Pentecost – May 15, 2016
Worth More… than all the gold, in all the royal coffers, in all the lands
A sermon preached by The Rev. Dianne Andrews at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend WA
I would like to tell you a story.
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Once there was a great kingdom full of splendor with magnificent buildings terraced gardens and bountiful farms.
But things had changed over time. The once great buildings were now crumbling and in need of much repair. Farms are failing and not able to grow enough food for everyone. Poor villagers were going to bed hungry
And it wasn’t just that the kingdom was poor in money or things. The people were poor in spirit. There was not much joy in the realm. There were no dances around maypoles, no palace cotillions. The only music that could be heard was the occasional traveling minstrel sadly plucking a lute. Worst of all… the people had forgotten that the kingdom had once been great.
The king did not look like a king. He had no magnificent throne or flowing robes. He wore no crown. This king ruled over a poor kingdom and appeared quite ordinary himself. The castle was cold and in need of repair. There was but one manservant, and one milk made. The king was despondent.
To the east of this unhappy land was a beautiful kingdom with great farms, and glorious cathedrals and castles. The eastern kingdom had luscious gardens with sparkling fountains. Breezes would carry the sound of exquisite music and sweet fragrances myrrh, cassia and cypress into the surrounding lands. The people in the poor kingdom were unhappy about these reminders coming from the eastern kingdom, reminders that they had once been a great kingdom but were no more The king rarely left his castle as he was tired of hearing the villagers complain.
One day as the king was sitting down to a meager lunch of bread, cheese and boiled mutton, there came a knock at the castle door. The king’s servant opened the door to find an old man leaning on a large oak stick. He was wearing a simple woolen tunic with a leather canister hanging by straps from the man’s shoulder.
The man said that he was travelling through the kingdom on his way east and heneeded a place to spend the night. The servant frowned and said, “This is not an inn. This is a king’s castle.” The traveler looked around and said, “This is not much of a castle.” But I am weary and need a place to rest. The servant led him to the king.
As the traveler entered the room, the king looked up from his simple meal. The old man asked, “Are you the king of this land?” “I am” said the king. “You do not look much like a king.” The king was not amused. “I am the king of a poor realm. Our farms are failing and the buildings are falling down. We were once great, but all that has changed.”
“Why don’t you change back?” asked the man. The king was frustrated. “We have tried, only to fail. Our memories are gone. We don’t remember what once made this kingdom great.”
The traveler answered, “You lack but one thing. If you give me some food and lodging for the night I will, tomorrow, show you why you fail.”
The king paused and looked thoughtfully at the man. He then gestured to the platters of bread, cheese and meat and said, “Eat your fill.”
That night the king lay in his bed wondering if the stranger had tricked him.
The next morning the traveler came into the throne room and said to the king, “You have lived up to your part of the bargain. Now I will live up to mine. Follow me.”
The king followed the old man out to the castle balcony where the man pulled out the long, round canister he had been carrying, and from the tube he pulled out a brass spyglass. The man put the spyglass up to his eye and then handed it to the king. “Look,” he said. The king look through the glass. He could see great farms and gardens…. Magnificent castles and cathedrals. The king put the glass down and said, “I have seen the wonders of the eastern kingdom… I hear far too much about them. The old man smiled. “You are mistaken… it is your own kingdom that you are seeing.”
The king raised the spyglass up again. As he looked closer he recognized the hills and glens of his own kingdom. But where there had been barren pasture there were now fields of golden grain stretching out as far as the eye could see. And he recognized his own people in the fields and saw their wagons overflowing with their harvest.
“You are a wizard” said the king. “This is a trick!”
“It is no trick” said the old man.
When the king put down the spyglass, his kingdom looked just as it did before. “Nothing has changed” said the king.
“No” said the old man. “Change requires work. But one must see, first, what is possible. The king raised the spyglass again. “What greatness this kingdom holds.” He said.
The old man said, “You have seen what might be, now go and make it so. After two harvest I will return for my spyglass.”
What do you think happened?
The king began travelling around a kingdom in which there were no children playing, or lovers swooning. A group of villagers were standing outside of a garden that was overgrown with weeds and thistles. Their children played at their feet on the dusty road.
“Why do you not use the garden?” said the king.
“It is not fit” said a woman.
“So it is not” said the king, “But it could be. Here, look through this glass.”
One by one the villagers looked through the glass and saw lush gardens with no weeds or thistles. But when they set the glass down, the garden returned to its sad state.
“It is an amusing device” said one man. “But what use is it to us?”
“No use indeed” said the king, “but watch.” The king then went into the garden himself and began pulling up weeds with his own hands. When the villagers saw the king working, they joined him. As they worked they uncovered a large, marble statue of an angel. The angel’s wings were spread as the angel gazed heavenward. The people were struck with awe.
Eventually the king got back on his horse. As he was leaving he said, “You have seen what might be, now go and make it so.”
