A sermon by K. Dean Myers, interim pastor
Sunday, February 12, 2012 Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Fairmount Presbyterian Church, Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Scripture: Matthew 6:19-21 & Luke 12:32-34

Texts

This morning I have selected two very brief readings that are likely parallel reports of one message out of Jesus’ mouth. They come from Matthew and Luke, two gospels that share many parallel passages, often re-fashioned by their individual authors in ways that serve the larger purpose of the book they are writing. Typically, what Matthew leaves open to a purely “spiritual” interpretation, Luke reports as something that impacts our daily choices and living.

Listen first to Matthew 6:19-21:

19 [Jesus said,] ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Now hear Luke 12:32-34:

32 [Jesus said,] ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33Sell 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. 34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I

This is certain: the days of the “Kodak moment” are numbered.

The news last week that Eastman Kodak is ceasing production of cameras hits all of us of a certain age an older as yet one more sign that the world we grew up in is rapidly passing. A “Kodak moment” was a special time – usually a special family time – when someone snapped a picture with a Brownie or Instamatic to preserve that special moment forever. A camera was a Kodak and a Kodak was a camera, just as a tissue was a Kleenex and a Kleenex was a tissue and a refrigerator was a Frigidaire and a Frigidaire was a refrigerator … and I am far beyond dating even myself!

What happened to Kodak continues to happen to countless companies and institutions. Kodak invented an early digital camera, but did not realize until too late how important and game-changing that invention would prove to be. By the time Kodak woke up to the new world that was emerging before its very lenses, we were buying Nikons … anything Japan could export. By the time Kodak woke up it was too late for it to matter. In a few years the last remaining Kodak cameras will disappear and the only Kodaks we will see will be in museums or in our parents’ closets when we finally clean out their belongings.

Kodak could not let go of the baggage of the past in order free itself to welcome and receive the future, a future determined not only by the savvy of its competitors but even more basically by the changing expectations of the camera-buying public. It was not Nikon that killed Kodak; it was you and me.

Much the same may be said of mainline churches, including the one we love so deeply, Fairmount Presbyterian. What’s challenging us is not the evangelical mega-churches that have sprung up all around, but the changing tastes, needs, and expectations of the public. We might (and often do) evaluate that public’s spiritual hunger as being somehow “wrong,” but our analysis has little impact on the hunger itself. Like Kodak executives sitting around convincing themselves that film cameras take better pictures than digital cameras, our wisdom satisfies our egos, but doesn’t move our product. Yearning for the habits, expectations, and needs of past generations does not sell cameras or churches today.

II

I am quite sure Jesus was not thinking of marketing himself when he uttered the original words that stand behind two short paragraphs that end with the same flat-out truth: “…(W)here your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

It’s a strange statement from him to his usual audience. Most of them were dirt poor, and the idea that they had or would ever hope to have anything like a “treasure” to store anyplace was no doubt extremely far-fetched. On the other hand, Jesus knew that even the poorest shopkeeper or fisherperson dreamed of wealth, of real “treasure on earth.” There was always the chance you might find a purse dropped by a wealthy landowner on his way to the bank. Even if you had little hope of earning treasure, you could always dream of finding it. “If I were a rich man…”

Jesus certainly tapped into something worth recording in the eyes of two of the four gospel writers. Matthew begins with an instruction, a sort of a law about what not to do, perhaps aimed at his largely Jewish readership. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” (Things kept on earth are vulnerable.) “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Where corruption and disappearing are not possible, making things stored there invulnerable.) “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew doesn’t define the “treasures” he is talking about in his paragraph. Perhaps he is thinking of cold, hard cash and diamonds, but more likely he is thinking of how we look at the world, what commitments we have, how we deal with life, what rules we live by. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” could well be warning us against self-righteousness; against the folly of self-righteously holding things like hatred and bitterness and rancor and prejudice close to our chests. Jesus is warning us not to confuse our own being right about things with God’s righteousness. If nothing is more valuable to me than my attitudes, my needs, my hurts, my way, then I am holding tight to a treasure that will one day become corrupt and taken from me.

Luke begins in a different place than Matthew. Whereas Matthew starts with a rule about behavior (“Do not store up for yourselves…”), Luke begins with instruction about attitudes: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Nice, huh? But then Luke tells exactly what’s on Jesus’ mind: “Sell your possessions, and give alms.” It’s the other side of not storing up things for ourselves; we are to sell what we own and give the proceeds to the poor. Then, we are to “make purses for ourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Now it is the purse, what we carry things in, that is the treasure that cannot be destroyed. It is our selling and giving away of what’s precious to us that gives us freedom to preserve and carry with us what really matters. Because, “where your treasure is, there is your heart also.”

