Sermon Seeds: Treasure in Heaven
Sunday, August 7, 2022
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost | Year C
(Liturgical Color: Green)
Isaiah 1:1, 10–20 and Psalm 50:1–8, 22–23
Genesis 15:1–6 and Psalm 33:12–22
Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16
Treasure in Heaven
In and With: Treasure in Heaven (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
Whenever I hear the word treasure, I think of two images. The first one is a wooden chest that I have in my office that I used on a scavenger hunt on an overnight retreat with youth. For years, it was filled–and refilled–with candy and other little treats that youth and not so youth would discover when they opened up this box. Later, I decided it was too big to keep full of these treats. I transformed it into a storage space for greeting cards that I kept on hand. Some were to express sympathy, others acknowledged milestones, and others were blank cards that could be tailored to the occasion. It was a different type of hospitality, but not far from those sweet little treats.
The other image comes from cinema and literature. It’s the image of a group of people searching for some type of treasure that is not contained neatly in a box, but like the scavenger hunt, can be found if the clues leading to its location can be deciphered correctly. Typically, they follow a map sketched out in the roughest of terms, more like the scavenger hunt clues than the turn by turn instructions provided by today’s GPS. In either case, success requires interpretation, discernment, and navigation…much like the roadmap for the kindom that Jesus provides.
This passage is situated within the center of the Lukan narrative, which attends to preparation for and expansion of the kindom of God. It opens with words of encouragement and challenge uttered in seemingly the same breath. “Therefore” is apparently silent. There is no need for fear because the Holy One will provide beyond measure. In light of such generosity, the proper response is to detach from possessions. Hearing these words, the original audience likely was puzzled by the potential contradiction. What does it mean to receive the kingdom if it requires you to give everything that you have away?
Making sense of Jesus’ teaching forces us to confront the absurdity of our conventional understandings and societal norms. He does not align with popular culture, then or now; Jesus transcends it and upends it all the while inviting his followers to examine their allegiance and identification with the reign of God or the rulers of this world:
Ethics and eschatology are tightly interwoven in the Lukan economy of salvation….It seems unlikely that Luke could have imagined separating the confession of Jesus and the practice of generosity; both of them are integral expressions of fidelity to the Kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus, both are crucial in preparation for the certain eschatological judgment (whether one reaches it through the grave or through the second coming).Christopher M. Hays
The centering of the kindom should not lead to an overemphasis on end times, however. Jesus is concerned with this life. After all, he enters life in this world. He brings the kindom with him, not one shrouded in royal garments and the trappings of privilege. What Jesus describes for them is what he has experienced and continues to model in his life on earth. For Jesus, life in heaven surely was immeasurably different from life on earth, but the realm of God provides the constant. He has already taught the disciples how to pray for the kindom on earth as it is in heaven; here, we observe him teach them how to live it. “Tackling head-on the anxious concern from which acquisitive striving springs, Jesus redirects human striving to authentic life, which comes from participation in the realm of a gracious God.” (John T. Carroll) The Son of God was born into humble circumstances and lived a modest life. His itinerant ministry eschewed ownership of a home and most comforts of an ordinary life. Yet, Jesus does not live as a pauper, rather he resembles the minimalist who has determined that excessive possessions prove to be more burden than blessing.
In particular, Jesus admonishes them to “make purses…that do not wear out.” As a handbag enthusiast, I know that several causes lead to wear and tear for a purse. Sometimes, it is made of cheap material that is not built to last. Other times, a flaw in construction cannot endure frequent use. Even the most well constructed bag made with sturdy material, however, will show signs of wear if overladen with contents. In other words, the purse wears out from holding too much stuff.
What stuff are we holding that, in turn, wears us down?
Jesus’ instruction is found in a series of imperative statements. A sense of urgency and expediency permeates his teaching. “God’s reign is not a timeless reality but concerns practical conduct here and now, on the way to an eschatological future that, despite its seeming delay and unpredictability, is close at hand. Images suggesting urgency and preparedness open this section.” (John T. Carroll) Jesus charges them to be alert, ready for action, and unburdened by unnecessary baggage. His warnings will keep them prepared to embrace full participation in the kindom and will also protect them against attacks against it and against them.
