Solid Investment - Matthew 6:19 - 21
Having a yard sale makes you think, doesn’t it? How many of us have had yard sales, and as we set items out on the tables, blankets, or just out in the yard or driveway, we stop and think about the things we are setting out. We think about how badly we had wanted those things when we purchased them, how much we thought that we would use them…we think of how much money we may have spent on them…and we think of how little use we actually got out of them, or at least how little use we have gotten out of them lately.
Maybe we’re not yard sale kind of people…we don’t go to yard sales, we don’t have yard sales. Maybe we just decided it is time to organize or clean out the attic. Maybe we are doing something noble like looking for some things to donate to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or Trollinger’s Treasures. Yet, just like the yard salers, we climb up into the attic and we stare at the stuff we have accumulated that we just do not use anymore, some of it stuff we just had to have.
Maybe in either of these preparations we come across stuff that have actually been good investments, or things that have significant financial or, at least, emotional value. Maybe moths have eaten away at our favorite sweater. Maybe our favorite vehicle has needs to meet Lightning McQueen’s sponsor, Rusteeze. To the moths and rusts of Jesus’ warnings, I would add, another friend…suppose you went into the attic to retrieve your spring and summer clothes at the end of winter, only to discover someone (something) else had been using them all winter without ever taking them out of the box. Maybe it is even something more malicious, such as coming home to find that the new 3D Blu-Ray player and 3DTV have been burglarized along with most of the other valuables in our home. Maybe it’s simply what’s left of that had to have Christmas toy. Or maybe it’s what happened to our retirement funds late in 2008.
Whatever the case, it is not hard to look back into our own lives and see the reality of what Jesus is talking about during the Sermon on the Mount… “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in an 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.” Jesus is trying to get through to those listening, including each one of us, that everything in this world is temporary…all of it is fleeting, and we cannot depend on any of it for true happiness. We cannot find true and lasting happiness in any toy, outfit, electronic device, car, bank account, or retirement plan. Any of those can be here today and gone tomorrow. In fact, when the author of Luke relates this same teaching, he relates it alongside Jesus’ parable about the farmer whose focus was constantly planning for tomorrow, he wanted to make sure that in the days to come, he “would be taken care of.” Despite all that planning, despite getting everything exactly where he thought it should be, the very night he thought his security was set for the rest of his life, his life ended. Jesus says that nothing on this earth is a solid investment…the only solid investment we can make, according to Jesus, is to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.
What does it mean to store up our treasures in heaven? Does that mean that we contract with Angel’s Moving and have heavenly beings come and make regular pickups of all our possessions and transfer them to that mansion that we think is waiting for us in the sky somewhere? Of course not. Does it mean that we should quit our jobs and all our work and simply sit at home reading the Bible? Not really. Jesus does not really tell us in this passage, but elsewhere he makes it very clear that the way we build up riches in heaven is to invest what God has given us in His kingdom…in every one of the parables that Jesus tells about a master who goes away and leaves money with his servants, it is the servants who invest and increase the master’s funds that are rewarded.
So what does this mean? What are we as Christians supposed to do with our money, our wealthy? John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, offered three rules when it came to money…and in these three rules, I think we can clearly see how it will help us walk A Disciple’s Path and grow in our relationship with Christ. Wesley offered these words of advice in his sermon entitled “The Use of Money,” Sermon 50.[i]
Wesley’s first rule concerning the use of money was that we are to “gain all we can.” Wesley advocated hard work and hard labor in order to build up all the resources we can. We are to go out and earn as much money as we can in this way of thinking. However, Wesley did not advocate a “no holds barred” kind of thinking when it came to making money. For Wesley, there were limits as to what we could do when we sought to “gain all we can.” As he put it, “We ought to gain all that we can without buying gold too dear, without paying more for it than it’s worth.”
The first limit that Wesley placed was that we are to gain all we can without hurting ourselves. We have seen those folks, we may even be one of those folks, who are “workaholics.” These folks that will invest all of their time in their time and energy into their jobs and they literally work themselves to death—they don’t stop to eat or sleep when they are supposed to and their physical health fails; they stress themselves to the point that it starts taking a toll on their hearts and minds, leading to heart attacks and strokes; they may place themselves in working conditions that are hazardous to their health, exposing themselves to toxins that damage their bodies. Wesley would say “no” to all of these situations, what you gain from those situations is not worth it.
