The following is a transcript of a sermon I did at Sanctuary Church (https://thesanctuary.org.au/). Unfortunately, due to technical error we didn’t record it. So here is the transcript of the sermon instead…Enjoy.
Real Treasure (Matthew 6:19-24)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes 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. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
-1 Tim. 6:8-10, 18-19
This is the word of the Lord…
For the love of money People will steal from their mother.
For the love of money People will rob their own brother.
For the love of money People can’t even walk the street
Because they never know who in the world they’re gonna beat For that lean, mean, mean green Almighty dollar, money.
For the love of money People will lie, Lord, they will cheat
For the love of money
People don’t care who they hurt or beat
For the love of money A woman will sell her precious body For a small piece of paper
it carries a lot of weight Call it lean, mean, mean green, almightly dollar.
For the love of money…
Those were the lyrics of The O’Jays’ 1970’s hit “For the love of money”
In our current state of relationship to money, materiality, and private goods and lands- both on a personal level and on a societal level- Paul was right when he said “For the love of money is indeed the roots of all kinds of evil”…
Creation of new coal mines that we know damage the Earth? Greater national GDP. Companies using child labour? Cuts the costs in order to create a greater production-to-profit margin. My current meat intake that’s contributing to the damage of the environment? Unmitigated pleasure of the taste buds.
Lord have mercy.
I don’t say this to shame people. I’m not one for shame. I am however one for honest assessment, and it appears to me that, when you really stop and reflect on it, a lot of evil done in the world is done because we want to cut costs, have efficiency, and not lose out on investments. We are all in this hot mess together. It’s no wonder then, that Jesus- as well as the whole bible- speaks a lot about money. Dare I say, the sermon on the mount is a direct assault against the Capitalist mind.
Now before I continue, let me just make a few qualifiers. Christian faith does not prohibit having money but rather decries obsession with money & stinginess of those with money (See the distinction?). Even as Paul’s instruction to Timothy where he famously says “the love of all money is the root of all kinds of evil” he goes onto say in the same letter later that more monetary well-to-do Christians are to “not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” and Paul says “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share”. He assumes there would be Christians with money, and his critique isn’t that they have money, but of their relationship to money and as such how they use it.
Likewise, there is speak of private property in scripture, and the critique isn’t that they have it, but that they don’t use it for the common good (See the distinction?). You see that private property ought to be filtered through the deeper truth that God created the world for all people and as such we are to steward our resources in such a manner for all people to wisely and justly share in. The world and its goods were created for the use and benefit of all of God’s creatures, and any structures that impede the realisation of this fundamental goal are not right- so there ought to be healthy limitations to how we go about property in the world (And believe me, we need more healthy laws!). Yet once again, it’s about a renegotiated relationship, this time to private property.
Likewise, God made a material universe, and Jesus has a material body, and so do you, and our future world is material as well (The New Creation)- so likewise, having material things isn’t wrong, but rather that we need to have a renegotiated relationship to materiality (See the distinction?). If having material goods was so wrong, then justice-minded Christians wouldn’t fight for every person to have a physical roof over their head, food on the table, and access to things like school & education (They are material things). And why would Jesus himself feed people and heal people medically if those things were inherently wrong? The opposite of poverty isn’t riches, but it is a society where people all equally don’t go without. And so, we are to work towards a type of materiality for all people. As sociologist professor Juliet Schor says “We are too materialistic in the everyday sense of the word, and we are not at all materialistic enough in the true sense of the word. We need to be true materialists, like really care about the materiality of goods.”
My final qualifier: you will hear me critique our current attitude we have towards money. I am aware some of us don’t have a lot of it, and so you might hear me talk about our over-desire for money, and make the mistake that I am shaming the normal healthy desire for money. Let me make it very clear: This is a pointed critique of those who have a very clear devotion to wealth (which by the way, includes me)- this is not to throw shade or shame those who have little money and desire more. Because there is an injustice if you don’t have enough money in order to eat, if you don’t have enough for shelter, if you don’t have enough for access to health & education. Because wanting those things is about moving out from poverty and into a just society- that is not the same as worship of mammon. That’s about desiring justice. “The valleys will be filled in, and the mountains will be brought low”; The longing for a more equalised world under the rule of Jesus is a valid desire. But, for this to be the case, making for a more just society economically under the rule & reign of Jesus, will require a different relationship to money.
