“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
I’m going to begin today’s sermon with a car. My first car was a 1977 Chevette that I bought when I was in college for $100 from a music professor at Carleton College. The best I can say about that car is that the price was right, and that it made me forever grateful for cars that start and get me where I need to go. The stories I could tell about that car stalling in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota… To try to better care for that car and restart it when it stalled, I began purchasing tools and also a toolbox that I stowed in the rear of the car. I bought a wrench for the oil plug; pliers and socket wrenches to see if could replace the spark plugs; a utility knife and screwdriver to clamp the hoses; jumper cables for when the battery became low. I still have that toolbox, and over the years it has acquired more tools: a hammer for driving nails to hang pictures in early apartments; drill bits to hang anchors in early apartments; multiple kinds of screwdrivers; a hacksaw for I can’t remember what; electrical tape for early attempts at electrical repair; and so on. More recently, my toolbox has acquired tools from my grandfather: his beautiful antique plane; his old, wood-handled putty knife; his hatchet; an even an old hand-drill, which – as fun as it is to think about using it – I’ve never actually used it.
In Lesser Feasts and Fasts – the Episcopal Church’s lectionary for our “smaller,” less well-known feasts – today’s gospel lesson is the gospel lesson used for multiple saints’ days. For example, today’s gospel is the gospel for the feast day of John Mason Neale, a translator of ancient Greek, Latin and Syriac hymns. Today’s gospel is also the gospel for the feast day of Edward Bouverie Pusey, a 19th-century reformer who was instrumental in restoring the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (“Confession”) to the Anglican communion. Today’s gospel lesson is used for the feast of Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Scholastic theologian, and also for Bede the Venerable, who wrote an early, 8th-century history of the Church in England. What these saints have in common – and I suspect the reason why today’s gospel lesson was assigned to their feast days – is that these recognized the extraordinary riches that were present in our collective Christian “toolbox,” and they strove to make these riches accessible to us so that we might be trained for the Kingdom of heaven. For example, I can imagine John Mason Neale saying, “You know, those old hymn texts in Latin and Greek and Syriac, they can still speak to us. Let’s not loose them.” Or I can imagine Edward Bouverie Pusey saying, “The Sacrament of Reconciliation – I realize it’s all but fallen away in our tradition – but let’s keep that tool in our toolbox, because somebody someday might need that comfort and assurance of God’s love.” And I can imagine the Venerable Bede saying, “It’s really important to know where we have come from. Let’s not loose the story of our past.” These saints recognized the extraordinary riches that are present in the Church’s “toolbox,” and they strove to make these riches accessible to us so that we might be trained for the kingdom of heaven.
Just as the Church has a toolbox with treasures new and old that can train us for the kingdom of heaven, I suspect that each of us here this evening has within us a “toolbox,” with tools old and new, that we householders can bring out of our treasure and be trained for the kingdom of heaven. These “tools” can be things like: experiences, or knowledge, or relationships, or memories, or hopes and desires, or healthy practices. I suspect we all have, for example, a long-standing desire for God; something has brought us here tonight! I suspect that each of us has built, or is in the process of building, a web of relationships that can help us better get to God – maybe a mentor from the catechumenate process or a prayer partner from a study group. I have a hunch that, somewhere in our past, we have experiences and memories that have impressed upon us a need for God and that continue to encourage us on our way. Maybe we have some knowledge – like God loves us, or that God forgives us, of that in God there is always the possibility for new life – or maybe we do things – like coming to Eucharist on Sunday, like regular prayer or spiritual practices, like working at the Food Pantry or for B-SAFE – that help us deepen our relationship with God. All of us have a box of tools, some new, some going back many years, that train us for the kingdom of heaven.
God can use everything in our “toolbox,” everything in our life – every memory and every experience, every day and every moment, every failure and disappointment, every hope and every desire– to draw us closer to Him. In every moment of our lives, God has been present to us, laboring on our behalf, to train us to better see His love. God is very efficient in all that He does; nothing is wasted. And so God has been using every part of our life – every moment in our past, every experience in our present – to train us for the kingdom of heaven. The absolute worst day we’ve ever had… God is using that day – redeeming it – to bring us closer to Him. The most difficult, or hurtful, or painful thing we’ve ever experienced… God was with us then, and even now is gathering up that experience and bringing it to bear for our good. The darkest moment we may have had, a moment in which we may have, like the Psalmist, said, “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen up to my neck…” God is using that time – God has consecrated it – to bring us to a place where He might more fully show us His love.
What I hope we take away this evening is not only that we, the Church, have an extraordinary “toolbox” filled with tools both old and new that can train us for the kingdom of heaven (the Sacraments, the Scriptures, each other, opportunities for service, Reconciliation), but also that each of us individually is a treasure chest, filled with experiences, memories, longings, mistakes, failures, triumphs, relationships, practices, knowledge, wisdom, that God uses to draw us closer to Him.
In closing, I am going to leave you with an old treasure from one of the great treasures in our Episcopal treasure chest, The Book of Common Prayer. Not many know of this prayer, and yet, not only does this prayer speak to how God can gather up even our most difficult experiences and consecrate them for our good, but also some day may be just the “tool” we need to train us for the kingdom of heaven. This prayer is called, “For the Sanctification of Illness.” It is found on page 460 in the Book of Common Prayer:
Sanctify, O Lord, the sickness of your servant, that the sense of my weakness may add strength to my faith and seriousness to my repentance; and grant that I may live with you in everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.