(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on November 9, 2014)
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘ The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24, TNIV)
I would like to “Oregon-ize” this section of the bible today.
We have a barn/shed/thing at our house. Half of it, while covered by a roof, is relatively open. It’s what used to be the “barn” side and is now sort of a carport/garage for us. The roof on this side is fairly leak free, but there are so many open sides that rain water blows in quite a bit. The other half is all closed in with two doors. We call it the “shed” side, and it’s used for storage.
Using it for storage was a very bad idea. It was my bad idea. The roof is leaky, and in one of those weird physics things I don’t understand, water can get in, but it just does not go out. The humidity is like 900% in there all winter long, and pretty much everything in there has been damaged or ruined.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures in your shed, where rain and moisture destroy, and where little field mice will chew up your high school letterman’s jacket.”
I know this now. I know this, as good old George Fox would say, “I know this experimentally”. You might say experientially. Actually, you might say, “What were you thinking putting stuff out there to get ruined?” And I would not have a good answer for you.
I wasn’t thinking, “Let’s ruin this stuff by putting it out there.”
I guess it was some laziness, because when I noticed stuff was getting damp, I could have moved it. I could have winterized, I could have fixed the leaks. I wasn’t trying to ruin stuff, but that’s what happened. But you can guess how it happened.
We don’t have a huge house with tons of storage, so you move stuff out there. You get a new chair and aren’t sure if you want to keep the old one or not, so it goes out there. You move a kid into a new room and don’t have space for the futon and so you put it out there. And life gets busy, and the rain falls, and important things get ruined and become unusable.
In this case, it isn’t the end of the world for us.
The things we put out there, by definition, are things that aren’t as important to us as the things in our house. But the shed still makes the same points as Jesus did. Some things we work for and try to save are not permanent. They aren’t going to last without proper care.
Jesus is teaching us that some things have lasting, eternal value…and some things are going to get taken, or get soggy and ruined. This is important in our world today. We have less of a “heaven” and “eternal” orientation than was the case a few decades ago. We live in a world where a cell phone that is four years old seems ridiculously old and antiquated. We live in a world where we are constantly getting new things, replacing the old, not saving and preserving what we have.
Jesus is doing so much with just three little sections here, telling us so much truth. There are things that have lasting value. Don’t spend your energy on the things that don’t last. Don’t try to preserve the wrong things. Instead, turn all your heart, mind, and attention on the lasting things that are already safe and beyond loss. Focus now on what will always be there…it’s not just about our future, but about finding the real, lasting things now and giving them our full attention.
Jesus gives us something deep here, something that keeps us from just letting this be a “now” vs. “eternity” discussion.
This isn’t just about getting our ticket to heaven and not worrying about anything else, thinking it’s all just temporary and is going to burn anyway. When he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…” I don’t think he means “Get things secure for your own faith and then one day your heart will be in heaven forever.” I think that promise of heaven is true, but I think Jesus means something else here.
I think in this one sentence Jesus is validating that in the here and now on this earth, there are God things, eternal things, valuable things, good things. In other words, while WE treasure a whole lot of good and bad things, while we spend time and energy pursuing and giving our lives to all sorts of things and people and careers and issues…Jesus teaches that whatever we pursue grabs our heart.
Jesus is also teaching, I think, that it is God who truly determines what is good and lasting and what has value. When we, in the here and now, pursue the things that God values and makes lasting and eternal, our hearts in the here and now are already with the eternal. It’s not just a future heaven…eternity has entered the now, or perhaps better said, our hearts have entered the eternal.
It’s just like the Lord’s Prayer…God’s will is done on earth, just like it will always in heaven.
That’s really all there is to this section of teaching.
Jesus does it three different ways. In verses 19-21, it’s the treasure metaphor. In 22-23, it’s the eyes, what we look at, what we take in, what we pursue that fills us with light or darkness. In verse 24, Jesus is most clear: we are going to serve something, pursue something. It’s either going to be God, or it will be money or something else.
There are lasting things. God’s the one who defines them. What we pursue in life, whether it’s money or status or service or love, what we pursue in life is where our heart is. If we pursue the things God values, we experience eternity now and we can be confident that it will never be taken away or destroyed.
To me, this is all pretty clear.
But here’s the problem.
Jesus doesn’t spell out for us exactly what the lasting things are. He doesn’t give us a roadmap for how to store up treasures in heaven. If we take Jesus at his word, we know that what we pursue in life here and now has lasting consequences…but we don’t have a clear teaching about how to know if we are pursuing the right things.
My wife Elaine is with several other youth workers from our church at Youthworkers’ Training conference in Hood River this weekend; but before she left, I told her I was a little worried about the message today. I don’t want to give a guilt inducing “make sure you’re doing everything for God” message, but without giving specific things that can be acted on. Guilt with no way to do the right things isn’t a great message.
