Learning the chords to 'Rocket Man'
A sermon by David McEvoy, Reader, 11 August 2019
‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Luke 12.34)
Being a child of the 1960s, I must have watched just about all the television documentaries over the last few weeks about the first moon landing 50 years ago. And I was struck by one aspect – that every astronaut in any mission was fully trained to do the job of every other crew member and that an crew could undertake the mission of any other crew. That was thorough training.
Chris Hadfield, one-time commander of the International Space Station, described his own training as an astronaut. You may remember Chris Hadfield from the hit YouTube video of him singing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in zero gravity. His training and preparation meant that not only he could pilot a space-shuttle or Soyuz rocket, he could also carry out any repair needed in a space-shuttle or space station right down to electronics, plumbing and surgery. And what is more he could do all of this in Russian as well as English. He anticipated and practiced dealing with every possible failure or disaster.
He said that that was not only how he did his job but it was also how he lived his life. He was once due to speak at an air show in Ontario, when he was told that Elton John was performing down the road and that both events would be promoted together. So you can probably guess what was going through Chris Hadfield’s mind – ‘What if Elton John finds out that the musical astronaut was in the audience? What if he asked him on stage to sing or strum along with him? If he did that, what song would he be asked to join in?’ It would have to be ‘Rocket Man’. So Chris Hadfield set about learning the words and chords to ‘Rocket Man’ – just in case. In fact it never happened, but he says he didn’t regret being ready!
Be prepared for the kingdom
We see this stress on being prepared in Jesus’ advice to his followers in today’s Gospel. ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit’. Be like servants waiting for the master to come home to let him in. He could come at any time, so be ready at all times.
(But) the preparation, the readiness that Jesus is calling for is not to do with knowledge or physical or mental agility, it is to do with our hearts, getting our hearts ready for something. Jesus said ‘Do not be afraid, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you his kingdom’. We are to get our hearts ready for life in God’s kingdom.
How do we see the world?
How we prepare for life in God’s kingdom is related to how we see the world. Do we see the world as hopelessly and inevitably in the grip of money, greed and power? In which case all we can do is go with the flow and gain as much for ourselves as we can. Everyone else is out for what they can make. Why shouldn’t we? If we want to be secure, we had better work hard to accumulate all we can and protect ourselves.
The other way, and this is the way Jesus tells us to see the world, is to see the world through the eyes of faith. To trust that somehow God is active in human history and will bring everything to its completion. This future is what Jesus promised his followers when told them that the Father will give them the kingdom. And, then starting from that trust in God’s work in the world, we are to see what we can do to play our part in that.
So this future is promised to us. And we also have a job to do in bringing it about. After Jesus promised the kingdom to his followers, he commanded them to ‘sell your possessions and give alms’. This was what the rich fool we heard about last week should have done. Instead of building bigger barns to store the harvest, he should have shared the harvest with those who produced it and needed it. Now, no sane or wise preacher will tell a congregation ‘go away and sell everything you have and give it to the poor’. But if we are to take Jesus’s commands seriously, we do need to have the right attitude to our possessions, our money and our talents.
At the least this means not letting our money, our possessions, or our achievements rule our lives, not letting them get in the way of loving God and loving our neighbour. It may also mean learning to do what we can to use our money, possessions, and achievements for God’s work and for the benefit of others.
Where our treasure is, there our hearts are also
So, Jesus clearly linked his followers’ readiness for God’s kingdom with their attitude to their possessions and wealth. He made the point clearly when he told them ‘for where your treasure is, there your heart is also.’ The 19th century writer George MacDonald said that Jesus’s point doesn’t just apply to those who worship Mammon, who devote their lives to the accumulation of wealth. It applies to those who in any way worship what is not actually important: ‘who seek the praise of men more than the praise of God; who would make a show in the world by wealth, by taste, by intellect, by power, by art, by genius of any kind.’
This is a real challenge to us. What is our treasure? What is it that we value most? Is it the kind of treasure that will prepare us for God’s kingdom? Can we use it to help bring about God’s kingdom? Or is it the kind of treasure that that will get in the way?
Will it help us be dressed for action and have our lamps lit? Or will it hinder us so that we are taken by surprise as if by a thief in the night?
None of us is likely to be called on to do emergency surgery in space or to go on stage to sing ‘Rocket Man’ with Elton John. But we are called on to be dressed for action, with our hearts in the right place, ready for our place in God’s kingdom and for our part in making God’s kingdom a reality for others, our role in helping God’s kingdom come.