When I was 6 years old, my mom took me with her to Ohio to visit her cousin that she had been close to as a little girl. It was my first experience of traveling by plane. While I don’t remember it with great clarity, my mom loved to tell the story of how when we began to crest the clouds, I turned to her and said with big eyes, “Mom, are we in heaven?” I suppose my vision of heaven was similar to a lot of children whose imaginations saw God sitting in the clouds with angels flying all around. Later in my life, I remember hearing old time Appalachian hymn tunes based on Revelation describing heaven as having streets paved with gold and a river with the water of life running through it. While these visions are dreamy, they actually differ from Jesus’ descriptions.
In our gospel lesson for this morning, we see Jesus describing the kingdom of heaven to a crowd who had gathered to hear him teach. In this sermon by a lake, Jesus says that “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Jesus’ descriptions are not about heavenly visions, but rather portray heaven dressed in earthy tones: a field, hidden treasure, and a pearl of great value. Just prior to this passage in Matthew’s gospel we hear other metaphors: the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, and like yeast added to flour for leaven. Instead of describing a fantasy, Jesus is clothing the kingdom of heaven in a way that makes it accessible for his audience. In this way, Jesus says that the kingdom is not distant, but rather, directly in front of their very eyes.
I Timothy 6:7-10, 17-19
It is a rare person who cannot be tempted by wealth. Most of us believe that if we were wealthier our lives would be easier and more enjoyable than they are now. We envy those who are rich enough to satisfy not only their “needs” but also most of their “wants.” We imagine that they are free of worry and can rest in the assurance that they have what they need to face the future with confidence.
But appearances can be deceptive. The passages we have before us today warn us that the desire for wealth can be extremely dangerous. “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Desiring to be rich is dangerous. It can easily lead us into bad choices, which damage our character and our reputation, wreak havoc with our relationships, and result in ruin and destruction. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus warns us.
Jesus presumes we have a dual citizenship. We belong both to earth and to heaven. We could say that the one – heaven – is our beginning and our end. The other – earth – is where we find our way. We have dual citizenship. Today’s Gospel lesson is an alert to what we treasure, that is, to what we give ultimate value, importance, and worth.The English words “worth” and “worship” come from the same etymological root. What we worship – to what we give ultimate worth – will have the highest claim on our life and our attentions. What we treasure the most we worship.
Jesus is not being a killjoy. He is certainly not telling us not to treasure earthly life. Jesus is certainly not telling us not to enjoy earthly life with it many beauties, and wonders, and opportunities. Nor is he warning us not to invest in life. Invest in life! Absolutely! Jesus was passionate about our living life abundantly on this earth.[i]Jesus’ point is about where and how we apply “treasure” to our earthly life. He commends us to invest in treasure that will last, treasure that will last into eternity.[ii]Think of yourself as a trustee of your earthly life, not an owner or possessor. Legally, we may be called “owners” of any number of things, but I’m speaking here the language of the soul. We are trustees of life, which is temporarily entrusted to us.
You might find it meaningful to take an inventory of your life. Consider the physical things to which you have been entrusted – finances, properties, heirlooms, knickknacks, whatever. Sooner or later you will probably need to do some estate planning with your lawyer, and inventorying with your family and friends. But alongside these “durable goods,” do an inventory from your soul’s perspective: how it is you hold the intangible elements of your life: your reputation and stature, your abilities, your titles, your attributes of mind and body, your relationships. Acknowledge and cherish their importance, be deeply grateful for them… and simultaneously remember they will all die with you, and most likely diminish before you die.
All these things which you could call your “possessions” – both the tangible and intangible – give them up. I’m not saying to disregard them or devalue them. Quite to the contrary, I’m speaking of “giving them up” like an offering, acknowledging to God how God has entrusted you with them, temporarily. In the ancient vocabulary of the church, this is called “an oblation,” living your life as an offering, and offering of thanksgiving.[iii] This is a way to treasure life on earth in a way that mirrors the treasure of life in heaven.
Oblation might be too archaic a word for you to use. If so, find another word, another phrase that allows you to live life abundantly on earth, and on speaking terms with life in heaven. The phrase I’ve latched onto is “living my life with nothing to lose.” You cannot lose what you have already given up. Live your life with nothing to lose. Do this. Find the language, find the prayer and practice, that enables you to treasure the fullness of life: life for now and life to come. Live your life wholeheartedly. As Jesus says, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
[ii]“…For to your faithful people, o Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 382).
[iii]“Oblation,” from the Latin oblation: an offering, presenting, gift. he prayer, as we set the altar for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is: “Let us with gladness present the offerings and oblations of our life and labor to the Lord” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 377).
When I was about six, two collegians who were allergic to cats asked me to move a cat away from them. I tried but had difficulty, so I said: “The easiest thing would be for you to move. You could come back later and by then the cat will have moved.” The students later told my dad they could tell I was his son. People still recognize my parents in how I speak, listen, and serve. How we live communicates our community, to whom we are connected.
Today we conclude a ten-part sermon series on the Anglican Five Marks of Mission. These are one way to summarize who God is and what it looks like for us to be known as God’s beloved daughters and sons. These communicate we are connected to and being converted by Christ.The five marks may be summarized: tell, teach, tend, transform, and treasure. Let’s review.