Monday, August 12, 2019

Paying Attention to Life's Treasures

I first began to attend an Episcopal church in my hometown shortly after I graduating from college.  Recognizing my immense potential, in quick order they offered me a position as a youth minister for the princely sum of $500 a month.  I was assigned to report to Jim, the third priest on the staff who was… let’s just say… an interesting – read quirky – fellow.  His multiple idiosyncrasies never failed to amaze and entertain. 

On day I found him in his office reading the financial pages of the local newspaper.  A broker friend had encouraged him to invest in the stock market and recommended CVS pharmacies as a can’t miss opportunity.  Every day thereafter I was treated to an update on how it’s stock was preforming: up ¼ today, down a ½ tomorrow.  Jim’s daily mood trended in synchronized harmony with the fortunes of his investment.

We went to lunch once or twice a week.  “Where would you like to eat?” I asked him one day.  His answer was sharp and clear, “Wendy’s”, which was curious because we had never eaten at a Wendy’s before.  As I was placing my order he enthusiastically encouraged me to upsize my selection: “You should get a frosty to go with that!”  And then a minute later he chastised me for taking too many packets of ketchup and salt.  You have probably figured it out by now – Jim had bought stock in Wendy’s.  He actually believed our eating there was going to inflate his investment.  Conversely, he feared a copious helping of condiments would negatively impact his portfolio.  Now, some of Jim’s passion and pestering was in jest, but not all.  Once he put some money in the market he developed a passionate interest in its performance.

That was the first time I understood something Jesus knew and taught: Where your money is, there your heart will be also.  It is a fact of life.  It is human nature.  If you are old enough to remember the movie Caddyshack perhaps you recall the scene where Chevy Chase’s love interest discovers dozens of his uncashed six-figure checks laying around his cluttered home and he feigns no interest in them whatsoever.  Well, that movie is a work of fiction.  We care about money and all tangible manifestations of wealth.  There is a spiritual connection between it and us.  This is neither a positive or negative reality.  It is just reality.  What you do with it, how you harness it, and how you are driven by it is what matters.  When people ask me how much they should give to the church, I think back to Jim and lunch at Wendy’s and I respond, “Give until it gets your attention.”  How much treasure do you need to invest in something before you care about it?

I want to thank each of you who brought donations for the Food Pantry in the month of July.  The drive was a tremendous success.  I learned something by participating in it.  I was excited the first week as I walked up and down the aisles of the grocery store scouting for something I felt good about offering.  It had to be a food item I would want to eat.  And I had to think through how I was going to get it to church – would I be able to carry it down the street on Sunday morning, or was it so bulky I would I need to bring it my car?  And all of this got me to thinking about church on Saturday.  It worked in a small way to prepare me for Sunday services. 

This got me thinking about so many of you who put time and effort into some facet of our experience here this morning.  The choir comes prepared to offer a musical selection.  Our Coffee Hour hostesses come armed with food, decorations, and hospitality.  When you donate the flowers you come expecting to add to the beauty of our worship space while sensing a close connection to those you love but see no longer.  Teachers come with lessons.  Ushers come expecting to greet, to welcome, and to be helpful.  The Altar Guild comes trusting the polished brass conveys something of God’s glory.  Our Junior Warden comes in the spring excited to see the colors created by the bulbs he planted last fall.  All of these offerings and more require some mixture of time, talent, and treasure – the basic ingredients of Christian stewardship – and they serve to remind us how our hearts are directed toward the places where we invest them.

I was disappointed in myself on the second Sunday of the month because I forgot to pick up something for the Food Pantry, an oversight I corrected later in the day and did not repeat it in the weeks to follow.  I found myself excited not only to offer the food on Sunday, but also to see it distributed on Monday evening.  I anticipated our clients being excited to select an item I provided, much as I suspect choir members look for to singing a piece of music they know will be meaningful to us who listen.  Creating joy for even one person is deeply rewarding.

This, in turn, helped me to understand more fully what Jesus means when he says, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  It has nothing to do with ‘earning’ your way to a greater reward and everything to do with the fact some things in this life matter greatly, but cannot be tracked like a stock’s performance.  If money influences the direction of our hearts then we have a tremendous opportunity to channel ourselves toward non-monetary treasures.  If money is all that matters to you then you can use it to lead your heart right back to more material wealth.  Or you can use your money (and your time and your talent) to draw your attention toward other things for which you hold a passionate, Christian devotion. 

You won’t receive a penny for ringing in our handbell choir, but moving people to a deeper sense of worship is its own reward.  At most you will get a thank you for taking an elderly lady to the store and helping her carry the groceries inside to her kitchen.  Read a story to a child and your reward will be a look of wonder and a question or two born of newfound curiosity.  Plant some flowers and you will be responsible for bringing an element of beauty into this world.  Share a cup of coffee with someone you do not know well and you just might find the presence of Christ in an entirely new way.  Block off even five minutes in your schedule for quiet reflection and you might detect the holy in the midst of the hectic.  Prepare a meal and deliver it to someone who is overwhelmed by life and your compensation will be the knowledge you helped to ease a burden and served as a conduit for God’s grace.  Bake some chocolate chip cookies for the rector and you will hear me say, “You have made my day!”

Perhaps this week you can be more attentive to all the things that hold value but are not measurable on a monetary scale; those things that are heavenly treasures and gifts from God making this life rich and meaningful, both for others and for you.  Perhaps you can spend some time pondering how you might store up more experiences like these, blessing others while at the same time making your life feel a little more heavenly.