Money, private property, and material goods are not inherently wrong. And yet, we have a skewed relationship to money, private property, and material goods. In other words, we have a skewed relationship to what Jesus calls our “treasures”- and the gospel invites us into have a newly formed and renegotiated relationship to our treasures.
The Treasures of Earth; The Treasures of Heaven
““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
So what are our treasures? Are they of earth or heaven?
We can’t actually know the answers to such things until we understand what exactly is meant by the word “treasure”, and then (for that matter) what makes treasure “earthy” and one “heavenly”. In the Greek, the word for “treasure” denotes a collection of things which are of big importance or value, and to “store up” referred to the storing up of material goods- which basically means hoarding things. “Storing treasure” then, is hoarding things that are big importance or value to us. Now, notice Jesus does not say to stop storing things which are of big importance or value, but that we don’t store up earthly things which are of big importance or value- we are to store up heavenly that which are of big importance or value. So we are commanded to store that which are of big importance or value- as long that it is heavenly, not earthy.
But that begs the question: what makes treasure “earthy” and the other “heavenly”? To answer that, we have to know what Jesus meant by “earth” and “heaven”. So, how is Jesus using the words “earth” and “heaven”? Is one good and the other bad? Well we know God made the world and said “and it was good”, and that he indeed “loves” the world, so we can’t preclude that the physical world is bad just because this contrast is used. So, if not that, then what? To know this, we have to understand heaven. In Jewish thought, heaven wasn’t so much about a place as it was about a presence, namely the presence of God. Heaven is only a place insomuch that that is where God is. God is what makes for heaven, and heaven is what makes for God. So it’s interesting then that the Jewish prophets long for the presence of God to be made known all over the Earth, they speak of this longing & hope by describing a world where God’s presence has flooded the place which in turn makes everything different– swords are bent into ploughshares and we make for war no more, great banquets are put before all people to share in and have joy in and no one goes hungry, even the trees dance & clap and the lion lies down with the lamb, those who were blind or couldn’t walk now walk and see, the injustices & the evils of the world are done away with- death, sin, slavery, homelessness, violence, and the like are all no more. What’s being described here? Heaven (the presence of God) on Earth. Jesus said “your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven”. If Heaven on Earth is the will of Jesus, the prophets hope’s, and what is described in John’s trippy revelation… Then when Jesus says that we are storing up treasures for heaven, it isn’t about storing up to go somewhere else but to store for sometime else- namely, God’s future, where this world is restored & all things are made right as God presence floods this place fully. In the same way, when you buy food to put in your fridge, you don’t then go and sit in the fridge to eat food- rather when the time for the feast is upon us, the food comes out of the fridge to make for a feast where the humans live. This brings us back to our question about heavenly treasure. If the word treasure is defined as “which is of importance and value” then to know what the “treasure” of heaven is we have to know what the ultimate grand, important, and valuable things that make for heaven on Earth? The answer is found in Jesus: mercy, compassion, love of God & neighbour, justice, service, hospitality, generosity, peacemaking, reconciliation, beloved community, care for each other, care for creation. These are the things that are of the most importance & value of heaven. That’s what we are to store up.
In contrast then, treasures of Earth has to be understood in terms of how you live in this time: are you living as if it’s all about Jesus-shaped heaven-on-Earth breaking into this world? Or are you living in such a way that those things don’t really matter?- Getting our happiness from having more & more & more. Will we believe that our treasure is what we find on the billboards about needing that bigger car? Or that Facebook ad that is essentially telling you that that all your happiness boils down to having that new Gucci bag? Or will we say that our treasure- our ultimate importance- is something else . The point isn’t to say that you can’t have a car or dress nice- the point is this: what do you think true treasure is? If all of history is moving towards a Jesus-shaped heaven-on-earth then what are the true treasures in life that will last forever? For when these things are our treasure- our heart is there
In the ancient world, thieves would dig holes through the walls of family homes and take the store boxes in these homes, and likewise, some families used to hide their belongings in caves or underground- but even then things like coins would eventually rust, and moths would eat through the clothes. Nothing is really new under the sun- today people break into homes, and there is a $38 billion storage industry globally. And even with our locks and keys and storage- eventually these things either get taken, and if they don’t get taken, they breakdown. These things don’t last forever. The point isn’t so much if an object goes bad or breaks down, but rather the question if there is an on-going-never-ending significance/impact in what is being seen as precious and of great importance? Are those things or can those things be used in such a way that it brings heaven on Earth? Things that are hoarded might indeed rust and break down- so how can we use such things for the common good? If you use your home like that of (for example) First Home Project, then there is an on-going-never-ending significance/impact that has been made because lives have been changed forever. The life of heaven-on-earth is being practiced, and that such practice of heaven-on-earth is making for the future treasures of the world restored and made new.
