Where is Your Treasure?

This text was preached as a sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, 11 August 2019.
Audio for this sermon was recorded on 13 August, after the loss of the original recording.

Jesus said: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.  Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Luke 12:32-34, ESV

Today’s Gospel reading begins after Jesus has been telling his disciples not to be anxious about our lives, and what great worth the Father sees in us.  The thirty-second verse is a nice summation of this teaching – do not be afraid, because God the Father wants to give you the Kingdom.  Throughout this message, I want you to keep that truth in mind – especially if anything you hear today troubles you, remember that your Father in heaven is pleased to give you the kingdom.

Despite this wondrous pronouncement, which should be enough for all of us to say, “fair enough, Lord, your will be done!” many of us – myself near to the front of the line – find ourselves prisoners of our anxieties.  Our temptation is to think that our very special circumstances somehow warrant more latitude from God in our fears – to use an idiom of today, we expect God to give us the “space” to be afraid.

Having told us not to be afraid, Jesus continues on to tell us what to do with our newfound fearlessness – sell all that we have and give to the needy. 

Much like the command to “fear not,” this command takes us aback and tempts us to look at Jesus and say, “surely you don’t mean all our possessions?”  This command, which is repeated multiple times throughout the Gospels, has been dissected and examined by many trying to determine whether Jesus truly means this to be as extreme as it sounds, or if he’s being hyperbolic.  There are several religious orders from Church history that take vows of poverty, the Franciscans being among the most famous, which clearly shows that taking the command at extreme face value is a valid interpretation. 

At the same time, we know from Luke’s Gospel account that there were several wealthy women who traveled with Jesus and provided for him out of their means, clearly showing that the command is probably not intended in its extreme universally.

Jesus provides the guidance for how to understand the heart behind how he wants us to approach wealth in the remainder of the verses I want to focus on today.  Let’s hear them again:

“Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

On its face, this teaching is somewhat esoteric and feels a little fanciful.  It is best to understand it by thinking of the contrasting reality.  If we have to be provided with a means to store something that “does not grow old” that must imply that the current way we use will one day be inadequate, much like the treasure that it contains. 

Think of it this way: if we have an incorruptible moneybag, why would we store something that will eventually fail in it?  Would the moneybag not therefore be more valuable than the thing it keeps?  Or if we have an incorruptible treasure, why would we store it in something that will fail?  Wouldn’t the failure of the moneybag mean our loss of the treasure?  Therefore, whatever we have on earth is incomparable with what the Father gives to us, and it is foolish for us to value anything whose value will eventually fail with more esteem than that which will remain invaluable forever.

Last week, Fr. Ben taught a paradigm which I think rightly captures what it is that our Lord is looking for out of his people.  While some people are called to a “holy destitution” where they are entirely dependent on the goodness and care of the Church for their day-to-day care and feeding, most of the rest of us are called to live lives where our long-term reliance is on God’s goodness.  Our Father gives us out of his goodness the things we need to live the life he calls us to, and his store of these items is endless and will not lose value or quality over time, nor will it be stolen out of his control so that he would be unable to continue giving us out of his goodness. 

The warning that goes along with this promise is that if we do not trust in the Father’s goodness to provide for us, to answer our prayers and supplications, then whatever we do trust to deliver us will fail, and what it is that we treasure – unless it is the uncorruptible, boundless and invaluable treasure of God – will lead our hearts to perish with it.  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Today I ask you the question that I ask myself when I read this proverb – “Where is your treasure?”

For unless your heart is fixed on the goodness of God, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on your personal wealth and savings, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on the luxuries and pleasures of this life, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on your strength to overcome in life, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on your own personal vindication, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on preserving your life, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on writing the perfect sermon about a difficult topic, then your treasure is not in heaven.

If your heart is fixed on Auburn having a winning season, or Alabama winning yet another National Championship, then your treasure is not in heaven.

I felt I needed to include the last two to lighten things a little, but you get my point.  If we set ourselves so firmly on anything less than the goodness of God and his pleasure to give us the Kingdom, then we seek a treasure that may as well be a trash pile and we will aim far below what it is that our Father wants us to seek and to gain.

So, what does this mean?  That we don’t care about providing for ourselves or our families?  Not at all.  As Fr. Ben said last week, saving to ensure that we and our families are taken care of during lean times is much different from saving and storing up to ensure access to luxury and pleasure. 

But even this saving should be seen through the lens of God providing for us and not us relying on our own capabilities and financial prowess.

