Sermon: Where My Treasure Is

17 February 2010


The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)

Ash Wednesday
February 21, 2010

“Where My Treasure Is”

Psalm 51:1-6, 10-12
Matthew 6:1, 19-21

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our minds and hearts here together be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

            Lent is such an interesting season.  If you put the word “Lent” into a google search bar you get back nearly 30,000,000 web references in 1/10th of a second.  With all of that to wade through, where do we begin?

            Well, this Lenten Season we have chosen the theme “We Are Witnesses: Sharing Our Stories.”  So as I thought about what to share this evening I decided that sharing part of my faith story was perhaps a good and fair place to begin – if I am asking you to think about and to think about sharing yours.  After all, Lent is the season of self-examination, and we cannot tell our stories without looking at ourselves – at our lives, and possibly without changing in some way or another. 

However, in order to tell our faith stories we often need to share at least a little bit about the stories of others.  As we have been hurdling toward Lent these past few weeks I realized that I have been doing a lot of thinking about my grandpas lately, so I would like to share a little bit about John Franklin DeBisschop, Sr. and Joseph Troland with you tonight…A Tale of Two Grandpas, if you will.  It is fitting, considering their first names – John and Joseph, that they helped shape my faith both by sharing theirs and by shaping that of my parents.

            My Grandpa DeBisschop was a formidable man.  He was not particularly big, but much like my dad who shares his name, seemed very rough and gruff on the outside until you got to know the teddy bear that was beneath it all.  He was steadfast – solid as a rock.  He was the reason we went to church and why I grew up in the UCC at Congregational Churches.  I can remember him talking about his faith in passing and about reading the Bible cover to cover more than once in his lifetime because there was always more to learn and know.  He is the reason I am a pastor. 

            My Grandpa Troland was phenomenally loveable.  I used to call him the waterbed, because all you had to do was sit down in his lap, and his body would conform to yours in a big hug with a huge smile on his face.  He reached out to people all around him and had that special way about him that drew people to him.  He would do anything for anyone and could encourage people like no tomorrow.  He was firm in his faith – attending his Catholic church regularly and participating in all sorts of church activities.

            Faith was first nature to my grandpas – like breathing.  They didn’t do what they did to receive recognition – to be admired or pitied or respected.  Instead they both managed to invite people into their relationships with God just by being around them.

            These two men also gave me my first experiences with mortality and with a sense of the “more to come” – of the future that comes from returning to ashes.  My Grandpa DeBisschop died when I was 15-years-old, at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school.  He was diagnosed with cancer, and he took in every last bit of life before he went, treasuring time with his family, taking stock of his life – doing his own self-examination, and growing closer to God.  I was asked to give the eulogy at his funeral, which I wouldn’t realize officially until years later was my call to ministry in the church.

            My Grandpa Troland died nearly ten years later, while I was on a mission trip with some high school youth in Jamaica.  I had just graduated from Divinity School, and although I couldn’t be there for his funeral service, I had spent some time laying in his hospital bed with him and visiting him before I left.  And listening to my mom’s experiences of her last moments with her father, he was already experiencing some time with loved ones who had gone on before him.

            You see, both of these men, even as patriarchs of our family, had a deep sense of humility, of reality, of abiding faith.  They were the people of real faith that Jesus spoke about in this evening’s gospel lesson from the Sermon on the Mount – loving and loved, forgiving and forgiven, real.  They didn’t flaunt their faith in order for others to see.  They just had a way about them that invited people to ask questions, that allowed them to share openly, that had them sharing their faith without even talking and made people want to know God like they did.  Neither of them was particularly rich in material things, but they were truly rich – in family, in knowledge, in blessing, in patience, and in relationship with God.  The treasures they had stored up as they both prepared to leave this world were immeasurable – ones that could not be seen but were known in the heart and through their faith.  They both had a sure sense that the end was not the end.  That ashes to ashes and dust to dust offered some kind of new beginning, although they couldn’t say what that would be exactly. 

            That is the thing about this season…and about our humanity.  The truth is that we can do all of the examination we want.  There will still be things that we cannot see and answers that are unknown.  But in our examination we will more than likely discover some new realities about ourselves, about who we are as people…and as people of faith.  We realize during Lent that our faith – our real relationship with God hinges on more than our own acts of piety.  We realize that in our humility, in being reminded that we at times don’t do right by God or of our own mortality by the sign of ashes on our bodies, that we are only human – but also that we are God’s creation, capable of so much.  During this Lenten Season, especially perhaps, we are invited to do more listening to the ways that God is speaking to us – whether through the voices of those who will share their own faith journeys, through the still small voice that comes to us on the wind or in a moment of silence, through the words of scripture or devotions, through music and motion and everyday life.  We are invited to listen not just with our ears but with our minds and hearts, with our bodies, to feel how things move us, or make us uncomfortable or heal us, remind us of our own stories or connect us to one another – for we do not walk this journey alone. 

            The two scripture lessons for tonight stress this very point.  In the Psalm, David is repenting for his transgressions with Bathsheba.  At the end of his lament and plea to God for forgiveness, he vows to instruct others in the right ways to go – to share his experiences and to steer people in the right direction – realizing that he does not walk his journey alone.  And in the gospel lesson, Jesus is teaching those gathered to hear the Sermon on the Mount how to be people of faith living real life in a real community – just like the one we have here – not lone rangers on a crusade of faith but family members who recognize their own limitations and the places they fall short, the places where they are blessed, the places where they are forgiven and where they can forgive others, and sharing the costs and joys of discipleship with one another.

            That, my friends, in a nutshell (as opposed to 30 million web pages) is what Lent can be about.  It can be about walking on a journey of self-examination with others, of recognizing those who have taught us the walk and helping others to join in.  It can be about turning back to God not just with our outward actions but with our inward selves – about turning ourselves over to God in a way that makes our relationship real and true.  It can be about figuring out where our treasures and our hearts truly are.  And it can be about new life, new beginnings, new experiences rising out of the ashes of the places in our hearts and lives that need some cleaning.  So as we begin tonight  may we be courageous enough this Lenten Season to walk this journey in humility and hope and may we be witnesses to the ways our God of steadfast love and mercy walks it with us.  Amen.




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