1) J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 266-267.
(2) Shawn Adler, “Harry Potter Author J. K. Rowling Opens Up About Books’ Christian Imagery,” http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1572107/20071017/story.jhtml.
(3) Rowling 2007, 568.
© 2010 Andrew Charles Blume