Learning to Treasure Each Other
Transcribed from this sermon at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington DC on April 25, 2021.
I believe there is something each one of us can do every day to bring a little bit of Heaven to Earth. I believe we can plant the seeds of Heaven every day. And this week, and on this day, I absolutely have to confess and acknowledge that, for some, Heaven seems a long ways off. In fact, there are some that are not so much looking for Heaven, they’re just looking to breathe! In this world of inequality, some of us live much closer to Heaven than others.
I, for one, can drive with temporary tags with no fear of being pepper sprayed. In fact, there was a time in my life that I was pulled over for missing a tail light. And the encounter went something like this. The officer said “Hi, how are you? Do you know your tail light is out? Just want you to be safe. Take care of that. Have a good night.” There was no gun drawn. In fact, the officer, as I recall, didn’t even ask for registration or a driver’s license. We live in a world where some live close to Heaven and some experience almost daily hell.
This week, there are many responses, many feelings, many emotions still coming out of the verdict. What do we do with all of this? How do we process this? I found a quote that has helped me during this week. It’s by the first Black author to win the Pulitzer Prize: Gwendolyn Brooks. In her writings, she is both poetic and prophetic. She wrestles with the intersections of equality and justice. She writes, “We are each other’s harvest. We are each other’s business. We are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Those words invite questions for us to live with and wrestle with. What could it mean for us to be each other’s purpose? In what ways are we each other’s business? How are we each other’s magnitude and bond?
These questions are so relevant in this time of deep divisions on multiple fronts. Both before, during and beyond the verdict this week, justice remains deeply unfinished. And violence and unrest continue to rage. We are only 115 days into 2021, and already there have already there have been more than 150 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The violence is pervasive and — we also need to confess — has an unequal impact on communities of color.
So what will save us? What will heal us? Amy-Jill Levine offers some wonderful reflections and commentary in her book “Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven.” For today’s purpose, she offers a very brief reflection: “Stuff cannot save us.”
In fact, I would say that not only can stuff not save us, but stuff blocks us. It blocks our priorities. It blocks us from truly seeing each other. It blocks us from seeing what really matters. Stuff cannot save us. So we look to Christ and each other and to the deeper places and to our shared longings for peace and wholeness. And we look to Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount.
The heart of Jesus is poured out in his life and his teachings. And if we were to somehow only get to receive one part of the Christian scripture of the New Testament, I think the best part of it is Matthew 5, 6 and 7 because it shows the very heart of Jesus and the fullness of his teachings. It shows us how we can best live even in a world like this.
The Sermon on the Mount — which was so relevant on that ancient hillside — is just as relevant today on Black Lives Matter Plaza. In Matthew 6:19–21, Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So where is our treasure? And how do we even begin to answer that question? I look to Jesus. When Jesus speaks of treasure, what is he talking about? And then looking at the whole life of Jesus and pondering that question, what came to me is that the answer is not “what,” but “who.”
Jesus treasured people. And God sent Jesus because of God’s love for people. So as Jesus is on that ancient hillside, he is absolutely treasuring every person there. And even as Jesus is treasuring every person on that hillside and connecting with their hearts, I think his heart is also breaking. Because even as he teaches them, Jesus knows that the knee of the Roman Empire is on their necks, and on all of them listening to his first sermon. Jesus knows that, as he preaches, they are struggling to breathe.
Jesus reminds them and reminds us that they are not defined by the empire that is crushing them at every moment. Jesus reminds them that, in his heart, they are precious and they are blessed.
Blessed are the poor in spirit…
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are the merciful…
So when Jesus gets to the part of the sermon about treasures, he wants them to know that that is who they are.
Treasured are the poor…
Treasured are those who mourn…
Treasured are the humble…
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Treasured are the pure in heart…
and the persecuted.
Jesus wanted them and us to know that they are worth much more than stuff.
When Jesus teaches them the part of the prayer that says “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” he’s making it clear that they are called to bring Heaven to Earth at each moment. This is a huge calling in a world that says some are treasures and others are trash.
I applaud and pray daily for Black parents trying to raise their children in a world that says they are trash. In a world that says their children are not worthy of economic equality or equal education. One of those parents is David Gray, who is raising his son in this world and wants his son to know that he’s a treasure. And yet, it’s difficult to teach that in this kind of world. He wrote the following as a sort of prayer that could be called a cautionary prayer or perhaps a form of protest…
We are all treasures. And if we are treasures in a world like this, each one of us is created by God to be ambassadors of Heaven come to Earth in our brief lifetimes. To find ways to bring Heaven to Earth. Sometimes that takes incredible courage and diligence.
I believe that Heaven rejoiced on the day each one of us was born. Jesus treasures us and calls us to treasure each other. And I believe that Heaven rejoiced on the day that George Floyd was born. And I believe that Heaven wept on the day he could not breathe and the day he died.
Can we make a shift to see each other beyond all the stuff? To see each other as treasures? To see every person as a bit of Heaven come to Earth, to do the work of Heaven? The day we’ll do that is the day that Heaven will come to Earth. And Heaven will come to Earth when we find each other.
Rachel Naomi Remen writes,
“May we find each other in the silence between the words.
May we heal the loneliness of our expertise with the wisdom of our service.
May we honor in ourselves and all others the deep and simple impulse to live, to find sacred space and open land.
May we remember that the yearning to be holy is a part of everyone and the only hope for the next thousand years.”
Where our treasure is, there will our hearts be. May we see each other as treasures and therefore have our hearts connected, person to person.
Let’s bring Heaven to Earth by treasuring each other in our hearts. May we find each other. Amen.