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.
For the month of September we’re keeping things simple – though, when in the church is anything simple? When in our lives is anything simple? Well, we’re going to try and bring some simplicity in the midst of all our complexities each Sunday till the end of the month.
The whole series is focused on the materially simple life that Jesus led, taught, and exemplified. And, each week, we’re going to have a challenges that accompany our worship.
The bible spends a lot of time addressing a great number of topics, but time, possessions, money, prayer, and food are the topics that Jesus talked about the most. And, when Jesus addressed these issues for the people of his days, he came at all of them with an air of simplicity that is often lost in the church today.
The man lived a good and faithful life. He had a loving family, a lucrative career, and he was in church nearly every single Sunday.
As he got closer to the end of his life, he heard God speak to him one day. “You have been good and faithful” boomed the voice from beyond, “and though I don’t usually do this, I’m going to grant you a special dispensation. When you die you may bring a briefcase full of whatever you want to heaven.”
The man was overwhelmed by the generous act of God, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized he had an incredibly difficult decision to make. Most night he laid awake staring at the ceiling running through his possessions in his mind until, after months of deliberation, he came to a decision.
When his days came to an end, he found himself standing in line outside the pearly gates with a great assortment of people. Though, unlike anyone else, he held a briefcase in his hand. The whispers and stares followed him all the way through the line until he stood right before St. Peter.
The first disciple asked, “What’s that in your hand?”
The man proudly retorted that he and God had come to an agreement and that he was able to bring a briefcase to heaven.
Peter jumped up off his cloud, and clasped his hands to his mouth. “So you’re the one! The angels and I have been talking about you for a long time, and we’ve got a pretty good pool going about what’s inside. So, do you mind? Can I take a peak?”
The man beamed with bride as he laid the briefcase on the ground and opened it up.
Of all the things the man could’ve picked, among all his possessions, he decided to bring a few gold bars.
He looked up at Peter excited to see the look on his face, but Peter just raised an eyebrow and said, “Asphalt?”
Because, you know, in heaven the streets are paved with gold…
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth! Friends, Jesus is speaking to us throughout the centuries and the time has come for all of us to close our bank accounts, empty out all of our garages and attics, and start saving in heaven!
We’re going to spend more time talking specifically about money next week, but today we are talking about possessions, and specifically how possessed we are by our possessions.
Check this out: Did you know that here in the United States there are more self-storage facilities than Starbucks and McDonalds combined!?!?
Think about that for just a moment, think about how you can’t go anywhere around here without the coffee seller or the golden arches, and yet there are more self-storage facilities!
The amount of space in our self-storage facilities is so ridiculously large in fact, that we could fit every man, woman, and child inside of them with room to spare.
And of the people who own a storage unit, the majority of them have both attic space and garage space at home.
I joked months ago that this church has a storage problem because we simply had too much stuff. And so we decided to take a day to go through most of the items we had stored just to start clearing things out – Friends we had more ziplock bags full of dried out markers than I could count – we had Vacation Bible School materials from 20 years ago – we have copies of every bulletin this church has ever used. EVER.
The church is not immune to the problem of possessions.
Jesus’ little vignette in which he lays out the dilemma is one that I’m sure most of us are familiar with – but there’s some subtle wordplay that we miss. Because, in English, we translate Jesus’ words as, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” But in Greek it reads more like, “Do not treasure up your treasures.”
But why not? What’s so wrong with working hard to accumulate possessions? What’s the problem with running out of space to store all of our stuff?
Well, Jesus would have us remember that treasuring up all of that treasure ultimately leads to its demise. Moths, rust, and thieves will consume all that we save is we treasure it away.
And we’ve got to hand it to Jesus on this one – he’s right. The more we accumulate, the more we store, the more we possess, the more the dust accumulates, the more we run out of space, the more we can’t even really remember what’s in the bottom of that box on the far side of the garage.
But Jesus is also pushing us to a different understanding as well. He’s not just gathering the disciples around for a little advice on how to be mindful of the fragility of our possessions, but its also a lesson in the theological ramifications of treasuring up our treasures.
