July 31, 2016 sermon
Where Your Treasure Is
Several years ago there was a rich man in Brazil who announced that he will bury his Bentley to prepare for the afterlife. This naturally drew a lot of attention and outrage for his selfishness. Then it turned out that it was a publicity stunt for an organ donation campaign. He said in the end, “I have not buried my car, but everyone thought it absurd when I said I’d do it. It is absurd to bury their bodies, which can save many lives. Nothing is more valuable. Be a donor, tell your family”.
So we know that the general public thinks it’s ridiculous to hoard one’s material possessions, for the afterlife or otherwise; but any of us who have experienced a financial difficulty will understand the man in today’s gospel story. There are actually two men; the rich man in the parable who wanted to build a bigger barn, and the man in the crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching, whom Jesus indirectly calls a fool through the parable. These two men are easy for us to relate to. Now let’s take a look at what happened in today’s gospel story.
In the midst of the crowd learning from Jesus, there’s a man who tries to use the authority of Jesus to get what he wants, which concerns money. Jesus refuses to be manipulated by this man, but instead uses this opportunity to teach about obsessing over material wealth. This concept of using religion for one’s own gain is pretty familiar to us, and we might all have done it at some point. But some church groups are actually based on this concept; it’s called prosperity gospel. One joins one of these groups to try to, well, prosper. But even when it doesn’t specifically concern a monetary gain, this concept of using religion for one’s own gain is not new; it has existed all throughout the Christian history. It’s called “Christo-paganism”, a form of Christianity whose purpose is to manipulate God. One example is in the medieval age in England when lords and princes went to a lot of wars; they would pay monks a lot of money to repent for their killings so that they could go on killing enemies, especially when they went on Crusades and killed in the name of God and Christianity. For example, after the Battle of Hastings that put William the Conqueror onto the English throne, the Church demanded 120 days of penance for every life killed. I don’t know how many William killed but I know he wouldn’t have finished his penance during his lifetime even if he quit ruling and prayed everyday. They simply didn’t have time to do it themselves! Pay the monks! By the way, that’s how medieval monks got corrupted.
The Parable of the Foolish Rich Man that we read today was told in response to a real life rich man’s selfish and “Christo-pagan” request. It addresses the issue of material wealth and putting one’s trust in wealth instead of God. The reason why the rich man in the parable is a fool is not only because he believed material wealth could bring him security and happiness, but also because he acted like there is no God. God’s people in the Bible are taught to put their trust in God alone. Consider the manna that God rained down upon the Israelites who were wandering in the desert for 40 years; they were only given enough for one day at a time. Those who got insecure about the next day’s sustenance and gathered more than necessary discovered that the extra got spoiled during the night. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not preaching against saving accounts or life insurance to prepare for our future (and God will not make our savings money spoil overnight). It’s about the mindset that makes us feel insecure unless we have a lot of extra; it’s about putting our trust in material wealth instead of God. The accusation of acting like there is no God is not directed at atheists; it’s directed at the people of God who put their trust in worldly things. In Psalm 14:1, the psalmist says, “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds.” He is not addressing atheists; he is addressing the people of Israel. If we believe in God, when we belong to God, and still feel so insecure that we have to hold onto material wealth to feel safe, we are acting like there is no God. It’s like a child with normal and functional parents worrying about not getting enough food (“You have normal and functional parents; why would you worry about food just because there’s no food on the table right now? Have some trust!”).
Matthew 6:21 says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Just like today’s parable, this verse is not only about material goods and possessions; it’s about the attitude and mindset of obsessing over material things and putting our trust in them. The same goes for Matthew 6:24 where it says, “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth”. These verses, along with today’s gospel text, teach us about loving God with all our heart, soul, and might; so strongly that nothing in this world can distract us and take us away from God. You know what a Freudian slip is? To borrow from Matthew 6:21, I would say it is “Where your mind is, your tongue will be also”. There is a scene in the movie Hairspray that is set in the 1960’s where a racist TV station manager says, “They are children; that’s why we have to steer them in the white direction”. Um, you mean the “right” direction? Her heart and mind are racist, so she says racist things even subconsciously. The man in the crowd tried to use Jesus’ authority to validate his claim to the family inheritance because even while listening to the teachings on God’s kingdom, his mind and heart were in the money. His treasure was the money he wanted. The racist movie character’s treasure was white privilege. So what is OUR treasure? Where are OUR heart and mind?
Being disciples of Jesus, being a part of God’s kingdom, doesn’t mean we have to abandon all worldly things and live like monks (but not the corrupted medieval monks). It means putting our heart and mind in God and the things of God’s kingdom, which include trusting God like we would our mother, fighting our greed and obsession with wealth and using our worldly possessions to help and love each other. It means making God and God’s kingdom the treasure of our heart and mind. It’s very possible to save money in the savings account for the future and not be obsessed with wealth or be distracted from trusting God, and feel insecure. We learn also from today’s Colossians text that if we have been raised with Christ, we should seek the things that are above, where Christ is. So shall we be obsessed with worldly things and put our trust in worldly wealth? Or shall we become true citizens of God’s kingdom and concern ourselves with the ministry of God’s kingdom; compassion and justice? “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” By the way, this verse is a preview for next Sunday’s message. So let us prayerfully think; where is our heart and mind? What is our treasure?
Rev. Sunny Kim