September 26, 2011

Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:19-24

Over the past few weeks we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount and how Jesus’ Kingdom is supposed to transform our lives. We see from the Beatitudes that there must be a change in our understanding of who are the valued ones. We see a different standard of morality, a deeper, more difficult level, is required for those who take up pursuit of the Kingdom. We see how our spiritual practices are meant to be between us and God and never for personal acclaim.

Today’s passage is really the first part of a two part section dealing with wealth and our relationship to it.

People start to get nervous when the pastor talks about money. Visions of televangelists and long offertory musical pieces start giving us the twitches. I remember sitting through about twelve verses of a hymn because not enough money came in...and the guilt trips for not supporting the church or our missionaries.

It is hard enough to talk about money with our families and spouses...most arguments in a marriage center around money. So talking about it in church...well, this may be as touchy as our message on lust and adultery.

My focus, though, is not to meddle. This is not a plead for money. I truly believe what we say every Sunday, that our offerings, while they are an act of worship, are to be given freely as to God because God loves a cheerful giver. And if we are compelled or guilt-ed into isn’t an act of worship.

Instead, our focus is to gain a right perspective of money and wealth in relationship to the Kingdom of God. Because like it or not money is a big part of our lives; especially in the American culture. We spend 40+ hours a week making it; sometimes 50 or 60 or more. We invest, we spend, we save, we buy...our world revolves around money, and it wants us to believe that our world should revolve around money as well. In the words of one band, “I got bills to pay. I got mouths to feed. There ain’t nothing in this world for free.”

And just as big a part as money is in the rest of life, so it is with our relationship with God. Until we get our relationship with God and our money worked out...our spiritual growth will go no where.

So let’s read today’s passage...

Matthew 6:19-24
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 
“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus uses some lead up illustrations to lead us to a “no duh” moment. He talks about storing treasures on earth and then points out that just because you store them up...doesn’t mean they are safe. Just because you hoard something doesn’t mean you can’t lose it. We read this passage and readily agree in theory...but the practical application of it to our lives is the truly difficult part because we continue to seek and to save like it is our money and savings account that will make our future secure.

For Jesus’ first century listeners wealth and treasures were found in clothing, money, land, and crops. Those who had these things were considered wealthy, and set. But they also understood that these things could be gone quickly. They lived like it would go on forever, but they certainly understood, conceptually at least, that they were not permanent.

Clothing wore out and could have holes eaten in it by moths...even expensive clothing. Money, because it was metal, could rust and become useless or lost. Land could be taken by occupying forces and tyrannical rulers. Crops could fail for want of rain or because of famine or disease or insects. Nothing was permanent.

And yet the temptation was always to live like it is what matters most. They spent their lives pursuing wealth, getting ahead, and getting more. And don’t be deceived, it wasn’t just the rich who focused on getting and having more, it was the poor too. People on all degrees of the economic spectrum focused their life on getting and having more.

We face the same thing. We may define wealth slightly different than our first century ancestors, but there are a lot similarities. Clothing means having the right label. Money means having a bigger bank account and a better retirement fund. Fame or success in our career have replaced land...but we still want the bigger and nicer house. We need to driive the right car. Our culture is obsessed with money.

But it really isn’t money that is the problem. Money is only the symptom of a deeper problem.

I get frustrated when I go to the doctor and they give me medicine for this or that symptom, and never really give me anything to take care of the problem that underlies the symptoms.

Money is just the symptom of a deeper issue. The real issue is What is the focus of my heart?

If I asked you this morning to tell me what you treasure most in life? What would your answer be? Family? Career? Sports? Getting to the weekend? Maybe God? I mean we are at church, so that must be the expected answer, right?

The problem with this question is we can’t answer it with words...because our hearts lie to us. We like to think that the expressed values of our hearts is where we place our treasure, but that just isn’t so. Our treasures...what we seek after in life is what reveals where our hearts lie.

This question can only be answered with our actions. Our actions, not our words, reveal where our heart is and what our god is. If I were to show you where I spend the majority of my time, my money, and my would know exactly where my heart is focused. The same thing goes with you. What I treasure most in life takes over my thoughts, my time, my spending; it takes everything. It becomes our god, and once it becomes our god then it dictates our lives. We pursue it because we have given our hearts to it.

Jesus’ challenges us to evaluate where our treasure is located. Is it in earthly things? Things that really won’t last or matter. Or, are they on the thing of the Kingdom? Things that are truly eternal.

What does it mean to store up treasures in heaven?

I think it starts with something that is part of last week’s prayer...your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Building up treasures in heaven means we are focused on things that God is focused on here. We are seeking to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Does my life seek to bring God’s Kingdom? Is it becoming more and more a reflection of Jesus? Is it generous? loving? forgiving? righteous?

In the context of money...Jesus’ listeners would have recognized also a call for generosity and concern for the poor.

Proverbs 19:17 would certainly have come to mind, “If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and he will repay you!”

One author writes, “If we value what our Lord values rather than what our society values, he demands that we meet the basic needs of people lacking adequate resources before we seek to accumulate possessions beyond our basic needs.”#

Generosity must be at the forefront of our understanding of storing treasures in heaven.

As a church we have a concern for the poor the and broken. This isn’t a political issue...this is a Kingdom of God issue. This is a heart issue. We are called to care for those whom others have forgotten and neglected.

The people of Israel were great at being religious. They had the Bible memorized. They were at the services every time the doors were open. They had it all together religiously...and yet they were missing something.

Isaiah 58 points out that the people of Israel were fasting...but it wasn’t affecting their hearts or their lives. They continued to mistreat others all while being VERY religious.

