by Pastor Cherie Dearth
We are in the second week of our sermon series, Treasure. Our theme verse for the series is “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6: 210. We talked about how treasure does not just mean our money or our financial resources, but also our time. How are we spending or investing it as well as how we use or give our talents, abilities, and expertise? We talked about how we get caught up investing our treasure on things other than what we would desire or what would be our first choice, but once we do that, once we make that investment, we are committed and our hearts are drawn away.
When we think of our hearts, we usually think of the center of our emotions, our desires, or what we love, but that is not what it means in the Bible. In the Bible the heart is the center of our being, our whole being. According to the Holman Bible dictionary, the heart is, “the center of the physical, mental, and spiritual life of humans.” So, this means that when our hearts follow our treasure, our whole essence, our whole life, follows it. God wants that treasure invested with him in heaven where it will be safe, and it will be available to us eternally.
This week’s scripture passage is a few verses later, and it emphasizes this idea of investing our whole lives with God. Hear the word of the Lord…
Matthew 6: 24
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
What is translated as “wealth” or “money” in our contemporary English translations of the Bible is actually the word “Mammon,” or in Aramaic mă-mō-n’ăs. Almost all of the New Testament is written in Greek. The Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek, but the writer decided to keep this Aramaic word of Mammon. It really means more than money, wealth, or property. It means whatever you put your confidence in, exclusive of God. It could be money. It could be our abilities. It could be our intellect, business sense, street smarts, or anything we put our confidence in other than God.
One of the interesting things about this passage is that Jesus seems to be referring to this wealth, or Mammon, as if it is an entity or a god. We ran into something similar when we talked about Sin in the spring, something living inside of us, controlling us, until we accept the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Then, it can still talk to us, but it has no power over us. We learned the phrase from Romans 6:14, “Sin is not my master.”
Here in today’s passage, Jesus is talking like Mammon would try to become our master. Wealth, money, property, intellect is not bad or evil in and of itself. We need money in order to help people. We need money to exist in this world and not be a burden on someone else. I know people who have tried to live without using money, and it’s possible, but it isn’t easy.
One of my favorite TV programs of all time is a British sitcom from the 1970s called Good Neighbors in the United States. In Britain it was called The Good Life. Are any of you familiar with it? Truthfully, I would be surprised if many of you were. The show was about a married couple, Tom and Barbara Good. They wanted to be self-sufficient, and live their lives without money to the extent that they could. Where the comedy came in is that they wanted to stay in their suburban house, outside London. Every week was a new adventure of how they would deal with the crisis of obtaining what they needed without money. They could barter and trade. They would take classes to learn how to make what they used to have to buy. Sometimes, they would take short-term jobs to provide the cash they would need. Surprisingly, the government would not accept barter for a property tax bill. The point is that they changed their whole life, so that they would end this cycle with money, and it was a constant struggle. Even they needed it, as a tool, as a way of efficient bartering, not as their god.
Just as “Sin is not our master,” we should not allow Mammon to give us orders. It should not be bossing us around. If we have our priorities straight, there can only be one boss, and that is God.
Treating Mammon as our god divides our loyalty. One thing that God is clear about is that our loyalty, trust, needs to be in God. Jesus says in Mark 3: 24225, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If I house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” You may be familiar with the phrase from Abraham Lincoln that a house divided cannot stand, over the issue of slavery, and maintaining the Union, but he got it from Jesus. In this passage, Jesus was actually explaining that he was not in cahoots with Satan to drive out demons. However, the point is the same. We need to be “all in” with God, no divided loyalty, or we cannot hope to have the life that God intended for us.
Last week, we talked about considering where we are investing our Treasure. When we look at where our time, money, and energy are spent, we will see where our hearts are being drawn. An easy way to see this is to look at our calendar and our bank account. Many of us would find that our hearts are divided. We have too many commitments, too many obligations, too many credit card swipes. Now, we have to pay things off that don’t make us happy, don’t allow us to focus where we truly desire to focus.
Jesus says in Matthew 6 that we can’t serve two masters. As we look at our lives, we may realize that we have more than two masters pulling at our hearts. God wants all of our hearts.
In Matthew 15:8, Jesus says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” As people with divided loyalties, we can find ourselves going through the motions, rather than being fully devoted to God.
