“Living Treasures”

pdficon_small Download a PDF of this sermon here.

 

Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 15, 2017

Matthew 6:19-24

 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” Jesus said, “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Do not store up treasures on earth, but store up treasures in heaven.  What exactly does this mean?

Is Jesus condemning all material possessions, asking us to live as the monastics of old, relinquishing all we own and living a life dependent on the charity of others?

Is he speaking out against my grandfather’s stamp collection, or the baseball cards I loved when I was younger?

Is he opposed to knickknacks and tchotchkes?

Is Jesus speaking a not-so-favorable word about all our storage units, and garages, and sheds, and barns, and attics, and basements, and closets packed to the gills?

Is Jesus opposed to safety deposit boxes or bank accounts?

Are we supposed to close our IRAs and 401ks and 403bs and open an account at the Pearly Gates Credit Union instead?

And if so, how exactly do we go about doing that?

 

To better understand this reading from the gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, we need to take a field trip to the first book of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament.  In the book of Genesis, chapter two, we are told that God formed the first human being from the dust of the earth, and then breathed into that body the breath of life, and the human form became a living being.  In the same way, the story says, God formed all the animals that walk and crawl and slither and flit across the earth.  Clearly, God is not opposed to earthly things, but rather chooses to bless them, and inspire them, and use them for good, for beauty, for love.

Indeed, God chose earthly life for God’s own self in the person of Jesus.  God chose to take on a human form—a mortal body made of dust, inspired by the divine breath that brings life.  And Jesus, being a good Jew, knew his scriptures, knew that this earthly realm is beloved and blessed by our Creator.  In fact, two chapters earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus proclaimed that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17), which can also be rendered as the kingdom of heaven is among you.  The kingdom of heaven is right here on earth, Jesus taught.  Wherever the brokenhearted are comforted, wherever the wounded are healed, wherever the broken are made whole, wherever the violent find peace, wherever the oppressed are set free, wherever the marginalized are embraced, wherever justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream… wherever earthly things are enlivened by the Breath of Life—that is heaven breaking in.

When a grieving family is surrounded by the love of people who know what it is to weep and scream and gnash their teeth, who are not afraid of wading in to the deep and turbulent waters of loss, and who will keep on showing up, bringing light into that most shadowed of valleys—that is heaven on earth in the form of flowers and cards, phone calls and casseroles.

When volunteers spend their Monday mornings cooking and serving a meal that nourishes hungry bellies and hungry spirits—that is heaven on earth in the form of fish chowder, chicken cacciatore, mashed potatoes, American chop suey.

When people fill five-gallon buckets with cleaning supplies for Church World Service to bring to the survivors of hurricanes and floods and earthquakes and wildfires, that is heaven on earth in the form of sponges and detergent, work gloves and clothespins.

When Bible study participants pool their resources to pay for a night’s motel stay for a man who has nowhere else to go, that is heaven on earth in the form of ones and fives and tens and twenties.

When people like you and me dig deep and write a number on our pledge cards that is a stretch, a number that is a little more generous than is comfortable, that is heaven on earth in the form of memorial service receptions and craft fair luncheons, Christmas Eve candles and Easter daffodils, church school cooking projects and youth group service trips, second hours and sermon series and all the other ways this congregation makes God’s love and justice manifest here on earth—and it is heaven on earth in the form of bold steps, taken in faith, that help us expand and deepen our capacity to love.

 

Now.  It is possible to use earthly treasures for purposes other than the kingdom of God, for aims contrary to the coming of heaven on earth.  St. Augustine, an early Christian theologian from North Africa, said that God gave us people to love and things to use, and we get ourselves into trouble when we confuse the two.  I know you can think of plenty of examples.  When we love things and use people, we are making an age-old human mistake that has happened over and over and over again, and has always led to suffering.  Earthly treasures for their own sake are just that—earthly.  But earthly treasures put to use in the service of God’s love for God’s people—well, I, for one, would call that heavenly.

 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” Jesus said, “where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In this Stewardship season, the question for us is this:  how can we use our earthly possessions in the service of heavenly things?  How can we build—and become—living treasures, Spirit-filled manifestations of God’s love for God’s people?  How can we dedicate our lives and our resources to the building-up of a living legacy that will last long beyond our earthly years?  How can we, inspired and enlivened by the very Breath of Life, build up a world where we see Jesus’ promise coming true—where the kingdom of heaven is truly at hand?

May it be so.

 


Hungry for more?  Read another sermon from our sermon archive.