“Storing Up Treasures” Colchester Federated Church, February 21, 2021, First Sunday in Lent (Matthew 6:19-21), Reflections on the Heart Sermon Series

There was a story out of the University of New Hampshire a few years ago about an incredibly generous donation that came from an unlikely source.  Robert Morin (who graduated from the university in 1963) worked as a cataloguer in Dimond Library at UNH for about 50 years.  He wrote short descriptions of DVDs, entered the ISBN numbers of CDs, and catalogued books of sheet music at the library.  By all accounts he lived a modest life.  Though all that time Robert was quietly saving money.  After he died, this humble librarian left the University of New Hampshire $4 million. 

With that money, the university announced that they were launching an expanded career center for students and alumni.  With that money, the university purchased a video scoreboard for the new football stadium.  Now using $1 million for a football scoreboard angered some folks.  But the university explained that in the last 15 months of his life, Bob lived in an Assisted Living Center, began watching football, and came to love the sport.  School officials deemed that specific usage of the funds one that Bob would have approved.  Finally, with that money the Dimond Library could provide scholarships for work-study students, support staff members who want to continue their studies in Library Science, and some of the library’s multimedia rooms would become renovated and upgraded with better technology.[1]  In the end, a whole lot of improvements were possible at the University of New Hampshire because of this generous donation from an unlikely source—a school librarian who saved his whole life and donated to the place he loved most as his final gift.

Every now and then, this story of generosity will come back to mind.  It was a story that was covered in the local news one night when I was living outside of Boston.  And maybe because I’m not always good about watching the local news, it made that much more of an impression.  It’s just amazing how one person can make such a huge difference in the lives of so many.  It’s incredible when an unexpected gift arrives.  We expect wealthy and prominent families to make gifts like this to universities—multi millionaires who want their family name on the new science building.  But a humble librarian giving millions to his alma mater where he also worked for decades?  It just goes to show that we should be cautious about judging a book by its cover.  Generosity can be so inspiring.

This week we’re beginning a Sermon Series that will take us through Lent called Reflections on the Heart.  Each scripture passage over the next six Sundays will consider aspects of this theme.  The children of our church are also hearing these passages read, hearing a brief reflection from Nicole, and having some activities to engage with these same stories in the Sunday School videos shared with our church families.  We hope that this can all lead to good conversations at home as we journey through Lent together.  

We begin in the Gospel according to Matthew, with Jesus telling the disciples about the pitfalls of collecting treasures.  Jesus says to stop collecting treasure for your own benefit on earth because moth and rust will eat them or thieves could break in and steal them.  Instead, Jesus tells us to collect treasures for ourselves in heaven.  Because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[2]  

This short passage is found within Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.  The Sermon on the Mount is very long—lasting from Chapter 5 through the end of Chapter 7.  These are some of the most important teachings that Jesus taught his disciples.  Matthew depicts Jesus like Moses who went up the mountain to bring God’s instructions to God’s people.  Luke has the Sermon on the Plain and Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount.  Remember the importance of Thin Places and mountains in World Religions we just talked about?  It matters that Jesus taught the crowds in the form of a very long sermon while sitting on top of a mountain. 

All of this is to say that these few verses we hear this morning are found within one of Jesus’ most famous sermons in all of the Gospels.  Perhaps these words are not as well-known as the Beatitudes.  But they were delivered by Jesus while sitting on that mountain to the gathered crowd at the same time.  This teaching about storing up treasures comes right after Jesus teaching about people being blessed because they grieve, and are humble, and hungry and thirsting for righteousness—blessed because they show mercy, and have pure hearts, and are peace makers who will be called God’s children.

This teaching about storing up treasures is really something for Jesus to teach with a large crowd gathered in front of him.  Because that crowd may have been representing different socio-economic statuses.  Some of those folks may have been on board and others wouldn’t have been so excited to hear Jesus say this.  Because what if my treasures I’m storing up are amazing?  We’ll think about that more in the weeks to come because this topic will come up again in Reflections on the Heart.  Jesus taught over and again that concern for wealth gets in the way of what truly matters—having a heart that is oriented toward God and toward one another.  Jesus cautioned, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

Now when we hear the word “treasure” we probably think about stuff, right?  If one were to Google “treasure” the first definition that comes up is: “a quantity of precious metals, gems, or other valuable objects.”  “The ransom was to be paid in diamonds and treasure.”  Similar words: riches, valuables, jewels, and gems.  The pictures that appear right away are of a wooden chest full of gold coins, jewels, and gems like one would think a pirate had on their ships.  The word “treasure” could make us start thinking about stuff instantly—precious metals, gems, and gold coins all bursting out of a pirate chest and falling to the floor.  And in the midst of all of these modern definitions and symbols, we hear Jesus’ challenge, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” 

What do we treasure?  Really and truly treasure?  What do we assign value in our lives?  Sometimes there are moments that make us contemplate these questions.  Sometimes we contemplate these questions because of a crisis.  Though maybe it doesn’t need to take a crisis for us to consider Jesus’ words carefully.  Think about that this week as you go about your days.  What do you treasure?  Seriously, what do you treasure?  Because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] “Long-Time Librarian Surprises UNH with $4 Million Gift,” The University of New Hampshire, August 30, 2016, https://www.unh.edu/unhtoday/news/release/2016/08/30/long-time-librarian-surprises-unh-4-million-gift
[2] Matthew 6:21, Common English Bible.

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash.