When I was twelve, my oldest brother gave me a metal detector that he made out of a Heath Kit in our basement. I have a photo of myself wearing a floppy hat and striped athletic socks that reach to my knees while combing a beach on the Niagara River for treasure. That metal detector turned up a lot of pull-tabs from beer cans and a few wheat pennies, but I never found the treasure I was looking for.
In August of this year, some treasure hunters in Florida found a four and a half million dollar cache of gold coins a few meters off of Vero Beach under just six feet of water. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this discovery was that it happened exactly three hundred years to the day of when eleven Spanish ships were destroyed in a hurricane on their way from Cuba to Spain. 350 gold coins from one of the ships are now in the possession of a fortunate treasure hunter.
What would you do with a treasure like that? The pennies that I found with my metal detector on the beach went into my meager coin collection. A few years later, a burglar entered our house when no one was home and ransacked every room and left with all my coins.
Jesus words make sense to me: “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” My little jar of coins wasn’t much of a treasure, but the collection was still pretty important to me at the time.
By the way, if you’re not going to put your money in the bank, the worst place to hide your treasure is under a mattress. That’s the first place robbers look, of course. Suggestions on the internet for better hiding places include stashing money inside an air vent, in an aspirin bottle, between the pages of a book, and inside a fake head of lettuce that you can store in your refrigerator crisper and purchase for only $99 online. But what if your house burns down?
Jesus’ words about rusting, stolen treasure are found in the Sermon on the Mount in what constitutes the core of his ethical teachings. Jesus had a knack for being very practical when it came to material things. He didn’t say we shouldn’t have them, but he was pretty concerned about the impact our stuff can have on our relationship to God and our relationships with other people.
“Where your treasure is,” Jesus said, “There will be your heart.” It’s a catchy saying, but honestly it always takes me a while to wrap my head around those words. Does it mean that if I have financial treasure, then my heart is always going to follow the money? Or does it mean that if my heart is right, then I will treasure the right things? Does one come first and the other come after? I honestly don’t think Jesus was talking about a cause and effect relationship between wealth and our affections. I think he was just saying that the two necessarily go hand in hand. What we value most is what captures our heart. If there was a treasure map to our heart, it would also locate what we value most.
The gospels of Mark and Luke tell an interesting story that begins with the disciples doing some people-watching. If you were going to do some people-watching locally, where would you go? The Pearl Street Mall? DIA? The disciples happened to be in Jerusalem, so they headed to the temple which could accommodate fifteen thousand worshippers. That’s a lot of people to look at. As the twelve were leaning against a wall and taking in all of the commotion, Jesus noticed a line of people at the treasury. The treasury was a series of large, trumpet-shaped brass receptacles or chests into which worshippers would place their offering. The wealthy citizens would pour large quantities of coins onto the brass surfaces, making a whole lot of noise and drawing much attention to themselves.
On this particular day, as Jesus and his disciples watched the crowd, a woman approached the treasury and carefully slid two thin copper coins into the trumpet-shaped chest. The disciples were watching the crowds and undoubtedly did not see an elderly woman quietly making her offering. But Jesus did. Not only did he see her, but he made a statement that seemed outrageously out of touch with reality. He said that this woman, in giving her two coins, which were all she had, gave more than anyone else. From an accounting standpoint, that makes no sense. Many undoubtedly gave much more on that day, but Jesus observed that they gave out of their wealth, and the widow gave out of her poverty. Two coins were a treasure for her, because they were all she had left. Jesus recognized that what matters most is not the dollar amount, but what it represents for us. He said, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart.” Our faith and our love and our possessions all intersect in the act of giving.
Let me ask you this, though: What captures your heart? What do you love wildly and deeply?
If we were to talk about that, most likely we’d include family members. Some would mention their love for a pet or for furry creatures in general. The earth itself. Maybe an alma mater. All are sources and objects of love that translate into where we direct our treasure. Unless we’re completely consumed with protecting our material wealth, whether great or little, we tend to spend it on what we love most. Where our treasure is, there is our heart.
This is my annual sermon to be very direct about our need to give generously to express gratitude for the abundance we’ve received. Community UCC is very high on my list of what has captured my heart. The longer I am here, the more I can say that I love this church wildly and deeply. And I need to reflect carefully on how the use of my treasure parallels my gratitude to God and particularly my belief in the mission of this church.
The woman who gave those coins did so at a high personal cost. Why did she do that? Here are some ideas:
Despite her difficult circumstances as a widow, she found reason to be thankful for her life. She was able to see that God had preserved and blessed her in countless ways over many years. She woke up that day and she was still breathing and able to watch the sunrise. She likely placed those coins in the treasury with a deep sense of gratitude.
Or… no doubt, the woman gave as part of a long-standing pattern of dutiful giving. She believed God required the tithe: giving ten percent of her resources to the temple. Those coins represented more than ten percent of what she had, but they were so small that she gave them anyway, wanting to do what she could in obedience to God.
Or… perhaps she saw the great needs of the vast temple structure, a mostly stone building that must have had serious ongoing maintenance needs. She loved the temple, where she had come to meet God throughout her life and she gave her coins believing that the temple would still stand tall after her life had passed.
Or maybe, she gave her coins as an act of trust. Her gift was more than she could logically justify, but it symbolized her utter dependence on God. She believed that God would sustain her always and would honor her act of giving.
I believe that in a congregation such as ours there are many reasons represented for giving. Some of us consciously give as a concrete way of saying thank you to God for the abundance of our lives. Some give out of a deep sense that it is the right thing to do and that God expects us to do so. Others are strongly motivated by the desire to support the many programs, staff, and facilities of the church. And still others give because sacrificial giving means that we really do trust God to provide for our needs. All of these are commendable reasons, and it is likely there is a combination of these for all of us.
We do great things in this church, and we do so without extravagant resources. We do not have an endowment to draw on, as many churches do, and perhaps that’s not a bad thing since it means we can’t become complacent. Our leaders are wise and careful in managing our financial resources. As a congregation, we are intentional about our ministry. We do not simply come here and listen and leave. We care deeply about peace, especially in a time when peace is threatened by terror as it was on Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday we concluded a series of classes at the Islamic Center on Wednesday nights to learn about our neighbors and their own commitment to peace. We care about our youth, and yesterday we brought several to the Shambhala Mountain Center to learn about Buddhism. We care about the infirm and elderly, and today we are commissioning a Caring Ministry Team that will befriend and listen to members who are struggling. All of that is just in the past week. This is a church of great impact and great promise, and we’re not done. We want to keep dreaming about what this faith community can be. We want to find new ways to engage people so that we can sustain our vitality into the future.
If you went treasure hunting on our church property, I wonder what you would find? Maybe some arrowheads from the early residents who lived and hunted here. Perhaps some earthly remains of beloved members whose ashes were spread in a garden or beneath a tree. In the center of our Labyrinth is a buried treasure – a time capsule filled with photos and papers and objects representing our church at the time of our recent fiftieth anniversary. We are surrounded by treasure!
We have been blessed with abundance and we are in the season of stewardship which invites us to share generously as an act of thanksgiving. As we prepare for next week and for the week ahead, may be do so with full hearts. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Amen.