Treasures in Heaven

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
March 5, 2013 – Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

From the book of the Prophet Isaiah:
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

From St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians:
We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

“Remember oh man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the 40-day period of preparation for Easter Sunday. The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness and are a sign of humility. Lent is a penitential season marked by prayer, fasting, and abstinence. This fasting and abstinence is not simply a form of penance, however, it is also a call for us to take stock of our spiritual lives.

So who are you, and why are you here? Why have you come here this evening for the Ash Wednesday service? And why have so many people decided not to come? One reason for coming is that I am a child of God, and as one way to live out my faith, I have come to be reminded of my mortality.

My life is consumed by so much of what is not important, and I have come to hear once more the invitation to discover, through faith, my relationship with the Creator, which is my greatest treasure.

Our gospel reading tonight states, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So many things come to mind when I think of what Jesus is saying in these verses. Are you earthly-minded or heavenly-minded? Are you investing in the future eternity to come, or are you investing in the here and now? Are you enthralled with the temporary versus the permanent? Now obviously all of these are asking the same thing, but it is very important that we fully grasp this thought. Jesus uses three examples to show how the things we deem most important are only temporary. He uses the moth, rust, and the thief.

The Moth: We all know that when moths get into our clothes, they eat holes right through them. The moth is a tiny little butterfly-looking animal that doesn’t appear harmful at all. But it will destroy the most expensive, elaborate fabric you could ever own.

Rust: We live in New England where the roads are salted in the winter, and the effect of that salt on cars is brutal. You could have the nicest car in the world, but eventually, because of the snow and slush and all the salt that gets on the outside of your car, it eventually rusts. Rust destroys, as moths do, the property and riches we work so hard to obtain.

The Thief: With money and riches comes great fear of someone taking them, so mankind does all in his power to protect what he has. He puts walls around his house so no one can get in. He has security guards guarding them at all times and hidden safes for his rare jewels. What does the thief do? He breaks in and takes what the wealthy man has, and he will do anything to get it.

What do you deem as valuable, because what you deem as valuable shows you where your heart is? Maybe it is money and wealth; maybe it is power and the desire to be recognized as a leader. Maybe it is popularity and acceptance through nice clothes, a home, or a 60” flat screen TV. Maybe it is your family and how you have raised great kids. Here, Jesus is calling us to change our minds from temporary to the eternal, from the things that are passing by to the things that are permanent. You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer! The expression is true: you can’t take it with you! These material things are only temporary.
What are these eternal treasures Jesus is talking about? First Peter 1:3-6 states:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials.

What an awesome thing to know that as believers our inheritance is waiting for us, that as children of God, we will inherit eternity! Being with Christ, that is our reward! Those who strive to store up treasures here on earth will be disappointed because those treasures will only pass away. The greatest of these treasures is that we can enter eternity fully pardoned and set free from the bondage of sin because of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

We are accustomed to dividing life into the “spiritual” and the “material”; but Jesus made no such division. In many of His parables, He made it clear that a right attitude toward wealth is a mark of true spirituality. If we have a true righteousness of Christ in our lives, then we will have a proper attitude toward material wealth.

Nowhere did Jesus magnify poverty or criticize the legitimate getting of wealth. God made all things, including food, clothing, and precious metals. God has declared that all things He has made are good (Gen. 1:31). God knows that we need certain things in order to live (Matt. 6:32). In fact, He has given us “richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). It is not wrong to possess things, but it is wrong for things to possess us.

If the heart loves material things, and puts earthly gain above heavenly investments, then the result can only be a tragic loss. The treasures of earth may be used for God. But if we gather material things for ourselves, we will lose them; and we will lose our hearts with them.

The time is now. In our epistle reading tonight, from 2 Corinthians 5, beginning at verse 20… St. Paul addresses us with authority. “We implore you on Christ’s behalf…” He is addressing us in Christ’s stead, as an apostle. Looking down in Chapter 6, verse 2, he says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” This is the day. We cannot have back yesterday; we don’t have tomorrow. What is so pressing? That we “Be reconciled to God.” God has given us the opportunity of salvation through Jesus: “God has made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing – grain offerings and drink offerings for the LORD your God.”
God calls us to “return” to Him, for we were once wholly His. We are His covenant people; He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand. We are dear to God, and He earnestly desires our restoration. The Lord is your God! He has called us into covenant relationship with Himself.

We will also be called to fasting and self-denial. In fasting, we seek to loosen the shackles with which our bodies bind us. We learn to submit our bodies to our reason. I confess, I really don’t like to fast, because I see how much my passions rule my behavior. Fasting brings to the surface what you are usually able to conceal underneath a contented stomach. Learn from what you find when you fast, seek to improve what you see. Self-denial is extremely necessary today. We want instant gratification, instant satisfaction, instant everything. There are many things that seek to distract us from where our focus should be: on God. Take time this Lent to remove some of the clutter from your life, and from your house.

Last, we will be called upon to read and meditate upon Scripture. This is how we learn to hear God’s voice. So, instead of giving something up for Lent, try adding something to your daily life. Spend time in the Word. Don’t rush through from one verse to the last verse. Make it a goal to digest God’s Word better, to become better nourished. Which do you think God would prefer; giving up chocolate or reading His Word for Lent?

Don’t be overwhelmed. God wants to work with you. He may guide you through a period of fasting or He may guide you to mediate on His Word; perhaps both. God shows us how necessary a humble heart is. He has given us His Son as most excellent teacher, guide, example, and Savior.

This is the day to humbly seek God, because He wants us, you and me, to seek Him; and so we must remove whatever blocks us from reaching Him. Let us walk in the way of the Cross, in the footsteps of Jesus.

What does it mean to lay up treasures in heaven? It means to use all that we have for the glory of God. It means to “hang loose” when it comes to the material things of life. It also means measuring life by the true riches of the kingdom and not by the false riches of this world.

Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting of our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.


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