Today is the last day of our mission statement series. We’ve spent the last month or so walking our way through it: welcoming everyone to explore the living God in our neighborhoods. We want to be a people who open our arms extravagantly not just as a manner of obligation but as a gesture of relationship. We want to be a place of exploration because that’s what a living God invites us to be, living and active and curious. That’s risky, because our God is living and loving this world in ways that will stretch us beyond our comfort zone. But we want to follow. And we want to be this kind of community and be these kinds of people in our very neighborhood, in the places where God has planted and rooted us and given us a home--whether that’s here in Ormewood Park, SE Atlanta, or elsewhere in Atlanta.
We want to be the people who are welcoming everyone to explore the living God in our neighborhoods.
For now and for us, that’s our mission statement, that’s how we understand God’s call in our lives. But this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, nor does it happen without you and you and you and you walking into this place and living life together and with God. This doesn’t happen unless your life with God and each other is a treasure to you, a treasure to be loved and tended and protected. So today we’re going to talk a little bit about that, about keeping God’s call and mission in our lives, as a treasure.
So we have arrived at our scripture for this Sunday. It’s probably the shortest passage any of us have preached on since the beginning of our community. These few verses come from the Gospel according to Matthew. They are part of a much bigger section that many of you will recognize as The Sermon on the Mount. It’s a long portion of Matthew’s Gospel, three chapters, where Jesus is preaching on a mountain about the Kingdom of God (as opposed to the minor kingdoms we humans often set up for ourselves). What does it look like to participate in the Kingdom of God? How are people treated in the Kingdom of God? How are we to treat others in God’s dominion? You will often hear me say kin-dom as well as kingdom, but that’s another sermon for another day.
Jesus’ whole sermon is about being reoriented toward God and God’s way of living so that you and I can participate and live into God’s world, God’s kin-dom, both now and in the life to come. So that we can live into the mission we feel called to.
Today we are reading Matthew 6:19-21. These three verses fall in a list of proper ways of living and spending your time. Prayer, fasting, how you spend your money, how you spend your time. They are meant to orient our way of living in the kin-dom of God. So, listen now for a “short” Word from God:
“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 many of you this is a very familiar passage. I cannot tell you how often I have heard Matthew 6:19-21. And yet, every time it feels just as true as the last time I heard it. Perhaps because unlike the passages around it on fasting and prayer and giving, this one is not about a particular practice that, at points in our lives, spiritual and otherwise, can be more or less urgent, more or less within our grasp. This passage isn’t about what we do, but it is more about why and how we do it.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What is your treasure? In many aspects of our lives, our treasure is our material possessions or our money, quite literally. We may not be pirates hunting for treasure, but we do have a Department of Treasury in our country, and it is most definitely concerned with all things money, gold, invested, owed, and accruing. Treasure is often mistaken for what is in our treasury.
And we often mistake what we spend our treasuries on for our treasures as well. The TV’s or game systems. The elaborate meals. Phones. Cars. Tickets. Trips. We think that the things we protect with our security systems or our budgets are the treasures of our lives.
But we couldn’t be more wrong.
In his sermon Jesus is claiming that any treasure worth having is not what we possess in our accounts or in our safes or safety deposit boxes. It is not what the Treasury of the United States monitors or the economy controls. Any treasure worth having, any treasure that is part of the kin-dom of God is not part of the system or storage of our worldly goods or possessions. Treasure, real treasure, is NOT synonymous with money, make-up or, gasp, wine. I like to instead call these minor treasures, perhaps even tools to the real treasure. But they are certainly not to be mistaken with our real treasure.
Because Jesus says so. Jesus, in this passage of his sermon redefines what real treasure is. He defines what is really valuable and worth spending your time protecting, cultivating, storing up and tending to: real treasure is the stuff of your heart, the stuff of heaven, the stuff of the kin-dom of God. Our real treasures are not our tools and trinkets, but the stuff of the heart, of heaven, of the rule of God.
So what is that “stuff”?
It’s the stuff, not ironically, like what we’ve spent the last three weeks talking about in our mission statement:
Hospitality, an active faith, loving our neighbor. These are just some of the treasures Jesus is talking about--treasures not stored in our bank account but stored in our heart and in the hearts of those around us, and in the heart of God. Treasure isn’t what we spend our money on--it’s the ways we live into the kin-dom of God, ways that are matters of the heart. This faith community wants to say that beyond our love of things is our love of that ancient call to love God, and neighbor, and self.
