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August 20, 2017

 “What our Hearts Remember”

Matthew 6:19-24


When I hear the word “Treasure” in today’s passage, the first thing I think of is a big pirate treasure, hidden somewhere on an island. RRR! That’s what happens when your family owns the entire DVD set of all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, plus the fact that whenever we go to Disneyland that is the FIRST ride we go on. It is tradition. Perhaps when you think of treasure, you think of the crown jewels, the great treasure hidden up in the Tower of London. These are old illustrations for “treasure.” Yet, “treasure” isn’t really a common word anymore. Perhaps a better translation for treasure could be value? What do you value in this world? What does what we value say about our hearts?  As we continue in Matthew chapters 5-7, Jesus says in the first part of today’s lesson that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also- or what you value is where your heart is.  Now the Hebrews believed the heart was where the will was located. A person’s will is their intent. It speaks of their actions and activities in the world- how they live their lives, and tells us what they value and treasure most in life. 


It turns out the ancient Hebrews weren’t too far off. There are several stories about heart transplant patients suddenly having treasured memories of doing things they never experienced, or having sudden cravings for food which they never liked before. Consider the story of a transplant patient in Australia who has developed an insatiable craving for junk food - after receiving a new heart from a teenager with a taste for fatty snacks. David Waters is the latest example of an extraordinary phenomenon which sees some transplant recipients take on the characteristics of the donor. Before being given the heart of 18-year-old Kaden Delaney, who was left brain dead after a car crash, Mr. Waters, 24, had no desire at all for Burger Rings, ring-shaped hamburger-flavored crisps. It was two years before he found out why the cravings had started suddenly after his operation.

Kaden's family tracked him down to see who had benefited from their son's heart, 
and they began exchanging emails. A curious Mr. Waters then asked: “Did Kaden like Burger Rings? That's all I seemed to want to eat after my surgery.” He was astonished to hear that he ate them daily. So our hearts actually hold onto the things we value!


Consider then, if you ended up giving your heart to someone, what would they crave? What treasured memories would they hold onto? What we value, what our hearts remember can be a driving force for our lives.


For example, in some societies, one shows what they value based upon one’s livestock. That is true for certain indigenous tribes throughout the world. It used to be that value among Native Americans was based upon how many horses one owned. These indigenous people had a heart for horses. But things have changed a bit in some instances. Back in the early 1990’s I took a church group on a mission trip to a Native American reservation in Yakima, Washington. As I passed by many homes and small farms, I didn’t see many horses, but I noticed lots of cars in the front yards, some of them that seemed to be in working condition, and others that were rusted out. I was told by one of the locals that status in that particular Native American community depended upon how many cars one owned, running or not. Apparently, cars replaced horses for the Yakima. Since they valued cars, they sought after cars, new and used. Because purchasing cars was important to them, it guided their activity in life so that they could gain standing or status.



Wealth and status are powerful driving forces in our culture. Years ago, when our son Sam was in second grade, I learned that a second grade boy’s status depended upon how many Pokémon cards one owned, and more importantly which ones the person owned. For example, in Pokémon  a “Charizard” card is much more valuable than a “Pikachu” card.. I think.  I might have been able to tell you at one point why this is, although not anymore. Yet at the time, my son’s standing within his second grade community was affected by his acquisition of cards, by his amount and type of treasure, so when it came time to spend his allowance, that was where the money went, because that was where his heart was at the time. We used to go to the Circle K store in town whenever he had an allowance to spend, because Circle K was at that time the only store in Fort Bragg that sold Pokémon card packs. Pokémon was in Sam’s heart and guided Sam’s activity so that he could gain status.


Yet chasing after status and standing in one’s community is not limited to second grade.  We all crave status or standing. And, you might think that this misdirected desire of chasing wealth and status is a relatively new thing. Yet Proverbs 23:4-5, written in the 8th century B.C. says, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be wise enough to stop. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes to itself wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.”

We humans have struggled with our quest of treasure to gain status for thousands of years! Martin Luther, the great church reformer from the 1500's said, “See to it that greed does not take you in with a sweet suggestion and lovely deception like this: that you intend to advance yourself or your children to a higher...social position. The more you get, the more you will want; and you will always be aiming for something higher and better. No one is satisfied with his or her position in life.”  


