Now is the time for holidays. We pack up the kids, the suitcases, the bits and pieces, our concerns and our lives, and bundle them into the car, or the taxi, or the aeroplane and we head off for a week or two, somewhere nice and warm. And think of folks at home – that’s us – who are wet and windy, immersed in the best West Cumbrian weather that the Irish Sea can chuck at Workington.
One of the attractions of arriving in an apartment, or hotel room, or even a tent – is that it’s home for a little while. You put your things away, and this little place is yours. For a while you can forget the mess and junk, the dripping taps and mouldy shower, the faulty washing machine and the dust. For now, this little while, you have the chance to dream, to be a different person.
Matilda and I have just spent a week on a narrowboat on the Leeds Liverpool canal. We did just that – unpacked, made up the beds. Put the food in the fridge, and then we set off. Up through Skipton, through the locks of Gargrave, and onwards, upwards, rising with the water of the locks of Bank Newton and then into the most glorious countryside before East Marton, where the canal meanders around, contouring the hills, with fields extending away below, and high blue skies above.
We were away; calling somewhere else our home. But there’s more, when you’re on a boat. It makes a real difference that you’re no longer on land. You are aware of existing in a different element. You feel the sway of the water beneath, rocking you, reminding you that the foundations of your life are not always as they seem. We were on the water that was wave and particle, molecules and flow, that moved with us through the locks, often with great force; and at other times was still, mirroring the cloudless sky of the summer, last week.
A narrowboat reminds you that what we think of as home is fluid – it changes; it isn’t fixed. All the way through our lives we are on the move. Even those who stay in the same house all their lives, are on the move. For we are all heading towards eternity.
Jesus tells his disciples of another kingdom. Another home where they belong. He says ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ He encouraged them – he encourages us – to think about where we truly, deeply, really belong – beyond the here and now of the homes of our lifetimes. We are called to be with Jesus, in his eternal home – where moth doesn’t destroy. Where solid joys and lasting treasures are to be found.
Do not be afraid, says Jesus. For it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. And in our Old Testament reading, too, Abram too hears the word of the Lord: Do not be afraid. We then hear, in the passage from Hebrews, how Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a place in a foreign land, and travelled the life of a nomad, living in tents. We’re told that he looked forward to the city that has no foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Abraham and his descendants, until Jesus Christ, were seeking a homeland. ‘They desire a better country’, we’re told, ‘a heavenly one’.
There’s a constant tension, in the Christian life, between being here, putting down roots, making a home and a name for ourselves and our loved ones, and following Jesus Christ, wherever he leads.
We are here this morning because restless pilgrims followed the call of Christ to spread the good news of his kingdom to people who were not aware of what they were missing. They came to this site, recognising its holiness, this prominent rising above the river Derwent, and worshipped God. They came from Scotland, from the south, recognising a place of God, a thin place, and grew to call it home. They put care and love into making a home for Christians in this Church, a care and love that has continued for centuries, attracting people from across the water, across the land, to the homeliness of this place, glad of the remembrance in stone and art of those who have gone before. And that is good. It is good to make a home. Particularly when the home, the church, points to the other place, the heavenly home, where we most profoundly belong, with Jesus Christ.
The famous saint St Augustine talked of a restlessness for God. He said: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
It’s a good question to ask: where we find our treasure. Many today find the treasure of their hearts in all sorts of things. Material stuff, often. The home of a lifetime. If you listen to the Archers, you’ll know the story of Emma and Ed, and how Emma had set her heart on her new home, and how devastated she is that it has all unravelled. For months they have been saving and scrimping, and now that Ed has lost his job, the mortgage has fallen through. And Ed has realised that for Em, the home was more important than anything – even than him and the children. Her need for security, for a home she could be proud to call her own, had come to dominate her life. He is devastated, not because of the loss of the home, but because he has realised that he couldn’t rely on Em’s love. He wasn’t enough for her.
We’re dealing with big themes here. Because often, behind our desires is fear. Fear of loss, or insecurity. Fear of the unknown. And so we put our trust in bricks and mortar, or in the false securities of outward appearance, or in material possessions. When really such things are leading us away from what really counts. Do not be afraid.
Our hearts are restless until it finds its rest in you.
Jesus in his life and death shows us what it means to find our treasure in God. It will mean that we will see through the everyday things of life to know that they are essentially fluid, like water. We will be alive to what God is calling us to in the future. We must be ready, alive to Jesus Christ, open and eager to respond to what we must be and do in the present and the future. Always alive to what ultimately counts, which is our deepening knowledge of God. For our heart is restless until it rests in God. In the God of love who is with us always, wherever we are, wherever we make our home here on earth. For we are called, ultimately, to be with God, in Jesus Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The gospel warns us ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’. We don’t know when the hour of our mortal life will cease – it may be anytime. When that moment comes, it’s important that our heart is fixed on Jesus Christ, who is our eternal home.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When we were in the midst of that beautiful countryside, with the clouds and the rain coming in showers, every so often the sun would shine through, highlighting a distant ground. I was reminded of the poet R. S. Thomas who told us always to be alive to the way the grace of God calls us towards heaven:
I have seen the sun break through / to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way / and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had / treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have / to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.