I have this self-imposed rule – to always have room for our cars in the garage. I remember days of dorm and apartment, and having to run to the car in the rain, or having to scrape off the frost or ice. It is ironic to me that this space which was created to protect our vehicles has become, in many instances, a storage room for all of our other stuff. I am proud to say that we are able to get two cars in our garage, but I must admit that this has, at times, required some creativity and calculating. It can be a challenge to see high the boxes can be stacked around the outer walls.
Where do you stack your extra stuff? Notice, I just assumed that you have extra stuff – that stuff that you think you might need – someday, or use someday, that stuff that will bring you a sense of happiness, someday. Where is all that stuff that you trip over today, because of the blessings it might give tomorrow?
Jesus speaks to this tendency very directly. He says, "Do not store up your treasures here on earth.” It is so easy to make excuses. “This stuff is not my treasures.” “I’m not attached to this stuff.” Then why do I keep adding to it? Why is it so hard to let go? Why do we get so invested in letting our stuff consume us, and think that somehow it is going to make life more meaningful? We all do it at some level.
Jesus offers us an alternative. “Store for yourself treasures in heaven.” Treasures in heaven. These treasures, says Jesus, are not subject to decay or rust or thieves. John Wesley made lists of heavenly treasures often, and the lists almost always include things like patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, compassion, bearing one another in love. These are heavenly treasures. These are the treasures that lead to true happiness. These are the treasures that lead to “holiness of heart and life,” to use a phrase that Wesley used over and over again.
For Wesley, these were not just words. He intentionally and methodically put himself in places where God’s treasures could grow. Here’s one of many examples from his journals about investing in the poor. He says, “I visited as many more as I could. I found some ... half-starved both with cold and hunger, added to weakness and pain. But I found not one of them unemployed, who was able to crawl about the room. So wickedly, devilishly false is that common objection, ‘they are poor, only because they are idle.’ If you saw these things with your own eyes, how could you then lay out money in ornaments and superfluities?” (Journal, 1753).
This is an example of the regular work of Wesley and the people called Methodists in that day. And it is in our blood as well. We believe that faith is manifested in good works, and by good works we mean actually investing in people lives with the treasures of heaven. Jesus then says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Wherever we invest our time, energies, and money, our hearts will follow.
There is a story that has been circulated in the church from the earliest days. The story comes from the time when the Church was being persecuted by the Roman Empire. A group of Roman soldiers stormed into a church and demanded all their treasures. “Bring us your treasures!,” they ordered. A deacon of the church pointed at the widows and orphans who were being fed, the sick who were being nursed, the poor whose need were being supplied, and said, “These are the treasures of the Church.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Westminster John Knox Press, London, Originally Published in 1956).
Jesus speaks of the heart and then he speaks about our eyes – our vision. If our spiritual eyes are focused on all that is good and true and worthy of praise, then we will be guided into light – into true happiness, into the joy of the kingdom. If our focus is elsewhere, we will find ourselves wandering into the darkness where fear and disease reign.
A few years ago, our car insurance agent was involved in an accident. He told me the story saying, “I've heard it a million times -- someone is driving down the road, then getting distracted by the kids or the radio or the phone. … In my case it was some papers in the back seat. I only looked away for a second, but, when I looked back at the road I was barreling toward a slow-moving pickup with my cruise control set on 70 and nowhere to go.” Several thousands of dollars later, he says, I learned my lesson. So, Jesus warns us about our spiritual vision. If our vision of God becomes blurred or if we look away into the darkness, it won’t be long until our lives are wrecked. This is just the way of things in this world.
I continue to be haunted and attracted to the story that Jesus tells in Matthew 25. It is a story that reveals why we need to pay attention to all this. Jesus tells of sitting on the throne of glory, with all the nations gathered before him, and of how he will then separate the sheep from the goats, removing all that is not fit for the kingdom. (As an aside: Perhaps this judgment and this removal of evil takes place in each of us, with the hope that we will then be able to recognize ourselves after this purification happens. Ponder that possibility! Would you, or will you, be able to recognize yourself after Jesus makes you fully ready for the kingdom?) In this judgment, as told in Matthew, the Savior will turn to the sheep and says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Then, the right will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you and give you something to eat or drink? When did we see you and welcome you?’ And here’s the answer: ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of thee who are members of my family, you did it to me’.”
Yes, it is wise of us to spend our time and energy and resources storing us treasures in heaven, storing up relationships of love, storing up acts of kindness and compassion, forgiveness and grace. When we do this, we also discover true happiness. Do you want that? True happiness. Jesus shows us the way and promises to be here (heart) and to give us the courage to follow, which -- just to warn you one more time – means removing the clutter that is standing in your way and keeping you from seeing the light. May our worship today give you enough of a glimpse that you will want to move into and grow into the very treasures of God. Amen.