The two versions of the saying seem different: Matthew concerned about our spiritual state with no specific reference to our material state; Luke very specifically seeing our spiritual welfare as dependent upon what we do with our possessions. They seem different, but they also complement one another. I can hear Matthew and Luke agreeing that we can be spiritually secure whether we have a lot or little, and at the same time that how freely we share what we have, whether it be a lot or little, opens us to spiritual security.

For both end with the same sentence, which you can say with me by now: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

That’s a curious twist, my friends. We’d have put it the other way around: “Where our heart is, there is our treasure.” But Jesus says that we develop our sense of what really matters by where we locate and how we use what we treasure, and by how willing we are to let go of lesser things we treasure so we might be able to receive “the kingdom” God is pleased as punch to give to us.

III

What does Fairmount Presbyterian Church treasure today? What do you and I treasure at and about Fairmount Presbyterian Church today? Those are questions we are considering individually this morning to prepare ourselves to consider them together in two weeks.

In my time with you I have heard a lot of things we treasure together and individually: our fairly formal worship and music; our past and our past pastors; relationships and fellowship and coffee hours; the opportunities Fairmount gives us for mission and ministry that make a difference in the world; spiritual sustenance received here and within this community; pastoral and personal healing and comfort in times of crisis and loss. All worthy treasures, easy to acknowledge and own and post on a time line for all to see. It’s all good.

But others of us hold tight to treasures about which we are not likely to be as vocal or visible: hurts that have been inflicted on us at Fairmount; antipathy toward certain pastors and fellow members; what we believe to be wrong-headed decisions and outreach efforts; our own eagerness to correct everything we think is wrong, no matter how small. I call these not-so-good attitudes and memories “treasures” because we value them highly and parade them openly before any willing listener. Trouble is, we hold onto them without recognizing that we don’t need them; that we do not need to carry them with us; that in fact their hinder our journey forward; that what’s past is past. We’d be far better off and far happier if when we spoke of them we did so in the hope we might by speaking them be rid of them in order to give what’s present now an opportunity to move and affect us.

What all the treasures I’ve mentioned have in common is that we do not want to let go of them. Whether what we treasure about Fairmount is good or not-so-good, it must be, all of it, subject to the comfort and promise Jesus offers in Luke 12:32: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

If we like Fairmount as it is we cannot imagine why anyone would want it any other way. If we are angry about how Fairmount is we cannot imagine why everyone else isn’t angry with us. But whether we are happy or angry with the “treasures” we claim at Fairmount, God wants to give us the kingdom, something new and valuable beyond all the treasures we can count as ours.

That’s because God does not want Fairmount to go the way of the Kodak! Some of us have put so many “Fairmount moments” in our albums we have left no room left to see and appreciate what could happen to us right now if we’d look for it. If Fairmount is to thrive today and tomorrow, we must give up what’s precious to us – good, bad, or indifferent – if we are clinging to as if it were the treasure that will last, that will save us.

Our treasure is not in what we had or have, in what we were or are, but in the kingdom God gives in our Lord Jesus Christ. We must receive and welcome him. He alone is treasure to take us into the future, a purse that will not wear out, no matter how long the road, how winding the way. Knowing Christ, we give of ourselves and our substance to the work he is doing in the world. Thus emptied we have space to receive the love, forgiveness, justice, and grace that are the coin of his realm, the treasure of his presence.

What does Fairmount Church treasure today? What do you treasure about Fairmount Church today? Today, let it be the Treasure that outlasts all others:

Jesus, priceless treasure, Source of purest pleasure, Truest friend to me;
Long my heart hath panted, Till it well-nigh fainted, Thirsting after Thee.
Thine I am, O spotless Lamb, I will suffer nought to hide Thee,
Ask for nought beside Thee.
In Thine arm I rest me; Foes who would oppress me Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking, Every heart be quaking, God dispels our fear;
Sin and hell in conflict fell With their heaviest storms assail us:
Jesus will not fail us.
Hence, all thoughts of sadness! For the Lord of gladness, Jesus, enters in:
Those who love the Father, Though the storms may gather, Still have peace within;
Yea, what-e’er we here must bear, Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!

Amen.

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