Are we to totally avoid all of the good things that life affords us?  Again, not at all.  When God rewards us with ease for a time, or bids us to eat and drink in the fullness of a feast, we do so gladly, but with the understanding that the pleasures of life are fleeting, and not the point of life.  Not every season is Lent, but neither is it always Easter in this life.  We look at the rewards given to us as glimmers and glimpses of the eternal feast, the always-Easter of Heaven.

What about our strength?  Should we be seen as weak?  Actually, yes – if the alternative is that we boast in our strength as being sufficient to succeed and overcome in this life. 

The same goes for our personal vindication against those who disagree with us – if the alternative is that we boast in our personal rightness, at the expense of facts or the experiences of other people, or contrary to the leading of the Spirit, then we ought to approach each situation as if we have at least the potential to be drastically wrong. 

The only things that we must be right about are the things that we will confess in a few moments in the Creed.  And yet, we are not called to weakness or foolishness – but to strength and wisdom that comes from Christ.  The difference is that if strength and wisdom come from the Lord, then they are not our personal strength and wisdom. 

If we rely on Christ, then Christ will be the one who overcomes on our behalf, and it will be Christ who is vindicated before the world.

It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.  This is the gift that is more rich than any amount of money we could earn or save in our lifetime, with might and power that is stronger than any exertion on our part, and which Our Lord tells us we need to yearn for above all other things – even at the expense of our lives.  Previously, I have talked about Jesus’ repeated call to lay down our lives, and that this is more than mere metaphor or hyperbole – sometimes we are actually expected to bear witness in ways that means that someone will do us harm because the days are evil and the hearts of flawed human beings are twisted to work all sorts of malice. 

However, in this day and age, when American Christians are not usually faced with the imminent threat of violence, treasuring something more than our life may apply in  ways that do not lead to our literal dying for the cause of Christ. 

One of the most anti-Christian aspects that I see in our American society is the tendency for many to approach any issue from the perspective of what is best for me, what doesn’t interfere with me, how I want to keep doing the things that I like to do, regardless of what happens to people I don’t know or who don’t look or think or act like me

The messages I get from any kind of popular media are so intent on wedging me off as an individual (even while trying to lump me into a demographic) that it becomes clear to me that the altar the society at large wants me to worship at consists largely of a mirror.  Christianity is not a me-centric faith, and if I approach it as if it is, my treasure is not in heaven. 

This is part of laying down our lives, and part of counting our treasure as being in heaven – that we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit to make sacrifices even when our upbringing, our peers, and our politics tell us that we shouldn’t. 

In so doing, we emulate our Lord who, despite the political expectations of the day, rejected earthly power and followed the path to the cross – because his heart is eternally with the Father, and his treasure is heaven.

Sometimes those sacrifices are big, and require us to take bold stands against oppression that does not affect us directly.  More often these sacrifices are small and just require us to actually listen to the concerns of others, even when hearing them is difficult, rather than warding them off with an impersonal talking point.  Sometimes they require us merely to mourn with those who mourn.

As I said when I began speaking today, the Gospel lesson we have heard is hard – this concept of seeking after a treasure in heaven when all I know is the things of earth is vexing at times.  I know the things that are presented to my physical senses, while the things my Lord asks me to value above all else seem fleeting to me.  The Church recognizes this as well, which is why the Collect for today bids that God would “make us love what [he] commands.” 

The Church recognizes that this command is so difficult that we are unlikely to uphold on our own – if it indeed is possible for us to do so on our own at all – and asks for God to step in and change us so that we are able to please him.

Reflectively praying the Collect this week is the first of two works of prayer that I invite you to join me in this week.  If you already keep to the discipline of the Daily Offices, you will find that you already do this regularly, and all I ask is that you take some extra time to reflect on the words you are praying when you get to this point in the liturgy. 

If you want to incorporate it into other forms of prayer devotions, it is found on page 618 in the BCP, under the heading of Proper 14.  When we ask for God to “make us love what [he] commands” we show that our desire is for our heart to be with God, and that our treasure is in heaven.

In getting to the second work of prayer that I want to invite you to this week, let’s consider again the words Our Savior says: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” 

The fact that Jesus ties the Father’s gift of the kingdom to the command not to fear, and comes after the Lord has spoken at length against anxieties gives me reason to believe that at least part of the gift of the kingdom is the peace of the Lord, which we will exchange in a few moments.  Therefore, I ask you to join me this week in praying for God’s peace upon our lives throughout our busy days.  This can be as simple as praying in the morning when you wake up, as soon as you meet the first challenge of the day, as the day grows long, and as you look forward to your pillow.

