Where your treasure is

Where we place our hearts - what we treasure - shapes our hearts, Jesus teaches us.  So, put your hearts where true joy is found!

Full Text: 

Where your treasure is

February 1, 2015 – Matthew 6:19-21

 

            My grandmother was right.

            When I was in high school, and my younger brother, Bob, was in late elementary, he was just beginning to be a challenge to my parents.  My grandmother asked me what kind of friends he had.  I was offended by the question.  I thought she was trying to lay her values on him – values which included the importance of what other people think.

            She may very well have been doing that.  But it was still a good question.  Because the people we hang out with have an affect on us.  They shape us.  The activities we engage in have an affect on us.  They shape us.  The thoughts we focus on have an affect on us.  They shape us.

            There is a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests on.  Neuroscientist Rick Hanson says that’s true of our brains.  What our brains rest on shapes our brains.  When we rest our minds on self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, our own hurts and stress, our minds will be shaped by those things.  We’ll be more vulnerable to anxiety, more inclined to depression, anger and guilt.

            But if our mind rests on good events – the sun in the sky and the roof over our head, the food on our table and the people around us – then our mind will be shaped by those things.  Even more, if our mind rests on our good qualities and intentions, then our mind will take a different shape.  And if our mind rests upon gratitude, compassion, and generosity, and upon the acts that flow from these things, then our mind will be shaped by them.

 

            I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

            I’ve often wondered why Jesus does not say, “For wherever your heart is, there your treasure will be also.”  That’s always made more sense to me – that it’s the heart that makes the treasure.  Luther makes a similar statement – “Whatever is in your heart,” he says, “is your god.”  It’s the heart that makes the treasure.  But it’s also true to say that it’s the treasure that makes the heart.  

            Jesus begins this chapter by saying, “Beware of practicing your piety before others, in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”  Then he talks about three traditional acts of Jewish piety – almsgiving and prayer and fasting.  He exhorts us to do those things in secret, for then “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

            I think for most of us these days – especially for most Lutherans – religious ostentation is not a problem.  As a general rule, we are not spiritual show-offs.  If we are asked to pray in public, for instance, we are likely to say, “Gee, I’d love to, but I think there are some dishes in the kitchen that need washing.”

            Nevertheless, even for us, this saying holds true: “For wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

            So, if you go into the kitchen to wash dishes, and you wash dishes because you are concerned about what other people will think – that they will think you are a responsible person, or that you are doing your part, or that they will be less likely to criticize you – then that’s what you’ll get.

            But if you go into the kitchen to wash dishes, and you take pleasure in the warm feel of the water, and the shiny soap bubbles, and the shapes of the plates and cups and silverware, (and thank God for them), and if you think about the people who have used these dishes, and you think on them with love, then that’s what you’ll get.

 

            I’ve mentioned before the studies showing how money can make us happy – depending on how we use it.  If we spend money on ourselves, then our happiness – except for perhaps a very brief period of time – will not make us happier.  In fact, in the longer term, it may make us less happy.  I think this is because we expect money to make us happy.  That’s a message we are continually receiving in our culture. When it doesn’t, we are disappointed.  We may then feel helpless because, we realize, if money doesn’t make us happy, we don’t know what does.

            But if we spend money on other people, then our happiness goes up and stays up.  Even in work environments, if we spend money on other people, we become happier and more productive.

            I don’t think Jesus was just talking about money, though, when he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  So, I was glad to read in, “I Like Giving,” about Stephen Post who has researched the effects of non-monetary giving and talked about it in his book, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People.”  He defined ten ways of giving: celebration, generativity (helping others grow), forgiveness, courage, humor, respect, compassion, loyalty, listening, and creativity.  When we engage in these kinds of giving, we experience greater happiness and better health.  Because these are also treasures that shape our minds.  They are treasures that shape our hearts.

 

            Tomorrow is February 2.  So, at this time of year, I like to watch one of my favorite movies, “Groundhog Day.”  I can’t say that it’s a great movie, but it certainly appeals to me.

            Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a TV weatherman in Pittsburgh.  Every year, for the last four years, he has had the task of going with a couple of co-workers to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, for the annual appearance of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who is also a weatherman, of sorts. But unlike the groundhog, Phil Connors is self-absorbed.  He can hardly contain his disdain, not only for the groundhog and the people of Punxsutawney, but also for his job, his coworkers, and just about everybody.

            Through some time warp in the universe, however, Phil the ego-centric man is forced to live the same day – Groundhog Day – over and over and over again in Punxsutawney.  At first he seeks to use it to his advantage – using food, sex, and money without thought of consequences – since it will all be forgotten when his alarm clock goes off the next morning (although it’s really the same morning).

            But eventually Phil realizes that this is a dead end.  He can’t get what he really wants – which is the love of his co-worker, Rita.  And he is trapped in a cycle from which he cannot escape.  Even killing himself does not grant him freedom from this prison.

            Somehow, he hits bottom and begins to change.  He takes piano lessons and reads French poetry, not as tools to pick up women, but simply for the joy of doing it.  Even more, he begins to help others – the old man on the street, the boy who falls out of a tree, the women who get a flat tire, the mayor who chokes on a piece of steak, even the obnoxious insurance agent. 

Phil sets his mind – not on himself and his own pleasure and control – but on celebration, generativity, forgiveness, courage, humor, respect, compassion, loyalty, listening, and creativity.  And he finally comes to the point where he says to Rita, “I don’t care if there is a tomorrow.  I know I’m happy now because I’m in love with you.”

 

            I don’t live the same day over and over again, but I’m still trapped.  I’m trapped in my own happiness solutions.  I think that if I buy one more book, or make one more trip to Starbucks, or tell myself, “If only I…” If only I were more, or if only I were less, or if only I have this, or if only I didn’t have that, then I will be happy, then I will be fulfilled, then I will be safe and protected and healthy and strong.  But it never happens.  But I just keep repeating the same behavior.  I keep telling myself the same story.  And I keep feeling unfulfilled.

            But when I follow the teaching of Jesus, when I give without thought of return, when I treasure gratitude and generosity and compassion, then those are the things that shape my heart and those are the things that bring happiness and joy.

            This is what Jesus has taught us – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  It is not only a command.  It is the way to a meaningful and fulfilling life.