Locating and Reorienting Your Heart

Jan 29, 2023

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Locating and Reorienting Your Heart

A sermon on Matthew 6:7-21 By Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt At Immanuel Presbyterian

Locating and Reorienting Your Heart
A sermon on Matthew 6:7-21
By Rev. Aaron Fulp-Eickstaedt
At Immanuel Presbyterian Church, McLean VA
On January 29th, 2023

Matthew 6:7-21

Last Sunday, we heard the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which featured the BEE-attitudes, and the encouragement for the disciples to be salt and light and to have a righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and the pharisees—in other words, to have a faith that was able to swing, that gets invested, that acknowledges mystery, that listens and blends and is unafraid. In the remainder of chapter 5, Jesus provides several examples of what that sort of faith might look like (you have heard it said, but I say to you—and in each instance, he takes it to the next level of compassion. Today we enter chapter 6, where we hear Jesus words’ about prayer and fasting and setting priorities. As you hear today’s scripture passage, from Matthew 6 verses 7 to 21, listen for what that might tell us about priorities—and indeed, about what we are called to value in life.

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store 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 your heart will be also.

I have a friend who says that if you want to know what a person really values, watch what they do, not what they say they believe. Watch where they put their time and energy. Watch what they are willing to protect (or not) with their lives, and you’ll see what really matters to a person—what a person (and I would add a culture) really values.

There’s some real truth to that statement, I think.
I’ll talk about its limitations, and there are some, in a minute. I promise you I’ll get to them. But for now, let’s acknowledge, for instance, that I can “believe” and even know in my heart that physical fitness is extremely important, but never go to the gym or walk or work out in other ways.

I can “believe” and even know that sane and healthy nutrition is key to a healthy life, while at the same time starving myself or eating nothing but processed food or sugar. You can guess which one I’m more likely to do.

I can “believe” and even know that God calls us to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly, and not be particularly willing, when it comes right down to it, to attempt to change systems, or to treat a particular person or group kindly, or to set aside my ego enough to admit that I might be wrong or that the world doesn’t actually spin around me.

When Jesus, at the end of today’s passage from Matthew, says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”, I think he is saying, “If you want to know what you really value, where your heart is, take a look at where you actually spend your time, your money, your influence and your energy. Not simply at what you say you believe.”

Whoa. Ouch. If that doesn’t make every single one of us at least a little uncomfortable, then we’re probably not paying attention. Jesus’ words about where we put our treasure (and our time and our energy and influence) being a reflection of what really matters to us ought to give us pause. We ought to sit with it. Like right now. For, I don’t know, about ten seconds.

Having done that, we also have to acknowledge that maybe life and the choices we make are not always quite that easy. What about, for instance, the person who wants to be more engaged in life and the church, but it’s all that he can do to get out of bed or off his couch? What about the person immobilized and overwhelmed by depression or other mental illness? What about the person who is having a hard time finding a way out of their own shadows, or into a sense of community with others? It’s not that they don’t treasure connection or justice or kindness or humility. It’s not that those things don’t matter to them. It’s that they can feel so distant and inaccessible in the throes of what life might be throwing at them in the moment.

Keeping that in mind, I think we have to go back to feeling a little uncomfortable. Because I think Jesus, at occasionally, maybe more than occasionally, wants us to feel uncomfortable.

There is a lot of truth to the idea, for instance, that budgets are moral documents. To the extent there is play in them, they do, in part, reflect what nations, and groups, and families and individuals really think matters—not just what they say matters. Session just approved our annual budget for 2023—as usual, 10 percent of it off the top goes to local helping organizations and international mission, another portion of it goes to keeping up property, and a very large chunk of it goes to paying our staff—clergy and lay—who help run worship and programs and lead in the mission and ministry of the church. Funds are not unlimited, so we make choices—and one of the choices this congregation has always tried to make is to take good care of its staff, to show them they matter. That’s a value judgment.

Calendars can moral documents in the same way. How we use our time can be a good indicator of what we truly value, what we prioritize, what really matters to us. What’s the first thing to go when there’s a time crunch? What do we put above all else? Our calendars, when we take a good look at them, can give us a glimpse into that. And if they are so full that we don’t have any time for real rest and recreation, that shows us something, too. Part of what it shows us is that we will burn out sooner or later.

