God’s Masterpiece: A Treasure Chest for Heaven (Part II)
Sermon Title: God’s Masterpiece: Your Treasures, God’s Treasures
Good News Statement: God treasures us (but do we treasure God)
Preached: Sunday, September 10, at Dogwood Prairie and Seed Chapel UMC
Pastor Daniel G. Skelton, M.Div.
Scripture (NRSV): Matthew 6:19-21– Today’s Scripture reading comes from the words of Jesus who is quoted by the Gospel writer Matthew when it comes to providing the Disciples with instructions on how to live on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew chapter six verses nineteen thru twenty-one warn us to pay attention to the treasures that we accumulate here on earth.
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rut consume and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
This is the Word of God for the People of God; And all God’s people said, “Thanks be to God.”
What is a Pirate’s favorite letter? The letter RRRRRRRR!
What is the best name for a Pirate’s dog? Patches!
Why can’t Pirates learn the alphabet? Because they spend years at “C”!
How do you make a Pirate furious? Take away the p… (irate)
Why couldn’t the Pirate crew play cards? Because the captain was standing on the deck!
Why is pirating so addictive? They say once you lose your first hand, you get hooked!
Pirates have existed since ancient times – they threatened the trading routes of ancient Greece, and seized cargoes of grain and olive oil from Roman ships. Though pirates have existed since ancient times, the Golden Age of piracy was in the 17th and early 18th centuries. During this time more than 5,000 pirates were said to be at sea. Though this Golden Age came to an end in the 18th century, piracy still exists today in some parts of the world, especially the South China Seas. There is still treasure to be found.
Today, we embark on an excursion in search of “treasure.” Now, we aren’t going to go pirating ships and digging holes for chests filled with gold and jewels as did pirates back in the day; rather, we are going to search our heart for the treasure that lies within. We learned last week that God’s eyes are strong enough to penetrate our hearts—to see our brokenness, our pains, our sorrows, our sufferings, our spots and blurriness, and our joys, excitements, and elatedness—and yet are precious enough to love us, grant us comfort, assure us peace and rest, and administer compassion and forgiveness. Through God’s eyes, we witness the treasure that lies within: a treasure that is meant to be stored in heaven. Today, we ask ourselves, “What are the treasures that we hold dear to our heart? And what treasures are we storing up in heaven?”
By looking at the craft of a treasure chest, an aluminum container covered in brown felt and filled with tiny pieces of “gold” we are reminded to take note of what our heart is truly invested in; and how our investments can lead us to Christ.
When I think about treasure, sure I think about pirates traveling the Seven Seas following maps to beaches or deserted islands filled with wild animals and overgrown vegetation looking for that mysterious ‘X’ on the ground in which will reveal a wooden chest filled with gold coins and jewelry, but I also think about a 1985 film based upon a story written by Steven Spielberg. In the film, a group of kids, who call themselves “The Goonies” and who live in the “Goon Docks” neighborhood of Astoria, Oregon, attempt to save their homes from foreclosure and, in doing so, they discover an old treasure map that takes them on an adventure to unearth the long-lost treasure of One-Eyed Willy, a legendary 17th-Century pirate. The film, released by Warner Brothers in 1985 is called “The Goonies” starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton, and Ke Huy Quan.
In search of this long-lost treasure, the Goonies evade several deadly traps along tunnels, cliffs, and old wooden-rope bridges all while escaping the Fratellis family. They finally reach the grotto where Willy’s pirate ship, The Inferno, is anchored. The group discovers that the ship is filled with treasure, and they start filling their pockets. As the Goonies are planning their escape, the Fratellis appear and strip them of their loot, forcing them to walk the plank. As the Goonies swim to safety, the Fratellis begin grabbing all the treasure they want including treasure from the scale that sat in front of One-Eyed Willy: this triggered one last trap. The grotto begins to cave in.
With the help from Sloth, a member of the Fratellis family, both groups escape and emerge on Astoria’s beach, where the Goonies reunite with their families and the police. The Fratellis are arrested and a marble bag filled with precious jewels is discovered. The worth of those jewels is enough to save the town from foreclosure. What I appreciate about this film is the definition of treasure that it offers: to the Goonies, One-Eyed Willy’s treasure is not viewed as something that only has financial benefits; it is viewed as a resource that leads to saving their homes, their town, their friendships, their families, their neighbors, and the history and stories of Astoria. One-Eyed Willy’s treasure is defined as means to salvation. If you were with the Goonies on this treasure hunt and witnessed the loot of One-Eyed Willy, what would be going through your mind? How do you view the “treasures” in your life?
