There's a story about a shipwrecked sailor in the South Seas. Seized by islanders, hoisted to their shoulders he was carried to the village and set on a crude throne. He learned that each year the tribe made one-man king for the year. He also found out that former kings were exiled to another island where they perished. Being smart and having some time he sent carpenters to build boats, farmers to transplant trees and set up crops, and masons to create houses on his place of future exile. When his year was up he too was banished but not to a barren inhospitable island but to a place of abundance.
A real person, who had made a commitment to Christ suddenly found himself in a great paying job. In a matter of months he had all the toys he had wanted, the new car, a boat and a motorcycle. His conversation changed over time. Suddenly it revolved around where he had been camping over the weekend, his next big plans and goals. It shouldn't surprise any of us that getting "everything he wanted" he dropped away from the Church and his Christian friends.
If we were king or queen for a year; or if we had or dream job and money suddenly became a non-issue, in what would we invest our time and resources?
It would be easy to fall into such a trap and Jesus knew that all too well. That's why Jesus taught so many times on the issue of money and finances. In this teaching in Matthew, Jesus lays a very positive understanding toward investment and attention to detail. His point is quite simple, when it comes to investment don’t focus on the here and now but on heaven. Today's investments rot away. Those in God's kingdom last eternally. Our primary means of storing these heavenly and eternal treasures takes place as we put Jesus first in our jobs, retirement, and family. It comes about as we live lives that seek to love others, be instruments of God's justice. And it's seen in the hard work of Matthew 25 in which we are commended by Christ for giving a cup of water to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.
Jesus never said we aren't supposed to own things. His rightful concern is for those who live pursue material wealth and power to the exclusion of all else. Do you understand why this is? It's because whatever we put that much work into is what we trust to save us. Lives like this, trust in money and possessions, 401Ks and retirement homes to pull our fat out of the fire. If you didn't know it already human riches aren't safe.
If you hadn't noticed it before please note that Jesus speaks of "eye" and "eyes" in verses 22 and 23. The single "eye" of 22 is contrasted with the evil eye of verse 23. The first allows us to receive light and thereby see. The second brings about darkness and it is a great darkness, our Lord says. What can blind us? Sin blinds us. We get caught up in justifying what we know is wrong. Sins that we try to ignore while we remain, good church folks, blind us and we are surrounded by darkness even though we think we can see clearly.
Greed, which is a sin, is not less blinding. It limits our soul. It makes us god because we are the one who is to be served. It has the power to drive us into a world where we are envious of those who have what we don't. It can even cut us off for God, do you recall Jesus' words to the rich man, "It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?" Why is this? Because it's true.
To be free from a sense of greed lets us be used by God in places we can never appreciate. It allows us to reach out to others without a concern of what we would get back. It lets us touch others in life changing ways.
Jesus brings the issue of investment back to the issue of worship in verse 24. There is only one God. We can only serve one God. We can only worship one God. And money is not the god we need to have as Lord. A pastoral counselor at Highland Park Presbyterian, near Dallas Texas, told of how he consistently worked with good church people whose families were torn apart by the stress of "making a buck".
The issue of sexuality and humanist attacks against Christ's followers is not the real battles we face as a congregation, denomination and part of the Body of Christ. They are, like the issue of money, symptoms of people who try to serve two masters, worship two gods and try to feel as if it is okay to do it.
We dedicated our pledges last week and few others will get them in over the next couple of weeks but the choice Jesus is talking about isn't a one or two week-a-year choice. It is a daily action to give to God all we are and to love God with all we are.
Joshua, at the end of his life, in the Promised Land, having seen all God had done, recounts for the people their story. He is the last of those who lived through the Exodus. At this time of his life and the history of the people he reminds the people of the choice before them. "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
May we toss away from us the gods that would blind us to the blessings and wonder Christ has in store for us and may we, like Joshua vow to serve the One true God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, the Christ, amen.