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Rose-Colored Glasses – Parable

A sermon by the Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Given at Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, Georgia on August 7, 2016

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This we hear from the letter to the Hebrews, while in Luke’s Gospel this morning Jesus tells us “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I want to share with you this morning, a parable, a short story I wrote to illustrate this teaching on faith and earthly treasure.

Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Agnes[1] who visited her great-grandmother every week in an assisted living facility, which was at the other end of a short bus ride from her home. She enjoyed the visits very much. While there she came to know the other residents with whom her Granny lived. She was not precocious exactly, but more of an old soul who while fully the young girl she was, sometimes seemed more perceptive than her years. Many of the residents looked forward to Agnes’ weekly visits. Yet with her great-grandmother pushing the backside of her nineties and her health failing, they knew the visits would come to an end soon enough.

Agnes was 12 years old when her Granny died. The next week Agnes got ready to go as usual. She announced to her Mom that she was off for her visit. Her mother didn’t understand at first, but decided that it was Agnes’ way of grieving for her Granny and she consented. Without the visits with Granny, she wasn’t sure at first what to do. She had read to Mr. Brooks[2] on one occasion and he seemed to enjoy it. So when she saw him off to one side of the large common room, which was the hub of social life in their home, she went to him at once.

“Mr. Brooks, would it be all right if I read to you again?” she asked.

He beamed back, “Yes, that would be nice.”

Noticing no books nearby, Agnes asked, “What shall we read?”

“Have you ever read The Little Prince?” He asked.

“No, but I’ll read it to you now,” she offered.

She walked patiently with Mr. Brooks as he shuffled back to his room. He readily found the tattered paperback among the scores that lined the shelves in his private room.

“You must be going on 13 now,” Mr. Brooks said. “When I taught English at the Junior High, the girls always fell in love with this book. The boys too, truth be told,” he said and handed her the book. He sat in his well worn leather chair. Agnes sat on the ottoman, opened the yellowed pages of the slim volume and began, “Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book…” She quickly found herself lost in the story.

Just as when she had read to him before, Mr. Brooks attention never wavered. When Agnes looked up from time to time, he seemed just as transfixed by the tale as she was. They were both startled by an upbeat dance tune that suddenly burst into their story just as Agnes was reading of the businessman who thought he owned the stars in the night sky. It took a moment for her to realize it was her own cell phone ringing. Agnes’ mother was worried about her. Agnes apologized, not realizing how much time had passed as she had read nearly half the book to Mr. Brooks. After hanging up, she read to a stopping place and promised to return the next week to finish the story.

“Take the book with you,” he offered. “You can finish it tonight.”

“I would rather read it with you.” She said. “It can wait until next week.”

The following Sunday afternoon, they did indeed complete The Little Prince[3]. On other visits there were to be other books. And, as Mr. Brooks was not a selfish man, Agnes spent whole visits with other residents, talking or reading, and sometimes singing. A year passed. Agnes was feeling down, remembering that it was at this same time the previous year, that her Granny had died. She enjoyed visiting the others, but she missed her Granny something fierce.

She had brought the book Stranger with My Face[4] to finish reading it with Mr. Brooks. He was intrigued that he had never heard of the book, which was part of Agnes’ required summer reading. They had both been enjoying it, but Agnes didn’t even take the book out of the large purse she had slung over one shoulder. She just slumped down on the ottoman.

“How do you do it?” she asked.

“Do what?” Mr. Brooks replied not aware that he had done anything.

“Stay so optimistic.” Agnes replied.

She paused for a moment. He let the silence build between them naturally, not forcing the conversation forward not wanting to derail her from her course.

“Well, I’ve only lost my Granny, but you’ve lost so much. Your wife, your youngest daughter, the other residents here who have died since you came….I don’t even know who all you’ve lost…and yet you seem so cheerful.”

“Agnes, it’s not that I don’t grieve, I do,” he said. “But I mourn as someone who knows that there is more than this.” Then he broke into that smile she had come to so enjoy bringing to his face. Every line that etched through his skin seemed to have been first creased while he was smiling.

“That’s exactly what I mean. You just did it again. I brought up the people you have lost and now you’re smiling like a fox who just got placed in charge of the hen house. It’s like you have a secret that you aren’t sharing.”

“Now Agnes, that’s not fair,” he said, but she knew he wasn’t angry.

“I’ve checked up on you,” Agnes said, ready to reveal a secret of her own. “I used to think I was a bit of a bright spot in this place. I liked that thought, that I was bringing light here. But I pale in comparison to you. Everyone talks about the little things you do for them, the kindness you show. They don’t talk to each other about it. No one seems to know what all you do. But I listen. They tell me what no one tells each other. I know that you work behind the scenes to build people up when they are feeling down.”

Agnes felt smug. She knew she had him now. He had been working at pulling strings like some puppet master and she knew it. Now it was her turn to let the silence build. She waited. He paused at length, then said, “Okay. You’ve found me out. I like to do nice things for people and prefer it when no one knows. But don’t go making me out to be some saint. I’m just a guy who likes to share the love that’s been shared with him.”

Agnes felt a little embarrassed now. She had cornered him with an accusation of kindness as if he was a cat burglar she had caught in the act.

