August 7, 2016, Investing Wisely – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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Some years ago we got a letter in the mail from a “Christian” evangelist. This man was asking us to contribute to his ministry, and in return we were promised a reward – depending, of course, on the size of our contribution, we would get extra jewels in our crown of glory when we got to heaven.
That kind of thing is pretty easy to laugh at – although it is shameful when people with good hearts and limited incomes are cheated out of their small savings with false promises. But the fact is that there is a long tradition in Christian thought that the “treasure in heaven” we read about today in the gospel is like a 401K – a kind of retirement account where we store up all our sacrifices and good deeds in the expectation of reaping a reward – when we die – in the comfort of our heavenly mansion.
It is true that the Bible talks about a reward for the righteous on the Day of Judgment – though every one of us would have to admit that we are ill-qualified for the position of “the righteous” except purely by the grace and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. But here’s the thing: when Jesus talks to the disciples about the kingdom of heaven he is not talking about our great Retirement Village in the Sky. The kingdom of heaven isn’t future tense – or maybe we could say it is both present and future tense. The kingdom of heaven is both “now” and “not yet”. If we look around us at the world, honestly, it’s pretty clear that the forces of the world kingdom are still in play. But if we look at the evidence of the coming of Jesus Christ and his Resurrection, and if we listen to the words of Jesus and his disciples – it is crystal clear that the kingdom of heaven has landed and is on the move. It is here and now that Jesus tells us to be living in readiness, alert and watchful. And that kingdom-of-heaven-in-the-midst-of-us, that is where Jesus calls his disciples to make their investment.
It is life today, life in the “now”, that Jesus is talking about when he tells his disciples to make purses that don’t get old or worn out or motheaten. He wasn’t talking about stocking up on spiritual brownie points so we can put something away for a nice place in paradise. He was talking about our common currency; what are we carrying around in our pockets? what are we paying out? Is it just earthly stuff that will surely run out, or crash or fail sooner or later? Or is our common currency something that will never run out, something that will never fail us?
Jesus said, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He isn’t just talking about a personal investment in the hereafter; he’s talking about how we spend our lives today, because it is the currency we choose to deal in, in our daily lives, that determines where our hearts are invested – today.
If we deal in the currency of this world, our hearts will surely be trapped in the world’s game of profits and losses. I am almost entirely ignorant about the world of finance, but I do know one sure thing about stocks or bonds or gold futures or off-shore accounts, and that is this – that they are all doomed to fail. In the reality of the kingdom of heaven, and if we are honest, even in the reality of the kingdom of the world, the most secure investment options of the kingdom of this world are really no more trustworthy or valuable than Monopoly money.
But if we deal in the currency of the kingdom, our hearts will be rich indeed. The currency of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus tells us, is wealth that never rusts, that never rots, that can never be lost or stolen. But what exactly is in this unfailing, inexhaustible money-bag that Jesus tells us to get hold of? What are the dollars and cents of the kingdom of heaven?
Jesus tells his disciples to live in readiness: to be dressed for action at all times, as if we were servants waiting up for their master’s return, ready to welcome him at any moment. To live with that kind of expectation and readiness is the essence of what it means for us to have faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,” we read today in the letter to the Hebrews “Faith is the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is the currency of the kingdom.
We are rich if we live our lives awake and on the alert at all times, today, because we know that our Master is not gone far from us. He is with us always, even to the very end, on into forever. The promise that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob held onto throughout their lives, though they never saw it – that promise was fulfilled when Jesus came into the world. We live in the knowledge of that fulfillment. But we still have great need of faith as we hope for his return. Faith is the wealth of the kingdom – faith to live with confidence in the present and the future at once – in the “now” of life in the companionship and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the “not yet” of the anticipated return of our Master, and the final restoration of all things in the full coming of his kingdom.
“Blessed are those servants who are found waiting and ready for their Master when he comes,” Jesus told his disciples, “He will come and gird himself and have them sit down, and he will come and serve them.” Who ever heard of a king that set his servants around a table, and wrapped a towel around himself, and waited on them? We did. Of all kings and all kingdoms in all times, we citizens of the kingdom of heaven alone are blessed to have a king who is a servant, a king of kindness and compassion. Kindness and compassion are most precious currencies of the kingdom of heaven, great wealth that is in short supply in the kingdom of this world.
At another time, Jesus told his disciples, “What would you expect if you worked all day in the fields and came home to your master at dinnertime? Would you expect him to invite you to sit down and to serve you dinner? No, he would expect you to serve him dinner first, and then you could get your own dinner.” That’s what anyone would expect from a master-servant relationship in the kingdom of this world. That’s how it works around here. But the Master of the kingdom of heaven came as a servant, and he calls us to follow in his footsteps. “If I, your Master and Lord, have served you,” he told us, “you also ought to serve each other.” The kingdom of heaven is a kingdom of servants. Our currency is kindness, and compassion. These are desperately needed in the world today, and the good news is we have an endless supply.
Jesus told his disciples, “Go ahead and sell your possessions, and give alms.” When we think of “giving alms” we mostly think of donating to some worthy charity – and that is certainly a Godly investment to make. But the Greek word for giving alms means more than that – it means doing kind deeds. All kindness, all compassion, every act of love, is an investment in the kingdom. Our checkbooks will run dry sooner or later. But our kindness and compassion flow out of the love we have received from God, and that is love without measure, riches without end.
And finally, a third and most precious currency of the kingdom of heaven is gratitude. “Fear not, little flock,” Jesus said, “because your Father is delighted to give you the kingdom.” Fear seems to be the prevailing currency of this world right now, because, honestly, there seems to be so much to be afraid of. The financial and political foundations we have long taken for granted are looking pretty shaky. People feel threatened by those who are different from them: who look different, or who talk differently, or who worship differently, or who have a different understanding of gender or lifestyle. But Jesus reminds us that we are beloved children. Our currency is not fear, but gratitude.
Paul wrote this to Timothy: “Godliness with contentment is great wealth.” No matter what darkness or danger presses around us – and we should realize there has never been a time in the history of the world when darkness and danger were NOT pressing in around us – nothing enriches our lives more than being thankful – not because our lives at least are not as hard as the next poor guy, not because we are better or holier or wiser than anyone else. We can be thank-ful – full of gratitude and contentment – purely and simply because we know the love of the Father for his children.
The currency of the kingdom, faith and kindness and thankfulness and so much more, is unfailing wealth to us in every time of danger or sorrow or worry or joy that we face, every single day. We don’t have to go through life anxiously adding up our spiritual profits and losses in the hope of earning a decent retirement in the sweet by and by. Our Father has already delighted to give us the kingdom. Jesus calls us to live every day in hope: to clear out the clutter of our worldly worries and fears and insecurities and jealousies, and to invest our hearts in the inexhaustible, unending riches of his kingdom, riches that don’t rot or fade, riches that can’t be stolen away; wealth beyond measure to spend lavishly along the way in service to his beloved children, who are our brothers and sisters: as Isaiah prophesied, to “seek justice, to rescue the oppressed, to defend the orphan and to plead for the widow.” That’s our investment portfolio. Because when we invest our hearts in the currency of heaven, in faith and gratitude, in kindness and compassion – then we are ready at any moment for our Master’s return.