 I encourage you also to pray for the peace of the Lord upon those you meet, even if – especially if – you feel provoked against peace through their actions or their words. 

In today’s world of online interactions, ask yourself continually if what you are commenting, posting, tweeting, or sharing works for the cause of the Kingdom’s peace, and if the answer is ever “no” then turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance on what to do instead.  Ask God to give you words to spread his peace, or to give you patience and contentment to be still in the face of the raging world, whether in our physical reality or in our online discussion spaces. 

By asking God’s peace upon our neighbors and even our enemies we show that our heart is with those whom God has made, and that our treasure is in heaven.

To close out my time today, I invite you to turn to page 672 in the prayer book.  Prayer 87, For Participation in the Peace of God, has been on my mind throughout this sermon preparation, and I invite you to join me in praying it either aloud or silently.

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is error, truth; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O divine Master, grant that I may seek not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

Prayer 87, For Participation in the Peace of God – The Book of Common Prayer 2019, according to the use of the ACNA

Come Lord Jesus!

(This post is adapted from a sermon preached on the same subject for the Sunday after the Ascension, 02 June 2019)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17, ESV

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart,
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

512px-The_Last_Judgement._Jean_Cousin.
The Last Judgment, Jean Cousin the Younger; The Louvre

Imagine for a moment, if you will, receiving an invitation to a wedding.  At first, you look at the envelope – maybe a little quizzically if you weren’t told to expect it – and realization dawns on you what it is as you open it and read the contents.

The invitation includes a card for your RSVP, a checkbox for “will attend” and one for “regretfully will not attend.”  If it is a wedding of a close friend, beloved relative, or some other notable in your life, you quickly check off the block beside “Will attend” without any hesitation, and joyfully return it to the mailbox so that an accurate count can be made.

However, consider instead that this wedding is for someone you haven’t seen in a very long time, is taking place in a different country, and, on top of all this, is scheduled for a weekend when you and your family had already planned a lavish and expensive vacation.

Maybe you have already purchased tickets to visit Disney Land with your children, or to go on a fancy cruise with your wife for your anniversary, or a once in a lifetime island vacation.  Faced with this, I’d be surprised if most of us aren’t as quick to check “will attend” or are more inclined to express our “regrets.”

Now let’s take it a step further.  You open the invitation, and not only is it for someone you’ve never seen in your life, being held in a different country, but where the date is customarily placed are the letters TBD.  Upon reading more into the invitation, you find that the RSVP is asking your invitation of the bridegroom!

I think most of us would be frankly taken aback and somewhat offended by such an “invitation.”  What an imposition!  How can I decide if I can attend – let alone want to – if I don’t know when it’s taking place?  And who would ask their guests for an invitation to a party they are throwing?

Wouldn’t you feel justified in tossing the invitation aside?  Or at least delaying your decision until the plans were more firmly in place, and the picture clearer to you?

This picture of invitations is what I want us to have in mind today as we consider one of the last great, simple prayers of the Church recorded at the very end of Holy Scripture.  Father Ben preached last week on the indwelling of God in those who believe, and this lesson can be seen as somewhat of a companion to it.

Today is the Sunday after the Ascension.  On Ascension Day, we remembered that Jesus returned to be with the Father forty days after his resurrection from the dead.  This is the last Sunday before Pentecost, so it feels especially fitting that the lectionary today is about asking and waiting for the movement of God.  It is also appropriate to consider how we invite Jesus into our lives on a daily basis as we leave the Easter season and prepare to enter Ordinary time.

Reading the lessons in preparation for today, I was drawn repeatedly back to Revelation 22:17, and the strange invitation that we are extended.  At first glance, it seems like the Spirit and the Bride are saying “come” to the wayward soul.  If I stopped there and cut short the reading, I’m sure that I could talk only about the way the people of God are to be welcoming one to another and to the world outside.

This is an important topic to be sure, especially in this time of division and distrust in our country.  To do so, however, would be a disservice to the text; and as any visitors will see during the passing of the Peace later in the service, this congregation needs little exhortation to be welcoming to those who walk through the doors.

In examining this verse, it is important to consider who is saying “Come” and who is conspicuously absent.  “The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come.’”  The one who does not say “Come” must be the one that is being invited – and the One whom we do not hear from in this verse is Jesus Christ, the bridegroom of the Church, and the one who sent the Holy Spirit after his ascension.

The Spirit says “Come” because he was sent for the purpose of preparing hearts to receive the Lordship of Christ.  The Bride – that is, the Church – says “Come” because it is the joy of the Bride to come into the presence of her bridegroom.

Hear the next part of the verse: “And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’”  This awakens something in me that I wonder how many others feel, a kind of struggle between desires.  I am one who hears, and St. John, as the author of Revelation, is praying that I would say “Come,” meaning that I would fervently pray for the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.

On the one hand I very much want Jesus to return, to end suffering and death.  On the other, however, there are things that I haven’t experienced in this life that I would like to, but would be unable to if Jesus returned this hour; and if I’m terribly honest I don’t relish going through the things that Scripture makes plain will precede his return.

All in all, and to my shame, I am often times like the person earlier who would wait until plans are firmer before agreeing to attend the wedding.  It feels like because I’m frightened of living through the turbulence of the End that maybe I’m not so eager to say “Come.”  And that fills me with all sorts of dread.

But John is not through with his prayerful invitation.  “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”  I am one who is thirsty!  I desire that I should know God and be delivered from my double-mind.

Throughout Scripture we are assured that God bears patiently with his people, providing ample time for recognition and repentance of sin.  This is part of our prayerful perseverance as well – that in our disgust at our sins we do not despair but instead turn to the wellspring of the water of life.

And in this I am reminded that when I say “Come, Lord Jesus!” I am not only joining with the Church from the beginning asking for his imminent return, but also that in a personal way he would come and be present with me and teach me so that I can earnestly look for his return even through whatever earthly hardships precede it.

Have you also caught that John’s invitation is not quite like the example I shared in the beginning?  Whereas the disjointed and oddly infuriating wedding I portrayed required its guests to invite the wedding party, John’s invitation is actually bidirectional – the Spirit, the Bride, you and I say, “Come Lord Jesus!” even as you and I are invited to drink from the living waters.  In his Gospel account John recounts Jesus as saying that he is the very source of living waters.  As we bid Jesus to come again, we ourselves are bid to come to him.

As Anglican Christians, we believe that the form of our prayer shapes our patterns of life.  Therefore, we believe that prayer is accomplished not only by words leaving our lips, but also by the way we live our everyday life.  In the General Thanksgiving from the Daily Offices, there is this great line that sums up this thought: “…that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives…”  In that spirit, the remainder of my time will be spent examining how we can live a life that says “Come.”

In preparing this lesson, I originally listed out three areas of invitation: prayer, obedience, and self-sacrifice.  As I tried to organize the thoughts along those lines, I kept coming back to the thought that really self-sacrifice is the core of the life the invitation to Jesus.

When I pray, I am sacrificing time, something the world increasingly seeks to claim for itself and tries to tell me that I am a fool for not investing in earthly pursuits.  When I follow commands – from Our Lord or any other who is able to issue commands – I give up my agency and hold myself in subjection to the will of the one who gives the orders.

The life that says, “Come Lord Jesus!” lives sacrificially first for Jesus.  The beginning of this sacrifice is to recognize the Lordship of Christ in prayer and the study of the Scriptures.  Once we accept the example of his leading, we seek to perform sacrificial works out of obedience to love God and our neighbor.

We must pray and study the Scriptures daily.  This sounds rote and trite and maybe a bit formulaic, but it is nonetheless true.  In order to live a life that says “Come, Lord Jesus” we must be able to regard Jesus as that beloved in our life whom we would never hesitate to rush off to see no matter the cost.

This prepares us so that we respond to the wedding invite more in the first way, without worries about when or how far away or things we don’t understand in the invitation.  The way that we grow closer to others is in spending time with them, getting to know them better.

Before we were married, the way I got to know my wife was by spending time with her on dates, talking to her for hours on the phone, and – in the information age – exchanging countless emails and texts.  The point is, in spending time with her, she became important to me to the point that I would do anything reasonable and innocent to please her.

Likewise, we must spend time getting to know Jesus.  He freely makes himself known to those who want to know him – the picture used multiple times in the Bible, as alluded to earlier, is that of a freely available spring of water.  The only bars to getting to know Jesus are the ones we place in front of us.

Practically, the way we spend time with him is in prayer.  Whether this is through the observation of Daily Office prayers or just momentary silences with our hearts turned to God, our prayers become those sweet moments spent with a dear and close friend.

The way we come to know him is in reading the whole of Scripture – as Jesus is present in the Old Testament as well as the New – with an ear constantly listening for what God wants us to hear.  The Daily Offices are especially useful for these purposes, by combining the hearing of Scripture and our responsive prayers.

