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Detached From Our Attachments
Series: Lenten/Eastertide Sermon Series
Leader: Rev. David Thomas
Scripture: Matthew 6:19-34
Date: Apr 18th, 2021
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“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 thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus, 1st  cent

“They do not rejoice in what they have, no matter how much it is, so much as they lament what they still lack.  Their soul is eaten away with cares as they compete in the struggle for success.” St Basil the Great, 4th cent

“Lunch is for wimps.”  “Greed is good.”  Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko in Wall Street 1987

“Love?  Love fades away. But things?  Things are forever.” Aziz Ansari as Tom in Parks and Recreation, 2013

We are confronted in this passage with two very different views of things or wealth.  Jesus spoke about wealth quite a bit, and we would probably do well as the church to talk about it more than we do.  It’s the water that we swim in - the waters of consumer capitalism where the goal is to become as wealthy as possible.  It’s the whole point.  It’s where happiness lies.  I speak of swimming in reference to David Foster Wallace.  He’s a favourite author of mine, and he once gave a commencement speech in which he told a story of two young fish swimming along in the ocean one day.  They meet an older fish who asks them “How’s the water?”  The younger fish look at each other and say “What the heck is water?”

It’s the water that we swim in and sometimes it’s hard to notice.  It’s sometimes hard to know we’re wet if we don’t stop to examine ourselves.  I have to get mine, and I actually have to get more than I can fit in one place.  The self-storage industry in the US is now a 25 billion dollar industry annually.  This is progress.  I have to get mine and I hope you get yours too, but I can’t worry about it too much because I got my own thing to worry about.  There are some good things to come out of the pandemic.  For me one of them is the end of the concept of shopping for fun, even browsing for fun.  Let that end for me please, God.  Jesus has been talking about piety in chapter 6 – religious devotion to God, to the kingdom of heaven.  This is very often the problem you see (and we need to be continually taught and continually reminded, oh we of little faith), the problem is that there is often a gap between what we profess to believe and how we act.  Jesus talks about fasting right before where we read this morning, and one of the really great things about fasting is that it helps us to learn that we can actually live without things we thought we absolutely couldn’t live without.  One of the things I’ve learned over the last year is that I can absolutely live without the new pair of shoes, particularly if I haven’t even seen them, online shopping notwithstanding.

Jesus will talk about worry and we’ll get there in a little while.  He’s not talking about clinical depression or clinical anxiety and we need to be careful that we don’t say that such things are a lack of faith.  He’s talking about debilitating care regarding the accumulation and retention of wealth or stuff.  Jesus is not advocating a Bobby Mcferrin-like “Don’t worry be happy” ethos because after all, when you worry, you make trouble double.  I’m thankful for this because this kind of advice could never work for me.  Commanding me “Do not worry” would be about as successful as commanding me to calm down I’m sure (and does that ever really work for anybody?).

Jesus speaks of worry in the context of what we treasure.  He is talking about becoming detached from our attachments.  He’s talking about a reorientation of our hearts – the centre of our will and volition, the centre of our being.  He’s talking about his followers living with a kingdom orientation and he’s using language that asks us to imagine what that might look like.  He’s using images from nature to help us imagine what it might look like if the trust that we profess to have in God was lived out in our everyday lives. 

Jesus wants to shake us up.  We need to be shook up, I think.  I need to be shaken up.  We don’t come to church or watch church just so we can feel good about ourselves after all, do we? It’s the Sermon on the Mount and we want to be students of Jesus and we want to learn so that we can teach others by our lives and by our words what it means to call him Lord, what it means to live in his kingdom, what it looks like to live out those lines that we pray – hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, which Jesus has just taught.  So much teaching going on!

We talked about Jesus as “the antithetical one” last week, and in these opening verses of the text we looked at this morning, we have Jesus laying out three sets of antitheses – which is really just a fancy way of saying opposites.  Put possessions in their place.  Not the storage unit!  Put possessions in their proper place when it comes to value.  Someone has put it like this – “for the follower of Christ – God and God’s reign take centre stage.  Possessions should not be the focus of the heart’s devotion, inordinate valuation or anxious striving.  Jesus drives the point home with sayings regarding two treasures, two eyes, and two masters.” 

And so “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.” 

Someone has said that nothing enslaves more than that which we think we cannot live without.  What is the thing that we think we cannot live without? Naming the kingdom of heaven as the thing we cannot live without results in a radical reorientation of our lives.  “What are we striving for here?” asks Jesus.  Things that get eaten by moth or rust?  Things that may be stolen or lose their “value” when the bottom drops out of the market?  Things that in the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus (and we must never forget who is speaking these words) take on eternal significance?   Note too that Jesus is not saying where your heart is will determine what you treasure, but that where your treasure is, that is where your heart will be.  The question for us is “What do we treasure?”