This tells us something: what Jesus is asking us in this passage, is for us to redefine what we mean by “treasure”. This then opens up an even deeper question: what’s most valuable in your life? What’s life all about? Are your actions, are how you use what you’ve got, consistent with the things that are the true treasures of heaven- namely mercy, compassion, love of God & neighbour, justice, service, hospitality, generosity, peacemaking, reconciliation, beloved community, care for each other, care for creation? The ethicist David Gushee says “The contrast Jesus was drawing was not between this life and the next, but between this life characterised by profound misery-causing injustice and God’s coming reign characterised by salvation, justice, peace, and joy in God’s presence. Invest your possessions generously in God’s reign of Justice and Mercy, and you will find your heart is invested there as well”
N.T Wright once painted a picture about how the work we do in the here & now will work towards the New Creation. He says that we are like the stone masons of old who would spend their entire lifetime focusing on one small section of a cathedral, only then to die and not see the end product. But then to imagine that they all came back to see in delight the fruit of their labour- a magnificent cathedral that communicates the grandeur and awe of God. Their labour wasn’t in vein. And neither is ours. If we are asking “well, what will this heavenly treasure tangibly look like?” then I think we are missing the point. The point isn’t getting a car in the next life, the point is that our treasures are re-defined around God’s dream for all of creation, and baked into such a dream will be the reward of our labour transfigured into something beautiful that will go one forever. N.T Wright goes on to say this at the end of his book Surprised by Hope:
“What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”
The things that make for heaven on Earth in the here-and-the-now are the treasures of Heaven that will find its way in the end.
The treasure that make for heaven. Because the treasures of earth- that is, living in such a way that gets things for things sake…? Jim Carrey once said “I wish everyone could experience being rich and famous, so they’d see it wasn’t the answer to anything”. Now, it’s easy for him to say that because he’s rich and famous- right? But isn’t that the point? Wouldn’t he know exactly what it’s like because he is at the top? Madonna once said “My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody. I still have to prove that I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will”. These are the people who, by all definitions as per societal standards, have… Made it. But they speak of a view of life from the top whereby they realise through experience: that’s not what life is about. These are not the true treasures. I think when it’s all said and done, no one will get to the end of life and wishes that they had more things. At the twilight of life- will fame hold our hands? will fortune tell us everything will be okay? Will knowledge pat our head down? It seems to me that in the end, it’s the treasures that make for heaven- that of the love, care, and compassion around us- that will matter, and that will matter & carry on eternally. Donald Miller once said in his book “Scary Close” that “when the story of earth is told, all that will be remembered is the truth we exchanged. The vulnerable moments. The terrifying risk of love and the care we took to cultivate it. And all the rest, the distracting noises of insecurity and the flattery and the flashbulbs will flicker out like a turned-off television”. Where are we dedicating our life, time, and daydreams? In following money, materiality, fame as both means and ends? Jesus invites us into something far better and far bigger, and that which will make us truly come alive. Because the simply truth is: no one can serve two masters. No one can live a duel life of following Jesus and following mammon (and all that represents).
Heart & Eyes: The Practical
So how might we actually live this out? Other than the obvious of prayer and community- what are some spiritual disciplines we can learn to live this out? Because believe it or not…But this text today is extremely practical.
