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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Treasure of Our Hearts - 08/07/2016

One of the great treasures Larry and I have enjoyed since being back here in the Upper Peninsula is that while we were gone at seminary, the majority of our grandchildren got old enough to come spend a week … on their own … with Grannie Annie and Grandpaman.

I think that's the reason their respective parents allow us to care for their children for a week or so, anyway. When we left for Chicago they were all pretty young – practically babies. Five years later, they are all a little more independent, a little less high maintenance. So I assume their parents, our children, let us do this because they think these little ones are easier to handle. But truly, for all we know, it may be that our kids think Larry and I have matured enough to be trusted with this precious charge.

Whatever the case, I'll take it, because it's quickly turned out to be one of our favorite empty nest experiences. First and foremost, it gives us a chance to get to know them one-on-one. The rest of our family time together is spent in groups and while we love those times too the group dynamic makes those encounters a little different. When they are here on their own, we just get to know them more deeply and learn more about who they are as individuals.

We also treasure these times with our grandkids because it gives us a great excuse to re-prioritize our time and get out to play more than usual. So when our grandson Ephraim was here for his visit with us just the week before last, we took the the opportunity to spend all our free time doing things like chasing waterfalls, hiking, fishing and swimming. We went down to the park for Tuesday night music and yummy brick oven pizza and got caught in a terrific downpour that made us laugh and was a  welcome relief from the heat and humidity we've been dealing with this summer.

One of our favorite things we get to do with our grandchildren is take them mountain biking. We've been biking with them for a few years now, but this year we were finally able to introduce them to the joys of riding singletrack through the woods. When Ephraim was here we took him over to the new trails at Valley Spur – five miles of single track that is just a blast to ride. It's full of whoop-dee-doos, and banked hairpin curves and fast and smooth downhills and all of this in the beautiful surroundings of the land we all love so much.

Ephraim whooted and hooted through the whole course and it was contagious. I love that ride, but this time I found myself whooting and hooting right along with him and I swear my heart nearly swelled right out of my chest when we were done he looked at us, beaming, and said “That was great!”

Now I promise you there is a reason I'm telling you this story that is connected to our Gospel reading from Luke today … It's not only because I'm a typical Grannie who thinks her grandchildren are the cutest, smartest, most excellent little creatures on the planet, although there is truth in that statement. I tell it because when we first started taking the kids out on the mountain bikes, even on the more tame two-track rides, we started with what we call the No. 1 rule in mountain biking … besides “always wear a helmet.” And that is “Always look where you want to go because you are going to go where you look.” And it's so true. If you keep your eyes on the trail that's 10 or 15 feet in front of you, your body will steer your bike to that place. If you keep your eyes on the trail that's on the other side of a big root or branch your riding up on, chances are you'll navigate your bike right over that obstacle without going over your handle bars. If you're riding along a cliff and you start freaking out and looking over the side wondering how bad it would be to go over said cliff, your body is going to start moving you and your bike toward that not-so-fun possibility. So, we look where we want to go knowing that we will go where we look. And we always wear a helmet for those times when we forget that rule and crash.

And that, I propose, is the same logic Jesus is using in our reading today when he says “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34)

There is a strong possibility we as the wider church have often misunderstood what Jesus means here.

Often sermons on this teaching have boiled it down to a kind of litmus test – a test where you show what's in your heart by where you put your treasure. In other words, this understanding of what Jesus is saying here boils it down to the fact that “we can tell what people really care about by how they spend their money. People put their treasures (their money) where their hearts are. How much do you spend on entertainment? … How much do you give to the church? This reveals what your true values are.” (Mark Allan Powell, Give to God, 2006, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co, page 52)

That rather shallow understanding of this passage can be really bad news for some people, and I think for a couple of reasons. For instance, that's probably not something the family who is up to their earlobes in medical debt really needs to hear as they ceaselessly pray for healing and mercy. 

It also limits the idea of what our treasure is to only money, when in fact our treasure, what we value most in this world, is often much more than just money … like our time, our most precious possessions, our families, our health. In the story we heard last week about the rich farmer, for example, his treasure was an abundant harvest.

And more than all that, it just plainly isn't what Jesus said. If I did this same thing with the mountain biking rule I mentioned, it would be like saying “Go where you want to look, because you are looking where you want to go.” That's not what that rule means. Just because I'm looking over that cliff does not mean I want to go there.

What Jesus said was “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, he is saying this is the nature of how we are created and how we interact with what we treasure most in this world. It's just the way we work. It's not if our hearts will go to where our treasure is, it's when.

It's like when you buy a car and as soon as you drive off the lot, you notice that there are a whole lot of other people driving that same car around and how did you not notice that before. And as long as that car gets you where you need to go safely and efficiently, the company that made it gets not only your treasure, but your loyalty … or your heart.

We see this part of our nature at play in all kinds of places.

If you treasure a child or a parent or spouse who struggles with mental illness, your heart becomes tuned to all who struggle with these diseases and the toll it take on them and their loved ones.

If you treasure this magnificent and life-giving lake we live on, then you have a heart for speaking up and acting when that lake is threatened by pollution, misuse and greed.

If you are a tither and you share 10 percent or more of your money with the church, than you grow a heart for making sure that money is stewarded well and serves Christ's mission to go out and spread the Good News and baptize others in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

And further, if we take the time to more deeply and accurately understand what Jesus is teaching us here, this is actually very Good News because our actions and choices – what we do with our treasures and therefore where are hearts are – can change and grow.

And I think this is the Good News chuck-full of God's hope and grace we may need if we remember something else Jesus said about hearts and treasures in Luke. “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)

If we really try to understand what Jesus is saying us in our reading today, we can see that this previous teaching is not pronounced as a life-sentence on someone whose treasure and heart is in opposition to God's life-giving desire for all of us.

It is precisely because we are hard-wired in this way that we can repent and change where we invest our treasures and therefore where our hearts are.

So, someone like the rich farmer can learn to share his harvest with others and grow his heart to be more and more centered on those who do not experience that same abundance.

God can work to soften the heats of those who speak hateful and fearful words about people who look differently, love differently or worship God differently and then make room in their hearts for the fullness of  God's commandment to love all our neighbors – not just the ones who look and act like us.

A whole nation of people can choose to put their national treasure toward nurturing peace and protecting the widows and orphans and the powerless instead of building war machines and divisions. In doing so a whole nation can experience hearts growing in the richness of God's wondrous diversity.

And finally, I am reminded in all of this of the words from St. Augustine I've been using lately as we come together at this table and pray over the bread and the wine:

“Behold what you are; become what you receive,” I say as we pray over that bread and wine.

Behold what you are – you are God's treasure and Jesus says it is “God's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (v. 32)

And become what you receive – Our salvation is Jesus' victory, it's already done, do not be afraid – make good purses for your treasure in heaven, which is, after all is said and done, the home of your heart.

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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