WHERE IS YOUR TREASURE?
Listen: Click to listen
(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')
This is one of those sermons that is really tough. Not the least because when I read the story which James Bryan Smith opens his chapter on this section of the Sermon on the Mount I can identify, as I retain an affinity for shell toed running shoes to this day. Smith tells of being a child and seeing a pair of Adidas Americana high-tops. They were outside of the price range his parents would normally shell out for a new pair of basketball shoes, so he saved his money and admired them from afar and saw the ads featuring his favourite player who was made even better by the shoes (a “Be like Mike” type of thing). He got them and would wear them to shoot baskets in his drive and come in and clean them carefully (again anyone who lives with me can identify with how this all resonates with me) and nestle them back in their box. After a little while, he became a little less assiduous with his cleaning. They began to show signs of wear. Long story short they ended up pretty holey and dirty and in the garbage one day.
We all know the story. That thing that we wanted, that thing that we want which will make all the difference to us. This is the message that we are bombarded by constantly. This is the consumer culture’s response to “What does it mean to live the good life?” If you have our product, if you consume our product, it means you’re living the good life. This thing will bring you happiness. Someone has written about the liturgy of the mall – you might consider them the cathedrals of our day. The building to which people flock to worship. This is the environment that we live in. It’s easy to get caught up in it and I know because I get caught up in it too. These cathedrals have giant pictures of their saints – the people who represent the brands (called models) with which you’re invited to associate yourself and believe in. The aisles and displays are sparkling and pristine and don’t speak to any of the messiness of our lives. Things are always good at the mall. The smells. The sights. The liturgy of the cash register where you make your offering. That rush where you see “Transaction accepted” and your reward is packed into an attractive and stylish bag which you carry out to show that you’ve been accepted.
The most pernicious thing about all this is the element of truth it contains. It does feel good to buy something new. They don’t call it retail therapy for nothing right? That rush of dopamine we get at the newness of something. The thing that’s not talked about so much is the transient nature of this rush. How it needs to be fulfilled again and again until we have so much stuff that we don’t even have space for it.
In the middle of this, we sit and Jesus’ feet. We’ve been talking about this Sermon on the Mount as a catalyst for change. An interior change leading to exterior action. We’ve been talking about Jesus shaking up our moral imagination. What might life in the Kingdom look like for followers of the King?
In the midst of all this, we hear Jesus’ voice. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, 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.
Two treasures. If this sounds tough to you, you’re not alone. It’s tough for me too most definitely. It’s tough for a lot of people. Money is security. Stuff is security and to be surrounded by my stuff is to be secure. It’s a message for everyone no matter how much or how little we have. If we have a lot is it our foundational desire to hang on to what we have and to acquire more. If we have not as much is it our foundational desire to get to the point where we have a lot because then we will be secure? Having money and things is a sign that we’re doing well after all right? They don’t call it well-to-do for nothing I suppose.
Jesus is posing a foundational question here to our moral imagination. Someone has put it like this – “Jesus assaulted the whole human race at the point where that race is most sensitive; its desire for security and superiority.” Jesus is asking the question “To what do you look for security? To whom do you look for security?” What is it that we trust? Whom do we trust? What is it that we are seeking first? This is not simply a criticism of materialism that Jesus is making. Jesus is asking us “Where is your heart?”
Where is your heart? But in order to answer that question, we must ask another. Where is our treasure?
Because where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. Note that Jesus doesn’t start with the heart there. He doesn’t say “Where your heart is, there also will your treasure be.” Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. The thing we do affect who we are. Richard Rohr has a great short saying that describes what’s being signified like this – “We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” Here is another thing about this heart that Jesus is speaking of. We’re not just talking about what we love or what we long for – the things that we might associate with our hearts. In Jesus’ day, the heart was thought of as the centre of everything – our thoughts, our emotions, our actions. The place where everything originates.
