Word of the Week

Sermon written for The Federated Church, Weatherford, OK

Matthew 6:19-21

Money doesn’t grow on trees; save before you spend. Prepare for retirement. Have your nest egg ready.

Many of us learn and repeat such life management principles as if they were Bible verses. And, it’s common sense, right? And our financial advisors would tell us nothing less.

And, even if we aren’t talking about money, we are people who calculate our lives on good returns for our investments. For example:

We meet a newcomer in town whom we’d really love to spend more time with, but then after learning he’s is only going to be in the area for six months, we make no effort. Who wants to make a friend who will only leave soon?

We find a new recipe for a cake that looks to die for, but after learning such a tasty cake means rolling in layers and layers of filing for hours on end, we decide to forget it.   Who has that kind of time?

We think of sponsoring a child in a local school who is struggling to keep up their coursework, but then look at our calendar again realizing we have less time to give than we originally thought. So, we fight off the guilt, but decline saying, “My hour a month couldn’t possibility make a difference.”

I think we all cautiously invest if we don’t see possibility of high returns.

Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest men agrees. Though he would never give away publically his investment secrets, there are several principals that he readily prescribes to.

If you want to invest like Buffet: you’re told to:

  1. invest in companies with sound management with proven capacity for success with high returns
  2. determine whether the public voice and management of the company is of sound mind and judgment,
  3. choose to make investments only with a fall back margin of safety.[i]

And Buffet is not alone in thinking this way: the human experience is about a desire to be on the winning team.

And, with all of this being true about how WE see the world, how do we receive Jesus’ words from our gospel reading for today?

“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.”

So, I ask you this morning, in our interpretation: do we make these words purely spiritual, assuming Jesus is talking about some sort of soul winning process?

Do we modify Jesus’ words in our own minds? Interpreting them to be about our money yes, but only a small portion?

Or do we hear Jesus’ words as a radical interruption into what we invest in altogether—our time, our talent and our finances?

The last option is probably the scariest option of them all.

And it’s true, Jesus, as I’ve come to know him always blows my mind with his radical approach to all things on this planet. Yet, through Jesus’ teachings, we are invited into the kingdom of God—a kingdom where the investment advice of this world of even the richest men is reduced to rubbish.

I believe Jesus boils down his advice on investment to this: “what are you acquiring?”

Saying: “But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.“

It’s not that Jesus is saying stuff is bad. Or that we all don’t need stuff—like clothes in our backs, food in our bellies, or a way to get from point A to B. But he is asking us to consider the emotional and financial value we put on the stuff that surrounds our lives. Are we investing wisely?

What I find interesting about the placement of these 3 verses in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is that they immediately follow a series of exhortations about what it means to live your life of faith in community.

Earlier in the passage, Jesus tells his followers to beware of practicing their piety before others—as they give, as they pray and as they fast.

Give without making a show of it.

Go pray in your prayer closet.

Fast with a cheerful face.

And by verse 19—Jesus continues with this same thought--- encouraging his followers to reconsider how the stuff that surrounds their lives draws attention to themselves, gives them esteem.

When I was 14 and started high school in Chattanooga, TN all I wanted was a North Face jacket. Not because I was one to be out in sub-zero temperatures. Not because I believed this particular kind of jacket would be durable for years to come. No. I wanted a North Face jacket because it simply said North Face.

And all the cool kids had North Face. I wanted to be counted among them.

(Sadly, I never got such a jacket because my parents weren’t into name brands. But when I turned 30 and I decided just for the sake of being a grown up I “deserved” one and bought my own).

But, Jesus says store up treasures in heaven. Treasures that don’t get seen. And don’t give us labels as in a particular crowd in the here and now.

Why? Because what you acquire on earth can be destroyed.

Your livestock and grains in the barn can die or mold.

Your new shiny cars will one day rust.

Your granite countertops will soon be out of style.

Your financial portfolio will one day fall prey to stock market crashes.

You’ll leave your North Face jacket on a plane one day.

So lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Store up treasures in eternal things.

What might this be, you might wonder? Treasures in heaven?

At this juncture, commentaries rarely provide any insight here but here’s my two-word take. LOVE PEOPLE.

Invest the richness of your life in somebody other than yourself. Notice I didn’t say riches or wealth. Because often we might think, “Well I don’t have as much to give as so and so over there so why does it matter that I give? I’m sure somebody else can do my share . . . ”

In August of 2012, my husband and I traveled to Malawi and Kenya for our first overseas adventure right after he became President and CEO of Feed the Children – a trip I believe Kevin told you something about when he shared a bit of his testimony with you several weeks ago.

One of the most important stops for me on this trip came when we met a group of young men called the Hardy Boys-- group of 20s and 30s something young men with special needs. They’d lived in the Feed The Children orphanage in Nairobi, KENYA since childhood but who had aged out of the system. (Thus, the “Hardy House” was created for them to live in for the rest of their life for most all of them have no family that is interested in caring for them).

When I first met these “boys” I learned that because of their disabilities, they were unable to do the one thing that they most wanted to do—work. In a country like Kenya without the protection for accommodating work environments, there are no jobs with persons with disabilities. Literally their whole lives is about doing their chores around the group home, taking care of their chickens and monkeys that fill their yards in the afternoon and delighting in anyone who will come and have a cup of tea with them.

But when I began to get to know these boys, I realized that nothing had or could stop them from storing up treasures in heaven—investing in what has lasting value.

Our visit began with a meal, we ate together foods they thought we’d like the best. Pizza, It’s what all Americans like the best, isn’t it?

After supper we sang one of their favorite songs, “Kum By Yah” together. Drool rolled down the cheeks of some their faces and the blind members of the group twitched their heads back and forth. But the rest of them couldn’t stop clapping their hands. God came near—just as the words Kum By Yah are translated.