Wesley’s caution against not hurting ourselves was not limited to our physical health, though. He cautioned against doing anything that would damage our mind or soul. If we think it is wrong…if doing it would plague our conscious, we should stay away from it. We are not to “gain all we can” by engaging in sinful, unlawful, or unethical practices. For instance, if we are a contractor, we do not try to increase our profits by cutting corners or using substandard materials; it means we do not seek to make our profits through illegal means, such as the selling of drugs; or through legal, but unethical means, such as the selling of pornography. It means if that we do not lie or deceive in order increase our wealth, such as hiding defaults in a car or house we are trying to sell. The list could go on…but the warning is clear from our Savior, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”[ii]
Outside of protecting yourself, Wesley warns against working to “gain all you can” in a way that would harm your neighbor. Do not do anything that would harm those around you. That means that we do not seek to make profits off of cheap labor, paying folks less than what their labor is worth in order that our profits may be larger. It means not placing our neighbor or our employs in situations that might harm their physical, mental, or spiritual health, in the same way we avoid doing it ourselves. I think of farmers I once knew that would not work on Sunday, but refused to bring their migrant workers with them to church because they needed to be out in the fields priming the tobacco. Wesley also including within this warning that we not overcharge our neighbor for goods or services we render in order to bring more profit in, nor charge interest to the point that they will never be able to reasonably pay off their debt. Wesley even pushed it to the point of suggesting that we don’t underprice our competition to the point that it may put them out of business, or try to steal away their employees, leaving them with no laborers.
“Gain all you can” was rule one of money for Wesley…and despite his stipulations that sounds a lot like our capitalist/market place society. Makes sense to us, gain all we can so we can relax and enjoy life, and buy whatever we want for what the world would call the “good life.” Right?
Actually, no. Wesley was not in favor of going out and blowing every cent we make. Wesley’s second rule for dealing with wealth in a Biblical manner was “save all you can.” Wesley saw no heavenly good in wasting money to satisfy desires. He cautioned against the spending of money to satisfy extravagant tastes or to impress others. If a cheeseburger from Burger King can satisfy your hunger then a filet mignon from The Chop House is an unnecessary expense. If an outfit from Wal-Mart will cover your body, then there is no need for an Armani suit. If a pocketbook from K-Mart will hold your needs, then there is no reason to visit Coach. If your 2001 Accord, or 95 Ranger, is still getting you from place to place, then there is no need to trade it in for a Lexus LX. Then Wesley cautioned extremely against spending it all upon one’s children and/or grandchildren in ways that would cause them to develop a sense of feeling like all their desires and tastes had to be satisfied.
So “Gain all you can” and “Save all you can.” Right now Wesley doesn’t sound like he is offering any way that we can grow as Christians…in fact right now Wesley’s advice sounds exactly the opposite of Jesus…it is either “storing up for yourself treasures on earth” or it is the premise for a Wesleyan take on the show, “Hoarders.” It is the next factor, the third and final rule of money that Wesley offers, that takes us to the point of shaping us as disciples. Wesley says, “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
“Give all you can.” Wesley suggests that all you keep after you have “gained all the money you can,” and have “saved all you can,” having only spent what was necessary to feed, clothe, and maintain you and your household in a moderately reasonable fashion, that the rest should be given away…given to your house of faith, in other words your church, and given to the good of all humankind. Wesley reminds us when we struggle with giving away all that we have worked hard to gain for ourselves, that it really is not ours…that if we remember that all that is in creation rightfully belongs to God, and from the point of creation, we are simply called to be stewards of God’s resources. In giving to the household of faith and to help those who are struggling throughout the world, we are being good stewards of what God has placed in our care.
When we give all we can, it shapes us as disciples into generous people…generosity being one of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul notes in his letter to the Ephesians. Being generous and “giving all we can,” also shapes us by helping us be reliant upon God…for when we give away what we have, we learn to trust God. In my personal devotional reading this week, this statement came up, “Generosity and respect for God places our trust in him, not our money, for justice and security.”[iii]
My brothers and sisters, like the practice of praying and being present from our membership vows, the practice of presenting our gifts to God helps shape us as we walk A Disciple’s Path, calling us to trust God more deeply with our well-being, safety, and future. It removes our trust in ourselves and our trust in our money and resources, and places our trust completely with God…so as Wesley would direct us, “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can” and in doing so we won’t be building up treasures on earth, but building up treasures in heaven, as we walk closer with our Lord. And, that, my brothers and sisters, is a solid investment.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen.