Last week many of you had the pleasure of hearing someone’s first sermon, as Amber shared with you in leading worship. It’s a special experience, the first sermon. Last week also happened to be the 18th anniversary of the first time I ever preached, a sermon I gave at my home church in Rome, NY. I had used the lectionary text from the gospel for the week, and because it was my first sermon, that scripture passage has been forever burned on my mind, and I find myself thinking of it often. It happened to be the same lectionary year as we are in right now, and so the text I preached on came just before the one we just heard this morning from the gospel of Luke, chapter 12. In the text, a man who is part of a gathered crowd asks Jesus to make his brother divide the family inheritance with him. Jesus sensibly wonders why on earth this man would think it Jesus’ job to arbitrate this kind of dispute. Still though, the man with the request probably gets more than he wanted from Jesus, because Jesus tells him a parable about a man who had so much stuff that he couldn’t fit it into his barns anymore. So he tore them down and built even bigger barns, and rejoiced to himself that he could now eat, drink, and be merry. But God says to the man, “You fool! This very night your life will be required of you. And these things you have stored up? Whose will they be?” Jesus says, “One’s life does not consist of the abundance of possessions,” and chastises: “So it will be with those who store up treasure for themselves, but are not rich towards God.” Oof. These words have really stayed with me, as I’ve tried to ask myself the twin questions through the years: What am I storing up for myself? And am I being rich toward God?
Have you ever had to answer one of those scenario questions like, “If you could only save one thing from your house, if you had to leave your house forever and you could only take one thing, what would it be?” Assuming, of course, that you already have all your people and pets from the house, what would be that one thing that you’d want to take? For me, it’s my journals. In this scenario I cheat and count them as one thing, when in actuality, it’s like 4 hefty boxes full of the journals I have been keeping since 5th grade! Most of the time, when people answer a question like this, the answer reveals that the most valued things we have are not the most expensive things we own, but rather the things that are most tied up with emotional value. Things that represent who we love. Things that are from our most cherished life experiences. If we only got to keep one thing, that’s what we’d choose.
The thing is, though, rarely are we in situations where we really have to choose one thing, the most important thing. And so I wonder – what are we really storing up? Our text for today comes just a bit later in this same chapter of Luke, and continues on the same theme. Jesus has talked to the gathered crowd about not being full of worry. He urges them not to strive for the things that the rest of the world strives for, the things God already knows we need. Instead, says Jesus, strive first for God’s kingdom. With that aim first, everything else can come after. Jesus says it is God’s “good pleasure” to give us God’s kingdom. That’s a double positive, a strong emphasis – God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom of God. Sell your possessions, Jesus says! Give to the poor! Seek unfailing heavenly treasure. Because “where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I’ve always loved thinking about this verse, not just because of what it says, but because of what it doesn’t say. What it doesn’t say is: Where your heart is, that’s where you treasure is. No, but rather where your treasure is, there you will find what you really love. I think the order matters. Jesus is telling us that it is the evidence that determines where our hearts are, not whatever we pay lip service to. So, if we claim our hearts are with our families, for example, but what we “store up,” what we spend our time thinking about and worrying about and spend the bulk of our time doing is making sure we have enough money or stuff or status or power or security or whatever – well, what we “treasure” is actually where our heart is, no matter what we say, and not the other way around. So what do you treasure? What do you store up? What takes all of your time and energy? What are you giving your life to? What do you treasure?
When I think about treasuring something, two images pop into my head: First, I think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, obsessed with, consumed by the One Ring – “my precious.” That’s treasuring something – the ring is the only Master Gollum serves, and indeed, his heart is with the ring, no matter how much he struggles to put his heart elsewhere. And, although maybe it seems a bit out of season on this beautiful August day, I think about my favorite line in the Christmas story, the story of Jesus’ birth: When Jesus is born, and the shepherds hear the angels and arrive to greet the baby and they tell Mary and Joseph all that had happened to them, we read, “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What Mary treasures in that moment is every precious word and experience and part of the process that has brought her child – God’s child – God-in-the-flesh – God’s hope for us in human form – into the world. And so indeed, because of what she treasures, her heart is full of love. What do you treasure?
Jesus tells us that what it is God’s good pleasure to give us is God’s kingdom. We’ll talk more and more and more about what Jesus means by “the kingdom of God.” But in essence God’s kingdom, God’s reign on earth is the realizing of God’s hope, God’s plan for our right relationships with God and one another, God’s dreams made real in the here and now. And it is God’s good pleasure, God’s deepest desire that we would experience this – the joy of living fully into God’s kingdom, now and for eternity. Jesus seeks to share that vision with us. He tells us about God’s reign, God’s kingdom, in story after story, in parable after parable. And Jesus says it is this – God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s vision for the earth, for us, for you and for me – this is what we should strive after. This is what we should treasure. What does God want us to treasure? Our relationship with God, and our relationships with each other, and making real and concrete God’s vision for the world. Building up God’s kingdom now and for eternity.
Our text closes with Jesus talking about a household that is ready for God’s kingdom. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit,” says Jesus. Be like the servants of the household who are ready to open the door for the master as soon as the master arrives. And then Jesus says something astonishing. Jesus says that the master will be so pleased at the readiness of the household that the master will serve the servants! All the hearers would have known this was NOT true. No master would really do this, not in real life. No master but one. Jesus would. God would. Because that’s what the kingdom of God is like – where the master is willing to serve the slave, where the centers of power are flipped upside down, where an enemy is beloved, where the humbled are exalted, where the last are first. Friends, God has put us in charge of one of God’s treasured possessions – this world, and God’s vision for this world. God has made us responsible for carrying it out, living into it, building up God’s kingdom, God’s reign, with God’s help. We are the staff of God’s household – only the way God runs things? God is delighted, indeed, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the whole thing. What a treasure indeed! Imagine if we invested all of our time, and all of our energy, and all of our heart and soul into God’s household? Let’s get dressed for action. Let’s make sure our lamps are lit. And let’s make sure we know exactly what we’re working for. Amen.