Similar to the disciples who just heard Jesus preach the Beatitudes, we would be in awe of the loot before our eyes: sort of like those who see large numbers for the lottery. The disciples were given the loot of their life—teachings of blessings and instructions of loving our enemies—guidelines that will change their life. And now Jesus’ loot continues with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. In this sermon, Jesus needs the disciples—you and me and future hearers and readers of the word—to be concerned with our almsgiving—our giving of money to the poor or organizations—to be concerned with how and when we pray, to be concerned with fasting—making sacrifices and giving things up to remind us of Jesus’ suffering—to be concerned with our eyes and what they see, to be concerned with serving two masters, and to be concerned with our ability to not worry about tomorrow but focus on the present. And lastly, Jesus needs us to be concerned with our treasures and how we use and view our treasures. The Goonies, at first saw the loot as wealth, as personal gain; but then the loot became a source of salvation for so many people. How we invest and see our treasure alters how we invest in and see Jesus in our life.
The English, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew. 6:21), almost sounds redundant. We use the word “treasure” to mean something we care about. For example, we treasure our family, our grandparents, our parents, our spouses and significant others, our children, and things we are interested in: we treasure vacations and certain events, we treasure photos printed and on our phones, we treasure certain foods, we treasure our favorite sports team, we treasure time of peace and relaxation, and the list could go on and on. But talking about our “heart” –“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”–also points to things we care about—and not just something we want to hang on to. So Jesus would be saying, “The things you care about are the things you care about.” Where your cares are, there heart will be also. Not super enlightening.
However, there’s a little more space between these terms in Greek. “Treasure,” in Greek, doesn’t quite have the emotional content that it has in English. It is, first and foremost, a place—a room or a box or a chest—where you put things you want to keep safe. Then, secondarily, it is the stuff you put in that box. (And the act of putting them in the box would be called “treasuring” them.) So Jesus is asking, “Why do you choose to put those specific things in your box?” Answer: because that’s what you value. That’s what’s important to you. That’s where your “heart” is. Since a person’s “heart” is the core of their being, whether you admit it or not, the things you put in your box are the things you build your life around. What are you putting in your box? What are the treasures, the things, you care about?
First, Treasure in Heaven: “Why do you choose to put those specific things in your box?” Have you ever created a time capsule or wanted to create a time capsule? You fill a box or some sort of container with items from the present that you want to remember in the future. Most people bury the time capsule and then dig it up some years later. These items could be photos, ticket stubs from a movie or concert, a few dollars, your favorite baseball card, jewelry, or anything else that you treasure in your life now that you want to treasure later in life. As you create a time capsule, you often ask yourself, “Why am I choosing this item?” That’s the question people were asking in Tulsa, Oklahoma back in 1957.
The year was 1957 and the U.S. state of Oklahoma was commemorating fifty years of existence. Many communities planned their own events, and the city of Tulsa was no different, kicking off a week-long festival named Tulsarama. To make things more interesting, officials decided to bury a time capsule in front of the city courthouse, but this was no ordinary cache of goods or information. For whatever reason, they chose to include a brand-new desert gold and sand dune white two-tone 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Sport Coupe inside the vault, along with other contemporary items.
Eighteen months before the state’s centennial, preparations for the highly anticipated unearthing began, the vault was opened on June 14, 2007, by a team of local volunteers. They were appalled to find the car sitting in nearly 2,000 gallons of standing water that reached 4 feet high. While the original builders did their best to create a lasting structure, it was not airtight, which allowed water to seep in when the area was flooded due to a construction accident back in the mid-1970s. Still, since the car was covered in plastic, people were still hopeful that it wasn’t completely destroyed. The standing water was eventually pumped out and the Plymouth was lifted from the vault, and then moved to the Tulsa Convention Center, where it was publicly unveiled on June 15th, exactly fifty years after it was buried.
The city of Tulsa chose to bury a car, a treasure of the 1950s, so that, when unveiled, would bring joy to the people of today. Why do we treasure what we treasure? To put this talk of “treasuring” in contemporary terms, perhaps we could talk about “investing.” So the question is: What are you investing in?
Second, Treasure in Heaven: All of our investments are grouped into one of two baskets—things ‘on earth’ or things ‘in heaven.’ Jesus asks this question because, first of all, what you invest in reveals your heart. Let’s make the question of “investing” more concrete: what do you spend your time, money, and energy on? This is not a rhetorical question. It is quantifiable. You could chart it out and find the answer (if you dare!). Of course, every person is going to have their own unique answer, but Jesus says that all of our investments are grouped into one of two baskets: things “on earth” or things “in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-20). At the end of the day, your life is centered on one or the other.
