This past week has been a flurry of activity for our congregation. The week has been filled with people gathering early in the morning to bake pies for the crowds that came to the fair stand. Soup was made which people inexplicably long for in the August heat. Workers took shifts at the fair stand to greet people at the fair, cook burgers, take orders, clean tables, run sodas, and count the cash register.
We are so incredibly blessed that God gave this ministry to this congregation. It is such an important ministry, and we take great pride in the fact that we are called to do it every year. Yes, there are the normal anxieties about getting enough workers and supplies and all—but this congregation always pulls together for the fair and it is always a success.
We do it because it’s one place that this congregation has put our treasure. We have our treasure in the fair by the physical presence of a building that we own and operate. We have our treasure in the fair by the long tenure of our participation—people would notice if we weren’t there one year. And we have our treasure in the fair by our pride in the good work we do together. And because this congregation has put its treasure in the fair, our heart is there too.
Hey, that sounds familiar.
Today we heard these words of Jesus, but they come in a broader context of Jesus speaking to the crowds and to his disciples. This is in the wake of last week’s parable about the rich fool who built barns he never got to use. What Jesus is getting at here is what motivates us. We didn’t hear it because the lectionary skips it, but right after Jesus tells us about this rich fool hoarding God’s blessings, Jesus talks about not worrying because God will provide. He reminds us that the lilies of the field are clothed in finery, and the birds of the air are fed by God. So rather than focusing on how we can accumulate enough to stave off the fear of want, he tells us not to worry about the future because God will take care of it.
And then there’s this beautiful invitation to trust: “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” What a pleasant little reminder. They should make a hymn about that!
Then things go sideways, as they tend to do in Luke’s gospel. “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.”
Hm. Seems like a bit of a stretch to say that we should give up everything we own, and at the same time not be afraid. After all, if we’ve sold all we have, what will we do when the things run out? Who will take care of us now that we’ve given all we have away to the poor? If we sell the fair stand and give the money to the poor, what will happen next year when the poor still need and we don’t have another fair stand to sell? Could Jesus really expect us to be so short-sighted as that?
Well, just wait a minute. This is when the next line comes in. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
It’s an important thing to recognize that Jesus is not talking about the heart in the same way we do. In his day, the heart wasn’t the Valentine’s Day symbol of love, or even used as a metaphor for emotions. Instead, the heart was the seat of the will. It was where you found your motivation for things. So when he says “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he’s saying that your motivation will point in the direction of your treasures.
Where did the rich fool keep his treasures? Wasn’t it in those barns, the same barns that he couldn’t use? Where we keep our treasures is what directs our motivation. And one, possibly uncomfortable, way to determine where we keep our treasures is to pull out our bank statements and our calendars. Where do we spend our money? Where do we spend our time? And what does that say about what we value? We want to do things that will support the things we value. And very easily, what we value gets mixed up by what we fear.
Consider how the rich fool’s priorities got messed up because he valued security, certainty, and safety. He built those bigger barns because he valued keeping himself comfortable, relaxing, and enjoying the produce of the land. But underlying those values was a fear of want, a fear of losing all he’d worked for, a fear of scarcity. Fear kept him from being generous, because he feared scarcity more than he trusted God’s abundance.
It’s also what scares us about Jesus’ words about selling what we have, giving alms to the poor, and thereby storing up treasure in heaven. We want to hold on to what we have out of fear of what we might lose. And that’s not just money! Fear is a huge motivator, and more often than not it is just as destructive as the rich man whose barns kept untold mouths from being fed.
We fear talking about racism as more than just conscious hate, because if it’s structural then we have a part in it too. And what will that mean for our place in society if we change it?
And we fear the changes happening in the church, how attendance is trending down and the numbers of people not looking to be part of a church is on the rise. As budgets shrink, so many churches turn to preserving their own existence over sharing the gospel.
And we fear for our safety and the safety of our loved ones. This fear turns us inward, dulling the importance of people outside of our circle and makes others even expendable if it means we and ours are safe.
Fear has power, and it has even more power when we don’t realize it’s there.
So we loop back. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
God gives us the kingdom. We don’t have the earn it. We don’t have to do anything for it. But the kingdom is also outside our comfort zone. It stretches us in uncomfortable ways. It calls us to give up those things that take our motivations away from the goodness of God in the world—to sell our possessions and give alms to the poor, you might say—and instead to trust God’s goodness more than we fear the bad that could happen.
You might say we should trust God at least as much as we trust cookie dough. I mean, we’ve all seen the warning signs, right? Don’t eat raw cookie dough. Raw egg may contain salmonella. The threat is significant enough that they needed to put a warning label on it. And yet, I know exactly zero people who have never eaten raw cookie dough because of that warning. Now, if we can trust cookie dough enough not to give us salmonella, shouldn’t we be willing to trust God to care for us? Shouldn’t we trust God enough to give up those things that skew our motivations? Shouldn’t we trust God enough to put our treasures in heaven, to have our motivation be the kingdom of God?
I don’t believe Jesus is necessarily telling us to sell the fair stand and give the money to the poor. But I do believe that Jesus is telling us to sell (or reject, or give up, or somehow get rid of) anything and everything that would make our motivations be anything but the goodness of God’s kingdom. Because that’s what God wants us to treasure.
So I challenge you to take some time this week. Take some time to look at your treasures. Look at what you value, what motivates you, and why. Ask God what is getting in the way of you fully participating in the kingdom, what is secretly or not-so-secretly letting fear have the driver’s seat, and how to remove your treasures so that your motivation will be for the kingdom of God. Because, little flock, you can have no fear, because it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Let that be where your treasure is.
Thanks be to God. Amen.