It, the struggle with possessions, runs throughout the scriptures. Abraham desperately wants a son, someone to pass his possessions on to. The Hebrews are delivered from slavery in Egypt only to think back on all the stuff they left back in Egypt. After entering the Promised Land, the people of God habitually lament losing the thing they care about most over and over again – not their relationship with God, but all of their stuff back in Jerusalem.
Even in the New Testament, the rich young ruler, James and John, Ananias and Sapphira, they all experience the loss (or potential loss) of worldly goods and it just about undoes them.
Having stuff, accumulating possessions, isn’t a sin. Our things can be used for both good and evil. It’s when the love of our stuff, when we feel an intense desire to lock it up and away, that we become blind from other things in our lives. And, God forbid, we start encroaching on a slippery slope that seems to never end.
First we possess something we truly desire – but then when we see what other people have and we start doing whatever it takes to get it. It’s why the line for new iPhones every fall stretches far beyond every Apple Store.
Then, whenever we acquire the item that was pulling at our heart strings, we intensely desire something else or more of the original item and we are less inclined to share what we have. It’s why we find ourselves trading in a car for the updated model when nothing is really wrong with out current mode of transportation.
And finally we just keep consuming one thing after another, even when we are beyond full. It’s why the self-storage business is a multi-billion dollar industry and we wind up buying space just to have room for all of our stuff.
But don’t we have enough already? Are we so discontented by our stuff that the only remedy is more of it? Do we possess our possessions, or are we possessed by our possessions?
Here’s a dose of some hard truth – at the end of our days, everything goes into a box. A box that’s about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide. And we can’t take anything else with us.
Do not treasure up your treasures on earth, but treasure up your treasures in heaven. Some will say that Jesus is pleading with his followers across the sands of time to treasure up our treasures in heaven by giving money to the church. And, though you can take it that way, I think Jesus is being a little more subtle. As the King of the Kingdom, as the one inaugurating the new way, Jesus knows that when we treasure up our treasures on earth, they no longer make a difference, and they start to weigh us down.
But by treasuring up our treasures in heaven, by knowing what really matters and what really doesn’t, we are freed from the tyranny of sinful accumulation and we start to see and know that we are God’s treasure.
Because, God’s heart is with us.
As I noted last week and at the beginning of this sermon, each Sunday this month we are taking the time to encounter the simple qualities of complex realities, but we will also have challenges that accompany our worship. Last week we were tasked with taking time everyday to be grateful by our time. This week we have a clean out challenge.
We are asking that everyone set aside some time this week to get rid of some stuff. In my house we have a drawer that has a little bit of everything in it, and maybe you have one like that, and perhaps thats the project you want to tackle. Take out the drawer, go through every item, and really ask yourself whether you need it or not. If the items you discard can be used by someone else, then take them to a local goodwill or salvation army, if they can be recycled then recycle them.
Pick one drawer, one box, one closet – it doesn’t matter what it is, but go through it and get ride of some of your possessions. That might sound overly simplistic, but that’s kind of the point.
With the crazy and ridiculous ways that we are accumulating far more items than we could ever possibility need, too many us us are are focusing on earthly things instead of heavenly things.
So you can keep it as simple as cleaning out one place, one depository of items. Or you can take it a step farther and clean out an entire room – going through every drawer, every box, every shelf while asking what of all the items are actually giving you life, and which are holding you back.
Or you can even take it one step farther and pick out individuals whom you know would be blessed by some of your possessions. Instead of taking it to a local donation place, bring them to someone you know would love it and let them experience something that used to bring you life and joy.
As we hear about the perennial struggle with possessions, as we begin to imagine that space in our homes that is overrun with stuff, we might become so bogged down in our worry and fear and attachment that we forget how God was willing to part with God’s greatest possession.
Because, strangely enough, God’s greatest possession, God’s beloved, is Jesus Christ. And, in God’s great and perplexing wisdom, God chose not to treasure up God’s greatest treasure but instead decided to give it away on our behalf.
We know where God’s heart is because we know Jesus Christ and him crucified.
We know how much of a challenge this will be because we find ourselves surrounded by mountains of stuff that shackle us to limited visions of reality.
We know the frightening dimension of giving away our possessions because as Christians we regularly encounter the knowledge of God’s profound generosity in the gift of his only begotten Son.
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. Amen.