November 6, 2011
Scripture: Matthew 6:19-24
Show and Tell,
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
Her hair was short and spiked and I found myself uncomfortably distracted by this woman’s multiple face piercings. I wondered what the metal ball that protruded from just below her bottom lip attached to on the other side. Didn’t that hurt her teeth when she smiled? Maybe she didn’t smile a lot, I thought, as I observed her serious expression.
We sat, side by side, on the metal bench waiting for our respective appointments at Father Bill’s homeless shelter in Quincy. Mine with a volunteer coordinator and hers with a case manager. We sat, side by side, on the metal bench, my hands quietly resting on my lap, hers busily fidgeting with the hem of her baggy jeans covering her small frame.
“When are you due?” She suddenly broke the silence.
“February, February 7th,” I responded.
“Enjoy it,” she said.
“I’m trying, it’s going by fast,” I said.
“No, I mean, enjoy that moment when you first hear your baby cry, when the doctor puts him on your chest. You feel like you’re heart’s going to explode.”
A part of me couldn’t believe that this woman was a mother. She didn’t look like most mothers I knew. I couldn’t exactly picture her baking brownies, knitting a sweater, or driving a minivan.
“Do you have children?”
“Yes,” her entire face lit up and suddenly she did look like most mothers I knew. “I have a beautiful baby boy…well, not so much a baby anymore, I guess - he’s 28. I had a near death experience last year. I was in the hospital in pretty rough shape. He came to visit me and the first thing he did after he came in the room was give me a big hug. It was like that very first moment in the hospital when the doctor put him on my chest. That feeling never goes away. Never. He was the greatest gift I could have ever received.”
At that point, the woman who I had come to meet walked toward us from a back office. I stood up from the bench to greet her.
“Enjoy it,” the mother offered me as we parted ways.
We began to walk the grounds of the soup kitchen and shelter. The volunteer coordinator described Father Bill’s mission to work to provide permanent solutions to systemic homelessness. She showed me their facilities and services. The men’s quarters, full of bunk bed cots, resembled something out of the military quarters inspection scene in a Few Good Men. Each cot was perfectly made, sheets and blankets pulled tight around the mattress and I noticed that two bags neatly rested on top of each bed. “Why are there only two bags on each bed?” I asked.
“They are only allowed to bring two bags into the shelter. We just don’t have the space to accommodate more than two bags per person. In almost every case, these two bags contain all of their belongings. Usually these men loose their jobs and then their homes and when they find themselves in need of shelter, they have to leave all that they have and pack just a few small bags to take with them,” She explained.
I thought about all of my belongings. I thought about all of the stuff that I have. I use two closets because all of my clothes and shoes don’t fit into just the one. I thought of my many scarves, bags, and jewelry. I thought of the boxes of photos and old albums, the family heirloom china, Bill’s old law school books, and furniture that we couldn’t find a place for in the new house that occupy nearly our entire basement. I thought of the linen closet, lined with toiletries, hair dryers and straighteners, cotton balls and Q-tips, extra sheets and blankets. I thought of our TV and computer, our blue-ray player. I thought of our beautiful wine glasses that I just love and the kitchen appliances, the food processer that we had received as a wedding gift, the mixer, and salad spinner.
How would I fit all of my belongings into two small bags? What would I bring? What would I leave behind?
* * * *
When Jesus saw the crowds gathering, he climbed a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee and he began to speak the greatest sermon ever preached,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…”
And he went on to preach about a wide range of topics, in metaphor and parable, through invitation and instruction, he addressed the issues where he saw the most need for ethical and spiritual guidance, where he saw the most need for the gospel in his day. But, the beatitudes in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is rightfully the greatest sermon ever preached because in it Jesus not only addresses the issues of his day, but ours as well.
Jesus’ sermon preached from the hilltops of Galilee resonates among us still in 2011, particularly where he speaks on possessions and wealth, for he says, “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” (Matt 6:19-21).
Jesus is saying, all of this stuff that you have, all of these possessions that you accumulate in this world are transitory, temporary, and fleeting. Invest in what’s real, what lasts, matters, and counts and that’s our relationship to God, it’s the love that we share with others, and the service that we offer to our neighbor.
And, goes on to add, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He’s saying: show me your money – where it is and where it goes - and I’ll tell you the truth about what you really care about, not what you say you care about, but what you actually care about.
Money. It was as much a dirty, secretive, shame-filled word in Jesus’ day as it is in ours because money is so deeply revealing. The amount of money we are able to accumulate reflects our ability, status, and worth. At the same time, the way we spend our money reflects our goals, our values, and our character. It is deeply revealing. Jesus is not saying that money is a bad thing, but that God takes a vested interest in what we choose to do with our money, for “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Notice, Jesus does not say, “Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also.”
Giving to the church is a faith practice that leads us to into deeper discipleship, trusting in Jesus that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Giving forces us to look at our earnings, savings, and expenditures through God’s eyes. Asking, what would Jesus see if he looked at our checkbook today? What would he see that we value and that we love?
The truth is that our need to give is far greater than the church’s need to receive, failed boiler and all. Giving forces us to ask ourselves how we would fit our lives into two small bags. To consider what we would take and what we would leave behind. Giving requires us to think and talk about that dirty, secretive, shame-filled word: money. Giving compels us to imitate the very nature of God, for, as we will sing in just moments: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” In giving we move into deeper discipleship.
Giving brings us back to the true treasure that God has given each and every one of us. It brings us back to those first moments when Jesus was there, upon each one of our births, blessing us with new life as we cried out to the world in our purest state, reminding our parents and the world of the purest of God’s gifts, of the life that is truly life; of the love that makes us feel as if our heart is going to explode.
Even and especially with a child on the way, Bill and I have discussed it and we decided to increase our pledge to the church by 20% this coming year. We have made this decision because we want our child to grow up in a community of faith where he can develop his relationship with God, with others, and with his community.
We have decided to increase our pledge by 20% because we want our child to be a part of a community of faith where he can learn to live his life in response to God’s grace, where he can begin to understand that his very life is a precious gift from God, where he can learn to live his life by the Word of God rather than the word we are fed by the media and culture.
We have decided to increase our pledge by 20% this coming year because we want our child to be a part of this community of faith where he can learn to live his life by the example of Christ, where he can learn to enjoy the life that is truly life amidst all of the clutter, the stuff, and the belongings that set out to consume our hearts in this world.
What would increasing your pledge by 10% feel like this year? What would 20% feel like? What about 40 or 50%? What would it feel like to pledge to the church for the very first time? Jesus promises that you would feel deeply rewarded, beyond all words or measure, as your heart would follow your treasure.