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.
As a person who grew up in an non-traditional church in a traditional denomination, I came to expect the unexpected from my pastor when it came to the observance and celebration of Christian "holidays." I remember his challenging words on an Easter Sunday, directed at those who hadn't attended since the last Easter or, maybe, Christmas Eve, and thinking, "Did he really just say that?"
It's been ten years since I moved from Pittsburgh, but I still remember many of the sermons Pastor Frank delivered. He challenged me in many ways, and the man and leader I am today reflects his great influence. One of his challenges which remains fresh in my mind today was given on Ash Wednesday, the day we observe today, and ties in particularly well with our reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Before you read any further, you may want to stop and read Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-21.
Today's lesson occurs right in the middle of Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-7; Luke 6:17-49), the longest recorded excerpt of teaching from Jesus in the New Testament. I've heard many theologians remark that Jesus said more in these verses to encourage, strengthen, and challenge us than many pastors say in a 25 minute sermon! Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out the way we are supposed to live in relation to God and others. In today's section, he takes a stab at the usual suspects, the Pharisees, and warns us to beware when it comes to practicing our acts of faith and discipleship. He specifically addresses our giving (vs. 1-4), praying (vs. 5,6), and fasting (16-18), concluding that these acts are an issue of the heart (vs. 19-21).
Jesus challenges us throughout this section to not be "showy" when it comes to our acts of discipleship. He doesn't discount the ideas of giving, praying, and fasting; in fact, when compared to the rest of his and other Biblical teachings, one finds that these acts are important ones which should be included in the faith journey of all believers. And, this is why verses 19-21 are so crucial - Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth. The things we possess and the praises we receive from men are earthly things which, without a doubt, will fade and rust as surely as my old, beat-up Jeep did after experiencing just one too many northern winters.
All this takes me back to my opening story and that challenge Pastor Frank gave our congregation many years ago and one I give to you. Instead of giving up something for Lent this year, why don't you consider taking on something? It could be choosing to spend more time in God's Word, serving in one of the outreach ministries in your community, or spending more quality time with your spouse and children.
The reasoning behind taking on rather than giving up is too often the latter becomes something which is "all about us" instead of being "all about God." While cutting out things like red meat, sweets, and alcohol from our diets during Lent is fine, we, sadly, often find ourselves telling family and friends that we cannot eat or drink these things because "we've given it up for Lent." Isn't this seeking attention from men? Their affirmations, not God's? Is it just me, or does this mentality go against everything we've read today and what we know about Jesus?
I may be going out on a limb here, but I would be willing to bet (if Methodist were allowed to bet!) that Jesus would rather us not "give up" something, aka "fast", if it leads to our own glory or fulfills our own self-righteousness despite our claim to be doing so in His name.
So, I'm laying down the gauntlet! I encourage you to take up something this year for Lent which will not only lead you to growing closer to God and others, but will also place the focus and the glory on Him, helping you to lay up your treasures in Heaven. Joining us on this Lenten devotional journey is a good way to start. I look forward to hearing about what you choose to take up this season in the comments section.
Minister of Youth
Joel 2:102; 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21