“You are right about that secret though,” he said a bit mischievously. “There is something I’ve been hiding.” He leaned forward and picked up a small wooden chest that sat next to his chair. Agnes had seen it before. Mr. Brooks has shown her some old family photos tucked in there, his father’s pocket watch, his oldest son’s bronze star that he had brought home to his dad. This time he pulled out an odd pair of sunglasses. The pink lenses in tarnished silver frames looked older than seemed possible. Agnes didn’t know they had made sunglasses so long ago.

“These glasses changed my life,” he said matter of factly.

“It was 1947 and I was just a 17-year old kid helping out at my uncle’s funeral home. He was short handed and I helped him go pick up a body at the hospital to prepare for a funeral.

“The body was that of Old Simeon. Everyone knew Simeon[5]. He was a homeless man who lived under a bridge and spent his days on Broad Street. He was a kindly old beggar. Everyone knew he was a bit touched and they looked out for him. From time to time, someone would try to get him better clothes or a better living arrangement, but Simeon seemed to prefer his lot in life. He seemed happy living on the street. He was always talking with someone, laughing, joking.

“Now Old Simeon was dead. No one had seen him on the street that day and a perceptive police officer realized he should check under the bridge. That’s where they found him, with his few possessions. Possessions that I was charged with boxing up for the next of kin we all knew would never come.

“That’s when I found the glasses. I tried them on and my uncle told me that if no one claimed them within the month, I could have them.

“I don’t know what intrigued me about those glasses, but I counted the days until I could claim them as my own. I already had the silver polish ready and I shined them up before putting them on and going out into the world. What I saw took my breath away.

“With those glasses on, everything was different. Just a few degrees off for the most part, but sometimes disconcertingly strange. Some people positively glowed, more radiant than seemed possible as if they were made of light. For others, that light was dim and it was as if a mask had been removed. The smiling man out front of the dinner on Broad Street looked impossibly dark and gloomy through the sunglasses. Some people who looked innocent enough to my naked eye seemed positively malevolent through the rose-colored glasses.

“I began to look more into Simeon’s past and what I discovered amazed me. Old Simeon seemed like some beggar who depended on the town to take care of him, but the real story was quite the opposite. Once I started checking, I found how much Simeon had done. There was hardly a person who had been in need who hadn’t found Simeon able to help. He had provided a listening ear to those in distress. He had offered the new boots someone had just given to him, to the man who needed them to work the construction job Simeon told him how to find.

“No one knew of the kindnesses he had shown others, but everyone seemed to have a story of how the homeless man had changed his or her life for the better. Of course, by then I understood why. Through the rose-colored glasses I could see the world as Simeon had seen it. It was like looking into someone’s heart and seeing what was true, rather than just seeing the façade they put up for others. I came to understand that the glasses gave me a Christ-like view, seeing the content of someone’s heart.

“I also saw people pursuing things that didn’t matter. The new car they wanted so bad they seemed hungry for it, just looked old and rusted through the glasses. The fur coats and other fancy clothes, diamond rings and all the rest just looked cheap and tawdry. All those things that seemed to dazzle looked like so much junk through the glasses. It was the people that shined. Some brightly. Some less so. Some seemed not to realize they had light within them. Others seemed determined to snuff it out.

“The glasses changed me. The glasses taught me what mattered and what didn’t. What was lasting and what was passing away. They are how I came to be a teacher. I found that no one else was paying attention to teenagers. Really paying attention. And so I got my master’s in literature and ensconced myself in Junior High, a place that seemed to need someone with Simeon’s touch.

“At first, I needed the glasses a lot to know who was hurting. But after a while, I developed a sort of second sight all my own. I haven’t put them on in years,” he said finishing his story.

Agnes was amazed. There was a secret behind Mr. Brooks’ care for the residents at his home. She sat in silence, letting the story sink in for a moment more, then asked, “But why didn’t you share the glasses with me Mr. Brooks? Why did I have to corner you before you told me your secret?”

Mr. Brooks beamed again with that smile that engaged every line on his time-worn face. He replied, “Why I should think that would be obvious dear girl. You didn’t need the glasses to see people as Jesus sees them. You already see the world as God sees it.”

Amen.


[1] This fictional girl is named for Agnes, who is said to have been burned at the stake for her faith in Jesus during the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian in 304. She was twelve years old. The name means “pure” in Greek and “lamb” in Latin.

[2] Based on a former cross the street neighbor, who in his own way was similar to this fictional character.

[3] The book by Antoine de Saint Exupéry is the story of how a child-like way of seeing can be more perceptive. The key secret in that book fits with this sermon, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” A previous sermon from many years ago goes into that concept more: http://www.kingofpeace.org/sermons/sermon-121601.htm

[4] This book by Lois Duncan is a lesser known book that appears on some eighth grade reading lists and so might appeal to the fictional Mr. Brooks. In Stranger with my Face, it is not the main plot element, but the heroine does choose the disfigured Jeff as a boyfriend instead of the handsome Gordon, so it too fits with the central theme of this story.

[5] Named for Simeon Stilos, the sixth century saint who though best known for living atop a column, did end his life as a beggar and only after his death did others discover all the good he had done for people in his town. I went into this in more detail in a previous sermon: http://www.kingofpeace.org/sermons/sermon-020302.htm

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