March 2019 Stewardship Lectionary Preview
January 30, 2019 by Kevin Park
March 6, 2019; Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
The gospel lection for Ash Wednesday deliberately links the spiritual disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting (Matt. 6:1-6; 16-18) with storing up of treasures (6:19-21). The passage warns that if these spiritual exercises are done only to impress people, without God, they lose their meaning and we become hypocrites.
Even the cherished Lenten spiritual exercises of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, often taken as signs of genuine piety, if unmoored from God, can become ways to bolster our perceived self-worth by impressing others. A well repeated Calvin quotation may be apt here: “Human nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” And idols come in infinitely creative manifestations.
That we have treasures is a fact. All of us have things that we value highly, that which we long for, that which our hearts cling to, where our devotions lie. Jesus takes this “fact” of treasures for granted and says that everyone stores them up either on earth or in heaven. The consequence of storing up our treasures on earth is that, either through natural consequences (moth, rust) or through human causes (thieves), treasures will be lost. But by storing up our treasures with God they will not be wasted.
In verse 21 Jesus teaches something profound about the relationship between our treasures and our hearts. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to calibrate our hearts, as if they are neutral instruments if primed just right, we can be more effective, efficient, productive, happy, and fulfilled. We use phrases like, “my heart’s not in it,” “my heart’s not ready,” or “I accept it wholeheartedly” as if we have full control over what the heart will cling to. Jesus debunks this understanding by stating that hearts naturally attach themselves to that which we treasure. Our hearts are where our desires, longings, ambitions, and investments are.
Hearts are not inert or neutral; hearts tend to cling to things. Hearts are drawn to those realities that are valuable to us. Jesus does not say that treasures are wrong or bad in themselves. They are what they are, a fact of life. But where we place our treasures can be the difference between life and death. When we detach our treasures, whether they are money, fame, relationships, or spiritual disciplines, from God they will go bad or disappear.
When we place our treasures with God, our hearts will be with God as well: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v.21). If we place our treasures with God then our treasures will glorify God and thus our security will come from God and our treasures will be in a right ordered relationship with God.
We use “heart” language a lot in prayer and in worship. If it is true that our hearts are where our treasures are, what if we added “treasure” to where we find “heart” in our prayers and liturgy? “Lord, open our hearts and minds and our treasures by the power of the Holy Spirit,” “draw our hearts and our treasures to you,” “We have not loved you with our whole hearts and with our treasures,” “Lift up your hearts and your treasures…” We may be deceiving ourselves if we think that we can easily detach our hearts from our treasures and offer them to God. Maybe our hearts are so fused with our treasures that the only way to offer our hearts to God is to offer our treasures.
Ed Kiel, a member of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield, N.J., witnessed a powerful example of this kind of offering at a young age. Ed was only about six years old when he immigrated to Denver, Colorado, from South Korea with his parents and his two older brothers in the early 1970’s. His father, Rev. Nathaniel Ung Nam Kiel, a Presbyterian pastor, sensed God’s calling to minister to Korean immigrants in America. Ed remembered clearly that their parents only had $40 with them when they arrived in their new country. At church on their first Sunday in America, Ed saw his mother place the $40, all the money they had in the world, in the offering plate. Ed carried this vivid memory with him as he grew up and it has shaped his understanding and practice of stewardship. Ed has been a long time ruling elder and treasurer at his church and shared this story in a stewardship Sunday.
Dr. Kevin Park serves Associate Dean for Advanced Professional Studies, Assistant Professor of Theology, and Interim Director of Korean American Ministries at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Dr. Park is interested in emerging Asian North American theologies and various expressions of theologies of the cross. His current research includes critiquing what he calls “Ornamental Multiculturalism,” and articulating a theology of divine beauty as a key theological resource for multicultural theology and ministry for the North American context. He holds a PhD and Master of Theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and Master of Divinity from Knox College. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Toronto.