Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Path of Treasure–Heart–Self

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

When I was first out of college I worked on the staff of a large Episcopal Church as a Children & Youth Minister.  Jim, the priest who had direct oversight of me, was a nice enough guy - sincere, dedicated, evangelical, but not without his quirks.  We went out to lunch once or twice a week and for the longest time Jim wanted to go to a particular establishment because it had video games and he was deep in the throes of a Pac-Man addiction.  I remember watching him play and listening to him say of the ghosts, “Dang, these guys are really after me today.”  One day in the office I found Jim reading the business section of the newspaper, pouring over the stock report.  It seems that a parishioner who worked for an investment firm encouraged him to buy some stocks and now he was keenly (and I mean keenly) interested to know how they were doing.  A few weeks after this began Jim suggested we go out to lunch.  “How about we go to Wendy’s,” he said.  Well, that was a surprise because we had never eaten at Wendy’s before and, to the best of my knowledge, it did not have video games.  When we got there he enthusiastically encouraged me to order up: “Why don’t you supersize that?” he asked.  “You ought to get a frosty too.”  But then when I got to the condiment bar he began to chastise me, “Do you really need that much ketchup?  Salt isn’t good for you.  You really don’t need a straw with your drink.”  Have you figured out what was going on yet?  Yes, Jim had bought stock in Wendy’s and at some level he believed encouraging me to place a bigger order helped his investment while taking two packets of ketchup diminished it. 
I think of Jim and that episode every time I hear Jesus’ words, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Jim was living out a fundamental truth in life.  He never paid any attention to the stock market and never ate at Wendy’s until he invested some of his treasure there.  There is a stewardship implication to this.  People sometimes ask how much money they should give to church to support God’s work in the world.  My response is this: give at least until it gets your attention!
What we have to invest and where we invest it matters greatly.  We can use it to direct our hearts toward God or we can use it to direct our hearts away from God.  Jesus says it is just that simple.  What do we have to invest?  Well, money of course.  We also have time and how we use it is an investment (ever sit through a terrible movie and at the end say, “well, there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back”?).  We can invest energy, effort, work into something or someone.  We can invest emotion.  The more we invest of ourselves in people or things, the more we care about them.  Given this, Jesus asks a basic question: do the things you invest in and the people you invest in draw you closer to or farther from God?
This is a good question to ponder on Ash Wednesday; on a day we remember our own mortality and recognize that we only have one chance to live life and then ponder are we living it well.  In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes fictional characters who go to heaven only to turn back because it is neither what they want or expect it to be.  They have spent their entire life longing for something other than God and, as a result, when they have the chance to be with God, they turn it down because they long for something else.  I think Lewis discerned a very important truth about this life.  We are free to choose, free to desire, free to invest as we will.  Each choice we make has eternal consequences in that its shapes and forms us either to love God or to love something else.  The choices we make become patterns that become habits that become who we are and God honors who we are by allowing us to receive the blessings or the curses of the choices we make. 
In a few moments we will pray together the Litany of Penitence.  It is a description of some of the choices we make: “pride, hypocrisy, and impatience,” “self-indulgent appetites and ways,” “envy,” “intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts,” and more.  These are things in which we invest ourselves and, true to our nature, our heart follows.  And once your heart gets settled on something that thing becomes you and you become it.
This is a day to make an honest self-assessment.  On what has my heart become settled?  How is it shaping who I am and what I am becoming?  Ponder these questions and doubtless you will discern those places where the path of treasure–heart–self is leading you toward God and a deeper love of your neighbor and doubtless you will also discern where the path is leading you in the other direction, away from love of God and neighbor.
The holy season of Lent invites us to a period of discipline and self-denial so that we might die to some of the ways that lead us from God and strengthen some of the ways that lead us toward God.  I enjoy listening to people talk about what they will give up for Lent.  Often these conversations betray an intention to avoid Lent by giving up rhubarb or marathon running.  I find those who want to die to self often don’t talk about the specifics of their Lenten devotion because it is too close and too personal share casually with others.  This, I think, is what Jesus was getting at when he taught about practicing your piety in secret. 
The goal of Lent is simple.  It is to shift your treasure from one thing to another; to shift how you invest your time, your money, your energy, and your emotion from some thing or things that lead you away from God to some thing or things that lead you toward God.  The goal of Lent is to die to certain aspects of your self so that by Easter you can rise to newness of life with our Resurrected Savior.  May God be with each of us over the next forty days in this time of disciplined dying to our old self in the certain hope that God will raise us up to something new and holy and glorious and sound.

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