So what counts as “storing up treasures on earth”? Matthew 6:19-21 stands at a pivot point in chapter 6. You can look either direction for an answer. In the first half of Matthew 6, the religious leaders invest their energy in getting praise from other people. That is their treasure, and Jesus’ explicit point is that it has nothing to do with heaven. For the rest of Matthew 6, Jesus talks about the most obvious “earthy treasure”—material stuff. Interestingly, then, Matthew 6 expresses almost the exact same things that Arthur C. Brooks, a social scientist at Harvard, concludes do not lead to happiness. Based simply on hard data from extensive sociological research, Brooks confirms that money, pleasure (Matt. 6:22-34), power, and fame (Matt. 6:1-18]) are all dead ends on the road to happiness.
Based upon this research, Jesus points to the obvious fact, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (Matt. 6:19 ESV). Everything that belongs to the old age will crumble into dust—moths will devour fabrics and linens, rust will eat away at the exposed metal, and thieves will break in and take the material items in your life without warning. This is not a controversial statement, and it alone should re-arrange all of our calculations. What are we storing in heaven, in our hearts: material items that can be destroyed or items that cannot be destroyed but live on for eternity?
Jesus is the only person qualified to assert that there are, in fact, things that survive into eternity. You don’t usually hear eternity brought up in discussions about strategic investing. But if a man literally rose from the dead—as real and tangible as any capital asset you have—that changes everything. Yes, bringing eternity into our practical, strategic calculations radically alters the balance sheet, but Jesus challenges us that it would be ludicrous to leave it out. There are things that crumble into dust, and there are things that don’t. The purely rational conclusion is that the things that survive into eternity are the only things worth investing in: “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20 ESV). What non-material things are you seeking to store up in heaven? Are you seeking to invest more in love, more in the word of God, more in the works of Jesus Christ, more in the peace of the Holy Spirit, more in the repentance and forgiveness of the cross, more in the mission of the church than your material investments?
Third, Treasure in Heaven: The things that survive into eternity are the only things worth investing in.” Now, most people don’t intentionally set out to build their lives around the pursuit of money, pleasure, power, or fame. Occasionally you’ll hear of a billionaire who says something like, “Life is a game, and I’m winning!” Or maybe an Instagram influencer who says, “Life isn’t worth living if there isn’t a camera around.” People like that strike us as a little…off.
But Brooks points out that, if we don’t intentionally set out to build our lives on something else then money, pleasure, power, and fame are the pursuits that we all default to. They have automatic appeal and instant rewards, so we follow them like children to the Pied Piper. Without taking the time to be intentional about where we invest our time, money, and energy, that’s where they’ll go. In other words, we are going to store up treasures on earth unless we deliberately decide not to.
The good news is that the things you invest in don’t just reveal your heart. They shape your heart. We can choose to invest in the things of heaven. And as we put our time, money, and energy there, we grow to care about those things more. Slowly, they work their way to the center of our hearts.
Fourth: Investing in the things of heaven. So what are these things of “heaven”? Simple—they are the things that survive into eternity. This is a pretty short list. The only things that survive into eternity are God and people (including you). Invest in those things.
Invest in yourself: This starts with your relationship with yourself. Your own personal growth and self-care stores up treasure in heaven because you survive into eternity. Moreover, this is the foundation for your ability to invest in anything else. Treasure your own personal growth and self-care. Take time for yourself, do something that makes you happy, go for walks, read a book, work in the yard, be with people you love…Invest in yourself because you are one of God’s treasures on earth that is waiting to be in heaven.
Invest in your relationship with God: Then there’s your relationship with God. That’s what the first half of Matthew 6 is all about. Be concerned about your giving, whether it’s to the church, toward an organization, or supporting a missionary: be invested in what you give towards because what you give towards will hopefully get you closer to God. Be concerned about prayer, whether you pray by yourself, with others, once a day, several times a day, or for 30 seconds or for five minutes: be invested in prayer because praying is a conversation with God that builds your relationship with Him. Be concerned about fasting. Be invested in making sacrifices, of setting aside your own agendas for the agenda of God, and remember that your Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:18). When you invest in giving, praying, and fasting, you invest in a deeper relationship with God, and your relationship with God is a treasure that is stored up in heaven for eternity.
Invest in your relationships with others: You can store up treasures in heaven by investing in other people. This can mean both investing in relationships themselves and in trying to help other people. Both store up treasures in heaven because they mirror God’s heart for other people. Those relationships have merit, not as a means to something else, but because they are intrinsically valuable. Remember what the Bible tells us in both the Old and New Testaments. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18; Mark 12:31).Think about the people in your life: the people you see on a daily basis, several times during the week, once a month, or maybe once a year. Now think about your relationship with them. What is that relationship like? Is it a simple “hello” and keep walking-kind-of-relationship? Or is it a “Hello, how are you doing” kind-of-relationship? How much investing are you willing to do for the relationships in your life?
