Thursday, February 23, 2023

What Do You Treasure?


Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday

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

When we use the word treasure today we typically speak of one of two different things: either some form of wealth or a precious belonging (which or may not have much of a monetary value).  In Jesus day it referred to something different.  The Jerusalem Temple had a treasury to which people contributed (remember how Jesus once said a poor widow who put two mites – a couple of pennies – into the treasury box gave more than anyone else because she gave all she had).  These offerings were used to take care of the priests and to purchase ceremonial vestments and all the other appointments of the Temple.  So, in a sense, when Jesus speaks of treasure he is talking about the things we keep in our Sacristy along with the windows and furnishings which make our space sacred.

This helps us to make sense of what Jesus means when he says, “Store up treasures in heaven where moth and rust don’t consume (think polishing the brass) and thieves cannot break in a steal.”  All of these earthly things one day will perish.  Now, obviously we cannot send flower vases and communion chalices to heaven.  So the question about where is your treasure, is, in some ways, asking what is it that you treasure? 

Yvonne Bertovich is a writer and blogger who, in one post, named the ten things she treasures most.  Listen to her list and ponder what might be on yours:


Loved Ones

Food & Nourishment


Learning & Education

Natural Spaces

Plants & Animals

Culture & Discovery

Religion & Spirituality

My Health

Your list might look a little different or have a different ordering, but Yvonne helps us to think about what it is exactly that we treasure in life.  Notice she does not mention a 401k or clergy stoles. 

So this is one question: what do you value you?  And the other is in what are you invested?  Jesus tells us what we value either will direct our hearts toward God or it will direct our hearts away from God.  He says it is just this simple.  What do we have to invest?  Well, money of course.  We also have time and how we use it is an investment (ever sat through a bad movie and at the end said, “Well, there are two hours of my life I can never get back?”).  We can invest effort, energy and work into someone or something.  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 for us to consider on Ash Wednesday; on a day we remember our own mortality and recognize we have only one chance to live life and then ponder if we are 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 nor expect it to be.  They have spent their entire lives longing for something other than God and, as a result, when they have a chance to be with God, they turn it down because they long for something else. 

Lewis discerns an important truth about life.  We are free to choose, free to desire, free to invest as we will.  The choices we make have eternal consequences in that they shape and form 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 the Litany of Penitence.  It is a description of some of the choices we make: pride, hypocrisy, impatience, self-indulgent appetites and ways, envy, intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts to name a few.  These are things in which we invest ourselves and, true to our nature, our heart follows.  And once your heart gets settled on something, it becomes you and you become it.

This is a day (and Lent is a season) to make an honest self-assessment.  On what has your heart become settled?  How is it shaping who you are and what you are becoming?  Ponder these questions and doubtless you will discern those ways in which the treasure-heart-self path is leading you toward God and a deeper love of your neighbor and doubtless you will discern ways the path is leading in the other directions, away from love of God and neighbor.

The holy season of Lent invites us to a period of discipline and self-denial so we might die to some of the ways leading us from God and strengthen some of the ways leading us toward God.  I always get a chuckle from learning what people are giving up for Lent, especially if it is rhubarb or marathon running.  I find those who want to use Lent to die to self often don’t talk about the specifics of their Lenten devotion because it is too close and too personal casually to share with others.  This, I think, is what Jesus is talking about when he teaches 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 something leading you away from God to something leading you toward God.  The goal of Lent is to die to certain aspects of yourself 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 sure and certain hope God will raise us up to something new and holy.


Monday, February 20, 2023



Matthew 17:1-9

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

When my pilgrim friends and I walked the Way of St. Cuthbert, a 62-mile long trail along the Scottish and English border, we experienced one day which featured every kind of weather imaginable.  We began the day walking in sunshine, but conditions changed dramatically.  By the time we reached the highest elevation along Cuthbert’s Way the temperature had dropped and we were completely enveloped in the clouds.  They swirled around us, seeming to come from every direction, even below as we crossed along the summit.  At one point we couldn’t see more than 25 feet in any direction.  It was damp and it was bone-chilling cold, but it was also a very powerful, moving experience.  It was like being caught up inside something which was alive; all at once disorienting and womb-like (if not for the cold… did I mention it was cold?). 

Today’s readings remind me of that day as God is mysteriously present at two different times on two different cloud-shrouded mountains.  One particular Hebrew word dominates each event: kabod.  It is a word which can be translated in two different ways.  One points to weight or strength or power or ability; the other to honor or glory or magnificence or dignity or splendor.  The first sense has something to do with value, like how a precious stone of great weight is worth more a smaller one.  In this sense, kabod raises the question of who or what matters most.  The second sense is used more to refer to a person’s nature or being.  When used in this way in the Old Testament it almost exclusively refers to God and is most often translated as glory.  It asks us to ponder who or what is most deserving of your admiration and allegiance.

God’s kabod is manifested in the cloud which enshrouds Mt. Sinai.  Moses enters it and will pray to God, “Show me your glory.”  God will answer, “I will make all my goodness (some translations say character, others moral beauty) pass before you.  But you cannot look at my face and live.”  So God will direct Moses to stand in a crag between two rocks and to look only briefly as God passes by.  Even then, Moses will only glimpse God’s back.  (33:18-23).  The cloud is necessary to mask the kabod of God because humans cannot glimpse it fully present and survive (think the ending of Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark).

At the Transfiguration, Jesus is revealed as God’s Son and he radiates with God’s kabod.  In Jesus, God sends a person who can show forth God’s own goodness, character, and moral beauty.  Years later Peter writes of experience on that cloud-covered mountain:

We have been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

Did you notice in the Collect of the Day we asked as we behold the light of Jesus’ countenance (his kabod) we might be changed into his likeness?  Just as Moses is forever changed by his experience with God’s kabod, so too are we changed as we encounter Jesus’.  It suggests if even a small ray of the brightness of God shines upon us, we will more purely reflect the goodness and moral beauty we are shown.

It occurs to me no generation in history has gained more knowledge and more understanding of the created order than ours.  And sadly, no generation seems to be less interested in the One who created this order than ours.  We are too caught up in the luster of something else—something less than the glory of God. 

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Weight of Glory, contends each person has a deep desire to be acknowledged, but nothing other than God seems to satisfy this innate longing.  The problem, he says, is our desire is far too weak.  We are content to pursue the vanities of this world while the infinite glory of heaven is offered to us.

Lewis goes on to offer this insight:

We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

I hear in this the spiritual experience of being enveloped by clouds on a mountain top.  This is how Lewis describes the deep longing each of us has to be acknowledged.  It means being caught up in something which is weighty and worthy. 

Every day, Lewis says, we have the possibility to live our lives in two different ways.  The choice is ours.  One way is to be known, appreciated, and delighted in by God who will say to us “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  The other way is to be forgotten, shamed, and dismissed by God who will say to us, “Depart from me.  I never knew you.”

Beyond, what the prayer book calls “the changes and chances of this mortal life” – after all, each of us is affected by the ebbs and flows of daily existence (we all have our good days and bad ones) – I suspect our awareness and acknowledgement of God’s kabod is seminal in how we will live our lives and conduct ourselves.  Who or what matters most?  Who or what is most deserving of your admiration and allegiance?