The problem is that there will always be another, better Pokémon card, there will always be a bigger home, a cooler car, a treasure that we think can give us more standing, more security or more value in society. All of these treasures are temporary, as our hearts are led astray. In time the Pokémon card gets damaged, or another kind of game becomes the next in thing. In time the clothes begin to fade and tatter, the cool new car begins to fall apart, the 401k tanks because the stock market makes “an adjustment.” That is why Jesus says to us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal.” Why does Jesus use these three examples-moth, rust and thieves? Theologian Dale Brunner says, “The moth represents nature’s corrosion eating away. The rust represents time’s corrosion eating away, and the thief represents humanity’s corrosion eating away- All three together represent the insecurity of life lived for the accumulation of wealth and status.”



In this section of the gospel, Jesus is trying to teach us where to aim our hearts, where to focus the will of our lives. Rather than seeking the treasure of human popularity, or the status of wealth, the value of a high position in society, the faithful are called to seek the treasure of God’s esteem first, above all other desires. We are called to find our status in God and God alone. If we can do this, then our hearts will be opened, and our lives become directed toward pleasing God.


Then comes this section on our eyes, which almost doesn’t seem to fit. “The light of the body is the eye; so if your eye is sound your whole body will be luminous. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be darkness. And if, then, that which is supposed to be light in you turns out to be darkness-what a great darkness that is!” What does this have to do with treasure, with values, with our intent and will for life? First, I would say that the heart guides the will, which guides the eye. Second, if we replace the word “eye” with “treasure”, and the word “body” with “life”, then we get the following teaching: The light of one’s life is one’s treasure; if your treasure is sound your whole life will be luminous. But if your treasure is bad your whole life will be darkness.

Jesus is saying in second way what he said in the preceding parable of investments: Your treasures in life determine your life’s direction.


Jesus didn’t stop there. He breaks things down even further for us. Jesus says in verse 24, “A person cannot serve both God and mammon.” Some versions of this passage say “It is impossible to serve both God and mammon.” What is this word, Mammon?  The word “Mammon” is an Aramaic word meaning money or possessions. Martin Luther, in looking at this passage, said, “The emphasis here is on the little word SERVE. It is no sin to have money and property, wife and children, house and home. But you must not let it be your master. You must make it serve you, and you must become its master.” Money, status, standing, possessions- all of these can be tools for the kingdom of God, for they are given by God. Our material possessions, our money, our mammon if you will is not supposed to be something separate from our spiritual journey. If they are not integrated, and more importantly if mammon is not subordinated to God, then our spiritual journey is lacking.


Jesus doesn’t want us to waste our lives practicing the impossible, trying to serve two gods at the same time. Doing well financially, professionally, socially, personally does not last, and Jesus does not want us to be disappointed. The course for a Christian to follow is simply to make their decision that one will no longer allow one’s life to be determined by the treasures of success, awards, accomplishments, status, appointments, salaries, material possessions-that we will not be ruled by our quest for treasure.

Is there a Christian example of someone who turned their backs upon the treasures of this world to serve God and God alone? The founder of the Methodist church, John Wesley(1703-1791) is a great example. As an older man, he was a prolific author and his books were widely distributed, which brought a lot of financial wealth his way. However, Wesley had a code that he lived out when it came to wealth. He said, "When money comes into my hands I give it away, because if I hold onto it, it will get too close to my heart."

He didn’t always live with that code. His perspective was changed as a result of something that happened to him while he was a student at Oxford University. He had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: “Will Thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou has adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”

So, as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was £30, and his living expenses £28, so he had £2 to give away. The next year, his income doubled thanks to increasing book sales, but he still lived on £28 and gave £32 away. In the third year, his income jumped to £90; again he lived on £28, giving £62 away. The fourth year, he made £120, lived again on £28, and gave £92 to the poor.

Wesley preached that Christians should not merely tithe, but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, the Christian’s standard of giving should increase, not his standard of living. He began this practice at Oxford and he continued it throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds, he lived simply and quickly gave his surplus money away. One year his income was slightly over £1,400; he gave away all save £30. He was afraid of laying up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had as much as £100 at one time.

When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the £30,000 he had earned in his lifetime he had given away. John Wesley’s royalties at one time gave him what today would be an annual income of $160,000. Yet he lived like someone today might at an income of $20,000. Sound radical? Perhaps you’ll never be as radical as Wesley—I’m certainly not, but his example inspires me and makes me want to examine my heart and my treasure.


Jesus does not remove our desire for success or status. He redirects it. Rather than directing our hearts towards earthly success, Jesus calls us to become a success before God, to accumulate treasures in heaven- faith, hope, love, and service. Jesus doesn’t quash ambition; he elevates it. May we use our hearts, our minds, our words and our actions  to glorify God, so that the memories our hearts hold are treasured by the God we serve.  Alleluia! Amen.

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