Can you say it with me? “You have seen what might be, now go and make it so.”
The king continued his travels around the kingdom offering the people the spyglass. Some were skeptical, but many believed. The king would say, “You have seen what might be, now go and make it so.”
The king went to the crumbling cathedral and offered the glass to the friar. The friar jumped up and down with joy. “By the grace of God, I have seen a vision” said the friar.
“You have seen what might be, now go and make it so.” said the king.
Day by day the king visited all the people of kingdom to show them what might be. Some refused to look, or refused to believe what they saw. But the majority of the villagers looked through the spyglass with wonder and hope.
That same year the harvest was plentiful. And it wasn’t only the farmers who prospered but also wagon builders, and millers, blacksmiths and bakers too.
Buildings were repaired and, for the first time in a long time, there was more than enough to eat. Music and dancing once again filled the streets.
As promised, two harvests later the old man returned to the kingdom for his spyglass. He almost did not recognize the village, the farms, or the castle, because so much had changed.
The king was overjoyed to greet the old man, “My friend, I have awaited your return. Look around. The kingdom is well and thriving once again. Let us feast in your honor!”
The old man said, “You have done well, but I cannot tarry. I have only come for my spyglass. I must be on my way.”
The man’s response did not satisfy the king. He wanted to own the spyglass. “I will trade all the gold in the royal coffers, with men and wagons enough to carry the gold wherever you like. But I need to own that spyglass.”
The old man replied, “You have spoken wisely, for the gift of the spyglass is worth more than all the gold in all the royal coffers throughout all the land. But keep your gold. You no longer need the spyglass”
“But there is still so much to be done,” pleaded the king.
“Yes,” said the old man. “But you no longer need the spyglass. You can see without it.”
“How is it possible?” asked the king.
“The spyglass showed you what is possible. For it was only vision and faith that you and your people lacked.”
The king shook his head in disbelief, “How can this be? Faith is foolishness.”
“So says the fool,” said the old man. “Vision and faith are the foundation of all journeys. It is by faith that the seed is planted. It is by faith that a foundation is dug. It is by faith that each book is penned and each song is written. Only by faith can we see that which is not, but can be. The eye of faith sees without bounds or limits.”
“I did not know this,” said the king.
“That is why you once failed,” said the old man. “Faith is why you now succeeded.”
The old man placed his hand on the king’s shoulder and said with a smile, “You have seen what might be, now go and make it so.”
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A pretty wild story, eh? Our story of Pentecost is a wild one also.
The babel of languages in ancient times, that had once created great divisions… when people could no longer hear and understand one another… was turned around. At Pentecost people from different tribes and nations, people with different customs and languages… could now use their voices and be understood. They could speak their truth with one another. The gift of generous listening leads to understanding.
The gift of the Holy Spirit was, and continues to be the gift vision, understanding, and unity among differences. Jesus had ascended into heaven. The words and images about God’s vision for heaven on earth… that Jesus had shared… were still close.
With the gift of Pentecost, God’s vision came into greater focus, and a new chapter had begun. The people had within them the spirit of God’s truth and of God’s dream for all people and for all creation.
And so here we are on this day considering God’s message for us in our time and in our place. We do this through the lens of our faith story, a story in which Jesus continues to open his arms and invite us to the great feast of life.
On this Pentecost, in the year of 2016, we are winding up a time of celebrating 150 years of worship in a lovely, historical building, that at times feels like it is bursting at its seams. We have grown in flexibility in rapidly changing times. We are a community of faith that is filled with an abundance of varying gifts that do, at times, butt up against one another… all to the good… Whether we worship in our historic church, or in the Labyrinth Courtyard, in this parish hall… in homes, or on the beach… we are the Body of Christ at St. Paul’s.
We celebrate this day the gifts that we have been given as our prayerful discernment of God’s vision for St. Paul’s continues… and as the vision comes into greater focus. It is for us to keep looking and opening our hearts and minds to the next moment in our life together. God’s vision for mission and ministry is a given. It is for us to discern and bring into focus God’s unfolding plan for St. Paul’s, put words to the vision, and to make the vision a reality.
The story of “The Spyglass” 1 (written by Paul Evans) is filled with images of that are of another age… images of kings and thrones, castles and great cathedrals. The images for our time are different… but the message is the same. Prosperity in God’s realm is not about gold, jewels or a large bank account. It is about the riches of feeling joy and laughter and caring. It is about peace and justice, food and shelter and opportunities for all. It is about feeling that we each belong to this greater story of which we are a part, inextricably connected to God and to one another.
Pentecost is not a story for another time. It is for this day… for this moment in time. It is for us to look up and see the promise that is before us, God’s promise. In Jesus we have been shown visions of God’s reign on earth, and so we keep telling the sacred story.
In Jesus, we have been shown what might be…
…now let us go forth and make it so…
1 Adapted from: Richard Paul Evans, The Spyglass, Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2000.
Psalm 104:25-35, 38