There is a scene in the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which Harry and Hermione are in the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow searching for Harry’s parents’ graves. As they search amongst the tombstones in the darkness, they come across the grave of Albus Dumbledore’s mother and sister. The epitaph on their grave reads, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (A direct quote from the Gospel of Luke.) It will not be for several chapters that the reason for the epitaph is revealed—the brief time in Dumbledore’s life in which power became his primary focus and in his conquest for victory, his sister became his first and only victim as her death is the realization he needs to reorder his life and dedicate it to the redemption of Ariana’s, his sister’s, life.
Dumbledore’s quest for power did not start out as a dark and dispassionate move to world domination. It stemmed from a place of pain and desire to help the world be a better place. Dumbledore’s sister, Ariana, had been tortured by muggles as a child because they didn’t understand what magic was and she seemed a bit of a circus figure, a freak in some ways. The whole family was affected as the torture had caused significant harm to Ariana and she could no longer function due to mental and magical instability. After their mother died, Dumbledore took responsibility for Ariana’s care. His desire for power stemmed from a confused understanding of justice as retribution instead of justice as redemption. The retribution Dumbledore desired for Ariana’s life led him down darker and darker paths with plans to take over and rule the muggles. Ultimately, those plans were never enacted as Ariana died in the midst of his scheming and as a result of it. Her death was what it took for Dumbledore to realize that the anger and hatred he had clung too had led his heart into darkness. He had to make a choice as to what he would treasure: retribution, anger, hatred, and power or redemption, justice, freedom, and righteousness?
We make those choices too. The choice might not be between retribution and redemption but we choose everyday what we will value. We choose through our wallets, through our schedules, through our fears, and through our faith. Those choices are often the things that we treasure—the things that we value—and we will train our wills and our ways of thinking through those choices. There is a definite correlation between the ways we spend our time and money and what we treasure. Bishop Stough once said, “If you want to know what you value look at your checkbook.” I would add, “and your calendar.” Dumbledore was spending all his time plotting to take over the world and neglecting his responsibilities in the care of his sister, which ultimately led to her death. He would not make that mistake again, instead dedicating the rest of his fictitious life to the care of his students and the nurturing of their young minds to make good choices in his quest to better the world. The development of young minds seems a much more righteous approach to redeeming the wrongs and brokenness of the world. He treasured his mother and his sister, but he had to remember that in order to get his heart lined up in the right place.
When we spend our money on ourselves, guess where our heart goes. When we believe ourselves to be the masters of our own destiny, guess what we care about the most. When we are only concerned with what we can get in this world and our expectations reflect only our desires, guess who we care about the most. But when we give to those in need, when we make God the center of our being instead of ourselves, when we actively choose to put the needs of the other ahead of our own, our life takes on a sacramental aspect in which we can love others because we love ourselves.
Too often we believe loving ourselves means buying stuff that will make us happy or spending our time in leisure or work focused on our own objectives. But that never works out—self-centered focus and behavior doesn’t nurture love for self and usually causes us to not like the person we are becoming. When we treasure ourselves, our heart cannot grow and we end up like the Grinch alone on Mount Crumpet. To give of ourselves—of our time, of our money—to others, especially those in need, is to live into the righteousness of a sacramental life: we become the outward signs of the invisible and inward grace of God. In living that life of grace, God becomes present to us through those who receive and need the gifts that we can give.
To treasure others cannot be based on a transactional theology. It’s not about getting something for ourselves, even and especially if that is a good feeling that you’ve done something to make the world better. To truly treasure another is to act from a place of humility and compassion—instead of feeling good about what you’ve done, to be humbled by it, because you recognize the sacred trust God has drawn you into in partnering with God to do the work of righteousness in this world. Jesus is less interested in correcting abuses and patting us on the back. Jesus desires a radical re-ordering of the world in which power and advantage are shared with everyone as we treasure one another and work to empower one another.
This past week, Nick Saban invited Mike Tyson to speak to his football players. Iron Mike as he was known is a former heavy weight champion and was once called the “baddest man on the planet”. In talking about his career as a boxer, Tyson told the players he “had no reason to show love to anybody [including himself].” Tyson grew up in a broken household with both parents as drug addicts. He learned to survive and then he learned to hurt people to be loved. Tyson told the Crimson Tide, “The more I hurt people, the more people loved me.” Of course, it was all an illusion. But the illusion fed this maligned sense of relationship. Tyson was hungry for love but as Tyson says, “You gotta love yourself before you can love one another…There was a time I didn’t love myself.” Instead Tyson loved the illusion—that was his treasure and thus his heart was in hurting others and finally hurting himself.
Until Tyson came to the conclusion that God loved him, he didn’t understand that what he had been treasuring—knocking people out and doing anything he wanted to do—had been destroying him. It had landed him in jail, caused him to lose his fortune, and turned him to drugs and addiction. When he realized that God loved him he began to realize that it was not about “knocking people out and being vicious” but about winning over yourself by being accountable: being responsible for ourselves because we are responsible for one another.
What both Tyson and Dumbledore learn is the radical reordering that Jesus desires. To live into the radical re-ordering of the world that Jesus challenges us too means we have to examine what we treasure in honest and truthful ways. Instead of conquering the world for ourselves, we, as Christians, as Jesus followers, are called to conquer the world for Christ. If our treasure—the things that we value—are self-seeking and self-centered then that is where our hearts will be. But when we discover the righteousness of living a redeemed life in which we value the kingdom of God we begin to live the sacramental life—the life that prepares us for the kingdom. When Jesus tells us that where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also, he is giving us a simple answer to the question regarding how we can know Jesus in our daily lives. And though this answer is not complex, neither is it easy. It starts with how we spend our money and our time and continues in the intentional choices we make everyday at work, at home, at play, as well as at church. Our possessions and power are fleeting and last only for a moment—the security and freedom we think they provide is limited. But in giving of our money and time to God’s work in this world, we discover that our hearts are full, our fears are lessened, and our security and freedom is grounded in the infinite love of God.
9 Pentecost Proper 14: Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, August 11, 2019
Rev. Candice B. Frazer