Wesley Covenant Prayer: Treasure

Chris Clayton (left), my wife Pam’s sister, and James Donham, their father.

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer: “Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”
A Message on Matthew 6:19-21
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Jan. 31, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

<> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><>

Today we are going to be talking about treasures as we continue our sermon series based on the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer. But first, I’d like to do what we have every Sunday of this sermon series (except the one Sunday that I forgot), and that is to stand (if you are able to) and let’s recite this prayer together:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
Exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

The verse of that prayer that we will be exploring today is “Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

The scripture we will be using to guide us is from the sixth chapter of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples–and us–that where our treasures are so are our hearts. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Now the word “treasure” is an interesting one in our language today. On Wednesday during Mini Methodist Bible study I asked the kids to describe treasure. One of them said “You know, that kind of money that is round and made out of metal.” “Coins?” I asked. “Yeah! Coins!”

Another said gold, one said a video game console, one said parents, one said family, and several said Jesus and “God.” (Which many of them think is the answer to any question I ask, and hey, a lot of times they are right.)

Of course they also brought up pirates, right? Pirates look for buried treasure. By the way, a pirate’s favorite letter isn’t “Arrrrrrrrrrr.” Nope. I looked it up. It’s X. That’s because X marks the spot of the buried treasure.

And algebra teachers are actually pirates. Yep. They always have you looking for X but it’s only because they are pirates and want you to lead them to the buried treasure. (By the way, they never found it by my work…)

Treasures. We have treasures today. It may be a house or houses. It may be automobiles. It may be a status or position. It may be money. It may be jewelry. It may be fame. It may be physical beauty. And it may actually be that money that is made out of metal. You get the idea.

As humans it’s easy to get caught up in a quest for treasures. Just as years ago pirates traveled great lengths and took great risks in their quest for treasure, today it’s easy for us to get caught up in a quest for treasures, isn’t it?

And yet we are reminded by scripture, and my John Wesley’s prayer, that maybe we are looking for treasure in all the wrong places. “Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

To truly pray this part of Wesley’s prayer takes a lot of courage. I think one of the reasons for that is that as humans we have a passion for “things.”

This past week Pam’s sister, Chris, and her dad, James, came to Jacksonville and visited with us. Chris made it her quest this week to help us clean out our garage so that we can actually park cars in them. (Shocking, I know.)

You see the problem is that I am a pack rat. And Pam is a pack rat (although not as bad as I am). So between the two of us we find it hard to get rid of things. So we tend to just put them in the garage and… well… forget about them.

The result was a huge mess in our garage as things just stacked up and stacked up out there. If we bought something that came in a box, chances are we still had that box… in the garage. I am pretty good at rationalizing that behavior, too. Here’s how I do it: “If that item broke or quit working, we might have to return it, and they might not let us exchange it or give us our money back if it’s not in the original box, right? So just in case we better keep that cardboard box… for like… I dunno… six years or more.” Sigh…

Chris was truly heroic as she and Pam sorted and cleaned an unbelievable amount of “stuff.” They got rid of so many “things,” including an embarrassing amount of cardboard boxes, packing materials, and just plain ol’ junk.

Pam and my quest for “things” resulted in a garage so cluttered that we couldn’t even use the garage to protect some of the most materially valuable things that we own: our automobiles. Yep. Our cars (which are certainly not expensive but rank close to the top of the list of things we have of monetary value) sat out in the weather. Ironically just a few feet away in the dry protection of the garage sat “things” (mostly junk) protected by enough empty cardboard boxes to absorb the kinetic energy of the impact of a fast-moving, heavily-loaded freight train.

I think that as humans we can fall into a similar trap with our priorities. We give priority to things of the earth that never seem to fully satisfy us. Oh they may for a while, but before long something else comes along that seems to be newer and better and so we put the old thing into the garage of our heart along with all the packaging that came with it. And before long we have so many earthly “things” in our heart that they clutter and junk it up, forcing us to keep the truly important things, the things that last forever, outside in the weather.

This isn’t a new problem, either. In the first Century Jesus cautioned people against placing too much importance in the things of this world. Even though the people then lived much more of a subsistent existence than most of us do now, there was still a temptation to place the things of the world over the things of heaven.

Here is The Message paraphrase of the scripture we read today from Matthew’s gospel: “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

Next door to the west of here at Autry’s Funeral Home they have a real nice hearse. And if you examine it closely you will see that there are no luggage racks on top of it. There’s not a trailer hitch on the back of it, either. The old saying is true, “You can’t take it with you when you go.”

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to have lots of earthly “things” and what it was like to not have those things. In Philippians he writes, “…for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11b-13

Jesus knew the temptation of the world. Remember how he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness? He knows the power of worldly temptations. And he knows that those temptations can be overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. (He quoted three different scriptures from the book of Deuteronomy to the devil during the temptation.)

John Wesley also was tempted by the world. He became relatively wealthy in his lifetime, mainly from the sale of his books, so like Paul he knew what it was to have plenty. And also like Paul, he knew what it was like to have little. Wesley was so self disciplined (and an argument can be made for being so spiritually disciplined) that he pretty much gave away all that he earned. (I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a garage full of “things.”)

What Wesley did teach was to earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. We like the first one, earning all your can; we do so-so with regards to saving all we can, and most of us are reticent and reluctant to do the last of those three: give all we can.

At the heart of it all is the… well… heart. Jesus tells us “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Of course he’s not talking about our physical heart, but instead is referring to our attitude toward those things that we value as important. Whatever we view as “treasure,” then that’s where our heart, our desire, our belonging (and I believe in some ways our souls as well), will be as well.

Now there is an important caveat to this. Things in themselves are not what we are talking about. Having nice things is not what we are talking about. It is about our desire for things, what priority the pursuit of earthly things has in our lives.

It’s okay to have nice things. It’s okay to have a nice house, a nice car, nice jewelry, or a nice bass boat. But if those things dominate our thinking and we become almost obsessed with them, if those things are at the top of our priority list, then that’s where we have a problem. It becomes idolatry, which as you probably know, is one of those Big 10 sins.

“Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.”

Wesley’s point is that regardless of how many or how few earthly possessions we might have, we should put serving Jesus Christ at the top of our priority list. We should love Jesus and serve him the same if we are flat broke and have nothing, or if we are extremely wealthy and have many things. Our attitude about Jesus Christ should be the same.

Jesus, who was/is God and put on flesh and dwelled on earth among us. This one, the Messiah, God’s only son, who never sinned, went to the cross and died so that we, the sinful ones, could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

What were Jesus’ treasures? Nothing earthly. The scriptures don’t tell us of any possessions he owned other than the clothes he wore. He didn’t have a house, didn’t own livestock, had just enough money to pay his taxes (remember Peter finding a coin in a fish’s mouth?), and walked everywhere he went. His treasure was not on the things of this earth, but of things in heaven. We should be like Jesus.

So my challenge to you today is to metaphorically clean the clutter out of your soul. If Jesus is not the top priority in your life then get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way of making that happen. Be more focused on the things of eternity: loving God and loving others, than on the things of this world. As it says in 1 John 2:17, “And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *