October 6, 2019, World Communion Sunday
Just for fun this morning, let’s spend a moment thinking of all those things we do in life that we’d prefer not to be doing, but we do them anyway, simply because they’re in our best interest to do so. For example, many of you got up this morning and, even though it’s a Sunday, you spent 20 to 30 minutes in some form of vibrant exercise because you know that doing so is in your best interest. Others of you went to the medicine cabinet at dawn’s early light and started pulling out the pills and popping them into your mouth because you knew if you didn’t, it would come back to haunt you. Still others of you came to church this morning strapped into your car with that most uncomfortable thing ever invented, the seat belt or, better yet, you strapped your little ones in to a car seat that requires an engineering degree to master, because, well, you never know when someone might run a stop sign. I think you get the picture. Every single day we go through all manner of less than desirable activities simply because we’re better off doing them in the long run.
So, where does your giving fall in terms of your best interest?
Remarkably, you don’t hear many people associate giving with something that is in our best interest, probably because our prevailing culture tells us that, contrary to what Jesus said, “it’s better to receive than to give.” Speak with most people about what they think will provide them with the greatest measure of security for their future and they’ll tell you pretty quickly that it’s what they accumulate more than what they give away.
Case in point: Have you noticed how many storage facilities are starting to pop up all over Birmingham? Somewhere I saw a story about how the storage industry is one of the fastest growing industries in America so that we now have in our country the capacity for 6.9 square feet of storage space for every American. I find it ironic that 6.9 square feet is just a fraction more space than is supposedly needed to bury someone. Might it be that we have unwittingly jeopardized our own souls by the way we have focused way too much energy on having a place to store all of our stuff, because, as we tell ourselves, “we never know when we might need it?”
But Jesus tells us otherwise. This passage that is before us this morning is a section from Jesus’ most famous teaching, his Sermon on the Mount. The entire Sermon is built around the Lord’s Prayer, and each section of the Sermon elaborates on it in some way. For example, this teaching on being careful to “treasure up for yourselves treasure in heaven” is an elaboration on that part of the prayer that says, “Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The key phrase in both this teaching and that particular part of the Lord’s Prayer is the word “heaven.” Heaven to most Christians is the place we hope to go when we do leave this world. It is a place we picture as having streets of gold and gates of pearl and choirs of angels playing celestial symphonies on the most magnificent harps. And indeed, all of those images are sprinkled throughout the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, as a way to promise God’s people that heaven is the realm of God’s gloriously eternal rule, which is beyond the reach of evil and corruption, brought about by either natural forces or, as hard as it is for us to acknowledge, human ones.
In this teaching Jesus is telling his disciples that they don’t have to wait until their death to secure that sort of blessing. Even now they can begin to experience the confidence that God holds their life when they order it around His purposes and His plans. This is what Jesus means when he speaks of “treasuring up for yourself treasures in heaven,” for one’s “treasure” betrays his fundamental commitment. One’s “treasure” speaks volumes as to what ultimately controls his very life. Or, as Jesus puts it, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, what does your “treasuring” say about you? After all, there is nothing more revealing about our souls than the correlation between what we accumulate and what we give away.
In this respect I’m reminded of a story regarding Alexander the Great, the conquering king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon. Alexander, as you remember, succeeded his father Philip at the young age of 20 and proceeded to go out and conquer the world, which he was able to accomplish by his thirtieth birthday. But beyond being a military genius, Alexander was also an intellectual one, having been the student of the famous philosopher Aristotle during his adolescent years. Thus Alexander’s legacy has been the stuff of legend, legend with respect to his soul and his mind and his strength and his heart.
For example, it is said that one day Alexander was approached by a friend who asked him for 10 talents, which at the time was equivalent to about a modern-day, two-week paycheck. Alexander responded by giving the friend 50 talents. When the friend protested that he didn’t need 50 talents, that 10 were enough, Alexander answered by saying, “True, 10 may be sufficient for you to take, but 10 are not enough for me to give.”
Might it be that what made Alexander truly “great” was not so much what he had accumulated, even with respect to his having conquered the world; perhaps what made Alexander “great” was what was inside his heart, something that could only be measured by what he was willing to give away?
One thing is for certain: in a world where people seem hell-bent on accumulating as much as they can, the surest sign of our having not sold out to the prevailing culture is what we are willing to give away. Because what we own too often eventually comes to own us, as Christians, our giving makes space in our souls for God to do a work in us and through us that brings this overwhelming sense of peace and joy that we are a part of what God is doing even now to bring His Kingdom purposes to pass right here on earth as they always are in heaven.
That’s what Jesus is talking about when he speaks of “treasuring up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Jesus is talking about giving in a direction in which we want so desperately for our hearts to be. It’s not so much that he calls us to give to the things we want to care about. Instead, we ask ourselves the question, “What kind of Christian do I want to be?” Then we give as we would if we were to be that sort of person. In other words, through our giving we put our treasure where we would like for our hearts to be, and in the process our hearts catch up to our desire.
Do you see what this teaching means? If you want to care more about the kind of car that you drive, buy an expensive one. If you want to care more about the value of your property, then remodel your house. Neither of those is a necessarily evil thing. But if you want to grow in your ability to join God in bringing to pass His Kingdom purposes, then you bring an offering to God. “Where your treasure, there your heart is also.”
After all, isn’t that what Jesus did when he went to the cross? Did not Jesus offer his heart to God by taking up our infirmities and being wounded by our transgressions? And before doing so, did Jesus not come to the place in his own faith journey where in Gethsemane’s Garden he prayed the prayer God desires all of His children to pray? “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”
So, let us show Jesus where our hearts are through our giving. As we prepare to move forward with our church’s ministry plans for a coming year, let us make pledges that bear witness to our desire to align our hearts with God’s heart. Most of all, let us treasure up for ourselves treasures in heaven, because, to put it as simply but as substantively as I can, it is so very much in our best interest to do so.