What we do matters in the Kingdom of Heaven. Because it’s great to take a new pair of basketball kicks out of the box and you look cool in them. It’s fun to take your new electronic device out of the box for the first time and it’s a rush and it’s so fun in fact that people make videos of themselves opening up their new stuff and post them online so that we can all share in the joy but they don’t last and these things that we’re all chasing don’t last and even if they are something longer lasting they can get stolen. So what are we seeking first?
Treasures in heaven. What is treasured in the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven itself to a treasure at one point. A hidden treasure found in a field. A pearl of great value. What is treasured in the Kingdom of Heaven? Love. Mercy. Compassion. Justice. Poverty of spirit. Meekness. A hunger and a thirst for righteousness. Purity of heart. The making of peace.
The kingdom of heaven affecting every part of our life. What we buy. How much we buy. What we keep for ourselves. How we spend our time. How we give of ourselves – our things, our money, our time. In the kingdom of heaven, none of these are really ours anyway and we come back to that kingdom message which we’ve been coming back to over these weeks. It’s not about you. Everything we are and have is from God and God knows what we need (but more on that next time).
We need our moral imaginations shaken up on this greed/avarice thing I believe. It’s all around us and it
can be hard to notice unless we take a step back from it, a step away from it. I said in one of our Bible studies recently that fish don’t know they’re wet until they’re taken out of the water. This is the water that we’re swimming in all the time. It takes an awareness of the stuff that we’re swimming in to be able to see it for what it really is. To begin to see things in a different light.
With the lanterns of our eyes. This is another image that was operative back in the day. We usually think of seeing things as light entering our eye and images being transferred to our brains and so on. Back in the day, the eye was seen as a lamp by which things outside of us were seen. If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. This word that’s translated healthy means simple or single. In other words, if your eye is seeing singly – in one way – in the light of the Kingdom. In the light of the Kingdom, we don’t look for our value in possessions or in seeing the possessions of others with envy. Looking at consumer goods (and it’s funny we call them goods when you think of it) with an eye that asks “What does this look like in light of the Kingdom? What is enough?” The eye that looks to what others have not with envy or the thought that if only I had that, things would be good. The eye that is lit by the light of Christ. Take a look at Proverbs 23:4-6. Wisdom.
Finally, Jesus looks at two masters. You can’t serve two. Jesus is using a Jewish form of rhetoric here when he says you will love one and hate the other. It’s the same thing he uses when he says you need to hate your parents to follow him. Jesus is not telling us to hate our families. He’s talking about divided loyalties. This whole time he’s asking us the question “Where is your heart?” You can’t worship God and wealth. Mammon is the word here. Just means wealth. Luke calls it mammon of unrighteousness, which is a bit like saying the almighty dollar. It’s money. Seemingly a neutral thing but it can make things weird can’t it? The problems begin when we ascribe to it the status of almighty.
Which is ridiculous right? I mean can you imagine having a shrine set up to money in our houses. Icons depicting money. It’s as crazy as Scrooge McDuck diving into his stash of gold like it were the ballroom in a McDonald’s or someplace. Where is our heart, is the question. Maybe the ways in which we worship wealth are a lot more subtle.
What would it mean to embrace a kingdom theology of enough? What would that mean in terms of what we seek to accumulate and in terms of what we seek to give? I myself long for something simpler. Through these weeks we’ve been talking about soul-shaping exercises. We can pray for God to help us. We can’t do this on our own. Praying for the Holy Spirit’s help to effect an interior change – a knowledge in our hearts that everything we have is God’s provision. I don’t think we’re about setting up new rules here any more than we’ve talked about through these weeks. I’m not saying feel bad about your latte or vacation necessarily. To come to an understanding that it’s not just a matter of 10% is for God and do what we like with the rest. Smith proposes we ask questions like “Do I need this?” “Will this bring me kingdom joy?” He suggests we practice de-accumulation. Instead of giving something up for Lent, give something away every day for Lent. Or don’t wait for Lent.
All of this in the name of paying attention to the thing that is of more value than any earthly thing – the Kingdom of Heaven. God grant that this is the place where our treasures, and thus our hearts, lie.