This theme of the heart fully devoted to God appears over and over in Scripture. In Jeremiah 29:13, God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart” (emphasis mine). Here God is talking to the people who are having to leave Jerusalem, going into exile, due to Babylon’s victory. He is telling the people that even though the time will be difficult, the Lord will still be with them.
In Ezekiel, God talks about the time when the Exile will be over. “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them. I will remove from them a heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then, they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
When we hear these words, we hear the heart of God. We hear a heart that breaks because the hearts of the people he loves have drifted away, drawn to another, but hope remains for a new beginning. It is that anxious anticipation of when the relationship will be made right.
A house divided, trying to serve two masters, obeying the temptations of sin or the orders of Mammon, it comes down to a word that we may not think applies to us in the 21st century, idolatry. In our lives, it isn’t like worshipping the Canaanite god Baal or the Egyptian god Amon Ra. Idolatry is anything that takes the place of God or we Revere more than God in our lives. It is so important to God that it is addressed and two of the Ten Commandments. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, I’m a jealous God…” (Exodus 20: 3-35b).
God is jealous for us, for our love and attention. God is jealous for his glory. When we give our allegiance to another, serve another master, we are robbing God of his glory. We are trying to give it to someone else. Jacob Armstrong talks a little about this jealousy and our devotional, Treasure. He says, “God does not want to share your allegiance. God does not want a piece of your life or an hour a week. God wants to be everything to you. I have a jealous wife. She has a jealous husband. We are jealous for each other’s time, each other’s conversation, each other’s love. If I’m not giving her all she deserves, she will let me know. Love is jealous.” (Treasure, 47 – 8).
If we can trust in that love of God and return it to him, we find that our priorities realigned. We will still have commitments and responsibilities, but we will find that they will align with the things that God finds important. Can you trust God with your whole heart?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes some very bold clear-cut guidelines in his book The Cost of Discipleship, “If our hearts are entirely given to God, it is clear that we cannot serve two masters; it is simply impossible – at any rate all the time we are following Christ. It would of course be tempting to show how far we had advanced in the Christian Life by endeavoring to serve two masters and giving each his due, both God and Mammon. Why should we not be happy children of the world just because we are children of God? After all, do we not rejoice in his good gifts, and do we not receive our treasures as a blessing from him? No, God and the world, God and its goods are incompatible, because the world and its goods make a bid for our hearts, and only when they have won them do they become what they really are. That is how they thrive, and that is why they are incompatible with allegiance to God. Our hearts have room only for one all-embracing devotion, and we can only cleave to one Lord. Every competitor to that devotion must be hated. As Jesus says there is no alternative – we either love God or we hate him. We are confronted by an “either – or”: we either love God, or we love earthly goods. If we love God, we hate the world, and if we love the world, we hate God. It makes no difference whether that love be conscious and deliberate or not; in fact it is morally certain that it will be neither, and that our conscious and deliberate desire will be to serve two masters, to love God and the good things of life. We shall indignantly repudiate the suggestion that we hate God, and we will be firmly convinced that we love him, whereas by trying to combine love for him with love for the world, we are turning our love for him into hatred. And then we have lost the single eye, and our heart is no longer in fellowship with Jesus. Our deliberate intentions make no difference to the inevitable result: “[You] cannot serve two masters, if [you] be followers of Jesus Christ” (pg 176 – 7).
Just a few verses before our scripture focus for today is The Lord’s Prayer. It is one of the most familiar prayers in the world. We say a version of it in worship every week. It may be so familiar to us that we don’t really look at it or pay attention to it. Right in the middle of it is a verse filled with the kind of love and trust that we are invited to have in the Lord. In verse 11 it says, “Give us today [or ‘this day’] our daily bread.”
In this prayer we do not ask for security for tomorrow, next week, or next year. We ask for this day. We will talk more about the worries and anxieties that we may have for the future in a couple of weeks. However, on this day I ask you to consider the kind of love and trust this prayer presumes. It says, “I can depend on you, Lord.” It says, “I know that all I have comes from you. I just have it in trust. I am a steward of your possessions, property, money, and I am relying on you to get me through until tomorrow.”
This week, I put a video up on the church’s Facebook page. You may have seen it.