As we were getting ready to leave, one of the men, Christian motioned me over.

Christian, I’d learned was an artist. Though confined to a wheelchair and unable to use his right hair because of his cerebral palsy, he liked to draw and paint as often as he could.

Before I knew it, in my hand laid a sketchbook--- a year’s worth of his beautiful paintings. When I asked him what he was giving it to me? He simply said, “It’s yours.”

And this was my take away of the whole visit: in this motley crew that most everyone in the world had written off as unimportant and insignificant that I saw something about God that I, as a seminary educated, able bodied, able sighted person hardly knew: that God dwells where people invest in the kingdom of God.

For these men were using their life, even with all their challenges as instruments of God’s love in the world. They were in the business of storing up treasures in heaven.

And this is truth: investment that the Hardy boys understand and practice is all is what the kingdom of heaven is all about.

And friends gathered here in Weatherford, OK today, I have some good news for you.

Just like the Hardy Boys, we’ve all got richness in our life. We’ve all got talents. We’ve all got time to give. We’ve all got the ability to pick up the phone and tell someone we’re thinking about them. We can all love people. We can all love somebody.

And when loving people becomes our priority, the strings of our bank accounts will align themselves naturally toward the heart of God.

We’ll want to use what we have to contribute toward things that matter. It won’t be some thing we set out to do . . . it will just happen.

Today is Consencration Sunday-- usually one of the most dreaded days of the year by many churchgoers. For it's the time that you are asked to take time to consider and say publically that you are going to invest the ministries of the church this upcoming year by your intentional commitments of finances. I’ve experienced such a day in all the churches I’ve been a part of through the years

And I have to confess though that today is one of my favorite Sundays. Not because (as some of my pastor friends call it) it’s “Raise the Pastor’s Salary Day” but because of how days like today ask me to be serrious about my own financial investments.

And do it in community!

For it’s a day when we get to do something powerful together: invest our coming year in what has lasting value.

It’s a day we get to remember that our church is part of how God is bringing the kingdom of heaven to Weatherford, OK—and God is using each and every one of us to make it happen.

It’s a day we get to remind ourselves that our giving today can bless future generations.

Our pledge cards, though seemingly just a piece of paper with some numbers on them really mean so much!

It’s a document that says we believe in Federated Church and want others in the community to find the same love than we’ve found here.

It’s a document saying that our treasures are being stored beyond this place—in the good work that is going into the world through our 3 denominational bodies in the areas of outreach, justice and compassion ministry.

And especially this year, it’s a document saying our treasure is in our children, those who are here and those who will come in the future.

Even more so, as you sign that pledge card it’s a love note of sorts to the kids in our Positive Pathway program—that you care about them and want them to succed greatly in school.

So, my friends, I tell you today, in your pledging, in your giving to God, you are doing no small thing. You are investing in what can not be destroyed.

It's a high calling to invest like this. To believe that as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” It’s a high calling to take Jesus’ words seriously.

But today let us practice doing just this: let us store up for treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.


[i] “The Investment Principles of Warren Buffet” http://www.buffettsecrets.com/buffett-investment-principles.htm

Today, our delegation toured, observed, and participated in the work of Feed the Children Kenya in the Maparasha, a remote village community of the Masai tribe.

We saw a water sanitation project in action as women and children gathered water from a clean well instead of walking 5 km up a hill to a remote water source. We visited with school children in an early learning center who received lunch of corn and beans from Feed the Children's distribution. (Kevin and I even got to serve the meal to the kids who came through the line with their tin bowls). We visited an AIDS education training session. We met with mothers at an nutritional seminar at the community birthing center-- watching lessons on how mothers can best feed their family.

I felt proud today to be connected to the larger Feed the Children family.

However, in all of these accomplishments, there is always so much more that that just isn't getting done because lack of resources.

Children have shoes but they are tattered and falling off their feet. Children have uniforms on, yes, but they have holes in them. Children eat lunch but the school only has a few number of bowls so everyone must eat in shifts. Yes, there is clean water from the pipes, but in dry season there's still not enough water to go around so that water is only available two days a week.

Feed the Children like other NGOs needs more funds to support even more sustainable projects. And while many of us in theory care for the poor and want to help out, we look at our monthly budgets and say there is no way that I can give or give more. The big issue of child hunger and poverty seems too overwhelming to even try to involve ourselves in. Or if we are givers, we do so without a lot of hope that our small donations can make a difference. We have no connection to the larger human family that needs all of us to give and take.

I remembered today in all of my thinking about this a sermon illustration I used many months ago by Tony Campelo that seems to apply well here.

In 2003, I attended a meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Charlotte, NC where seminary professor and social advocate, Tony Campolo spoke. It came time to give the offering for missions after the sermon. And, the gentleman guiding the program asked Tony to pray before the ushers came forward to receive the offering. Seemed like a very normal churchy thing to do.

However, to the shock of many, Tony refused to pray. “What?!?” we were all thinking in our seats. Instead he said something like this: “We don’t need to pray for the offering tonight because this is what I know about God. God has already given each us in this room enough resources to meet our $15,000 offering tonight. All we need to do now is to give. So, I’ll start by emptying my wallet with the cash in it and maybe some of you could do the same.”

And, just like Tony said that night, we got our $15,000 plus mission offering plus some in that very room.

And it is the truth. God has given us every resource we need to do what we are called to accomplish. We have the money. We really already have it. It is just up to each of us to do our part. Or in this case, give so that many more kids around the world have life's most basic necessities.

I know I am catching more fire in me for advocacy work this week. You simply can't see needs and not be changed in return.