A weakened purse makes one vulnerable to theft and decay. At the same time, the threat extends beyond the individual to the collective. Their protective stance will not only enable them to dwell in the realm of God, it will contribute to the safety and security of the kindom itself as a home for countless residents:
With a closing appeal for generous giving, Jesus draws the practical conclusion from the preceding argument. Genuine, enduring treasure (picking up the image from v. 21) is located in the divine realm, in heaven. Blurring the boundaries between earth and heaven, time and eternity, however, Jesus ties eternal treasure “in the heavens” to concrete, practical actions here and now: “Sell … give alms” (cf. 18:22; Sir 29:11–13, too, links the honored Jewish practice of almsgiving to security-providing treasure). This generous giving to the poor is what fashions a purse that endures or, escalating the imagery, what constitutes a treasury that will never be depleted.John T. Carroll
Generosity may only be one aspect of kindom participation, but it serves as a central one that might render a gateway for other spiritual practices that reflect allegiance to the reign of God. Generosity is incarnational–inviting us to enter into human conditions with the gifts of our abundance. Generosity is also a gift we receive as the Creator empowers us for restoration and recreation as God’s agents of hope and conspirators of an earth made new:
God’s new way of living turns everything on its head, because preserving the past or the present does not orient it. The reign of God that will come fully in the future already invades the present. This becomes evident in the parabolic description of how servants are to live, especially as they face the darkness. In the somewhat difficult terms of the text, the master of the house has gone to the home of his bride to be married. The celebrations will go on well into the night, but the master, says Jesus, will return, and his servants need to stay alert to welcome him. The master even promises that if they are faithful, he will treat them like full members of the family. He will be their servant and seat them at his own table to enjoy a banquet! Even if he arrives near dawn, this role reversal will happen. (vv. 35-38)Arthur Van Seters
The role reversal–the elevation humanity will enjoy–is sparked by generosity. The generous life, the one that treasures the kindom of God and trusts in the sovereignty of God, reflects the image of God. Generosity not only prepares the table of abundance, it expands it. Generosity protects against theft as it envisions a new economy that negates disparities in resources and meets needs. Generosity makes us ready to receive the Holy One at any time because generosity places us in the center of the kindom. Generosity itself is the treasure in heaven. May it be on earth. May it be in us.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“Mother to Son”
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
For further reflection
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” — Ursula K. Le Guin
“Finding yourself after many years, is a treasure like no other.” ― Nancy B. Urbach
“True wisdom is like an ocean; the deeper you go the greater the treasures you’ll find.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
Place a treasure chest or container in a prominent place in the worship space. Use a tool such as https://www.mentimeter.com/ to generate a word cloud with online participants. Ask the worshipping body to name treasures of the kindom they cherish or covet. Those in person may be given slips of paper to place in the container or they may be shared aloud with a recorder placing responses into the container. The word cloud may be shared on a screen in the worship space or read aloud. Keep the “treasure chest” throughout the worship series so that responses may be continually added. (For congregations observing communion this Sunday, I recommend this ritual immediately proceed or be incorporated into the communion rite.)
Carroll, John T.. Luke (2012): A Commentary (The New Testament Library). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012
Hays, Christopher M. “Slaughtering Stewards and Incarcerating Debtors: Coercing Charity in Luke 12:35-13:9.” Neotestamentica 46, no. 1 (2012): 41–60.
Van Seters, Arthur. “Proper 14 .” Andrews, Dale P. et al., Eds. Preaching God’s Transforming Justice. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Isaiah 1:1, 10–20 and Psalm 50:1–8, 22–23
Genesis 15:1–6 and Psalm 33:12–22
Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16
Isaiah 1:1, 10–20
1 The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
10 Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
11 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
18 Come now, let us argue it out,
says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Psalm 50:1–8, 22–23
1 The mighty one, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge. Selah
7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God,
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God.”
15 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” 2 But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches
all the inhabitants of the earth—
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.
18 Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.
Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16
11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3 By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.
8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, 14 for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
35 “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
39 “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”