It features a man who has a pie, and he begins to cut pieces and to serve it to his guests at a long table. The first one, a huge piece, goes to the person representing the house or the mortgage payment. The second goes to the car payments, then, clothes, hobbies, credit cards, a few crumbs to education, and finally there is a tiny sliver that the man can have for himself. As the man sits, we see the whole table looking down toward him and staring. That’s because there’s one more guest, God. God smiles and waves. The man looks at God’s empty plate, and his own, and he slowly starts to eat his piece of pie. Then, the guy hides his face with his hand and picks up speed. All the other guests continued to stare at this man with incredible looks on their faces. They can’t believe what they’re seeing. And, now come the only words spoken in the whole video. One of the other guests says, “Dude, he brought the pie!” The man looks sorry, looks like he feels guilty, but he continues to eat. God continues to watch. How many of us do that? We have so many commitments. They’re very important. Don’t pay the household expenses, and we don’t have a place to live. We don’t have electricity. We needed transportation in order to work, even to help people. Can’t do Meals on Wheels without wheels. We need clothes. We have to pay our debts, and of course, God knows this too.
This video is implying that it’s about money, but it can just as easily apply the time. As I frequently find myself saying as I wrestle with my schedule, “There are only 24 hours in a day, and I have to sleep for 8 of them.” There never seems to be enough time.
Who here has heard of Stephen Covey? He wrote The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989. There are two of his phrases that I’d like to share. First, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
For disciples of Jesus, Jesus, God, is the main thing. No divided loyalties. There are other things that we need to do as humans, but the main thing is God. How would God look at the situation? What would God want us to do? There is a phrase from about 10 years ago or so that has become a bit cliché, but it works if we really follow it. “What would Jesus do?” Or, perhaps better, “What would Jesus have us do?” That is how we keep the main thing the main thing, how we develop our whole life with God as opposed to letting God in when it’s convenient, when it’s comfortable, what were used to. How do we find the time? How can we make sure that we have the resources we need? That’s where Stephen Covey second phrase comes in.
“Don’t prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities.” The only way that we’re going to be able to have the treasure to invest with God, to do God’s work, to help God’s people, is to schedule it, set it aside first. It’s not that money is bad or other activities or wrong. It doesn’t mean that we can’t relax or have some fun. It means that Jesus is to be the Lord of our lives, the main thing, first fruits, not leftovers … if there are any.
There’s one more story that I’d like to share. This one comes from Reverend Mike Slaughter from Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Western Ohio. Several of us saw him in Boise in March. He says that one of his spiritual gifts is the “gift of irritation.” Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he isn’t overly concerned about sugar coating things, and it comes out of it in the story.
He says, “I believe that when we become Christian, there is one new birth but many conversions. I became a new person in Jesus in 1969, but I wasn’t converted in my wallet until 1976.
“I was in seminary at the time. About two weeks before graduation, one of my professors pulled me aside. He said, ‘Mike, if you’re not tithing, please don’t go into ministry.’ Tithing is giving a particular percentage of one’s income or assets to God. In the Old Testament Bible it was a standard of 10% but really it can be any percentage, or a set portion on a regular basis. So, one of Mike Slaughter’s seminary professors told him, ‘Mike, if you are not tithing, please do not go in the ministry. Don’t pollute the church. Go teach school or something. We don’t need more people in the church who preach, “Do what I say, not what I do.”‘
“That simple conversation hit me hard. I was converted. I realized that loving God is not about saying the right words, accepting an abstract ideal, or claiming an emotion. Loving God is an intentional commitment to self-sacrifice for the well-being of others. That is why God’s word tells us, ‘You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous and every way’ (2 Corinthians 9: 11).
“There’s an old story about a conversation between a chicken and a pig. The chicken says, ‘Let’s do breakfast.’ The pig replies, ‘That’s easy for you to say. You just make a donation. For me, it’s a total life sacrifice.’ If we are to be followers of Jesus, then we are the pig, not the chicken. We have to move from donation to sacrifice, from consuming to investing.”
Mike is talking about investing all our treasure with God, trusting our whole lives to God. God does not want our hearts to be divided. He knows that we cannot serve two masters, or more, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we rationalize that it’s okay when we do. Our God, our creator, the one that knows us and loves us the best, knows that building a life with him will have us on solid ground. It all comes down to God’s glory. What are you doing, what can you do, that gives the glory to God?