Firstly, what we do with our treasures. Heart is about that drive, that direction, that full fontal will of the whole life, mind, and intension of a person. It’s the whole self. Okay, so now we have that, notice this: when Jesus talks, notice how he doesn’t say “where your heart is, there is your treasure is also”, rather it says “where your treasure is, there your heart is also”. In other words, It’s where your treasure is first, that then pulls ourselves there. Not where your heart is, that then pulls you to put the treasures you have there. It’s not your heart that will control where you put your treasures- it’s the other way around. Your treasure, your stuff, will control your thoughts, your will, your direction. So if you care about the poor give them some of your stuff, give them your precious space. But here’s the kicker: If you struggle to care for the poor- give them some of your stuff! Give them your precious space! And when you give enough over time you will come to care…Because your heart will follow where your treasure now is. And in time, that will even transfigure what your treasures are- because their usage will no longer be that which rusts, but that which will have changed lives forever.
The band Radnor & Lee write:
Spent a life hoarding diamonds, silver and gold upon my sleeves
Yes I had the world’s biggest necklace, but one day found I couldn’t breathe
So I started shedding possessions, left all the boys and all the girls
Believing that I needed nothing I said my goodbyes to the whole world
It’s yours once you give it away, once you give it away It’s yours once you give it away
Secondly, what we do with our eyes.
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Here’s a question: what do lights do? They light up a room and as such make it easier for you to see, which means you can walk from one side to the other- obstacles and all. Your eyes are like that torch that enables you, your body, your being, to walk- they light up the world around you and make it possible to see. Without eyes, you are like someone in darkness, because you can’t see. Now, are they good eyes or evil eyes? The word “good”, as in “If your eyes are good” is the word “haplous”; and it can mean healthy but also “single” as in singular in one’s devotion. So if your eyes have that one healthy, singular, devotion- if your eyes are like that of a torch pointing in the good, singular, and devoted direction, you’ll be able to (your body etc.) walk that way just fine. It’s about the focus of the torch-like-eyes. And this makes sense, because straight afterwards Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other….”. It’s about devotion, singular torch-light lit devotion in a direction that either is about serving God or serving money. That’s why our “eyes being bad” will cause a walk in darkness- we might be shinning a light in a direction that illuminates a path, but that path is towards another type of devotion- and it isn’t towards the singular Christ- it’s towards a singular devotion and service towards serving money. One is a “good eye” that lights the way of generosity, whilst the “bad eye” is that of stinginess & greed. So, the question is, what are we looking at? What takes all our attention & focus & rumination? Is it towards service of God, or service of money? When you look at people, are you seeing how you can serve them and love them and see them as a child of God? Or is it how maybe that person will “profit” you, how they might be an “asset” (Notice even our language around such the ways we can speak of people is in terms of economics?)? In other words, what we look at and what we imagine in our minds eye does matter. As a spiritual practice, try to intentionally imagine scenarios where you use your treasures, your money, your time, your energy, in Christlike ways. If you, for example, are buying a home- see how that space can be used for the common good. Imagine what it would look like to use that space for hospitality, for love, for service- let that be what drives your final decision.
So now we have what we do with our treasures, and what we do with our eyes (including our minds eye, our imagination). My hope & prayer is that as you & I seek to do that both communally and also individually, we will make for a world that is the Kingdom of God flooding this world.
I’ll finish with saying this…
These passages continue into another set of passages that tell us not to worry. And I’m not preaching of them today- and yet, there is a flow on effect with these passages, because the truth of the matter is this: when we start to live like this, the later call of “do not worry” makes sense- for if we become a people who focus on investing in God’s Kingdom and Justice, then all will have their basic needs met. We will be freed to no longer worry, because when we live generously as a community, we will all have the food on the table to not worry. So, who shall we serve today? What actions do you need to take to renegotiate your relationship to treasures?
For in Jesus, we have one that set aside his privilege in order to come into solidarity with us, and in coming into solidarity with us, has carried, is carrying, and will one day carry this world forward to the shores of heaven-on-earth, where all that was made for heaven on Earth will find their completion in a world made new…
For the forces that make for love of money in the world died in the death of Jesus, and on the far side of this death is a resurrection unto a world being made new… A world where the true treasures are found- where neighbourly love is what lights up our hearts and makes life all the more blessed… Where moth & rust don’t destroy.