So what can be acted on when Jesus doesn’t really say here how to store up treasures in heaven?
On Sundays we take chunks of the bible, little sections…and sometimes things don’t get resolved in whatever arbitrary section we choose. But the good thing is, not everything has to be fixed in one spot. There’s the whole Sermon on the Mount to consider. More than that, there’s the whole gospel of Matthew to consider, even the whole bible…and we can never forget, the Holy Spirit can give us specific direction about what sorts of things are the lasting, eternal, good things.
This summer when we began this journey through the Sermon on the Mount, we looked at the Beatitudes. If we are looking for the things God values, the things we should pursue that will last and not be stolen or waste away…remember the beginning. Blessed are the meek…are the merciful…are the pure in heart…are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Jesus’ words today in chapter 6 are like the cue, the reminder to us not just to pursue whatever we want with our lives…a reminder to us not just to take our definitions of what is important in life from the people around us.
This is our cue to look to God, look to the one who defines it all. This is our reminder that the bible and the Holy Spirit and our community of brothers and sisters in Christ are there to point us to those lasting things. As we will see in a couple weeks, we are to seek first God’s place and realm of authority, God’s kingdom and righteousness. When we seek–we will find.
Michelle Akins had one of those moments where God gave direction…and she said she wasn’t even really in the mood.
She was with her daughter Brynn visiting colleges a little over a week ago, and during one of the chapel services they visited they spent time in a Lectio Divina…a chance to look at one piece from the bible and listen for how God might apply it to their lives. It’s something we do around here fairly often, not the new experiences she and Brynn were hoping to experience, so she was a little disappointed.
The passage they looked at was the exact one we are looking at today. As she was listening to the section being read again and again, Michelle started asking God: what were the things she was seeking that were going to rot…and what were the things she should be storing up?
Michelle describes herself as a “words” person. Words of affirmation mean a lot to her. But as she listened and thought, she realized those can fade away. Here’s what she wrote about the direction God gave:
But in verse 6:20 Jesus asks us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, a place where no thief can break in and steal. What would this look like? What if I let God break in instead of thieves? What if the words by which I defined myself were only the ones given to me by my Creator? What if I agreed to let the Holy Spirit clear my mind of all but heavenly treasure, forgiveness, peace, joy, love, gratitude… and I chose to let it stay there? A mind filled with and guarded by the Spirit. What if knowing Jesus and how Jesus loves me was my treasure – my definition? For there where my treasure might be, my heart would be also. No longer rusted and moth-ridden, but full, clear in purpose and function. Abounding in love, filled with Truth.
I asked her if I could read that today, not because I think that’s exactly the interpretation all of us should take from this.
Rather, I think it’s such a perfect example of how when we take the cue that Jesus gives here to question and ask and seek after the things that God sees as important, we so often find that God gives direction.
I’ve thought of several times in my life where I’ve been challenged and convicted that the things I was seeking were not the things that were going to last. I remember being asked to speak at my high school baccalaureate service, and wanting to talk about what was truly important in life. I sat down and wrote the words, “But what is success?” and just stopped, stuck, realizing I didn’t have a good answer.
God actually used that to open my eyes to how my last year of high school, I had let a lot of things besides God’s things become important to me. Having to talk about what was truly important…what was truly lasting…that was exactly what I needed for God to challenge some of my behavior and bring change to my life.
I remember sitting on my front porch the morning after my 20th high school reunion. I was in a bit of a funk. I was once part of a group in my class that was told over and over we were special, we were going to make our mark on the world. And at that reunion i was reminded one high school friend was a Pulitzer Prize winner for her debut book. And another was a national broadcaster who had won an Edward J. Murrow award.
I was feeling sorry for myself, left out, and to be honest, a little bit like a failure or like I hadn’t lived up to my potential. “Have I missed something, God? Have I made a mistake?”
By asking that question on my front porch, I did exactly the right thing. I was going to the source, to the one who defined what things would last. I’m not saying that those awards are always the wrong things, that they are going to rot and waste away. I don’t know my friends’ journeys, and perhaps those were the exact things God did want them to pursue.
But they were not the right things for me. It’s like God helped me look back at my life, and see it like a road with these forks in it, and I saw all the places where I made a God-directed choice that led away from the kinds of awards and acclaim like my friends. God told me to give myself credit for spending time with my kids, for instance, because I could see times where that was a choice I made as I was trying to obey Jesus, a choice that made other career options unavailable.
I think that’s where I want to stop today.
Not so that you’ll make the same conclusions that I made, or the same ones that Michelle made.
I want to encourage you, though, to follow the same process. I don’t know how YOU will store up treasure in heaven. But you and I both know who defines the things that will last, the things that should be pursued.
Ask God. Examine your life and your desires and your goals. Admit that there are times we are deluded and we chase the wrong things…and ask God to show you what eternal things to pursue now.