Ginger Strickland          

Please read:
Matthew 6:19-24

Holy God – in this precious hour, we pause and gather to hear your word– to do so, we break from our work responsibilities and from our play fantasies; we move from our fears that overwhelm and from our ambitions that are too strong, Free us in these moments from every distraction, that we may focus to listen, that we may hear, that we may change. Amen

“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.”

When I hear this text, I sometimes think of my backpack.  It’s the one that I took with me to Palestine, to Vietnam, to Africa, on every youth retreat.  It was a gift for my 23rd birthday, which was of course very recent.  I love the color.  It fits perfectly, and I have such good memories with it - all the places around the world that I’ve carried it, all the nights I’ve slept on it in train stations and tents.

For me the key to traveling with a backpack is that you carry only the most essential things, the things that you need and value most.  And the benefit of carrying a backpack is that those essential things are always with you, right next to your skin.

When Jesus talks about “treasure on earth” and “treasure in heaven” I imagine a backpack, stuffed full of the things we value most.  Of course, it’s an imaginary backpack, so all our treasures can fit in it, everything we value, everything we think is essential.

Treasures can be material things, of course, like our apartments, our bank accounts, our clothes. Treasures can be invisible - our education, our gifts and talents, our love for a particular place or person, our pride, our fears, wounds from past hurts. People are beloved treasures - our friends and family.  Our relationship with God is something that we can choose to treasure, that we can choose to carry with us...

Each of us has our own backpack, our own treasures, our own things that we value so much that we always want them with us, where we can touch them, right next to our skin.

And the interesting thing is that because these treasures are always with us, never out of our sight, they influence every interaction that we have.  This stuff - whether it’s material, emotional, or spiritual - makes a difference in our relationships; in our relationship to God and our relationship to other people.

If I am carrying around a past hurt, that is going to affect how I react to people.  If my relationship with my family takes up a lot of space in my backpack, that influences me.  My material goods and how I relate to them - what I do with my money. Who my friends are.  My relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  It matters what I carry with me.

This, I think, is what Jesus means when He says “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  My treasure, the things I value most in the world, will determine my decisions, influence my relationships.  My treasure, the stuff I carry, will determine the direction of my life.

It’s funny isn’t it.  Because I chose my treasures.  I pack my own backpack.  I chose what I value, what’s important to me.  And then I think that I can take or leave my backpack, my treasure, depending on my mood.  I think I control my treasure.

But Jesus is sharing a great truth:  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.   Our treasure controls us.  That’s just a fact.  Once I decide that I value something, once I make it the center of my life and devote time and energy to it, it will determine the direction my life takes.  For better or for worse, I’m not free from it.  Where my treasure is, there my heart will be also.

What are your treasures?  What relationships, what tasks, what possessions are most important to you?

When we answer these questions, we can’t just consider what FEELS most valuable to us, or what we BELIEVE is most important.  We have to look at our actions.  If someone followed you around all day, what would they conclude that you treasured most?  If you look honestly at how you spend your time, what does that suggest that you treasure?

I want to think that the thing I most value is my relationship with God.  I want to think that after that I treasure my relationships with friends and family and the people that God brings into my path.  But if someone really watched me for a day, I hate to think what they would conclude that I love most - probably my email inbox or my coffee maker.

What do we really treasure?  What is really in our backpacks, what are the things that we carry so close to us that they influence every moment of our lives?

We want to think that it’s God, our families, our friends.  But what do our lives show that we treasure?  Our jobs?  Our appearance?  Our apartments?  Our computers?  Because what we treasure controls us.  Where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

In this text, Jesus challenges us really look at what we value most.  We are called to consider what we have chosen to carry with us, right next to our skin.  We’re called to take a hard look at what our actions, our energy, our time indicate that we treasure.

Because, Jesus tells us, there are two categories of treasure.  There are “treasures on earth” and “treasures in heaven.”  These are terms that Jesus’ first hearers would have heard often and understood, but for us they can be a bit more complicated.

“Treasures on earth” can be material things, certainly - our possessions.  But treasures on earth can also be immaterial things:  respect - that’s something we spend a lot of time and energy seeking.  Status.  It’s amazing what we will do in order to avoid being embarrassed or ashamed.  Physical appearance - a lot of time and money and energy.  Financial security - think of the hours a day we spend seeking this.

The interesting thing about “treasures on earth” is that Jesus never says that there is anything inherently wrong with these treasures.  It’s wonderful to have the respect of our peers.  Financial security is a precious thing, and it’s normal to want to have it.  The problem with most of these earthly treasures, Jesus says, is not that they are evil.  It’s that they don’t last.  Moth and rust can eat away at them from within.  Thieves can break in and steal.  In other words, we can work incredibly hard to secure them.  We can devote all our time and energy to our earthly treasures, but they can disappear before our eyes.  So we can’t rely on them.  We can’t trust them to keep us safe or make us feel good.  We definitely can’t trust them to bring us joy.  And most of all, we can’t trust them to draw us to God.

Money, power, acceptance, respect, romantic relationships.  We treasure these things, we value them, we pursue them.  We give them our time and our energy and our hearts.   And they let us down.

“Treasures in heaven” on the other hand, are reliable.  They can never be stolen.  They will never be moth-eaten or moldy.  We’ll never get tired of them, never exhaust their pleasures. It’s a strange paradox.  They are heavenly, spiritual.  We can’t see them or touch them.  But Jesus tells us that they are more solid, more reliable, more real, than the things we can see and touch.

