Friday, August 26, 2016

26 August 1026
“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. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Matthew 6:19-24 (NRSV)
            Good morning, and welcome. Today we look at Jesus’ teaching on earthly treasure verses heavenly treasure. It may be helpful here to keep in mind Jesus’ original audience, and the notion that prosperity was generally considered a sign of God’s blessing. Also keep in mind, Jesus is not condemning wealth as such; but rather an unhealthy attachment to wealth. Actually, today we could substitute ‘stuff’ or ‘possessions’ for treasure and wealth. The points are the same-they are temporary, prone to corruption, and do not offer salvation. Speaking of corruption, the NRSV footnote replaces rust with ‘eating’. The KJV reads ‘corrupt’; the Greek word is defined by Young’s as ‘to cause to disappear, vanish away, perish’. Jesus is saying our stuff will disappear; only what we have done will follow you into the Kingdom (see also 1 Cor.3:15).
            Again, let me stress wealth itself, material goods, ‘stuff’, is not inherently bad. In and of itself things have no moral value-it is the value given them by humanity, what we do to acquire and retain possession, Jesus is warning against. Consider the story of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21, who shows us the vain hope of trusting in our possessions for life and happiness. Or the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-23, who shows us how attachment too many possessions may keep us from the full measure of life as God intends. In these stories Jesus is showing us the danger of trusting things for security, and warning us the more we have-the more we become attached to our things-the harder it becomes to become attached to our God. The reverse side is use for stuff wisely; advance the Kingdom; share with those in need.
            Today, rampant consumerism has become a popular worldview. The desire for more and more stuff, the thinking that one more toy or gadget or zero behind our balance will finally satisfy us has indeed become the root of all manner of evil. There is an antidote for this, which we will get to shortly. First, let’s consider the eye as the lamp of the body.
            As a lamp, the eye lets light out-light formed in our hearts. A healthy eye, then, gives off healthy, bright light, the result of a healthy, God-centered attitude towards what it sees-what it turns its attention towards. A healthy eye gives off light by being a Godly example. An unhealthy eye-an eye of darkness-gazes upon things with lust, covetousness, the desire to selfishly possess and keep from others. Sauron in Lord of the Rings had an unhealthy eye, a dark eye. This temptation to darkness goes all the way back to Eden, when Eve saw the fruit was good for food, delightful to the eyes, desirable for knowledge. When Satan tempted Jesus with the worlds kingdoms he was, in part, tempting Jesus to see with a dark eye, to possess these kingdoms for Himself.
            Before we leave the eye, there is another side to consider-the light we take in. Today’s consumer-oriented society bombards our vision-and our minds-with ad upon ad feeding our desire for more stuff. Apple probably does this better than anyone else; generating such hype around each new product announcement people camp out for days just to be the first to get something they probably don’t even need. Black Friday is another example. If you have ever shopped on Amazon and have a Facebook account, chances are you see lots of Amazon adds based on what you have shown an interest in every time you check your news feed. I receive emails every day from places where I have shopped and companies that make and sell things I’m interested in. It’s a pretty slick system-open the email, click on something that looks interesting and suddenly you have to have something that two minutes ago you didn’t know existed, much less that you needed. By the way, Christian retailers use these very same techniques. The moral is, guard your eyes as well as your heart.
            So, what’s the antidote for all the consumeristic stuff-collecting that separates us from God? On a practical level, stop looking at stuff you don’t have and don’t need; it just makes you want more stuff. Another thing to do is de-stuff (de-junk is, I think, the new ‘in ‘phrase); that is, if you don’t use it, give it away. Or donate it, or sell it and donate the money. When my wife and I moved to Florida we left a lot behind-and we could have left a lot more. It is truly amazing how much we accumulate. I’m not talking about things with sentimental value or fond memories attached to them, but, for example, do we really need a new phone every year (you can lease them now, like cars-always be up to date) or all those shoes or handbags or three of the same shirt when one will do. For those of you who like to read, consider library books as an alternative. Library eBooks take up zero space and have the added advantage of not requiring a trip anywhere. On the other hand, libraries are usually friendly places and you never know who you will run into. Either way we become used to the idea of enjoyment without ownership.
            Years ago I read I story lamenting the advent of a throw-away society; this was when Bic lighters and throw-away pens were first becoming popular. This is another side of accumulating stuff. A drawer full of throw-away pens really isn’t necessary when one good one will do. When you do buy something, buy a good something with the idea of keeping it around a while. This may sound paradoxical but there is a difference between buying something to use that will last and buying things for the sake of buying them.

            The bottom line here is heart orientation towards God. We are, in a sense, sneaking in the back door by eliminating what we have and don’t need, refraining from buying what we (don’t) need and don’t have-things that distract us and separate us from God. This is the Discipline of simplicity in action and I have barely scratched the surface. There are-dare I say it-many good books available on simplicity and simple living (check your local library first!). Of course, turning away from stuff doesn’t do much good without turning toward God. Next time you get the urge to buy some unnecessary thing, talk to God about it. Maybe find a charity or help a relative or neighbor instead. Remember, it’s not the money or the stuff, it’s the importance we give it. We will be looking at another side of this tomorrow-seeking God first. Till then, may the Lord Bless you and keep you this day. JRG

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