#ForOwatonna Part III: Treasure

Miss Lucille was a woman who lived in what was basically a plywood shack, in the small community of Morehead City, North Carolina.  The youth group I was leading was there as volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, to work on her new home.  Living with Miss Lucille was her daughter, who was herself a single Mom, and her 3 children.  Miss Lucille was older, and had a physical disability that made it hard for her to get around.

So every day that our team came to work on the home, Miss Lucille would set herself up on the next-door neighbor’s porch in a rocking chair with a glass of iced tea…unsweetened.  And she would dispense advice and wisdom to our group. 

She was great.  Her positive attitude was contagious and as the week went along, our group bonded with her and her family.  Often, I’d look over and see her on her porch, sitting with 3 or 4 members of our group who were taking a break, and they’d be listening to her, talking with her and laughing at the stories she would tell. 

As the end of our week came near, our team decided that they wanted to secretly take a group photo in front of Miss Lucille’s new home, and then go to the local drug store where you could get a photo printed in one hour, and then put it in a frame and give it to Miss Lucille on our last day, before we left for home.

On that last day, Miss Lucille gave our group this wonderful, heartfelt thank you.  And then two of the kids in our group thanked her for letting us come and spend time with her, and they gave her this photo.

You could see the tears well up in her eyes as she stared at the simple gift.  And then Miss Lucille said, “I’m going to put this somewhere safe,” and she walked over to the table in the living room and opened this wooden box, we could see that it was full of papers and pictures.  And she carefully set our framed photo inside of it and closed the lid.

One of the kids in the group made a joke about putting the photo in a box, instead of on a shelf, and Miss Lucille turned and looked at us and smiled and said “oh no.  This is my treasure box.  These things are precious.  I look at the things in this box almost every day.  If my house were to catch fire, this is the box that I would grab as I ran out.”

And the group got really quiet as they thought about the power of what she had said.

Hear again the words of Jesus: “…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  These are really important words.  “…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

This statement of Jesus draws us straight into a question, and it’s a question that is worth thought, reflection, and prayer.  It’s a simple question:  What is your treasure?  What are those things that you value above all else…what becomes so important to you, that you keep it in your heart; precious to you.

This week, we conclude what has really been a six-week sermon series.  The first three weeks we talked about “why” we do what we do.  Then during this past three weeks, we’ve talked about what we do. 

A quick recap:  Why do we do what we do?  Because of love.  Because Jesus first loved us and that love is so grace-filled and so abundant that it cannot help but flow through us. 

Love is our “why.”  And it is what fuels our “what.”

So then, what is our “what?”  With hearts full of generosity, we love and care for our neighbor…especially for those whose lives who have been broken, or who are living on the margins, or who are seeking meaning.  We love our community…and by community I’m not talking about simply our church community.  I’m talking about our broader community.  We are here for everyone in our community.  We are literally here…for Owatonna.

In five years, I believe Trinity is going to be a very different kind of church.  We will keep our strengths: worship, and music, and good faith formation with young people.  These priorities will continue to be an important part of our story.

But we will build on those strengths.  Because God has given us a new vision for ministry that draws us in to fresh challenges:

  • There is a shortage of care for people who struggle emotionally…and so we are going to develop partnerships in order to have a counselor here, on site, serving the community.
  • And we are concerned about the problem of homelessness in Owatonna.  Especially among families and children.  And so, we are going to begin a ministry to walk alongside and help people who are on the margins, that with the help of God they can be lifted out of the situation in which they find themselves.
  • And we know that there are people in our community who are disconnected from their faith, but who are looking for meaning in their lives.  We are going to be a church that thinks creatively about helping people connect with the Holy.

God’s abundant love is our why.  And caring for those who are broken…those on the margins…those who seek meaning…that is our what.  And these two things together, they are our treasure.

Because in our Gospel text, Jesus draws an important distinction between two different types of treasures. 

Jesus is saying “hey, the things of earth that we treasure…they are temporary…they do not last.  They will fade away…eventually they will disappoint.

But when we treasure the holy…the gifts that God has given…and we share them…we are tapping into God’s great abundance.  And our lives, and the lives of those around us become rich and full of grace.

Now to be clear, there is nothing wrong with money, or possessions in and of themselves.  Jesus is saying that they become a problem when they become the center of your being…when they become your treasure. 

I think it’s easy to get confused and to slide into this trap, and I get it.  It’s understandable.  I think that we have a weird relationship with money and “stuff.”  Because the message we hear from the rest of the world isn’t about the things that matter.  The rest of the world says: “Get more.  Own more.  Possess more.  Hold on to more.  Achieve more.” 

The words of Jesus today are countercultural.  And they bring clarity.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  In other words: “Don’t confuse your means with your ends.” And don’t treasure the means.  Treasure the ends.  And use the means to bring about the ends. Keep your horse before your cart:  The money and things we have are first and foremost a gift.  And they are what allow us to do the things that matter. 

This week, in the mail, Trinity members received their pledging information for supporting our shared ministry in 2021.  Here’s what I’d like to ask you to do:  I’d like you to first look through the information, and then I’d like you to pray. 

When you pray, first give thanks to God for all of the ways you’ve been blessed, even during this weird, uncomfortable COVID year.  And ask for guidance as to how to use the gifts you’ve been given to reflect God’s love, and to care for the broken, those on the margins and for those seeking meaning. 

Most importantly, when you pray, ask God to keep our mission, our “why” and our “what,” firmly within your heart.  Pray for clarity and for the wisdom to follow. 

And if, because the COVID world has reduced your finances, and you need to give less this year.  Know that that’s ok.  Please give what you can.  And if you’re in a position to increase your giving, please do. Stretch yourself just a bit.  You can help support those who can only give less.  Most importantly, please continue to trust that God provides. 

And then make your pledge and give.  Use your means, your resources, to support God’s ends…the treasure of love, care and service for the world. 

We do that because of what Jesus first did for us.  Throughout the scriptures, there is a word that God uses when refers to us, God’s people.  That word is “beloved.”  130 times in the scriptures, God uses that word.  If you were to look into God’s heart…if you were to open that little box and see what it is that God treasures, you would see us. 

And because of that, Jesus gave everything…for you.  Jesus poured himself out…for you.  Jesus treasures you. 

And Jesus brings clarity: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Today we are presented with an opportunity to live this out.  Our treasure is the love of God, the gift of faith, and the people whose lives we have been entrusted with to serve and to care for. 

This is a powerful charge, it is a holy cause, and it is a dynamic mission.  And today Jesus invites us, through our love and generosity, to be a part of that mission, for the sake of our community, for the sake of Owatonna.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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