This faith community wants you to redefine your treasure--so that when you wake up in the morning, you are driven to protect and nurture and develop those things that are close to God’s heart and close to yours--maybe they are the things that our mission statement speaks of: welcoming, exploration, openness to God. Maybe for you those treasures that God has placed in your heart are justice, Shalom, wisdom, gentleness, relationship.
In this community we share a treasured call that we’ve spent the last few weeks exploring, but we each also have treasures in our individual lives.
For me, it is my family. They are a treasure that gives me encouragement, helps me understand God, and takes care of me. They are my treasure--do I treat them like that? Do I guard them, love them, spend time with them like they are the treasure I claim them to be? They are treasures that God has given me--they are my heart. They are my treasure, what are yours?
I want us to sit with this question for a while. I want you to consider what your real treasures are in your life, or what is God calling you to treasure above the things of this world? I want you to think about this RIGHT NOW, because in a few minutes we’re going to write them up on the walls of the Fellowship Hall--there is paper, there are pens.
But before I ask you to do that, and to give you a few minutes to think, I’m going to ask that same question in a different way.
A few of you went to listen to a series of lectures by Barbara Brown Taylor this week at McAfee School of Theology. Barbara Brown Taylor is a priest, professor, and amazing author. One of you, Hannah, pulled out a question from her book An Altar in the World. I’m going to read an excerpt that Hannah post about this week on her Instagram account:
Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me (Taylor) to come speak at his church in Alabama. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him.
“Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone...All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves.
What is saving your life right now? What is your treasure? What are the things deep within you that God has given you (or beckoned you to embrace) that keep you alive? Is it a call to love your neighbor? Is it a commitment to justice? Is it a hope that goes beyond your circumstances? What is saving your life right now?
So this sermon is a two part sermon--don’t worry, the second will be shorter. But for right now, instead of a small group time today, we’re going to write our treasures all over the walls. I’ve posted paper along the walls. Write, name, post up there what your treasures are--your treasures of heaven, your treasures of the kin-dom of God, your treasures of the heart.
I can tell you some of mine that I’ll be writing up there: Chris, Darcy, Micah. Ormewood Church. Friendship. Justice. Diversity.
So I’m going to give us about 5-7 minutes for you all to write up your treasures, your heavenly things that you have on earth. I’ll ring the bell when we’re finished with that.
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.
There are things that we did not put up on these pieces of paper, but we treat them as though they are treasure. We place our heart among things that are not worthy of it. My list has a few things on it you might recognize: my phone, my debit card, Instagram, my stomach.
And not all of these things are bad in and of themselves. In fact, some of them are good, very good. They help me foster friendships through shared meals. They help me make someone laugh through a well placed meme. They keep me in contact with family that is literally a country away.
But instead of treating them as the tools to foster my REAL treasure, the things that really do save my life, I treat them AS THE TREASURE. I worship them with my time, with my money, with my attention, with my affection.
The danger isn’t that I will run out of the “minor treasures” or the things of this earth. The real danger is that I will start mistaking them for the actual treasure itself. The real danger is that I will start guarding those things that are merely tools as if they were the treasures of my life. The real danger is that I will start spending my time with my phone instead of with the people my phone connects me with. The real danger is that I’ll start stock-piling my money instead of investing it in the kingdom of God. The real danger is that my orientation, like Jesus speaks of in the sermon on the mount, will be toward the tools and trinkets of the earth rather than the kingdom of god which is everlasting.
And so, the second part of this sermon is a reckoning. It is a looking around at the walls of this room and coming to terms with the ways we neglect the true treasure, we leave it vulnerable because we’re distracted and consumed by what can be eaten by moths or stolen by thieves. We mistake the tools for the treasure. We need a re-orientation.
So this second part of the sermon is the call to sit at Jesus’s feet on the mount and hear him say these words: 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.
The second half of this sermon is a call to reorient your resources, your time, your money, your attention so that they get you closer to your true treasure, so that they bring you closer to God and neighbor, so that your heart is not left in the instability of the minor things, but is deeply nestled in the heart of God.
And if any of the things you listed up on these walls as your treasure, if you encounter and experience those things here, in this place and with these people, I do hope and pray that you use those minor treasures, those tools such as time and money and resources to invest in this community. I hope and ask that if the treasures of God are developed and nurtured and brought to new life at Ormewood Church that you put your resources (your money, time, and energy) where your heart is--not mistaking the two for each other, but putting your earthly resources where it will protect and nurture the true treasures that God is calling to fruition in your own heart. I hope that you will heed this call to re-orient your life on earth, for the things of heaven, the things of the kin-dom of God.