There are a couple of things that I am led to address as the pastor of this community. The first is to thank you for the prayers you have poured out for Analise and us, there were times in the last couple of weeks that your prayers were what held me together. There are times in our lives when we need others prayers to make it through and by God’s grace we are. The second is to speak a bit about what is happening in Ferguson, and the larger conversation about race that still needs to happen in this country. I grew up in neighborhoods very much like Fergusen and can confirm that there are some members of our nation’s police forces that forget the “and serve” part of the motto that says “To protect and serve.” This happens most often with people of minority status and reflects some of the prejudices that have been active in our country for a very long time. As Christians we have a responsibility to speak the truth and while the expressions of violent rage are indeed counterproductive, we must admit that the rage we are witnessing is not without cause. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that riots are “the language of the unheard.” The question that I see as most important for us to answer is: What are we as a church called to do here, where we live, to bridge the divides that all too obviously still exist in our society? As Christians our first response to the kinds of tragedy we are witnessing is to fall to our knees. All too often we step out and act or speak before consulting with God and we speak to what we see before inviting God to examine our hearts. We have a responsibility to represent the kingdom of God and we cannot do that in isolated and segregated churches or without a proper foundation of prayer. Many of you have asked me what we can do in this climate of crisis we are in and I have a proposal that I want to lay before you: I would like to open the doors of our church from 8AM to 8PM Monday through Saturday for any who desire to come and pray. This will require some volunteers to be here hosting prayer times, but can any of us see the news and say that we don’t need centers of prayer to be open in our communities? I also want to invite you to consider ways in which God may be calling us to mourn with our brothers and sisters who are mourning in Missouri, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Nepal, West Africa and the neighborhoods in which we live. Can I get a quick show of hands on who would be interested in hosting prayer times here at the church? Thank you.
As I was preparing for this week’s sermon, I looked at the upcoming text, and as I prayed over the text on fasting, I got the sense that it was ground that didn’t need to be covered again since it was a continuation of the prayer theme from three weeks ago in which we talked about the ways we can abuse public acts of piety to place our glory ahead of God’s. Jesus’ top priority was the work of spreading the kingdom, and as he invested his teaching in the disciples he gave them tools to help diagnose their priorities and warnings about how placing other priorities ahead of God’s work causes a divided life. God’s call on us is not to divide our allegiances and loyalties between the things of this world and God, but to instead place our entire being, way of life, and value systems into the hands that knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We live in a society that is based on the consumption of goods and services, more so than at any other time in history. This society teaches us that what we produce and consume is the measure of our worth as human beings, and everything is designed to fail or be used up. That attitude bleeds over into our opinions on the value of human beings and we see interactions like those in Fergusen and elsewhere in which people are treated as disposable. This is what happens when we place value in finite things, and Jesus gives us words from God to check ourselves.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[c] your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy,[d] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:19-21
Now that Jesus has addressed the controversial topics of sex and power he turns his attention to money and the ways we determine value. These teachings of Jesus are not intended to shame us, but instead to invite us into relationships that have their value in the things of God. Jesus begins by warning us about storing up what the world around us holds to be valuable. Let me give you an example from the past, does anyone remember beanie babies? These were small stuffed animals that were mass produced and marketed as “collectibles.” They were released in an artificial scarcity with a slick marketing campaign. Many people got caught up in the craze and jumped on the bandwagon with some paying upwards of $200 for a single stuffed toy. This bubble eventually burst, but not without some people losing a lot of money in their speculation. The things marketed to us as valuable can all too easily turn out to be worthless in the long run, and Jesus is reminding us that there is only one place in which our investment is safe.
