Colossians 3:1-4, 12-17
Each year during these October days, we think about stewardship: the wise and responsible use of all that has been entrusted to our care—this earth, our relationships with other people, our time, our ability, our money, and yes, this congregation—although the financial support of this congregation is in a sense the least of my concerns when I speak of stewardship.
Each of us individually and all of us together care for this church—the place where you were married, where your children were baptized and nurtured in faith, a beacon of God’s love on this corner, the place where you found new friends, where the outsider is welcomed, where you have laughed and cried and worshipped the living God. We are stewards of this gift that we have received free of charge.
I know that you will continue to give generously to support our ministry and mission here because this congregation and our work are important to you. I am confident that you will give generously because that is what we all do here. It is one of the marks of membership in this congregation.
This year we’re giving some consideration to the “heart work” that stewardship requires. The heart, as we encounter it in scripture, has been described as “the innermost spring of individual life.” It is regarded as the source of all of our physical energy, our thinking, our feeling, and our will.
Today, then, I ask, “Where is your heart?”
As most of you know, John F., the Moderator of our congregation is a physician. Because I don’t talk about members in sermons without talking with them first, with his permission, I want to share with you what he told us at the meeting of the Council last week. John admitted that he was having some trouble wrapping his right brain around this notion of “heart work.”
As a physician, John knows where his heart is.
It’s in the upper left side of his chest.
“Help me understand this ‘heart work.’” John asked of Council members. He told us that as he understands it, “The work of the heart is to push against the blood pressure, making circulation, and therefore life, possible.”
When he said this, I responded: “There’s the sermon for this Sunday!”
Heart work is what we do to push against all the pressure that would cut down and destroy. It is what we do to push against the pressure to conform to a world that seems to be running on lies, hatred, and greed.
Heart work is what we do to make life possible and flourishing.
Where is your heart?
To find out, Jesus suggests that we look toward what we value, telling us: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In the Greek of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus speaks directly to everyone, using the second person plural: “All of you, don’t store up treasures on earth, but all of you, store up treasures in heaven.”
And, of course, it’s always good when Jesus speaks to the crowd, because, lost in that crowd, we might be able to avoid what he is saying and the claims he is making on our own lives. We can leave that to others as we go about our business.
But suddenly and unexpectedly, he changes to the second person singular: “You, Bill, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
And we are left with no place to hide.
You—each one of you listening—where your treasure is there your heart will be also.
Locate your treasure and you have located your heart.
Maybe this is why Jesus talked more about money and possessions than about almost anything else. Wealth can distort our vision and warp our values. It can keep us from seeing the image of God in each human being. It can keep us from seeing that the earth is God’s. It can keep us from seeing that all that we have is simply entrusted to us for a time—that we are, indeed, stewards of many good gifts—none of which will last forever, none of which will be ours forever.
What we hear, from Jesus, however, is not a call to poverty. Jesus invites us to wisely use what we have and to give up whatever it is that holds us captive or impoverishes for true freedom and true wealth—serving only one Master is how he puts it.
Jesus tells all of us to store up treasures in heaven. But as is so often the case, he doesn’t tell any of us how to do this. As one New Testament scholar says, he simply leaves room for the creative response of those of us who follow him in our particular situations.
Jesus didn’t have much of a program:
Love one another.
Go and make disciples.
That was about it.
And, while you’re at it, store up treasures in heaven.
As we go about figuring out what this means for us in our time—as you go about figuring out what this means for you—remember that when Jesus speaks of heaven, he is not talking some place where all good people will go when they die if they just do this or believe that. Jesus really isn’t talking about some “place” at all, because Jesus is not as concerned about our going to heaven, as he is about the realm of heaven—God’s realm—coming to earth. This is what he teaches his followers to pray for and, indeed, this is what we pray for each time we gather in this place.
When he talks about “treasure in heaven,” then, Jesus is pointing toward the great value of this earth and of our life before we die.
Paul points us in a similar direction when he writes to the early Christians in Colossae: “If you have been raised with Christ…set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
The skeptical among us—and that means so many of us here, doesn’t it?—the skeptical among us will start out by saying: “That’s a pretty big ‘if.’
And yet, even in our skepticism, we often sense that there is something beyond ourselves, something greater than our own lives, something that transcends and lifts us beyond our everyday, predictable reality.
Now, there is a danger in setting our minds on things that are above; and that danger is expressed in the complaint about people who are “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”
That criticism doesn’t really fit this congregation, and I’m thankful for that.
Even so, we know that there are times when it does help to look beyond all that is so readily apparent.
St. Augustine described our condition well when he said that “there are days when the burdens we carry are heavy on our shoulders and weigh us down, when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies gray and threatening, when our hearts are lonely, and our souls have lost their courage and our lives have no music in them.”
You’ve felt like that at times, haven’t you?
My sense is that a lot of people have been feeling that way in recent weeks.
Set your minds on things above. Do the heart work that pushes against the pressure.
Oh, once a year we do that don’t we? On Easter we break out the brass and tune our hearts again to the stirring music of God’s new creation. We wake from our winter slumber and lethargy, that we might open our eyes to see the path ahead flooded with light and seek again the things that are above. We gain a sense of communion with the saints of every age, to know that we are not alone so that we might encourage others. We remember that God’s love and mercy are for all creation and affirm that we are here not for ourselves but for the world beyond these walls.
But in October—especially this October—as the leaves and the temperature drop, Easter and its hopeful announcement of new life can seem lost in the distant past.
So in October—especially this October—looking above, looking beyond our immediate concerns helps us to remember that we are part of God’s new creation, that God is greater than our worries and our weariness and sustains us through days such as these.
That awareness keeps our hearts beating, keeps our hearts pushing, refusing to succumb to the pressure of lies and hatred and greed.
When we stand with people seeking a just wage or provide one meal to a hungry person at the Free Lunch Program…
When we celebrate the equality of all people or confront the racism that still infects our society and ourselves…
When we create something new or preserve the wonder of this world…
We are laying up treasure in heaven.
We will not solve all the problems. It is a foolish kind of contemporary progressive Christianity that thinks by our actions alone we will bring the realm of God to earth. That is not our calling. That is not within our ability.
By our actions, however, we are signs of a new way to a weary world. We lay up treasure in heaven by our actions that bring God’s wholeness to the world, our actions that show God’s compassion.
And this is the point.
Many voices are ready to say that God has abandoned this world and so it doesn’t really matter what we do: we can structure our economy and our society to let the ranks of the poor swell in our city, state, nation, and world as long as our comfort is assured; we can continue to follow the path of ecological destruction for the sake of just such an economy; we can let guns and violence proliferate as we seek our own personal safety.
From Jesus we hear just the opposite. Not only has God not abandoned this world, God is drawing nearer than we would have expected. We are called to be signs of that nearness—to point to what is happening all around us.
It is by our actions on earth, then, that we are storing up treasure in heaven.
The simple religious practices by which we express our faith—worship, prayer, giving, offering hospitality, service—are ways that we reconnect with each other and with our neighbors. As we do the work of the heart, we rediscover the common bonds of our humanity.
Our hearts push, making us just and peaceful in a time of uncertainty.
Our hearts push, making us open and humane in a time of fear.
Our hearts push, allowing us to establish communities of equality and respect in a time of change.
This is the work of the heart—the stewardship of all that we have and all that we are—creating treasure that will last.
So, yes, be stewards of your treasure—your financial resources, great or small, your time, of which we all have the same amount, your vast abilities, this beautiful earth, this congregation that means so much and does so much.
And where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.