So what are treasures in heaven?  Treasures in heaven, I think, are those treasures that really provide what we think all the earthly treasures will provide.  When we seek earthly treasures - money, possessions, status - what we really want is joy.  We want security, we want happiness.  And under all that, at the deepest level, what we are really craving is relationship with God.  Real relationship with God that enables real relationship with one another.  Treasures in heaven are the things that move us toward real relationship with God, the only treasure that really counts.  Treasures in heaven are the things that give us real, deep, Christ-centered joy.  Treasures in heaven are the things that last, the things that can never be taken away.

What is heavenly treasure for you?  What brings you closer in relationship with God?  What friendships are heavenly treasure for you?  What activities?  What character traits draw you closer to Christ?  What habits and practices?  These are the things we should be seeking.  This is where we should be putting our time and energy.  This is what we should be carrying.

During the season of Lent here at the American Church, we are exploring how Jesus calls us to live.  We’ll be talking about Christ’s call to us in our small group Bible Studies and in worship.  This week, we are talking about Jesus’ call to live simply.   Scripture often uses the world “simple” differently than we do.  We tend to say that something “simple” is easy.  Or that someone ‘simple’ is not particularly bright.  But simple can also mean single, pure, unmixed.  And that is the kind of life that Jesus is calling us to explore.  A “simple” life.  Living simply means we need to clean out our backpacks so that everything we carry, serves one single purpose - the love of God and neighbor.

Lent is a time of prayer, of self-examination and repentance.  One way to think of this is as a time to simplify.  A time to clean out the sack of treasures that we carry around with us.  We can examine our lives closely and really figure out what we really value, where we are putting our time and energy.  Not what we say we think is important but what we really treat as important.  Again, if an outside observer followed me around for a week, what would he decide was most important to me?  What does my agenda say that I value?  What is really in my backpack?

If you are at all like me, you’re pretty good at lying to yourself.  So this has to be a prayerful process, where we really invite the Holy Spirit to show us the truth about our lives.

And as we take out and examine each of these treasures, we can ask God what we are called to do with it:  “Ok, here is this relationship.  I treasure it.  I spend a lot of my time and energy pursuing it and taking care of it.”  We can take some time to really prayerfully look at that relationship, to ask God what we are called to do.  Perhaps God will show us how this relationship is a heavenly treasure, something that God is using to draw us closer.  Perhaps God will show us that this is something temporary, an earthly treasure.  Maybe God will show us that it’s wonderful, but we are depending on it to bring us the kind of security and love that only God can give.  Maybe we are called to give it up entirely.

Or, and this is the really wonderful possibility - maybe when we hold this treasure up to God, God will begin to transform it.  It is transfiguration Sunday, after all, the Sunday when we celebrate how God became human, and - in becoming human, transformed humanity forever.  How God became one with us, and then invited us to become one with HIm.  Maybe God will transform our treasure into something new and unexpected.  Maybe God will transform that flawed, goofy relationship into a means of grace.  Lent is a time when we can go through our backpack, hold that treasure up to God, and ask for that transformation.

Maybe another one of our treasures is something material.  Maybe we have worked for years in order to have a beautiful apartment.  One that is so beautiful that we aren’t embarrassed to have people over for dinner.  One that makes us proud and makes us feel great every time we walk into the door.  That’s the kind of treasure that it’s really scary to pull out of the backpack and hold up to God.  Because in our heart we know it’s an earthly treasure.  A few missed rent payments, a fire, a flood and it’s gone.  We can’t count on it to make us safe.  But maybe, if we offer this earthly treasure up to God, God can transform it.  Maybe God will show us ways to use that space in service of others, ways that the apartment can be a gift to the kingdom.  It is amazing how God can transform earthly treasures when we are willing to put them at the disposal of the community, to hold them a bit more lightly.

What is in your backpack?  Are you willing to take the time to figure that out this lent?  And are you willing to clean out that backpack, to examine your treasures, the things you most value in light of your faith in Christ?  Are you willing to simplify?

Is there some stuff that you need to throw away?  Are there some earthly things that you are depending on too much?  Are you seeking security and love and meaning in the wrong things?

Are there some treasures you need to add to your pack?  Are there some things that you don’t value enough, that you don’t devote enough time and energy to seeking?

Are you carrying some things that you need to ask God to transform?  Do you have relationships or possessions in your life that have a power over you that is really destructive?  Do you need to ask God to transform them?  Is there a treasure in your life that you are hoarding, that you are using only for your own benefit, that God could transform into a gift for the whole community?

Lent is a time to simplify.  It is a time for self-examination.  It’s a time to take out our treasures one by one and hold them before God to ask for transformation.  It’s a scary thing, because God might ask you to throw some stuff away.  God might ask you to start valuing some new things, to carry a heavier pack.  God might transform some of the things you think are important now into something almost unrecognizable.

But the important thing to remember is that God doesn’t ask us to live simply because he dislikes fun, or joy, or material things.  God wants us to live simply because it’s the only way to joy, the only way to freedom.

God wants to replace possessions with relationships, to replace things that will fade away with things that will last forever.  God wants us to travel with a light pack, to carry only the things that we need, the things that will nourish us, inspire us, help us to love more deeply, to live more joyfully.

In the name of the Father...