Here on earth, God puts before us certain kinds of relationships because He knows what we need and what others need. I wonder what this planet would look like if everyone was truly invested in the relationships that God puts before them. If people took time to truly listen to others. If people really heard what others were saying. If people set aside time to check in with others. If people placed their agendas to the side so that others would feel noticed and seen. Imagine if people created relationships on earth as they are in heaven: loving, caring, understanding, forgiving, and supportive. As Matthew, Mark, and Luke share, relationships that mirror “angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:34-36): relationships that are intentional and treasured by God. Invest in the relationships that you have because those are the relationships that are treasured and stored up in heaven.
Invest in your “church”: Lastly, in Greek, the word for church is ecclesia which is a compound word composed of ek meaning out and kaleo meaning call; therefore, the church is an act of “calling out.” The church is a group people, an assembly of people, a gathering of people, and a congregation of people, who have been called out from the rest of society to do something specific, to do something different, and to do something for God. Luke 4:18 tells us that the church is called “to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, [and] to set the oppressed free.” Essentially, the church—the people—are being called out to do the work of the Lord on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? It means that those belonging to the Lord—the church and God’s creation—are being called out to care for those in their midst: to hear their needs, support their dreams, cater to those in the pews, see a need and fill a need, find ways to keep the doors open, invest in the lives of those who God puts before us.
To invest in the church, a group and place that belongs to Jesus, means to support it with your offerings, with your talents, with your gifts, with your time, with your commitment, with your presence, with your ideas and dreams, and with your heart. We have been called by God, through Jesus Christ, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, to invest in the church, the Body of Christ, and those who sit and don’t sit in our pews. But how do we do that? What does that look like? Invest in the church because the church is stored up in heaven.
So in conclusion, intentionally build into your life opportunities to invest in yourself, in God, in others, and in the church because those are things that are treasured and stored up in heaven. If at all possible, don’t just build these into your life, but build your life around them. Try to make these opportunities regular and strategic, because successful investments are about small contributions made consistently over a long time. This doesn’t just work for your savings account. It also works for your character, for who God has called you to be. As Jesus’ one concrete example of “treasures in heaven” says, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Matt. 19:21).
Interestingly, these “treasures in heaven” also echo Arthur Brooks’ research. He concludes that four things lead to genuine happiness—faith, family, friends, and meaningful service to others. Folks who have spent enough time in the pews are not surprised to hear Brooks say that, if you want to sum this all up in one word, that word is “love.” If you want to store up treasures in heaven, live out love. That’s exactly how Jesus himself sums it up: “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt. 22:37-39).
It’s not too surprising that the “treasures in heaven” match, almost exactly, the things that make people whole and happy in this life: the feeling of being seen, heard, and loved. Remember, “the Kingdom of heaven” is the place where things are the way they’re supposed to be. As people created in God’s image who live in a world designed along the grain of his character, the Kingdom life is the life we were meant for. Even in this broken world, living a life that values the things God values is still the best bet.
God, through Jesus Christ, doesn’t want us to be pirates who just search for treasure to get rich with material things. God wants us to be sailors who find meaning in the treasure that we seek, to find a life in the investments that we make, and to experience a love that lives on earth as it does in heaven. What are the treasures of your heart? What do you want to place in your time capsule today so that you will have later in life? What sort of things are you placing in your treasure chest? What are you investing in today and storing up in heaven for tomorrow?
I encourage you this week, to really consider what your treasures are in your life and what you have chosen to invest in. Could you be investing more in yourself, in others, in God, and in the church? Are their treasures that need to be replaced with other Godly treasures? Create your own treasure chest. And if you have time, think about what sort of things could be placed in the treasure chest of our church. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where is your heart today? Where is the heart of the church? What needs to be done to keep them both beating of life and love? May you embrace the treasures of the heart today, so that they will be stored up in heaven tomorrow.
Let it be so…
Dear God, thank you for investing in us, for creating us, and for allowing us to be part of your grand masterpiece. O Lord, help us to find ways to invest in ourselves, in our relationships, in our church, and in you so that what we do today will be stored up in heaven for tomorrow. May what we invest in be blessed by your love and strengthened by your grace today and every day. In your holy name we pray, Amen.
This week take a moment to think about your investments: those things that are stored in your heart. What have you chosen to invest in and why? Are your investments getting you closer to God? May you be blessed by the investments that God has laid upon your heart. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, go out into the world knowing that you are part of God’s masterpiece. And all of God’s people said, Amen. Amen. Amen.
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