We tend to think everyone asking for money is like that young boy. But some are different. It was November of 2003, and I was walking with some friends in downtown Atlanta after an evening session for an academic conference. The day had gone just as I expected: Meetings, lectures, presenting papers. But, there was one unexpected thing that day: Lester. As we walked in the shadows of Atlanta’s multi-million dollar skyscrapers, we were suddenly blocked from going any further. Because a smelly man in rags was yelling at us! He was just talking out of his head, rambling on about who knows what. We, being the good Christian men that we were, tried to get away from him, fast. But we soon realized Lester wasn’t going anywhere. I know his name was Lester because, he proceeded to tell us his story.
We’ve all heard Lester’s story before. He ran out of money. He needed a place to stay. He hadn’t eaten in three days. He needed our help. Lester followed us for about five blocks, talking constantly, retelling his story over and over. Finally, we just gave him some money. You could say we did it out of our concern for Lester. You’d be more correct in saying we did it so he’d leave us alone. As he walked away, we all wondered the same thing.
I wonder where Lester is going to spend our money?
This morning we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount with these words:
Do not treasure 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. (Matthew 6:19–21)You know, our world is full of people like Lester. Sometimes they meet us on the streets in Atlanta. Sometimes they are holding signs outside of Walmart in Tyler. They always force us to wrestle with one question. Where do we store up our treasures?
People today will do just about anything to accumulate enough power or prestige or wealth or stuff to satisfy their cravings. The collection of houses and cars and boats and clothes and stuff symbolizes the “good life” in America. And life is so good that we can’t keep it all in one location anymore. Leonard Sweet said that the most lucrative business to be involved in during the 1990s in America was storage. We need to rent off-site locations to store the stuff that we don’t have much time to visit—because we’ve already moved on to other stuff.
Now, I think I need to stop and redirect for just a moment.
This sermon could very quickly turn into a bashing session on materialism. A sermon designed to guilt us into placing a few extra dollars in the collection plate this morning. But listen carefully, this isn’t a text about giving. Let me repeat that: Jesus makes many other declarative statements about giving, certainly. He speaks often about those who “have” taking care of those who are “have-nots.” But our text today is not about giving! Our text today is actually about getting. About treasuring up treasure. All of us treasure up treasure, the question is: “What kind of treasure are you treasuring?” Jesus says to pursue treasure that is in heaven. This treasure Jesus is talking about cannot rust. It cannot decay. It cannot ruin!
And just after He talks about these “treasures in heaven,” Jesus launches into this discussion about eyesight. Have you ever heard this: “The eye is the window to the soul?” Jesus believed that proverb. It’s true! And it’s frightening! Consider this: What if our eyes were actually video cameras? What if this morning all of the images from your eyes were played back right here on this screen? What would we see? What images have gone in through your eyes and occupied your thoughts? In other words, what images form your memory? What parts of this life have we chosen to record? Possibly good images:
- Images of family
- Images of our child’s first steps
- Images of our child’s baptism
- Images of our parent’s face when we were children.
And perhaps the most frightening words of Jesus come next. Not only is the eye a window to the soul, but whether we realize it or not, our treasures can become our masters!
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”This statement from Jesus ties these two sections together. This is one train of thought for Jesus: Treasuring up good kinds of treasure. Paying careful attention to what we see. So, how are these two things connected? We tend to treasure the things that dominate our thoughts. Over time, if we continue to come to places like this. We come to believe that God wants us to have those things that dominate our thoughts—no matter what those things are! We’ve spent 200 years now Christianizing the gospel of wealth. It’s part of the American dream. We find texts in Scripture that support the idea that wealth is a sign of God’s blessing. Some of the most popular Christian books over the last few decades support this idea. If you love God and follow Him only—if you just ask God in good faith—He will enlarge your territory! That is the thesis of a best selling Christian book, The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson.
I read this week that the third largest Christian church in America is just south of us in Houston. Each week, the sermons that are delivered from the pulpit support this idea. The more you love God, the more you follow God, the more wealth God will bless you with. Each weekend approximately 52,000 people attend services to hear that message. But this theology wasn’t invented in America.
In 17th century Europe, there was a big stink in the church about helping the poor. There was a movement that began with the express purpose of educating the poor, giving food to the poor, and clothing the poor. In reaction, many Christian people stood and said, “Wait a minute! Those people are poor for a reason! They are lazy, and God is punishing them for their laziness.” But whether we are looking at 17th century Europe or 21st century America, we must come to grips with this ever present, clear reality. Jesus’ gospel does not teach that the one with the most stuff wins. But, Jesus does talk about the benefit of accumulation. But not the accumulation of wealth or power or success. Jesus champions the accumulation of relationships. Like I said before, this is a passage not about giving but about getting. Not about giving our money or time or stuff, it’s about getting new relationships in the name of Jesus Christ.
It is such a joy to witness kingdom people serving others as a testimony of their love for God. I think of people like Barbara Gilbreath. Barbara is known throughout this community—not Glenwood, but Tyler. As a person who treasures up relationships with people, she doesn’t just volunteer her time at HiWay 80 or PATH or the Gathering. She treasures up relationships with people. There are surely countless others that fall into this category.
I think the nature of this text forces us to challenge ourselves. This is a difficult text for many of us to read. It confronts us with some harsh reality. It’s especially difficult for us “rich Americans” to hear these words of Jesus. However, I don’t want to get out of here this morning without hearing the good news in this text! We need to acknowledge the many wonderful ways in which this church lives out this text. This family has so many times allowed relationships rather than money, power, buildings, or mortgages to become their treasures. There is a man here at Glenwood that came to me with a request. We had a conference on marriage. He said, “If you know anyone who wants to go but cannot, let me know.” Why? Because he values those relationships more than money! But, like I said before, this does not always have to do with money.
Several months ago, Larry and Reta Bridges happened to meet a perfect stranger from Habitat for Humanity. I think they ran into each other as Larry and Reta were donating some items. They could have simply said, “Take the things by the door,” but that is not how they do things! They spent time talking with Jonathan. A few weeks later, Jonathan was baptized! That’s what this “treasure” business is all about!
A text like this one always elicits strong reaction. Some of you are angry that you have to hear a sermon about this topic at all! Others of you might be convicted that you are treasuring up the wrong kind of treasure. Others will leave encouraged by the many examples of generosity and selflessness evident in this family. In whatever ways we react to this text, however, we cannot let these truths escape our attention. Remember this: Jesus valued people over stuff. He valued relationships over money. As the story of Jesus shows us, He valued you over everything else. Now, let’s live lives of gratitude by following in His footsteps.