You humble yourselves
      by going through the motions of penance,
   bowing your heads
      like reeds bending in the wind.
   You dress in burlap
      and cover yourselves with ashes.
   Is this what you call fasting?
      Do you really think this will please the Lord?

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
   Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
      lighten the burden of those who work for you.
   Let the oppressed go free,
      and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
      and give shelter to the homeless.
   Give clothes to those who need them,
      and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

Real wealth begins with a right perspective on our wealth...understanding that when we focus on something it becomes our god.

One Bad Apple

Have you ever heard the phrase...One bad apple spoils the whole bunch?

Jesus says something similar in our passage...
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

That doesn’t sound like One bad apple...!

But Jesus is saying that where our eye focuses is important. If it focuses on something worthwhile and meaningful...our entire being will be filled with light. But if we focus on the wrong thing...our entire being will be filled with darkness.

There is a story about Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, that serves as a good introduction to this morning’s message. He was reading the newspaper one morning and was shocked to find his obituary inside. His brother had died, and the newspaper accidentally published an obituary for Alfred’s instead. The obituary read, “The merchant of death is dead. Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Alfred Nobel was struck by the way the world was going to remember him after his death.

Many believe it was this shock that sent Alfred Nobel on a quest to change how he would be remembered. He set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Foundation, which now recognizes cultural and scientific advances for the betterment of our world. Most don’t even know that the founder of the Nobel Prize is the same Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite.

Alfred Nobel was climbing one ladder that he believed would lead him to success and recognition...luckily this shocking obituary was enough to change his perspective and help him see that he was climbing the wrong ladder.

It is easy to chase after the wrong things because they are so loud in our culture. Television, radio, movies...all trying to convince us that greed, fame, recognition, and money are all the most important things in this world. Our business and jobs will sap the life right out of us...because we need to make money to pay our bills, right?

Seeking after the treasures of our culture will leave us with a darkness inside, and reminds us...

You can’t serve two masters.

Where your treasure is there your heart will be also...and if your treasures consist of the wrong thing, you whole being will be darkness.

Why would Jesus make such demands...because he knows that we can’t serve two masters. Either we will be people of the Kingdom or we will be people of the other kingdom. We can’t live in both realms. We can’t hold both sets of values. If you value the things of this world and this cannot also value the things of God’s Kingdom.

It is impossible to value the wealth of this world...and then value complete dependence upon God...because that is really what is being asked for here in these verses.

Do you trust God enough that if you value what He values and care for those He cares for that everything will be okay?

Because you can’t serve two masters. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t share the same values as the world around us and still be part of the Kingdom of God...they just don’t mix.

That last verse says, “You cannot serve both God and money.” The word translated as “money” is a lot broader, it has more depth than just money. It means whatever you find your value in...where you find security. For most people that is in money. For some it is other things.

A couple of years ago, people were content. They had security in their jobs, their bank accounts, their homes, and their 401k’s...and then the economic crisis hit. People lost millions and millions of dollars. And as unfortunate as all that was...we got a stark lesson in the reality that all the things the world tells us will bring security...never can.

And if they can’t provide real security...then they should never serve as our ultimate master.

Our challenge is to find a way to live within the reality that we have to work, pay our bills, care for our kids, and plan for our future...but without putting our trust...without finding our security in those things because they don’t really matter.


So how do we seek after true treasure and ensure only having one master?

1. Seek the Kingdom of God first. Matthew 6:33 ends the second part of this section which we will look at next week, but serves as summarizing statement for it all. In it Jesus says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

God promises that when we seek after His Kingdom, when we take it as the treasure of our hearts, everything else will be taken care of. This isn’t a call to be stop saving or investing...but it is a call to invest our money, our lives, our abilities in the things that really matter, and when we do, we are trusting that God will take care of everything else.

This doesn’t mean that if we seek after God’s Kingdom we will have the big house, the nice car, the cushy bank account. But it does mean we will have what really matters in life.

2. Live with openhanded generosity-look for ways to be give without restraint on a regular basis to others..and often to people who do not deserve it. The more we practice being generous...the more generous we become.

That is why as a church we serve and love our community. People are constantly bewildered by the way we spend our money as a church. We pay people to wash their cars. We gave away money at the gas pumps yesterday. We give bottles of water away...we give bags of candy away at Halloween...we do carnivals and Easter egg hunts...we do this as a practical act of kindness and love, but also as a way of demonstrating God’s unlimited generosity toward others.

Let me show you a couple of videos from our car wash can see how generosity confronts the values of this world.

3. Give sacrificially-here we go. I knew this was going to happen. We are going to talk about tithing.

Just because I’m the pastor of the church doesn’t mean tithing is any easier for me. I have bills. I have things I would like to spend the money on. I have all those same feelings.

What I know is that my tithing becomes an area where God often challenges my heart. Because he knows that where I spend my money is a good indicator of where my heart is. It also serves as a spiritual discipline and an act of trust. I put the money in each week because I am saying, “I trust you, God to take care of me.”

But this is also about more than just money. God expects us to live lives of sacrificial giving. We have our time, we have our talents, we have our energy. God needs those too.

God challenges me to put him first not just with my time and words...but with my money.

This morning we are confronted with the question,  “Where does my treasure lie?”

I know that my answer is not always the churchy answer. I want this or I want that. I want to be comfortable financially. I want to provide well for my family. I want to spend my time doing other things. I want to use my talents to benefit me. I don’t want to be generous to that person.

But God will have no rival for the leadership of my life and for His Kingdom.

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