Proper 14C Sermon (2004)

Proper 14 (August 7-13)
Texts: Luke 12:32-40;
Gen. 15:1-6; Heb. 11:1-16


For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. — Luke 12:34

There’s an awful lot packed into these few short words. Notice first of all that Jesus doesn’t give us this wisdom the other way around: ‘For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.’ That might be our version in this age of individualism, in which we are told to follow our hearts.

This is a great verse for stewardship programs, but, again, we need to keep Jesus’ version firmly before us. Often our version of stewardship leads with the heart. We think we need to be inspired and moved before we can give from our treasure. But Jesus switches the order on us. Good stewardship is not so much a matter of where our hearts lead us. It takes more than just our hearts. It also requires our minds and spirits in discerning the treasure. For it’s a matter first of finding the true treasure, the treasure of heaven, an unfailing treasure, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. When we find that treasure, then our hearts will follow. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I noticed something else about this verse in Luke this week. It might seem a tiny detail, but explore with me for a moment and we might find it to be important. It involves a very subtle difference between Luke’s and Matthew’s version of this verse — in the Greek, mind you. I don’t always check the original Greek (rarely, might be more accurate). But even with my spotty Greek I noticed a difference you can’t see in the English. In fact, the English reads exactly the same for both Luke (12:34) and Matthew (6:21). That’s because the word “your” — as in “your treasure” and “your heart” — the word “your” is the same for both plural and singular. They’re not the same in Greek. Matthew’s version uses the singular for “your” and Luke’s uses the plural for “your.”

Wow, that seems like such a minuscule difference, doesn’t it? But let’s think for a moment about whether it might be an important difference. Let’s consider the difference in English, where the singular or plural can be judged only by its by context. If I said, for example, “Your car is parked in the tow away zone,” I’m probably talking about one car, right? “Your car,” singular. But if I said, “You need to support your church,” that’s more likely plural, right? This is our church together. The same is true if I said, “You love your country.” This is our nation together.

Now, consider again Jesus’ words: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And think plural, not singular. In other words, we are not talking about just our individual possessions. We are talking about some jointly held treasure that God bestows on all of us. It is this treasure that we must first find so that our heart will follow.

And it’s even stranger to think about our heart in the plural as a jointly held thing. We are so used to matters of the heart being purely an individual matter, a matter of each of our hearts. But I would submit to you this morning that this is the most crucial and importance difference before us today, namely, that we need to think of the words “your heart” in the plural. In other words, we need to learn to think in terms of a commonly held desire of our joined hearts, and not so much in terms of each of our individual desires.

The latter individualistic way of thinking, in fact, is what gets us in trouble. Think of a husband and wife, for example. What happens if their marriage becomes purely a matter of each one following their own heart’s desire? Isn’t that a recipe for divorce? Yes, husbands and wives do each have their own desires, but isn’t marriage a learning how to also desire together?

In many modern wedding ceremonies, there is the lighting of the unity candle. The bride and groom each take a lit candle and together light a common candle as a sign of their unity. Now, I generally encourage the couple to not blow out their individual candles. They remain individuals, too. But that third candle represents their unity, the coming together of their lives, the coming together of their deepest longings and desires. Their two hearts can, in discovering together the treasures and blessings in life, can enter a lifelong journey of being one heart. It should make sense to talk to a married couple with the words “your heart.” “Your” is plural; “heart” is singular. For their two (plural) hearts are becoming one heart.

Now do you begin to see the importance in thinking plural, when Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It is in this journey together of discovering the treasure of the Gospel in Jesus Christ that our lives can begin to come together. Through Jesus — who came into this world not to simply do his own heart’s desire but to do his Father’s will, his Father’s desire — through this Jesus in our midst we learn to become of one heart with God. We learn to do not so much our own desires but God’s desire. We discover together the treasure of God’s kingdom and our plurality hearts become one with God. Big difference between the singular and plural, right?!

This verse is actually the conclusion of verses we skipped over from last week’s Gospel reading, the Parable of the Rich Fool. In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,”as the antidote of the sickness of the Rich Fool. Our problem, you see, involves spending so much time being anxious about our possessions. The verses in between last week’s Gospel and this week’s are those familiar words about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. The birds and lilies don’t spend time being anxious about food and clothes; God takes care of them. We, on the other hand, do get anxious about our earthly desires. And it’s not just a simple matter of having enough. In fact, in this nation of ours in which we’ve now overproduced to have way more than enough, our anxiety has seemed to get only worse, hasn’t it? That’s what the polls tell us anyway. Since the late 1950’s our standard of living has continued to increase, but we answer polls indicating a steady decline in our happiness. As we get more stuff, we become less happy. Why? Could it be because our anxiety is not a matter of having enough, in the first place. Our anxiety has much more to do with “keeping up with the Joneses.” We are constantly playing the games of our individual hearts and desires by comparing our treasures with other people’s treasures, and we get anxious about not keeping up with them.

Do you see, then, how Jesus’ antidote is so important? He is telling us to not be anxious by helping us to discover the joint treasure of God’s kingdom, of God’s desire for us and this earth. When Jesus helps us experience “your treasure” and “your heart” in the plural, we begin to leave behind those anxiety-producing games of constantly comparing our individual treasures and heart’s desires. We leave that behind for discovering the common treasure we share in the coming of God’s kingdom.

This is what we pray for when we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” We are praying not for some treasure in heaven that we’ll only have someday after we die, we are praying for the continual coming of God’s kingdom from heaven to earth. And this is exactly the opposite of what a popularized Christian faith has become. It’s become a hoping to go to heaven when we die. But in the Lord’s Prayer we are praying for the opposite. Do you see? We are praying for God’s heavenly kingdom to come to this earth in fullness, to enrich and fulfill this creation, to enrich and fulfill our lives.

Yes, Luke 12:34 is a good stewardship verse, the best. For now we see it in its fullness. It’s emphatically not a matter of our hearts being moved to simply give a few bucks out of our individual treasures. No, this verse is about stewardship in the sense of discovering together the joint call to help bring about God’s desire for us and for Creation. Stewardship is about an entire lifestyle of living the heavenly treasure of caring for God’s Creation together. This is our joint treasure, our hearts becoming one in the love of Jesus Christ.

Finally, we used marriage as an illustration earlier. Let’s conclude by affirming the value of marriage in the church because the husband’s and wife’s coming together as one heart can only be nourished in this wider unity as one heart in Jesus Christ. Discovering the treasure of God’s kingdom is the inoculation our modern families truly need in order to ward off the terrible anxiety of our consumerist culture that pits all our desires and hearts against each other. “Have no fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (And, yes, when Jesus says “give you,” “you” is plural.) Cure your anxiety, little flock, for it is the Son’s good pleasure to bring the kingdom. And it is the Spirit’s good pleasure to make it come alive in our midst, so that we might truly serve God together. Amen.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Atonement Lutheran,
Muskego, WI, August 8, 2004

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