Next, Jesus speaks of the healthy eye versus the unhealthy eye.  The sound eyes versus the unsound eye.  The single eye versus the unsingle eye.  There is an idea here of the eye being a kind of purveyor of light, whether it’s light inside the body (as you’d see lights that are on in a house through the windows of that house) or light going in.  Either way, it’s all about being illuminated by the light of Christ.  This might mean having everything we see illuminated by God’s love and grace. Imagine seeing everything and everyone the way God sees them, loving everything and everyone the way God loves them.  It’s completely antithetical to a world that looks on people as units of production and consumption or human resources.  It’s completely antithetical to a world that commodifies everything and everyone and labels winners and losers by how much cash they have.  The other way to see this is to think of the eyes as windows to the soul.  We’re familiar with this idea and hear talk of “kind eyes”  or “fiery eyes.”  Same kind of idea going on here, let our single or healthy or sound eyes be indicative of an undivided soul, or an undivided heart this is lit up by the love of God.

I say undivided because you gotta serve somebody and you can’t serve two.   A player cannot play for two teams at the same time.  Beloved Raptor Norman Powell found this out recently when he was traded to Portland.  Three days later Portland was playing the Raps in Tampa and Powell lined up on the Toronto side at the tip.  You can’t play for two teams and you can’t serve God and wealth.  The quest that should govern our lives is the quest for God’s reign in our lives and God’s reign in the world.  How is that going for us? Oftentimes it’s the prophets who speak most bluntly and pointedly.  We remember John the Baptist and his “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.”  We remember the words of the prophet Elijah and what great imagery this is and these words were not just meant for the people of Israel – they’re meant for me and they’re meant for you: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.”  How long will we go limping with two different opinions?  If the LORD is God, then follow him, but if wealth, follow it.  God grant us the will to follow and the will to make our following of Christ look like something different in our lives.  It is not for nothing that Jesus talks about the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choking the word of God.

But more on that next week.  Speaking of cares though…

We have this lovely passage which I hope puts us right in the middle of the scene as speaks on the side of that Galilean mountain.  I like to think that Jesus pointed to birds or maybe even one bird that was flying about, maybe landing near him.  I like to think that Jesus pointed to the wildflowers that were growing around where he and the people were sitting.  Jesus wants to shake us up.  Jesus wants to stir our imaginations.  It can be hard in the city to be reminded of God’s providence and care for nature.  I hope we can get to some grass or a park if we’re able.  This is where Jesus’ talk about reorienting the core of our being and wealth and possessions leads us.  Listen to the words:

 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,[a] or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[b] 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?

“Of little faith” is one word here.  Oligopistos.  Ligo is one of the Greek words I recognize around my house.  Would you like some rice?  Ligo.  Oligopisto.  It’s like Jesus is saying “Ya bunch of little faiths.”   With a lot of compassion always for we who are lost, for we who long for our actions to match our faith.  This is not something Jesus is calling for us step into through our own wills.  Like the love that was commanded last week, this striving and caring for the kingdom above all is impossible for us to do on our own.  Someone has put it like this:

“Possessed by possessions, we discover that we cannot will our way free of our possessions. But if we can be freed our attention may be grasped by that which is so true, so beautiful, we discover we have been dispossessed. To seek first the righteousness of the kingdom of God is to discover that that for which we seek is given, not achieved.”

Or as I would put it – We are able to do what is beyond us because, in Christ Jesus, God has done something for us which was beyond us.  God has brought us back to himself.   God has forgiven us.  In Christ God calls us his children.

I said earlier the worry that Jesus is talking about clinical or chronic depression or anxiety.  Someone has put it like this:

“What is being prohibited is the energy-draining, chronic, paralyzing anxiety that is futile and even self-destructive. Not only does it not “add a single hour to your span of life” (Matt. 6:27), it sucks the life right out of you. It shortens lives and makes what life we do have a fretful misery. Instead of expending ourselves in needless, unproductive, debilitating anxiety, we are invited to trust in God and seek first God’s reign and righteousness.”

It's the antithesis to this kind of view, put forth by essayist Joseph Krutch – “Anxiety and stress, interrupted occasionally by pleasure, is the normal course of a man’s (or woman’s) existence.”

No, says Jesus.  There’s something else.  He’s not saying don’t plan.  He’s not saying don’t look after others because God will.  He’s not saying don’t work.

He’s saying remember what’s first.  Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, all these things will be given to you as well.

Live for today and don’t let today be ruined by anxiety about fear for the future.  You might consider that a banal platitude, but as David Foster Wallace once said, “in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”  Life or death.  Blessings or curses.  God or wealth.  The choice is before us every day my friends.  We’re talking about a radical reorientation of our inner being.  This will be the last time we look at the Sermon on the Mount for a while most likely but do read it over and come back to it.  Let us be people who strive for, who seek after poverty of spirit, gentleness, mercy, justice and righteousness, peace, reconciliation, faithfulness, truth, love even for those who hate us, fellowship with our Father.  That we may be children of our Father in heaven.  All of this in and through the one who loved us even unto death, who is risen, who is with us, whose Spirit lives in us, who is coming again to make all things new.  Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of Son and Spirit, through whom we have peace.

Amen, and peace be with you all dear friends.