Faith is a strange commodity! Impossible to measure, it cant be bought or sold, cant be given or taken, but we talk of finding faith and losing it, of growing in faith and falling away from it.
"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." we hear from the writer to the Hebrews.
From this abstract concept we hear that Abraham shaped his life in obedience to God. By faith, we are told he became the father of a nation, and in our context today, three world religions claim him as the father of their faith.
Faith may be a strange commodity, but it seems to make people do significant things. Jesus reassures his friends and followers that those who dont worry about their possessions most, forget their plans for more and more possessions and security in the stuff of this world, can lay up treasure in heaven. Its alluring and enigmatic language; treasure in heaven! "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
You will remember, Jesus told the man concerned with dividing his inheritance that he shouldnt be so taken up with material worries there are more important things than bigger barns, his story taught. Today its our treasures and the story of being prepared for the masters return. And the primary question here in the gospel story is about where we are investing; with what values and to what end; will we be ready at the unexpected end? "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
These are challenges each one of us faces. You and I make decisions all the time, decisions about where we invest our time and energy, about what we do with the various resources we have. Jesus wants us, I believe to simply look at the values behind our actions and consider the priorities of the Kingdom of God.
So, rather than telling you what to do or exploring the intricacies of the Greek text is that a collective sigh of disappointment I hear? - what I want to do is a little show and tell about some of my treasures and to encourage you to reflect on yours.
I like to invest a little time in my garden. I find its a good stress reliever and the rewards are very satisfying.
This is a little bonsai Ive grown and trained. The tree is a living thing, a juniper in this case. It takes care and discipline, planning, vision and attention a little knowledge and much experimenting and learning on the job. Any experts will quickly see Im just a novice at this art, but I enjoy it and in the garden I feel a sense of participating with the Creator and thats something I treasure.
My favourite camera and I have been to some of the most wonderful places in Gods creation, from Cradle mountain to Kakadu. Ive had the joy of "recreation" in the broadest sense and been able to bring back some of the wonder of with the help of this instrument. I have a few cameras, most, like this one I bought second hand, but its a treasure none the less. Photography is something I used to teach, but now enjoy as a hobby. Using it, for me is a way of sharing a little of Gods glory with others.
This stole is something I treasure too. It reminds me of my ordination; its a symbol of call and commitment to preaching the gospel and living by its values. The boat is the ecumenical symbol for the church. This is a small vessel with a cross for a mast, out on the wide and uncertain seas of life, out there exercising faith.
You will have things and symbols, people and places that you treasure. What do they show about us, what will they do for us, how will our treasure last?
Each of us, in the terms of Jesus analogy are "building up treasure" either in God's sight or in the finite things of our world.
And we are all challenged with these questions; "is my life growing and storing riches in God's sight ?", "what faith am I putting into action?" and what end am I preparing for?
Jesus instruction for today might sound more like this; "Be more ready for your true destiny in God than you are for the things that moths or rust or stockmarket crashes can destroy.
Plan then with the bigger picture in sight! "Be ready for something more than next weeks bills and plan for more than a comfortable retirement" is what Jesus says here. Dont hold on too tightly to things, says Jesus.
Sell stuff, give to others, because God will give you the kingdom of heaven, says Jesus.
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
And the faith you put into action now will keep you prepared, keep you from becoming too entangled in the materialistic values of popular culture.
G.K. Chesterton noted, "the saint most needed by each culture is the one that contradicts it the most." These are words we need to hear; "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
What things do we most value, what articles of faith do we put into action, what treasure are we adding to, what preparation for the surprising end Jesus hints we will all face?
This story is told by Rebecca Pippert of an experience in her church.
Toby had wild hair, a Tshirt and bare feet, a uni student who had lately become a Christian with some friends in a group at the Uni. The church across the street was my church, conservative, middle class, very conservative but wanting to somehow reach out to the campus full of students.
One day Toby read the neat little church sign on the noticeboard and decided to go to church. When he came in the service was well under way, there had been a couple of baptisms and every friend and relative was filling the pews.
Toby began to walk down the isle, looking for a seat. People started to look uneasy, but no-one said anything. He gets to the front, but its more packed there than anywhere, so he just sits on the carpet a very normal thing to do just not here in this church! The reading finishes and the minister realises that an elder is walking down to the front too. People are feeling very uncomfortable, the elder is 80, silver haired, three piece suit and pocket watch. He walks slowly, very dignified with the help of a stick.
He walks toward the boy, people are holding their breath, thinking you cant blame him, hows a man of his age expected to understand a kid on the floor in the sanctuary, and the minister just waits for it to be over, knowing he cant stop it!
He finally reaches the spot.
The elder drops his stick and slowly lowers himself to sit with the lad, so he wont be all by himself to worship.
Everyone choked up with emotion.
And the minister, when he regained control of himself, began saying, "what I am about to preach you will probably not remember, what you have just seen, you will never forget.
Faith at the ready, values put into action with big gestures and small. A life of treasuring the things of Gods kingdom has many satisfying rewards.
So, says Jesus;
GAIN IN GOODNESS - and not in goods.
SEIZE THE DAY not take over the calendar industry
GIVE AWAY THINGS AND DONT WORRY - not "worry about your things and dont give."
BE RICH IN GOD - where one share is free and gives all the benefits and returns for all eternity. For where our treasure is, there will be our hearts too!
Jesus whole life and ministry tell us that God is a generous giver. The question to us is "what sort of receivers and givers will we be with our lives, how will we be found at the unexpected end?" May God give us open hearts and open hands. Amen