Extravagant Generosity 3: Generosity and Earthly Treasures – audio available

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Extravagant Generosity 3: Generosity and Earthly Treasures

Matthew 6:19-21

March 27, 2011


Through my 25 years of ministry, I have done hundreds of sessions of premarital counseling.  Brides and grooms talk with me about their relationships, their expectations for marriage, and the division of various household responsibilities.

Where we usually bog down is in the topic of money.

Our conversation is light and full of humor when the focus is household repair and maintenance.  They’ll say things like, “We both know how to call repairmen!”  But when we hit finances, the conversation becomes deadly serious.

Sharing a bed is no problem for most couples, but sharing a checkbook raises issues of control, independence, trust and priorities.  It reveals, more than anything else, just how much individuals are willing to invest themselves in a marriage.

The most difficult set of premarital sessions I ever led were in my first church in Connecticut, involving a young woman who had a very clear idea about her relationship with her money.  She and her fiancé appeared at first to get along well, and most of their responses to my questions were normal — at least for a strong‑willed wife and rather mild‑mannered husband.

But when we reached finances, she revealed that she would not give him access to her assets.  She would contribute her fair share, of course, but she wanted complete control over her cash.  The groom did not seem happy about this, so we spent an additional session talking about finances.  In the end, I told them that I could not perform their wedding unless they were able to resolve this issue.  They left and never returned.

I believe that shared finances are central to a strong relationship.  People in our society invest in what is important to them, and joint bank accounts are one way individuals put stock in a marriage.  Such accounts force people to move from independence to dependence on one another; they require couples to talk, dream and work together toward common goals.

I tell brides and grooms that shared assets are a tangible sign of commitment, and to illustrate this I often find myself quoting the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21).

Most couples don’t understand this verse, and get it exactly backwards.  They are ready to invest their hearts, but not their treasures.  The truth of this passage is that the commitment of treasure helps to strengthen the commitment of the heart.  When you put money behind your words, you are showing — not just saying — that you have faith in one another.  When your treasure is invested fully in the marriage, your heart will be invested fully as well.

The very same is true in your relationship with Christ and the church.  Giving money raises issues of control, trust, and priorities.  Many people are happy to invest their hearts, but not their earthly treasures.  But Jesus tells us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Your commitment of earthly treasure helps to strengthen the commitment of your heart.

This sermon is the third in a series on Extravagant Generosity, and the topic today is Generosity and Earthly Treasures.  Our Scripture lesson comes from the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the blessings known as the Beatitudes, moves to the Lord’s Prayer, and concludes with an emphasis on trusting and serving God.  Right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has these words about treasures:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (vv. 19-21).

On the one hand, Jesus is warning us about the accumulation of earthly treasures — the stockpiling of material things that are only going to be eaten by moths and rust, or stolen by thieves.  He recommends that we focus instead on “treasures in heaven” — the accumulation of spiritual qualities such as faith, hope, and love, which we can carry with us into everlasting life.

But on the other hand, I don’t think that Jesus is unconcerned about what we do with our earthly treasures.  In the verses that follow, he goes on to say, “No one can serve two masters …. You cannot serve God and wealth” (v. 24).  He praises a poor widow who puts her two coins in the treasury, offering “all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).  In the story of a farmer who builds bigger barns to hold all his earthly possessions, Jesus warns, “Take care!  Be on guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:13-21).

Jesus has a lot to say about our use of earthly treasures.  He wants us to serve God, rather than wealth.  He challenges us to give all we can, in acts of Extravagant Generosity.  He warns us about the danger of greed, and calls us to shift our focus from possessions on earth to treasures in heaven.

Most importantly, from our passage for today, he says for us to invest wisely, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  Where you put your treasure determines the location of your heart.

We know that this is true, don’t we?  We see it in ourselves and our neighbors.  The man who puts all his money into restoring old cars has a deep love for vintage autos.  The woman who sinks her resources into decorating has a passion for creating a hospitable home.  The couple that goes on expensive vacations has an unquenchable desire to travel.  The family that sacrifices to send their children to college has a heart for education.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

But what about money and the church?  When it comes time to make a pledge to the church, as you will be asked to do in the weeks to come, some people hold back.  They are like premarital couples who are unsure about how much they want to invest themselves in a marriage.  Making a commitment of earthly treasure in a stewardship campaign raises issues of control, trust, and priorities.

My advice to you is the same advice I give to couples:  Invest yourselves.  Make a tangible commitment.  The more you give, the more you will care.  The more you invest in the work of this church, the closer you will feel to Jesus and this community of faith.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Robert Schnase, the United Methodist bishop who wrote the book being used by our Extravagant Generosity small groups during the Season of Lent, predicts that your giving will be a benefit both to you and to this community.  He writes that that generosity “enlarges the soul, realigns priorities, connects people to the body of Christ, and strengthens congregations to fulfill Christ’s ministries.”

He is absolutely right.  By giving more, we actually worry less — and find that our souls are enlarged.  When we give, we look at what we have, what we want, and how we want to spend our money — and find that our priorities become realigned.  When we practice Extravagant Generosity, we choose which kingdom gets our loyalty — instead of serving the kingdom of this world, we serve the kingdom of God.  The end result is that we are connected to the body of Christ, and deeply invested in Christ’s ministries.

You’ll be getting a pledge card in the mail soon, and extras will be available in the church office.  My dream for this stewardship campaign is that it will lead to deeper Christian commitment by every member of FPC.  This campaign is not about the church budget — it is about personal and spiritual growth.  I want us all to become more generous people, following the example of our generous Lord.  Extravagant Generosity is one of the ways that we grow closer to the Christ who gave his life for us, and to the God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have been challenged to grow in this way.  Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul urged his followers “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).

That’s the kind of life that you want, isn’t it?  The life that really is life.  A life of doing good, rich in good works, generous, ready to share.  A life that enlarges the soul, realigns priorities, connects us to the body of Christ, and strengthens our congregation.

I encourage you to express your Extravagant Generosity by increasing your pledge to the church, moving a step closer to the tithe — the biblical standard of a 10 percent gift.  Nancy and I will be taking another step again this year, and I urge you to do the same.  These pledges will be received on Palm Sunday, April 17, during our two services of worship.

Like premarital couples, you’ll find that shared finances are a very real and tangible sign of commitment.  When you invest your earthly treasure, you invest your heart.  The result will be a deeper relationship with Christ and the church, and the kind of life that really is life.  Amen.

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