Where your treasure is, there your heart is going to be also.
When you want to see what a person or society values, watch what they do, not what they say. Let’s dig a little deeper now.
Yesterday, a few of us went down to National Presbyterian Church for the Annual Convocation of the Reformed Institute of Metropolitan Washington. The speaker for the day was Mark Charles, a Navajo theologian who grew up in the Dutch Reformed tradition. Dutch Reformed and Presbyterians are not all that different theologically. He grew up in our branch of the Reformation.

Mark told us that before he was through, all of us would be uncomfortable. He spoke to us about the Doctrine of Discovery, this idea formulated by papal bulls in the 15th century that whatever lands around the globe were not already populated by white Europeans were to be considered free for the colonizing, because the inhabitants of these other lands were, essentially, less than fully human. Mark pointed out the genocidal way European settlers approached the indigenous people of North America (and other places, too). He exposed, anew, the deep roots of white supremacist thinking in our nation’s very founding documents—and he had particularly harsh words for one of my heroes, Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln, who even though he worked to free people of African descent from chattel slavery, still thought of them as inferior to Europeans—and also approved the massacres and dislocation of indigenous people in the U.S. Mark can’t stand that there is a temple to Abraham Lincoln in Washington, DC. What Mark was urging us to do, in not so many words—and on a week where the video of Tyre Nichols being beaten to death by police was released—was to ask what the Doctrine of Discovery and the largely unaddressed systemic mistreatment of people of color have to say about what we really value instead of what we say we value. The question he left hanging in the air was, “What are you going to do about it?”

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When you want to see what a person or society values, watch what they do and not just what they say.
And…and…and yet…

It’s not as easy as going from A to Z. The choices we make are not always so simple.

So maybe Jesus words “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” aren’t meant to be a club to beat people up, or a goad, or an absolute statement that you’re either in or out, but a firm nudge in the direction of the next right step. What might that be?

This week I was texting with a friend of my mom who helped remove a lot of my mom’s clothes from my dad’s house this week. I texted her, “Dee, thank you so much for doing that. I really appreciate you.” She texted back, “You know, I’ve been thinking that your dad really needs a life alert in case he falls.” I hadn’t even thought about that. I responded, “Dee, I hear you.” I called my Dad and said, “You need to get a life alert. Let’s get on that.”

Dee had been nudging him for a while. When I hung up the phone with my dad, he called to get the life alert. Then he called Dee to tell her he’d done that. Then Dee texted me back and said, “Wow! That was some nudge you gave him. And quick, too!”

What if where your treasure is there will your heart be is a nudge? To put our money and our time where our mouth is when it comes to actively working for racial justice; to put our money and our time where our mouth when it comes to being aligned with God’s love and justice; to put our energy where out mouth is when it comes to reaching out for help with something you’re struggling with (which is easier to talk about than it is to do, let’s just acknowledge that).

I will tell you that six years ago yesterday, I talked to somebody, and I got help. It took brave action on my part to find my way into recovery from alcoholism.

Friends, if there is someone out there who might need a nudge, consider that a nudge. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

One last thought, and that is that my word for the year is alignment. That’s my star word for the year. As I think about alignment, and what Pastor Emma talked about with the kids with regard to the Lord’s Prayer, I think that prayer is a pretty good way to think about how we stay aligned.

We acknowledge that there is a power greater than us. We pray for our daily needs to be met—our needs, give us our daily bread—not just me individually, but I’m part of a community. We pray to be forgiven and to be forgivers. We seek to be aligned with God’s will.

That’s not a bad prayer to pray every day. As we pray it, we might find, we might just find, that our heart and our treasure wind up in the right place.

One last thought, again. By the way, when you hear a preacher say one last thought, and you put your shoes back on, if you are a Baptist, that means you’re a real optimist. Presbyterians usually can trust one last thought. But here’s really the one last thought. It’s Mary Oliver’s magnificent poem, The Summer Day. I think it’s about your heart and your treasure and how they are aligned. It goes like this:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

For where your treasure is there your heart will be also. In Jesus’ name. Amen.




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