We are called to obedience to Jesus as the Lord of our lives.  When we say “Come” we are saying that we will accept his leading and will do what he asks of us.  Jesus tells his disciples many times that the one who loves him will follow his commandments.  Whether this is in resisting temptation, caring for the poor and needy, healing the sick, or following the calls of God on your life, we live out our prayerful invitation when we obey our divine Master.

In his divinity, the Lord Jesus inhabits our being as Fr. Ben preached last week.  This cohabitation allows us to know him more intimately than we could any human.  In following his commandments, we live the life he lived – and in his living within us, he helps us in the doing of the things he commands.  Unlike almost all earthly masters and governors, who command their charges to do things they themselves would scarcely do, Jesus did not exempt himself from the commandments of God.

Following the commandments of God are life-giving, as Jesus affirms when he says that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light.  In living a life that follows his leading, we respond to the second part of John’s prayerful invitation and come to the waters of life.

Following commandments seems to be inherently practical; unsurprisingly, however, we humans excel at finding ways to overcomplicate matters – and I’m sure those who know me well would say that I am exceptionally gifted in this area.  We find ways to exempt ourselves, by reading into the text caveats and loopholes and exit ramps to get out of doing things that we find uncomfortable.

I especially find this is true for me in performing acts of mercy to strangers.  This is probably the area where I have the most difficulty.  I know that I should strive to do the things Jesus did unreservedly, but often I allow my fears and uncertainty drive me into paralysis until the opportunity to do the thing that is pleasing to God has passed.

If you are like me, and struggle with how to act in the moment to show mercy, then let me commend the discipline of almsgiving, while we pray together for discernment and growth.  The language Jesus used in talking about giving to the needy – saying when not if you give – makes it a clear expectation of something that a disciple of Our Lord does regularly.  Giving money to the poor, either directly or through the Church, is a perfectly valid way to show mercy.

I have heard many people say that they wouldn’t give money to a beggar because they wouldn’t trust what they would do with it.  I have said this myself and had myself thoroughly convinced that under “the right circumstances” I would fulfill whatever material need was unmet.  Surely it was mere coincidence that those right circumstances seemed to almost never come about.  But I became convicted that my supposed reasonableness was constricting my ability to be merciful.

I find that as I am still growing in this area, I trust the discernment given to ministers of the Church like my parish priest to appropriately handle gifts to the poor.  In our church building, there is a small box in the back near the doors for giving money to the express purpose of helping those who are in need.  Alternatively, one of our regular congregational activities is filling a purple bucket which collects assorted items for different vulnerable groups.  There are also online giving options to various charities – I can personally recommend the Anglican Relief and Development Fund.

It is my prayer that this week we will all examine how we invite Jesus into our lives.  In living sacrificially, through both our prayers and our obedience to the commandments of God, may we join the Church in ages past and around the world today in crying out “Come Lord Jesus!”

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

 

Daily Morning Prayer – 16 March 2019

Lent (Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent)

Daily Morning Prayer text can be found in Texts for Common Prayer II (beginning on page 3) or on the ACNA website at http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/texts_for_common_prayer.

Readings:

Psalm(s) 37:1-18

OT: Exodus 23

NT: Matthew 22:1-33

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Grace and Peace in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Source: Daily Morning Prayer – 16 March 2019

Daily Morning Prayer – 15 March 2019

Lent (Friday after the First Sunday in Lent)

Daily Morning Prayer text can be found in Texts for Common Prayer II (beginning on page 3) or on the ACNA website at http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/texts_for_common_prayer.

Readings:

Psalm(s) 36

OT: Exodus 22

NT: Matthew 21:23-end

If you have been blessed by the podcast: please subscribe to receive new episodes as they are produced, review on the podcasting service you use to receive episodes, and share with friends and family.

Grace and Peace in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Source: Daily Morning Prayer – 15 March 2019

Daily Morning Prayer – 13 Mar 2019

Lent (Wednesday after the First Sunday in Lent; Spring Ember Day)

Daily Morning Prayer text can be found in Texts for Common Prayer II (beginning on page 3) or on the ACNA website at http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/texts_for_common_prayer.

Readings:

Psalm(s) 30, 32

OT: Exodus 20

NT: Matthew 20:17-end

If you have been blessed by the podcast: please subscribe to receive new episodes as they are produced, review on the podcasting service you use to receive episodes, and share with friends and family.

Grace and Peace in the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ!

Source: Daily Morning Prayer – 13 Mar 2019