You could say that my heart was not in it when it came to preparing for this Sunday’s sermon. And could you blame me? Colleagues routinely bemoan this and similar passages with the prophet’s and Jesus’ admonitions to eschew wealth, to sell everything and to give to the poor. Even for those who preach in zip codes where the median income is below the national average, even still we find ourselves in the wealthy west, where earnings and overall prosperity outpace the whole of the two-thirds world. To stand in a pulpit built upon such opulence and then invite one’s congregation to consider abandoning their wealth, seems like folly.
Yes, as I sat down at the laptop to put words on paper, you could definitely say that my heart was not in it. And, as I sat stubbornly resisting writing, it occurred to me that my reluctance, my ‘heart not being in it’, so to speak, had everything to do with today’s gospel lesson. In fact, as is usually the case, the words of Jesus seem less concerned with wealth or any one moral issue, and more concerned with desire and fear.
This passage has everything to do with the heart.
In the verses we did not read this morning, in the passage just preceding ours, Jesus has just assured the disciples of how much God will care for them. He has reminded them of the birds of the air and their nests, of the lilies of the valley robed in their splendor, and he has invited them to set aside worry and anxiety about lesser things and to focus on greater.
And, then, today, we hear as he continues this strain of thought.
“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… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Billy Graham, the famed evangelist and preacher of the 20th century, was noted for saying – “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.”
Of course this isn’t only true of money – it is similarly true of our other currencies in this culture. Graham could just as easily have said, ‘give me five minutes with a person’s calendar or appointment book, and I’ll tell you where their heart is.’
And, this comes as no surprise. We have long known and long held that where we invest, whether it be of time or talent or treasure, says a lot about what we value, about where our heart is. But, such truth is complicated in this day and age by a culture that also tells us that we should follow our hearts. Indeed, by the estimation of the cultural bent of today, I should never have written my sermon, or eaten my vegetables as a child, or finished my homework in college.
Yes, the heart is a fickle organ, and while on the surface it seems romantic and ideal to tell one another to follow our hearts – to build a culture on such a notion would result in utter disaster.
In point of fact, since the 1950’s our national standard of living has risen considerably and simultaneously polls and ongoing research into the moods and attitudes of Americans tell us that our happiness is on a reverse track. It would seem that following our hearts toward material wealth has resulted in spiritual and emotional malcontent.
Into this comes again the words of Jesus – “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Notice though that Jesus reverses the order. While our culture would say – listen to your heart, and put your treasure there. Jesus invites us to consider the opposite – where we place our treasure is where our hearts will be found. You could say desire follows investment, or the heart follows treasure.
And, herein is the crux of the matter. It would seem that Jesus believes that desire, especially desire for the good, a spirit, as our collect for today says, to think and do the right, is a conditioned state. Our hearts and spirits are cultivated and transformed through the practices in which we engage on a daily basis. This is, or should be, a challenging thought.
How often in this ‘follow your heart’ culture, have I heard people tell me, well, that’s just not my calling, that’s just not my passion, that’s not where my heart is?
But, how many of us, ever first felt called to any of the challenging ministries our faith sets before us? Jesus says tend the sick, visit the prisoner, and feed the hungry. God calls us all to welcome the stranger, and to care for widows and orphans. These are difficult tasks, to be sure, asking us to let go of comfort, to be vulnerable, to relinquish some of our money and time.
What’s more, these things are not optional bits of our faith. Our faith does not say that some of us are called, some of the time, to seek justice, to love mercy, to welcome all…our baptismal covenant would tell us that all these things are all our ministry, all the time. And, at the same time, these are not ministries we are called to undertake with the dreary attitude of a child finishing her broccoli. We are called to have our heart in it.
I remember the first time I visited the inner-city of St. Louis to participate in a mission with kids who were from broken homes. I didn’t want to go, but someone guilted me into it. I remember feeling obligated the next visit too. The pastor there had spoken to me as though I was, by virtue of one visit, a committed member of the ministry (a skill I filed away for later use). So I went again, and again, and again. Soon I was no longer a reluctant participant – I was eager to have a deeper role, to lead, to give more time – first driving the van, then organizing snacks, and ultimately functioning as a leader. Over a much longer time I discovered that not only had I grown to love those children and to care about their specific situation, those experiences had transformed my thinking about race and the inner city, about politics and poverty.
You too can think of those instances in your life where you invested in a cause or a ministry or a person, perhaps at first out of a sense of obligation and requirement, but how your life and your heart were transformed as a result.
For some of us, our hearts might be clouded by fear – fear that we don’t have enough resources to actually live generously. Some of us fear that to open our hearts to the lonely and the lost will result in us being sucked dry. Some of us fear that we do not have the capacity to love others as fully as we have been loved.
To this fear, that there is not going to be enough – enough goods, enough time, enough money, enough love – comes an incomprehensible and beautiful promise.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Do not be afraid. One of the most repeated refrains of the whole of scripture.
Let go of your anxieties.
God’s happiness is this – that he might invest, that he might give, that he would entrust the whole of his treasure, the whole of the kingdom, a gift of inexplicable mercy and grace and peace and love, a wholeness, an abundance, that you could never earn or purchase were you to spend a thousand lifetimes.
God gives you the kingdom.
God has put his treasure with you.
This morning we are invited to spend our treasure on that which is right and good – to give of our precious time, our valuable money, and our well-honed talents – to the poor and the lost, to the hurting and the broken, and, we are told our hearts will surely there be fixed and surely there be found. And the promise is this, just as we have been called to give of our meager portion, God has given his whole, his all, his everything with you, and you, and you.
And, so the argument must go – with you is where his heart is also.