In the 1946 classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey Jr. has an amazing opportunity: he experiences what his town would be like if he had not lived. His brother would have died and not been a war hero -- so many other lives were lost. His wife Mary would never have married and had children. And the town, instead of being a thriving working class community where people could own their own homes, thanks to the Financial cooperative that his father started and he continued – was a terrible place full of desperate people indebted to Mr. Potter. His guardian angel points out an essential truth – pronoun’s changed here for inclusivity: “Each (person’s) life touches so many other lives, and when they aren’t around, they leave an awful hole, don’t they?”[i] We are here on All Saints Sunday – noticing the holes left behind by some of our saints. But we also notice the treasures, they left.
Legacy of Treasures
How we live matters. What people remember about us is our legacy or treasure. We don’t often stop to contemplate our mortality and how we will be remembered – but where we direct our energies makes more of a difference than just the memories.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” NIV
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is giving some important advice. He encourages us to invest in what is lasting. We don’t often think about treasures in heaven. We’re trying to make ends meet and store up enough for retirement. But thinking about our saints today may help us put this matter of treasure in perspective. What we remember, when we reflect on them, is probably not the earthly treasures they had while living or left behind. We tend to focus on their love for us, our love for them, and the memories that we shared. In some cases, we are remembering the ways that they helped us in our faith. These are all treasures in heaven – nothing that a dropping stock market will affect, or can be lost or stolen.
We have some experience with broken treasure. We may as children have saved up our money for a special toy, only to finally get it and then have it broken within a week. Those kinds of treasures don’t last.
We may have had the experience of buying something for a special treat and then saving it so long that it goes bad – or even that vermin, bugs or mice get into it. Those kinds of treasures don’t last.
We may have inherited a special garment, something too good to wear on ordinary occasions, and have it stored in a closet – only to open it and find moth holes or cloth deterioration. Those kinds of treasures don’t last.
So, Jesus said, work for treasure, invest your lives, in things that will last. Direct your energy to things that will stand the test of time and make a positive difference even after you are gone. Store up your treasure in heaven.
Friends -- We have, today, a rare investment opportunity. Others have invested in it and been very pleased with the results – treasure that has outlasted their lifetimes. God’s great project of redemption is continuing– and this can be our way of growing treasure.
What is extra-special about this rare investment opportunity is that it isn’t just for the future – it increases our treasure right here and now. Investing in God’s project deepens our connection with God right now, immediately when we begin. It also connects us with a wonderful community of investors who share our values and commitment to what God is doing in the world. And it deepens our awareness of what God is doing in the world right now. It also tends to change our hearts a bit – because where we put our money, our hearts tend to follow.
EX. We see that with how we give to the church. When our children and youth are collecting coins for mission in a jar or bottle on the table, they think more about others. It can affect how they think about Christmas when they are thinking and planning a the gift basket. Similarly, when folks make a generous pledge to the church, generous for their resources, they tend to be more connected to the church as well. And First-time givers want to know more about where the money goes – and often increase their giving the second year.
Norman Vincent Peale said, “Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow.”[ii] Horse people say something similar, “Throw your heart over the fence and the horse will follow.” Of course, this assumes the one throwing their heart over the fence is riding the horse! (Pause for chuckles) There is an essential truth here – that investing in something creates a real bond, connection, commitment.
Where our money goes, our hearts often follow. When we give to people or to causes, our hearts tend to expand, to care for them more deeply. Where our treasure is turns out to be where our whole selves are. This is the meaning of “heart” in v. 21: our whole self. Our hearts, our whole selves, follow our treasure.
III. The assumption behind this entire section of scripture is that our lives find meaning in serving something beyond ourselves. The question really isn’t whether or not we will serve something else, but what or whom we will serve. And who we will serve matters.
Mammon is simply the Aramaic word for “property,” which includes money. Jesus points out that worldly goods can and do serve as an alternative to God. And that we cannot serve both God and worldly goods.
In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, those two loyalties are contrasted rather starkly. Mr. Potter is a perfect one-dimensional villain, only concerned with money and power. When Uncle Billy leaves the bank deposit in a newspaper, not only did Mr. Potter pick it up, but he called in the bank to examine the accounts of the Bailey Savings and Loan and accused George of thievery, when he is the guilty one. Earlier in the movie, when there is a run on the Savings and Loan, George had given up his honeymoon money to meet the needs of the customers. The characters of George and Mr. Potter have very different ideas of treasure, what matters, and how money should be used. Very different gods they served.
Part of Mr. Potter’s problem, social psychologist Paul Piff would say, is that he has accumulated money and reduced compassion. As wealth increases, Piff explains, feelings of compassion and empathy decrease and feelings of entitlement and even an ideology of self-interest increase. A highly developed justification of greed as good and the pursuit of self-interest as moral, honorable and right takes the place of concern for the plight of others. [iii] It is a sociological phenomenon.
Who will we serve? We can’t split our focus between God and material possessions. Serving two masters doesn’t work.
It’s an unpleasant fact, but we are all going to die. Life comes with an expiration date. We find meaning by living intentionally in the face of that fact. Choosing our treasures – and where they are located makes a difference. We actually do have a rare investment opportunity: to choose to invest in something lasting, meaningful, eternal. Where our money goes, our hearts follow. Since our lives find meaning serving something beyond ourselves, we might want to be very choosy about what master we serve.
Let those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
[i] Clarence Odbody in It’s a Wonderful Life. Original words were man and he.
[iii] Integrating Money and Meaning, 24.