I’m on the road again this weekend. Heading back to Fort Wayne to participate in a wedding. One of those grand celebrations of life and love and covenant and commitment. Though I trust these friends and this family to do a good job of keeping things in perspective, weddings are often over the top in terms of expense and glitz and indulgence and all out craziness. Luckily most of it is reserved for the reception and the weddings themselves are quieter and simpler affairs. But the stops are all pulled out for the reception, and for getting to the reception. Which seems backward to me.
I’m just helping to preside on this one, but the bride and her family are friends of ours and I was honored to be asked. But the groom’s father is a pastor and he has the central role. If I was preaching at this wedding, however, I would probably want to talk about the treasure. It’s my favorite wedding sermon. It’s from Matthew 13, a parable that Jesus tells, hoping to help us grasp this kingdom of heaven thing, which is frankly beyond us. But He keeps trying, keeps giving us glimpses and hints and pointers. And we think we get it, but then realize we don’t. We catch a glimpse of it, out of the corner of our eyes, but when we try to focus on it, when we try to figure it out, it escapes us again. So a treasure, He says, a treasure we stumble upon. And then give up everything to have it. Everything else. Everything that keeps us from that treasure. Which is why I like it for a wedding sermon. Where better can we talk about treasuring, and about giving up everything for the treasure?
We are not getting married, however. We are continuing our journey along our discipleship path. We began with Connect, we reflected on Serve, we listened to Grow and now we’re dwelling on Give. Again. As if it were important. More important than the others? No, certainly not. All are equally important. But maybe this is the one we struggle with the most. Maybe this is the one we resist the most. So, we need to spend a little more time with Give. And with treasures. But here’s our question: what treasures do we seek? Is the hidden treasure something we can hold in our hands? Is it stuff, even good stuff, helpful stuff, stuff we can use, but still stuff? Or ... what?
Matthew 6:19-21 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
For all that Jesus seems bothered by stuff, he is in favor of treasures. Did you notice? It’s not, stay away from treasure, it’s bad for your health. No, treasuring is ok. It’s what we choose to treasure, that’s the issue. There are some treasures that aren’t worth storing up. Or piling up. Or tucking into the attic so that when you dig it out you say with a sigh, what were we thinking keeping this? The stuff around here just wears out, gets stained and unwearable, it rusts. Rusts? What did they have that rusted in Jesus’ day? Well, the word is “brosis” in Greek. It often refers to food that gets eaten. Consumed. Used up. Worn away until you don’t even recognize it any more.
No, apparently there is treasure and there is treasure. Some treasure is worth treasuring, some just fit for the junk heap. How do you know? How can you tell the difference? How do we know we are saving the right things? Treasuring the right things?
Well, some say it is all about the tally sheet. You’ve got to pile up a good score in heaven. Every act of service is another star in your crown. And our goal is to get lots of stars, lots of jewels. Not, to be sure, to earn our place in heaven. That comes by the grace of God. No, this is about the furnishings. A better mansion, plush carpets, bigger windows, more floors. They’re building us a dwelling place out of the materials we send up from here. Some say.
I’m not convinced, frankly. Stuff is stuff. It seems like if Jesus was against too much stuff here he would be against too much stuff there. Don’t you think? So, it doesn’t sound like the treasures Jesus wants us to treasure is more stuff, divine or otherwise.
What if our math is wrong. What if it isn’t do this to get that? What if the treasure isn’t the end product, the reward or the payment for our acts? What if it is the act itself? Not the result of our action but the action. What if the treasure is not something we can hold in our hands but something we do with our hands?
In other passages when Jesus shares this secret, he tells someone, the rich young man, “sell everything and give the money to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven.” We think, we get something, when we get to heaven there will be something there because we’ve done this great thing. Maybe not. He says “do this and you will have.” Go and sell and you will have your treasure. In the selling and giving. That’s the treasure. That’s the gift. That’s the blessing. The doing. The giving.
Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Live your life in such a way that you know the blessing every day. Live your life so that you are treasuring what lasts into eternity. That’s what Jesus is trying to point out to us. Some treasure is eaten away, and some treasure lasts and nothing in this world can take it away. An act of kindness lives forever. Love lived out lasts forever. Goodness outlasts bitterness. Joy endures while despair fades. An act of generosity is treasured into eternity.
Maybe that’s what Malachi meant. Remember him? Old Testament guy. The last word in fact. The final book. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, Malachi is the last book of the Old. He talked about giving. Went on a bit of a rant, really. Says when you don’t give, you’re robbing God. It’s all God’s anyway, when you keep it to yourself, you hoarder, you’re robbing God. He wags that bony, prophetic finger with some passion. He scowls, he spits, he nearly swears, he’s so worked up. Read it for yourself, halfway through chapter three. He starts by saying a reckoning is coming, a messenger of God bringing fire, bringing soap. This messenger is going to burn you clean, going to wash you raw. Because, he says, you’re robbing God. But then he comes out with this little tidbit, right in the middle of his rant:
Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
Overflowing blessing. We get stuff? We God robbers? That’s how so many have interpreted it. God will fill your pockets, your storehouses, your room of requirement. Right? Maybe. But then maybe not. Maybe it isn’t stuff. Maybe it is the blessing of giving. Maybe it is the joy of service, of surrender. Maybe the blessings that overflow are like treasures in heaven, the relationships, the covenants, the love shared that fills us up so that we can’t hold any more. Maybe the more we let go of stuff, the more we know blessings. God’s blessings, overflowing over us, into us.
Yeah, it’s scary to cast off the stuff that defined a life, or seemed to anyway. That is a loss to be sure. But what cannot be lost are all the moments we’ve treasured together, the lives that we’ve lived, the experiences we’ve shared. Even when we forget them, and I suspect we will, they will be ours in eternity. When we meet we will remember and be remembered. And what greater treasure can there be than that?
So join me in wishing Kali and Jonathan well this weekend. They found a treasure that they will give everything to possess. May we all be so blessed.