“Let Your Heart Follow”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

October 29, 2017

Matthew 6:19-24

 

This past Tuesday, when I walked into the church office in the morning, our wonderful office manager, Ellen Bradley, said something that caught me completely off guard.  I’m pretty sure she would confirm that my eyes bugged all the way out of my head and I nearly fell over when she smiled at me and said, “Two months until Christmas Eve!”

Barely-contained panic about all that needs to be done between now and December 24 aside, it turns out that Christmas Eve is relevant to today’s sermon.  In particular, the part of the Christmas story that tells of the visit of the three kings, the wise men, the magi.  That story appears in Matthew’s gospel just four chapters before the reading we heard this morning, and it is the first place where we see the Greek word we translate as “treasure,” as in, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

You remember the story.  The baby Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, and then these foreign visitors showed up, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”  And when they found their way to the place where Jesus and Mary were, “they knelt down and paid him homage.  Then, opening their treasure chests [there’s that word, treasure, again], they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”

We don’t know a whole lot about who the magi were, other than that they were foreign officials, educated people, who knew something of astrology.  They were from somewhere far away, for sure, somewhere to the east or northeast of Israel/Palestine—probably what is now Iraq, Iran, or Armenia.  And they had the wherewithal to undertake a lengthy and difficult journey, many hundreds of miles across the desert in search of the king whose birth they had foreseen in the stars.  They brought him costly gifts.  They risked their necks defying Herod, not to mention the danger of the journey itself.  They must have been really committed.

We might see the magi as an example of true devotion—of putting our treasure where our hearts are.  They believed it was important to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, and they spared no expense in doing so.  They wanted to worship him and pay him homage, and they were willing to put their resources, their time, their reputations, their relationships, even their safety on the line.  They were willing to spend whatever it took to do what they felt called to do, to offer their reverence and loyalty to the king God had ordained.

It reminds me a bit of a quote from Billy Graham, a line I have shared with some of you before.  He said, “A checkbook is a theological document.  It will tell you who and what you worship.”  The magi didn’t have checkbooks, of course, but if they had, and if we had taken a peek at them, we would have seen that they dedicated their resources to the opportunity to worship Jesus Christ.

What if we looked at my checkbook, or yours, through the same lens?  What would it reveal about who and what we worship?

If you or I examined our checkbooks, our credit card statements, our online banking records, our PayPal transactions, and however else you spend money, what would we learn from our spending habits about what is most important to us?

Perhaps we would see the importance of food—groceries to feed our families, dinners out with spouses or friends.

Perhaps we would see the importance of housing—mortgage payments or rent checks, insurance, taxes, furniture, maintenance, and all the rest.

Perhaps we would see the importance of travel and entertainment—gas for our cars to get from here to there every day, or airfare for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or movies or concerts or cable or internet—or, in my case, more books than you can shake a stick at.

Perhaps we would see the importance of education—tuition for children or grandchildren, student loan bills still being paid off, workshops and seminars, professional development and personal curiosity.

Perhaps we would see other priorities reflected in our spending habits, other values undergirding our financial decisions.

I hope we would also see our love for God, for God’s church, and for God’s world reflected, too.

 

But here’s the thing.  While it’s true that much of the time, our giving and spending does follow our priorities and commitments, that much of the time, we do put our treasure where our hearts are, the words of Jesus on which we are focusing in this stewardship season actually say a slightly different thing.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he said.  Jesus was not giving his disciples a finger-wagging lecture about bringing their spending habits in line with their values.  Rather, Jesus was encouraging his disciples, Jesus is encouraging us, to put our treasure where we want our values to be, and to let our hearts follow.

If you want to care more about your appearance, buy yourself a new wardrobe and get a makeover.  If you want to care more about property values, put a new roof, a new kitchen, an addition on your house.  If you want to care more about protecting the paint job on your car, buy a new one (the more expensive, the better).  If you want to care more about God, God’s church, and God’s world, pledge to your church and donate to other world-saving causes.  For where your treasure is, your heart is sure to follow.

Theologian, preacher, and seminary professor David Lose puts it this way:  “What we give our deepest attention to is what we eventually gravitate toward and ultimately become.”  The place where we put that which we value most—our attention, our love, our money—is the place where our hearts will end up, too.

 

Here’s another thing.  As I ponder my own spending habits and consider what they teach me about who and what I worship, where my treasure is, what I value most dearly, where my heart is now and where it might be going—I find myself wondering this:  what does God’s checkbook look like?  What shows up in God’s online banking statements or credit card bills?  Where is God’s treasure, and where is God’s heart?

And then, I think of who God is.

I remember that God breathed life into the world, and blessed it, and declared it good.

I remember that God brought the people out of bondage in Egypt, fed them in the wilderness with manna from heaven, led them into the freedom of new life in the Promised Land, and taught them to live faithfully by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.

I remember that God gave God’s people second chances, and third, and fortieth, and five hundredth, when they inevitably made mistakes along the way.

I remember that Jesus was born into mortal life to bring divinity to our humanity and to bring all that is human into the very heart of the divine.

I remember that Jesus shared a meal with his friends, including the one who would betray him, the one who would deny him, the one who would doubt him, and the ones who would desert him.

I remember that Christ rose with forgiveness on his lips—not a word of condemnation for those who sent him to his death, but only peace, and purpose, and yet more new life.

I remember that the Holy Spirit is given to us as a gift, an inspiration to help us love each other as God loves us.

I remember that the same Spirit who brooded over creation at the beginning of time has brooded over my life, too, and continues to teach me every more deeply what it means to be God’s beloved child.

I remember that the Spirit prays in us when we do not know how to pray ourselves, that she makes known the needs of our hearts with sighs too deep for words.

I remember that God’s treasure is right here.  That the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  That God so loved the world.  That love never ends.  That God is love.  That God’s heart is with God’s people, always.

May our hearts—and our treasure—also be with God.

 


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