There is no security here on this earth. Let me repeat that: no matter what anyone tells you or promises, there is no place on this globe or in this universe in which any of us will be secure from loss. The flowers fade, the grass withers and our flesh is as dust, my future hangs on my feeblest breath. Every town and city will wither and every nation will eventually crumble. Every currency will collapse, every bit in our bitcoins will be set to zero. Little geek humor reference: there are 10 kinds of people in the world…those who understand binary and those who don’t. In binary there are only two numbers, zero and one so 10 would be two in decimal. Every corporation will close its doors and its books. Even the very world we tread on is susceptible to the dangers of space. Nowhere that life exists can be secure. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the next part which says don’t worry, and we will get there in a few weeks. For now Jesus is telling his disciples that trust and hope placed in the things and powers of this world is misplaced. Hope and trust cannot be supported by things doomed to fail.
There is only one source of hope and trust, one source for security that is not dependent on circumstances. When what we treasure is the joy that comes from being in the presence of the God whose love caused the universe to exist, there is nothing more needed to feel a sense of security, and nothing will shake us, not even other people’s religious opinions. I we are feeling insecure in our faith or life, it might be time to do some prayerful evaluation to discover what we might be trusting in that isn’t God. Where is my treasure invested? That might just tell me where my priorities are.
The next passage requires a bit of explanation since there is a bit of a translation issue here. The word Jesus uses that our bibles translate as “healthy” implies generosity and the word we translate as “unhealthy” implies stinginess. When we don’t allow ourselves to be controlled by accumulating things or wealth we look at others with generous and healthy eyes. This is a consequence of living in the light of God’s truth, that nothing is more valuable than the treasure of serving God. When we look upon others with the understanding that our treasure is entirely in God’s hands we can be healthy in the ways we give to others. Jesus hasn’t really changed the topic that he has been talking about, just approaching the need to have right relationships built on the foundation of God’s loving grace and mercy from a different angle each time. Every display of unhealthiness and darkness comes from being afraid of losing what we rely on. It comes from treasuring that which is fleeting in its very nature. When we are deceived into believing that things or money are where our value lies, we look out at others in unhealthy ways, we hoard what we have. The fear of loss will then begin to taint our relationships and as we gather our things up to hide them and keep them away from others. That fear and anxiety will then begin to dominate our thinking and any disagreement will be perceived as a threat to the house of cards we have built on the shifting sands of worldly power, reputation, or wealth. Why is it that Jesus could hang around the people that his society deemed worthless? What was it that prevented the Pharisees from hanging out with the tax collectors, gluttons, hookers, and other broken types? He did not treasure the things or opinions of the world, but instead invested himself fully in the love of God. This is the source of power and courage, that God is with us and we can serve him. This is what can enable us to truly befriend the people who our society tells us are threats. What would it mean for us as Clackamas Park Friends Church to place our treasure, the resources we have been gifted with, entirely into God’s hands to be used up and given away without fear of loss? What kind of faith statement would it be for us to declare with our actions that we trust the generosity of God to overcome our fear of loss? That we could lose every worldly possession and still rejoice because our treasure is secure in God?
Friends, if there is fear in our lives it comes from having something other than God’s priorities guiding our actions. I can only speak this from my own experience of this truth given us by Jesus: when I am fearful it is because I am trusting in something that can be shaken. This is the hard truth that Jesus gives us today: we can only serve one master, there can never be “God and” there is only “God or”. I really would like there to be some way for me to serve God and money, God and food, God and my family, but as soon as I allow for any other master, no matter how important that master is to follow in this world, the door to fear has opened because of my idolatry. Every one of us in this room has something that it is most easy for us to slip an unconscious “and” into our lives, something that we tend to focus on instead of God. Let us take the time now to renew our determination to follow God and God alone.
Let us begin our time of silence with a time of confession and renew our focus. Friends, every day we must get up, face into the unhealthy patterns of this world and ask God to give us the strength to resist the temptation to put other things first in our lives. We are called together as a body to help each other resist, to help each other overcome, to redirect each other’s attention and priorities back to God as our eyes slip off the mark. Let us take this time of open worship to confess our fears to God, renew our determination to serve God alone, and resolve to support each other as we face into the unhealthy patterns of fear that close us off from the generosity that comes from serving God. Let us put everything with God that our treasure may be stored up in His presence and our hearts reside in his steadfast love. Let us pray.