"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
As Methodists we have come to believe in what is known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
Are you familiar with this?
It’s an idea that our faith is informed by four things (at least it should be). The four pieces are Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. At its foundation is Scripture and then it is best understood through tradition, reason, and experience. Our catholic brothers and sisters have a similar way of reading scripture as well.
Our acceptance of Scripture as the basis and foundation of our faith really should be accompanied with our faith tradition, our reason and intelligence, and also our lived and shared experience. This is difficult work because faith isn’t always so clear cut, nor is it easy. As Christians we are tasked as much with being Theologians and doing the difficult work as we are simply obeying Jesus’ commands.
John Wesley saw this in the world around him. Slavery, treatment of women, justification of abuse of many of the poor (indentured servitude in the Americas) and many other things were being misused and misquoted out of scripture.
Let me give you an example of what John Wesley is talking about. In our scripture reading today Jesus is giving his famous Sermon on the Mount. He is teaching a vast crowd about many things including proper prayer, fasting, biblical laws, and yes… retirement plans. Wait… what??
I’m not making this stuff up. Jesus says this very clearly. He doesn’t give any disclaimers or explain it in any way, shape, or form; no parables. Just says DO NOT store up for yourselves any treasures on Earth. He simply says in verse 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”
What then is a treasure on Earth that we store up? Savings and money market accounts are treasures we are storing up on Earth. Retirements accounts are treasures we store up on Earth. Equity in our homes are treasures we store up on Earth.
This is why our experience, tradition, and reason are so important. If you don’t have a retirement account you must work until you die or perhaps even die from poverty related issues (starvation, lack of medical care, etc). We have as a society (including our faith lives) created mechanisms that are acceptable for us to save up financially throughout our lives, store treasures here on Earth, in order to live comfortably after our main working years. The days of family units caring for each other to the point of death are just not as applicable today as they were 2,000 years ago. Children move out and get jobs, even moving to different cities and states. Healthcare is so expensive and we are living longer lives.
Even though Jesus explicitly tells us not to do this, in his own words in a sermon he gave to a mass of people, we still invest today financially towards our futures. Millions of Christians all across the world invest parts of their pay check in storing up treasures on Earth for a more comfortable future. We do so because it is part of our culture, experience, and tradition now.
Let me be clear with all of you. I am glad you prepared for your future or are in fact preparing for your future with retirement plans, savings accounts, and equity in your homes. I am also doing the same. John Wesley was trying to teach us that scripture is absolutely fundamental but has to be read in context and let reason, experience, and tradition be applied to make sense of it. Do not cash out your retirement and give it all to this church or any other organization. You have worked hard for your money and should absolutely enjoy the fruits of your labors.
My point is this: if we weren’t able to apply reason, tradition, and experience to scriptures like these we wouldn’t be able to really understand that we can save for retirement and still love Jesus and be disciple makers.
Scripture is the absolute foundation of our faith but must be used in conjunction with a contextual understanding and experience, tradition, and reason.
I love lobsters but then read Leviticus 11:10 ESV “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is detestable to you.” I will eat as many lobsters as you care to put in front of me and I will thank God for them! Thank God for Jesus!
Are there scriptures you struggle with in your understanding and applying your faith such as divorce, women’s role in church, human sexuality, or any other complicated and nuanced social issue?
Jesus continually tried to help the religious leaders of his time learn that understanding the why is always as important as understanding the what. May we too always continue to search as much for the why as the what.
May it be so,
Rev. Lou Ward
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