“Treasure”

Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 17, 2013

Scripture:  Luke 12:22-34

 

You know the envelopes.  They come about the same time each month.  Your name and address show through the little plastic window in the front, and there’s presorted postage printed in the corner.  And across the top, or maybe across the bottom, it says, in red or blue or green letters, “Important Account Information Enclosed.”

Inside, of course, is a credit card statement.  The format is always the same—the remittance slip with the box that tells you your new balance, and your minimum amount due, and the payment due date.  And then there are important messages from the credit card company, and then the itemized list of all your transactions.

Last year, I changed credit card providers.  The new statements are essentially the same as the old ones—the paper is a different size, and the ink is green instead of blue, but the information is all the same.  There’s the perforated slip, and the boxes about account activity and payment information, and the list of charges.

But at the bottom of the statement, there’s another feature, one that was new to me.  After that list of transactions, there are two little pie charts—one for the current month, and the other for the year to date.  All those purchases are broken into categories, each one color coded, to illustrate where my money is going.

Here’s what the most recent one said.  The green Retail & Groceries category made up half the pie, 50%.  The black Gas & Auto Expenses was another quarter, 25%.  The light blue Restaurants wedge was narrower, 10%.  The dark blue Travel & Entertainment wedge was smaller still, 5%.  And the yellow Other wedge was the remaining 10%.

I don’t always spend much time looking at those pie charts, but this month it just so happened that I opened that statement the same day I opened our stewardship packet.  Holding those two envelopes in my hands, the credit card statement and the stewardship packet, made me pause and look with new eyes at that pie chart, those brightly-colored wedges showing me undeniably where my money is going.

 

Jesus said this:  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Billy Graham said this:  “Your checkbook is a theological document.  It will tell you who and what you worship.”  I might say this:  “My credit card statement is a theological document.  It shows me who and what I worship.”  And so I am led to wonder:  what does that little pie chart tell me about my values and priorities?  What do those colorful wedges say about the real, lived-out choices I’m making, not the hypothetical positions to which I might subscribe?

 

Retail & Groceries – 50%.  So maybe I’m not taking Jesus to heart when he says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.”  Now, I could defend myself.  Some of those groceries were donations for our Why Me/Sherry’s Place collection, and some went to fill the Thanksgiving baskets at the Daily Bread food pantry.  Some of those retail purchases were gifts for people I love.  Some of them were even materials for the church!  But that big green wedge, half the pie, doesn’t get any smaller, no matter how many justifications I devise.

Gas & Auto Expenses – 25%.  That’s a big chunk of money going toward things that, directly or indirectly, contribute to climate change.  Granted, I have to get from point A to point B, from home to church to the doctor’s office, the bank, those grocery and retail stores…  But that big black wedge sure made me pause and consider the broader impact of the money I spend in that category.

Restaurants – 10%.  A cup of coffee here, a slice of pizza there, a forgotten lunch box or an afternoon ice cream cone or a date-night dinner… and pretty soon it adds up to 10% of my credit card purchases.  That’s a tithe, the percentage the Bible asks us to give back to God.  So it makes me wonder, do I value going out to eat as much as I value God?  I do my giving to the church by check, so it doesn’t show up on the credit card pie chart, but if it did, how would that wedge compare with the others?

I could go on with the other categories, but I think you get the idea.  When those two envelopes showed up in the mail on the same day, God showed up with them and asked me to consider what my spending patterns say about my priorities, and where God fits into them.

 

Now, I know we’re good New England folk here, and we don’t much like to talk about money…  Some of you might like it even less when we talk about money here in the church…  And I have to tell you, it makes me a little nervous to stand up here and confess my spending habits, not knowing how you might judge them, or me.

But here’s the thing:  our faith has a lot to say about money.  Jesus has a lot to say about money.  In fact, based on the record we have in scripture, Jesus talked more about money than he talked about anything else but the kingdom of God.  He talked more about money than he did about forgiveness, or justice, or prayer, or heaven, or even love.  That’s not to say that forgiveness, and justice, and prayer, and heaven, and love are not important.  But it was true in Jesus’ day, and it is true now, that the way we spend our money is one of the biggest ways we affect the world.  In fact, as the world becomes more and more globalized, more and more interconnected, our dollars reach out further and further and carry our impact and our lived values with them.

For example, most of us will never go to China, or Bangladesh, or Nicaragua.  But when I bought the pants I’m wearing today, which were surely less expensive than they would have been had the workers who made them earned fair wages, my money reached all the way to those far-away factories and reinforced the way those workers are being treated.  Or, when I bought the Farmer’s Cow milk I had on my cereal this morning, my money reached across Northeastern Connecticut and helped make it profitable for the dairy farms here to stay in operation.  The way we spend our money is one of the biggest ways we affect our world.

 

And not only that.  The way we spend our money also affects our spiritual wellbeing.

Did you notice the end of today’s reading, the last sentence that Steve read for us?  It said this:  “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Have you heard that one before?  It gets brought out often as a way of urging people to put their money where their mouth is, to spend their money on the things they care about.  But that’s not actually what it says.

It doesn’t say, “Where your heart is, there should your treasure be also.”  It says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  It says that when you put your treasure in a certain place, your heart follows it there.  Or, put another way, the things on which we spend our money will become the things we care about.

 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with spending money on food, or clothing, or transportation.  But if half of my purchases are in retail and grocery stores, is half of my heart, half of my caring, there, too?  If a quarter of my purchases are automotive and gas, does that mean that a quarter of my love and affection is spent on my car?

What if I chose to spend a certain proportion of my money on the things I want to care about?  What if I asked myself, “Where do I want my heart to be?” or, better still, “Where is God calling my heart to be?”  And what if I committed to put a certain amount of my treasure there, trusting that my heart will follow?

 

As Matt and I think and talk and pray over our stewardship pledge for the coming year, this is the question that is on my heart:  what would that pie chart look like if I spent my money according to what I really value, or according to what God really values?  Or, to put it another way—what do I really treasure?

Amen.