Genesis 15:1-6, Luke 12:32-34
If you were to examine your checking account, your bank statement, your log of spending, or how you spend your time, what would it say about your values? Some of us may have a mountain of receipts from Starbucks, eat outs like Dominos pizza, taco bell, or McDonalds. Perhaps that would tell us you like prepared food in your diet. Some of us have a cleaning service, spend hours a week straightening up the apartment or house. You value tidiness and cleanliness. Some of us rack up bills every month on clothing items, accessories, new shoes. You like to have a great wardrobe. Some of us pore over our investments and are on the phone or computer tweaking stocks and other financial products. You value saving and increasing wealth. Maybe your records show you tithe, contribute to charitable organizations, spend time watching over neighbors and others in need, go to church regularly and read the Bible and pray every day. Church and giving back are at the top of your list.
Conversely, churches that are seeking to revitalize or initiate change are do a self-study, or called a plumb line study in our Presbytery, that includes among other things an examination of the budget and the annual reports from recent years. Such a study reveals the values, strengths and weaknesses of the congregation. We discover what percentage do we spend on Christian Education? Mission? Programming? Property and grounds? Staff to carry out our vision and goals? Such an analysis, done on a personal or church level, is a starting point to show ourselves our priorities. The big question then becomes what do we make of our priorities? Is God calling us to change, or set new priorities in order to become a more vital congregation, a more committed follower of Jesus?
Where your heart is, there is your treasure, Jesus declares. That which we treasure we naturally invest our time and resources in. A person’s heart is tied to what they value most in life. Ideally our goal in life should be that our heart is in synch which that which gives the most value. Our balance statement, as Christ-followers, should reveal a preponderance of heavenly over earthy treasure. There is nothing wrong with earthly treasure as long as we understand it is temporary. What we share and do on behalf of others and God’s kingdom endures. Jesus tells us we do this when we seek treasure stored up in heaven, treasure that is of eternal value, that does rust, that can’t be stolen from us, that moths cannot come in and destroy. Love, faith, service, caring for others, builds up lasting treasure. As Jesus tells the rich man: “If you want to be perfect (whole, complete), go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Jesus describes how we ought to prioritize the things in our lives with this parable, “Again the Kingdom of Heaven is likened to treasure that was hidden in a field which a man found and hid, and for his joy he went selling everything that he had and he bought that field. (Matthew 13:44).”
The first mention of treasure in the gospels is actually n the story of the wise men in Matthew’s infancy narrative. The wise men from the east, probably Persia. They belonged to most highly esteemed caste of their society, yet they personally leave their homes an arduous journey, to follow a star that would lead them to the King of the Jews. They could have stayed home. They could have send their assistants on their behalf. But they took time out of their lives, at least 4-5 months. When they found Jesus they were overjoyed, emptied their treasures of gold frankincense and myrrh. Except for perhaps gold, this may not sound so treasurey. Yet it is their devotion to find the King of the Jews, their grasp of his mission that prompts them to give gifts that symbolize the kingship, priesthood and sacrificial death of Jesus. This thoughtfulness is also a treasure. The gift and application of their knowledge, their investment of time, their devotion to Jesus and expression of joy are also treasures that we can emulate in our lives.
What did Mary, the mother of Jesus, think of these exotic foreigners and their gifts? Although Matthew doesn’t say it, I bet she treasured this experience because Mary is the one person we are told by bible translators as someone who treasures the events in Jesus’ life. Luke tells us of the time when Mary hears the witness of the shepherds who tell of the angels giving glad tidings of the birth of Christ the Lord. The gospels often translate Mary’s response to this as “Mary treasured and pondered this things in her heart (Luke 2;19).” Some verses later we hear of how Jesus, Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem to the Temple and Jesus got lost. On their return, they find Jesus sitting with other wise men, these wise men are not foreigners from Persia, but teachers of the Jewish faith. Mary observes Jesus listening and answering their questions. Mary sees how everyone is amazed at Jesus’s depth of understanding and answers. The text tells us again that Mary treasured and pondered these things. (Luke 2:51)
So, Mary is a model of how we treasure Jesus in our hearts, his example, his teachings, and like Mary, humbly follow Jesus. To treasure like Mary, we protect, keep safe, and preserve the message we receive. To treasure like Mary means Jesus is our primary focus, and his teachings are the foundation and guide of how we prioritize our time and resources.
As we continue our journey to become a vital congregation, to be vital followers of Jesus, let us take the time to examine our spiritual balance sheets. How are our treasures adding up? How can we increase our heavenly treasure? Look at Abraham and Sarah, who faithfully waited 90 years, for the treasure God promised, a son Isaac, from whom came descendants more numerous than the stars. May we be as devoted as Abraham and Sarah, as the wise men, as Mary. It is never too late to reprioritize. We can make Jesus the center of our lives. For he is truly meant to be our heart’s treasure. May we give up all that gets in the way to claim one as number one in our hearts. amen.