Where to Put Your Heart
Matthew 6:19-21, 25-34, Luke 12:32-34, November 17, 2013
They say the best sermons are the ones you preach to yourself, so I’m going to ask you to eavesdrop on me this morning as I preach a message I really need to hear, it’s sort of lesson I keep learning. In the readings this morning Jesus tells us not to worry. That God knows what we need and God loves us and provides for us abundantly. And yet it’s hard to trust. It’s easy to be afraid. When we talked about this at Bible Exploration we all realized that being told not to worry actually has the opposite effect on us—we worry all the more when told not to. I’ve said before that the opposite of faith isn’t doubt, but certainty. I think the opposite of fear or anxiety may be faith or trust and that’s what I want to talk about and wrestle with today.
A few months before Mary & I got married we realized that we both lived in two bedroom apartments and we would be moving our stuff together into another two bedroom apartment. We did the math and realized that we would have to get rid of a lot of furniture. No one used the term “downsize” back in 1994, but that’s what we had to do. We both had to find homes for furniture that was still in decent shape, we simply didn’t have room for it. I remember thinking how hard it was to part with my dresser, a chair, a table and a couch. Now the dresser and chair had been in my house since I was born. I bought the table when I bought my first computer and I picked up the couch—which I loved, which was long enough for even tall people to stretch out on—a few years before. I dreaded parting with these things.
Six months later I was driving across the prairie in southern Minnesota. I got to thinking about our moving into an apartment that was smaller than the apartments we had lived in before. That’s strange…I tried to remember what I had gotten rid of—and I couldn’t! I knew I’d made a stop at the refugee resettlement office, but what had I left there? My mind was blank! These things that I thought it would be hard to part with, things that I believed I was “attached” to, were completely out of my memory. It must have been 30 minutes before I could recall these four pieces of furniture. I didn’t miss them. In a funny way I was glad to be rid of them, even though I had feared parting with them. I had feared parting with them.
I have a lot of stuff. Maybe we all have a lot of stuff. Not only do I have everything I need, I have everything I want. And still it’s hard to know, trust and believe that I am secure.
It’s hard for me to throw something away if I believe it can be used again. It’s painful for me to see anything “go to waste.” I am not alone. Here’s a coffee can that was in the rafters of the garage of the house we moved into 14 years ago. It’s one of about ten coffee cans that the previous owner just knew he’d find a use for someday. I couldn’t bear to see them go to waste either, so about 5 years ago I brought them to church, the Sunday school students decorated them and we use them when we have a Joyful Noise offering.
Earlier this year at a Deacon meeting we got to talking about how much coffee we were throwing away. It’s very hard to predict how much coffee to make and sometimes the deacons make more than you folks drink. It’s hard, practically painful to watch perfectly good coffee go down the drain. It feels so wasteful and I grew up in a family that tried to never, ever, ever waste anything. Now, each Sunday there are three empty jars just like this one to put leftover coffee in. After it cools off I take it home and drink it during the week. I hate to see anything go to waste. Wasting anything feels like sin to me.
Author John de Graaf defines “Affluenza” as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload...and anxiety resulting from the ogged pursuit of more.” That’s a good description of how I feel anxiety, overload—yet I look around my house and my office and can’t think of a single thing I need. Is it enough? Could I possibly part with some of my stuff? And it’s like I never learned the lesson when I gave away furniture I had completely forgotten about it—out of sight, out of mind. I gave it away and never gave it another thought. Do you think I could do it again? Do you think I could have enough trust to give away something I didn’t need? Do you think I might actually feel good about finding a good home for something I didn’t need anymore and couldn’t find room for if I could use it?
After my mother-in-law died we acquired her car which we didn’t need. We gave it to WINR, which was a ministry that this congregation supported for years. One of WINR’s efforts was to get affordable, reliable cars to families who needed cars to stay in the work force. Transportation is a huge barrier to employment for a lot of people. We gave the car to them. Sometime later I was out of town and spotted a car that looked familiar—you know how you can kind of recognize and even wave to people you see who drive the same car as you? Well, I had that experience and as I walked past the car I recognized the distinct scratches on the back and realized it was our old car! And I looked in the back and saw a child’s car seat. What a great feeling! A family with at least one child was using the old car that we didn’t need anymore!
Jesus talks frankly and openly to his followers about their anxiety, their fear that they might not have enough. He tells them not to worry, not to be afraid. Look at how God provides for the little birds you see; look at how beautifully clothed the wildflowers are—you, people made in God’s image are more precious to God that birds and wildflowers. God knows you have needs, trust that God’s abundance will be enough. Trust that God’s abundance will be enough. Then Jesus goes on to tell them that where they put their treasure is where their heart will go. The sequence here is significant. Jesus instructs his followers to act first, to invest their wealth or riches or stuff somewhere—and then their heart will catch up. Action will lead to belief. If you want to be more faithful, start by acting more faithfully. If you want to deepen your trust in God, start by acting as though you trust God more. And it’s hard to trust. One person at the lunch table said, “I believe, help my unbelief!” Exactly. I want to trust, but it’s risky and scary. And also faithful and renewing.
When I think about all the stuff I have I think back to the two big flash floods that his Oshkosh in June of 2008. Many, many houses had water back up into their basements and tons and tons of water-damaged stuff found its way to the county landfill. When Jesus said don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy them—instead put your treasure in heaven, where it cannot be damaged. I don’t miss the stuff that went from our basement to the curb to the landfill—apart from my Led Isley Brothers record--I don’t remember what the flood water took from me. I’m fine and healthy without that stuff. But it took an act of God to give me this gift, and I’m not sure I’ve learned this lesson yet.
I want to end with one final story this morning—an encouraging word. About a year and a half ago I met the leaders of the Middle Village neighborhood for coffee. The city is trying to get neighborhoods to organize and work together and collaborate. Our church building is in the Middle Village neighborhood which is bounded by Church, Jackson, Irving and Main Street. I we sat and got acquainted, they told me about a family whose house was struck by lightning who had lost all of their possessions. The Red Cross had helped them find a new apartment and get resettled, but they still had some unmet needs. Specifically, they really wanted a set of bunk beds. That afternoon I sent out an email to the church announcing this need. Here’s how you responded: One family had a set of bunk beds they weren’t using, they would happily donate them. Someone else offered a dresser she wasn’t using. Two people replied that surely the family needed money as well—and they made cash donations to help the family. About a week later we learned that the kids had clothes all right, but it was June and the clothes they got after the fire were too warm. I think it was five big Hefty bags of summer clothes for children that you donated. This did not surprise me one little bit. When this church hears about a concrete need you respond quickly and generously. I was pleased, proud even, but not surprised.
Later though, I reflected on this. I saw it in a new light. In some ways it was easy to do this. I sent one email and waited for you to respond. The leaders of the neighborhood organization were overwhelmed. They were trying to build trust and make contacts and to network with their neighbors—and they were doing all the right things. But this church—and lots of other churches like ours are already connected and networked—it’s what we do and we’re so used to it we don’t see it.
So here’s the “take away:” Not only does Christ invite us to get rid of our stuff because we can trust that God will provide for our needs—your support for this church makes it possible for us to help needy, vulnerable people right in our neighborhood. You pay for the email service that sent the information about this family. You may even have paid for the coffee I drank with our neighbors, I don’t remember that part. This church helped a needy family. Your stuff helped a needy family. And we do that all the time, so often we don’t even notice it.