New Beginnings: Heart and Treasure
John Wesley, early in his ministry, established some boundaries for himself related to his income. He figured out what his expenses were, what he need to spend and save. And then the rest, he would give. And he determined right at the start that he would keep the same budget regardless of how much he was earning. And so through the years, as his income increased, particularly as he became such a notable figure, Wesley kept the same budget, had the same expenses, and simply increased what he gave as his income increased. He already knew what he needed to meet his budget – the rest, for him, was left over, excess.
I’ve always admired Wesley for his position, for his ability to stick to something that may have seemed like a naïve proposal for a young priest. I remember when I was about to finish seminary and start my first appointment. I was going to go from living off of student loans and a part-time work study job to actually having an income of about $30,000 a year. And I remember telling my congregation about how rich I was feeling. My income had suddenly quadrupled and my bills were staying more or less the same. How could I help but feel anything but rich? I told them that I hoped I could hold onto that feeling, and try to be a little like John Wesley. And yet, though I committed to tithe, to give 10% of my income back to the church, I found myself falling short, month after month. How could this be? How did I expand into my income so quickly when I had felt so rich such a short time ago? Finally, I had to reorder how I spent, and I had to give my tithe first. Amazingly, when I did this, I found I still managed to make it through the month, although certainly I had to be more careful with my spending. And here, in
Today, one of our gospel lessons is from the gospel of Luke, just after the passage Rev. Hendrickson will preach on next week. Jesus has been telling the crowds and disciples not to worry, and he follows up with these words: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. I love this verse, and I love it because it is deeper than it sounds. It’s easy to remember, and I think sometimes we forget to really think about verses that we might know by heart. Why does Jesus order this sentence this way? He doesn’t say “where your heart is, there you’ll find your treasure.” No, he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I think the difference – the order – is important. We’d probably like it to be that where our hearts are, our treasure is, because it’s easy to think of where our hearts are – with our loved ones, with God, with friends, and family, right? But Jesus says that where our hearts really are is determined by where our treasure is. And what is it that we truly treasure? We might answer one way – a way that isn’t being very honest with ourselves – but Jesus seems to see it differently: Our treasure is what we store up, what we gather and collect and keep for ourselves. So what are you storing up? What do you treasure? What do you spend the most time storing up? What in your life do you hang onto most tightly? What are you working for, what do you spend the most energy accumulating? Because that’s what you really treasure, and where your heart really is, Jesus says.
What am I storing up? I can only tell you this. When I moved to seminary, I took my possessions in two cars. When I moved to
So what does all of this have to do with our stewardship campaign? With our Consecration Sunday next week? With our giving? Well, let’s shift gears a little bit and look at our other gospel lesson for today, The Parable of the Talents. Like most of Jesus’ parables, this parable is meant to tell us something about what the
It’s that concluding sentence that makes me think I don’t really understand the rest of the parable. I think the parable is about using the gifts God gives us, and being good stewards. But then, with that last sentence, I’m confused. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what we have will be taken away.” I can understand God wanting us to use what we’ve been given – but taking away from those who have nothing? Giving to those who already have so much? Even if we’re talking about more than just money here, isn’t that just a spiritual version of the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer? Will God take anything from those who already have nothing? Does that make any sense?
Just recently, I’ve been reading a book about asset mapping in congregations. Asset mapping is taking a look at your congregation and figuring out what you really have – not what you don’t have, or want, or used to have – but counting up all the resources we do have, right now. When times are hard in a congregation, it can be easy to quickly think of what we don’t have instead of what we do. This book is meant to shift that focus, to help a congregation very quickly see all that they have. I’m looking forward to working with the book with our Ad Council, and starting to really count our blessings, because I see that
So I circle back to the question of what I’ve been storing up for myself. What do I want to be storing up? What if I focus on treasuring most those talents, those assets, those gifts and blessings that God has put into my hands? Of course everything I have is a gift from God – but I mean to focus on storing up what God has given me rather than what I’ve taken for myself. Does that make sense? What if I store up, focus on increasing and growing what God puts into my hands? What if that’s what I spend my time and energy and money and focus and life on? What if we do that as a congregation? What if, for example, we look the young people in this congregation, and begin to treasure them deeply, and seek to work with them and invest in them so that we find the blessings we have in these youth multiply like talents? What if we treasure our relationship with CUMAC so much that we start to find more and more ways to build relationships and awareness and support of a mission in great need, so that we find we’re true partners in ministry? What if you so treasure the relationships you have within the congregation that you become more and more invested in each other’s lives, so that your friendships return to you countless blessings?
Jesus said it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, to give us everything, to bless us beyond our imagining. It is God’s pleasure to give. Next week, Rev. Hendrickson will ask us to consider carefully what we give, but especially why we give. Why do you think God gives to us? Sometimes when we think about giving, we get caught up in budgets and spending and debt and making ends meet. Those things are important, for sure. But it’s not why we’re called to give, any more than God gives to us out of obligation. It is God’s pleasure to give to us out of God’s abundant, endless love. Why do you give? What if what we spent our time storing up was treasures in the
Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your [God’s] good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Amen.