Matthew 6:7-21; 25-34
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of a man named Mason who was a poor man living in the deep South. Mason was tilling his field one day and he unearthed a lamp. As he started to rub off the dirt, a genie came flying out and in a great, booming voice, said, “Mason, you have freed me! Fortunate you are, for I shall grant you any wish your heart desires!” Mason thought for a moment and said, “No, I don’t want anything.” The genie said, “But I could grant you chests upon chests of treasure and gold.” “No, the landlord, he would just take it all and have me beaten for hiding it from him.” “Then, I will grant you the most beautiful woman in the world as your wife.” “No, no. My Ava, god-rest-her-soul, was the most beautiful woman to me. She cannot be replaced, and a beautiful woman could not live here in the mud.” “Then, I shall grant you eternal life!” “No, life is already hard enough, I do not want any more than God has given me.” The genie was stumped. “There must be something you want. What about your neighbors? Surely some are better off than you? Look at Tucker, across the lane, he has a goat, does he not? And you have none.” Mason’s eyes suddenly shone with understanding. “Yes, thank you genie! I have my wish.” “And what is it?” “I wish for you to kill Tucker’s goat.”
Doesn’t that sound all too familiar? Whenever we find ourselves with little to nothing, rather than ask for something for ourselves we find it far more satisfying to take away from those around us. Why is that? I suppose because then we wouldn’t have to suffer alone. We can all be without, together. There is comfort in knowing others suffer alongside us. Of course, it’s a very selfish thing to want others to suffer alongside, not to mention mean and hopeless. We ought to rejoice at the blessings God bestows on those around us. We don’t have to think their blessings are right or even deserving but we can give thanks for such an abundantly gracious God. Our God IS good and gracious and abundant in his mercies. So He may bless others today. It doesn’t mean He won’t bless us tomorrow. Our God graciously bestows upon all us, the deserving and undeserving alike! We rejoice in this, not necessarily the blessings of others. Our God is amazingly generous!
Each of us has been blessed with a variety of treasures in this world. Some of us have been blessed with a loving home consisting of a loving spouse and perhaps some loving children. Some of us have been blessed with challenging yet fruitful work. Some of us have been blessed with consistently good health. Some of us have been blessed with an amount of material goods. Some of us have been blessed with opportunities for learning and growth. God’s blessings or treasures come in a variety of forms and to suggest God doesn’t abundantly provide them just isn’t true. Our God is always providing, always generous, always loving. It’s when we forget this that we get into trouble.
Nestled in our dense reading for today, a continuation of Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” that we began looking at last week, we heard Jesus offer a counterintuitive lesson on God’s blessings or treasures. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Because God is so abundant in providing treasures in this world, it is easy to believe that we are meant to store them up. That’s what we do with all our leftover stuff. Just look in our garages and fridges! But Jesus tells us we shouldn’t do this and for very practical reasons: moths and thieves will steal them away. Jesus was suggesting that it is useless trying to store earthly treasures because earthly forces will ultimately take them away. What if we were able to find storage that fully protected our treasures from such forces? Does Jesus’ teaching become null and void? Not necessarily because there is a subtext to Jesus’ teaching that isn’t as apparent. Jesus isn’t really concerned with earthly forces stealing earthly treasures. Jesus is more concerned with earthly forces stealing our trust and faith in God…stealing our trust that God is always providing, always generous, and always loving. Jesus is building off the wisdom of the Israelites in the wilderness. Recall how God provided manna at the start of each day and everyone was encouraged to collect just enough manna to feed themselves and their loved ones for the day. God would provide manna the next day to meet the needs of that day. There was no need to store up manna for more than one day because God would continue to provide each morning. Of course, some didn’t believe it and stored up extra manna only to find it rotten the next day. It was a lesson on trust…trusting to God to provide each and every day.
This lesson is reiterated in Jesus’ teaching on earthly treasures. It’s all about trust! But Jesus takes it one step further. He recognizes our desire to store up stuff for a later day. So what does he tell us to do? “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” If we absolutely must store up something simply for our peace of mind, then store up “treasures in heaven.” Okaaaay, and what exactly are “treasures in heaven?” Presumably they’re different from earthly treasures. Scripture helps answer this question. Later in Matthew, we hear Jesus advise a rich young ruler, “if you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (19:21) So sacrifice and sharing are a treasure in heaven. Sacrifice and sharing create kindness and love, empathy and support. In Proverbs, we hear, “if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures–then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (2:4-5) So wisdom is a treasure in heaven. Wisdom leads to a respect and awareness of God. Kindness, love, empathy, support, respect and awareness of God…these are all wonderful treasures in heaven. Earthly treasures can’t provide these, only heavenly treasures can. We ought to seek out heavenly treasures instead of earthly ones.
Lucky for us, we can know heavenly treasures in this world through scripture and Jesus. Jesus’ teachings give us a glimpse of who God is and what to expect in heaven. Because of them, we can love and trust God. Let us give thanks for his wisdom and love. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.