Pearls of Faith

Many of us watched last Sunday’s televised service from the Augustinerkirche in Zurich, led by Pfarrer Lars Simpson, who has also led services at St Andrew’s in Paul’s absence. If you missed the service, or would like to reflect further upon it, the sermon has been translated into English and can be found below.
You can also click here to watch the service again on-line.

Televised Eucharist – Sermon
Sunday, 3. Mai 2020, Augustinerkirche, Zürich
Pfarrer Lars Simpson

Proverbs 4,5-9; 16,16 (NRSV)
5 Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away
from the words of my mouth.
6 Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.
8 Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
9 She will place on your head a fair garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”
16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

Matthew 13, 44-46 (NRSV)
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Dear viewers,
Dear listeners,

Pearls are precious. They are created in nature, sheltered and protected by a shell.
It takes time for mother-of-pearl to develop around the penetrated grain of sand and for a perfect pearl to emerge.
A miracle of nature that has been appreciated and admired by people for thousands of years.
But there are other hidden treasures, that are not immediately recognizable as valuable.
A treasure trove of the worldwide church is the collection of sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, which has been handed down to us from the fourth and fifth centuries.
It contains many short wisdoms. As concise as the parables we have heard today in Matthew’s Gospel

A pearl from this collection: the story of the young monk who visits and asks an old monk:
“Abba, Father, what must I do to attain wisdom and draw nearer to God?”
The old monk answers calmly and simply:
“Go back to your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”
The young monk is disappointed at first. The answer seems too simple and banal to him. In time, the monk realizes with what wisdom the elder has spoken and how challenging the task is:
It’s not so easy to find peace where you are and live.
But it can be the first step to really get to know yourself.
Thus, begins not only a journey to our centre, but also to God.
In every generation there are women and men who follow this example of withdrawal. They live in silence before God. They let the inner life unfold.

During the recent weeks we have all experienced a great deal of silence for ourselves.
Silence can be unfamiliar to some, even threatening or unsettling. But it can lead to a great adventure.
To consciously take time for silence belongs to the great spiritual traditions of all the world’s religions.
Silence is practised to encounter and discover one’s innermost being and thus find God. Just as the young monk had to learn in the desert.
Silence means having the courage to eliminate distractions for a while to be able to concentrate and centre oneself on our innermost thoughts.
It is a step into the deep instead of a leap to the next task.
Like many other churches, the Augustinian Church has stored silence for centuries.
Many seek out this church to experience this silence and to recharge their batteries here – alongside the bustling Bahnhofstrasse in the middle of Zurich.
During the extraordinary situation of the last weeks, the church has remained open daily;
– for prayer,
– to gather oneself,
– to find quiet.
I have to admit though, that for the last few weeks, it has been almost as quiet outside of the church as it is inside.

In the days when it was still possible to hold church services, we also offer a weekly “Haltestille Bahnhofstrasse” – Word, music and silence at midday.
As an ecumenical team we consciously enter into silence with the words of St. Augustine, the patron saint of our church. He wrote at the end of the fourth century:
“Towards Thee, O God, Thou hast created us, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” Augustine (354 – 430)
And then we say:

Be still
and from silence wisdom will come to you
Be still
and the silence will lead you into the wholeness of your humanity
Be still
and you will know who you are
and who all the others around you are
be still
and the silence is seen as wisdom
come to you
be still

We can then keep our bodies calm and relaxed and concentrate on our breathing.
In addition, we might like to say a short prayer.
For me the ancient Jesus Prayer is a pearl of a prayer that I can repeat over and over in the silence of my heart:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.
Your path into and through silence is personal and must suit you. A well-known phenomenon of remaining silent is that we are distracted by our thoughts, but we should not be concerned about this. Instead of clinging to or pursuing these thoughts, think of them as clouds: they come, and then they move on. To begin with the exercise is difficult but with time it becomes easier.
Even when the thought-clouds are dark and cast shadows over us, we let them move on before our mind’s eye. Then there will certainly be some sun and light again.

What is most valuable is our humanity. We are not alone.
The helpfulness and willingness of many people during these difficult days to volunteer or to seek out and support their neighbours should make us feel positive. Let us hope that this humanity will continue when the crisis is over and it is no longer so silent around us.
The time will come times we can live out our need to be together again – in sports, singing and dancing, at barbecues and church services.
Until then, we ask God to open our eyes and hearts to the pearls around us, and in us.

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