“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” by Louis A. Dole

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“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21

Readings

Deuteronomy 24:10-22 · Matthew 6:19-34 · Psalms 62, 63

Sermon

The twenty-fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, our first Scripture lesson, in its spiritual meaning treats of the three forms of love in the natural degree – the love of what is good, the love of truth, and the love of knowledge. These are steps through which we pass in regeneration, beginning with the love of knowledge, passing on to the love of truth, and finally coming into the love of good. The love of truth is more unselfish than the love of knowledge, and the love of good is not selfish at all. Gradually we are redeemed from bondage to Egypt, and it is from the Lord alone that all redemption comes. Yet we must freely choose to turn to Him and to receive His power.

The Psalms of our responsive reading are a confession that the Divine alone has power, that from it there is help, and that evil and falsity are of no avail against the Divine. And here again we are told that the Lord’s power is given to those who seek Him.

Everyone knows the general meaning of the text “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Most people would like to make this world a better place to live in, and perhaps the majority of men and women would say that they are more interested in making a heaven on earth than they are in laying up treasure for themselves in the heaven hereafter. But the Newchurchman is interested in both the heaven here and the heaven hereafter, for he knows that they belong together.

People were and are created to live together. This is the burden of the teaching of both the Old and the New Testaments. We cannot live by ourselves; we have to labor, to barter or trade with others to obtain food, clothing, shelter, and the other necessities of physical life, and our intellectual life and development are dependent upon the labors and writings of many others. There are indeed a few who have sufficient means so that they could build a fence around their houses, shutting the rest of the world out, and having the necessities of life handed in through a gate when needed. This would lead inevitably to a very narrow, selfish, lonely, and useless life, and it still would not make them independent of others.

But if the Lord’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we need to know what heavenly life is. In the opening paragraphs of Conjugial Love is recorded a scene in the spiritual world. We are told that “the men most renowned for learning, of most penetrating genius, and most eminent reputation for wisdom” were called together that they might from the heart express their minds as to what they had thought, understood, and conceived in the world concerning heavenly joy and eternal happiness. The answers given placed various external enjoyments as the source. Then each was allowed to experience the life he thought would lead to happiness, and each found the life of his choice unbearable.

All people have an idea of what they think would bring happiness. Most men do something toward the betterment of the world. Some work intentionally and conscientiously for social reforms. Others work for changes only when by force of circumstances their personal interests are favored by some reform. This is true of men who claim to have religion and of those who have no religion. Those who have no religion, no matter how brainy and successful they are, seldom work for the betterment of mankind intentionally unless in that betterment they see some definite advantage for themselves. On the other hand, those who are truly rational and religious work as opportunity offers for the betterment of conditions as a part of their permanent and regular program in life.

We are living in changing times. Today there are threatening storm-clouds on the horizon of civilization. Perhaps no generation within historic times ever faced greater dangers than do our nation and the peoples of the world today. But the danger is not what most people think it to be. It does not come from outside but from within. We have been living carelessly and frivolously, putting our trust in natural science and in physical strength.

When the Lord approached the end of His life on earth, His followers thought that He would overthrow the Roman power and create a mighty state in which they would be supreme. He told them that His kingdom was not of this world. The kingdom of God is spiritual, not political; it is in the hearts of mankind, not in the might of armed forces on the field of war.

The Lord came into the world and gave the Gospels as a permanent spiritual guide, without reference to time. The Scriptures apply to the far-distant future as well as to the present. They are for all generations of His followers. At the time when the Lord was on earth external conditions were indeed different from what they are today. But basically man’s problems are eternally the same. Life has become more complex with the advance of the centuries, but exactly in the measure that our problems have become more diverse must we attach more importance to the Lord’s teachings.

There is the necessity of keeping the wheels of industry moving. The misery and want that come in times of depression, when many are idle for long periods of time, is abundant testimony to this. They show the necessity of concern for the welfare of society as a whole. If a stranger from another planet should visit this earth, he probably would be astonished at the busyness of people here. Everywhere people are busy “making a living.” This does not mean acquiring just the things necessary to keep one alive. No one is satisfied with the mere necessities of life – sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. And the visitor might be surprised, too, at the goal of all this feverish activity. It is so largely to get the things of this world with little thought of eternal possessions.

The “signs of the times” should be clear to us. There is need of turning to the Lord and seeking heavenly things. This is where the Christian life begins. The two great commandments, love to the Lord and love to the neighbor, are its root principles. As a nation we cannot exploit or ignore the world. We cannot make sure of a roof over our own heads at the expense of others. Only as we are genuinely concerned with the welfare of all can we come into the stream and power of the Divine Providence.

At another time the Lord spoke the familiar parable of the pounds. In the parable each servant was given a pound. One by trading gained ten pounds and another five, but the third kept his pound laid up in a napkin. The pounds represent everything we are given by the Lord to use in His service in this life, where He apparently is absent from us. These possessions assume every conceivable form, ranging from physical and material strength, land, and wealth, to mental ability and talents of one sort or another. All these are needed in the upbuilding of society, in the promotion of human welfare and happiness. It is essential that we realize and acknowledge the source of these possessions. When all is said and done, we should have nothing were it not for the Lord. Without Him we should have neither life nor the power to work. The lesson of the parable is not that our aim should be to increase our material wealth. Merely to get more than we have now, without reference to benefiting others, is the height of selfishness. We ought to acknowledge our obligation to use the Lord’s gifts as He intends them to be used – in service to mankind. The servant who kept his pound wrapped in a napkin was condemned.

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” If our thought is solely for ourselves and this world, self-love with its false thoughts inevitably will break in, and in time pervert and destroy. Nothing that we love or pursue affects the body only or terminates in this world. Spiritual things alone are permanent, and if the laws of the kingdom of heaven are kept, they are established in the soul, and no influence can overthrow them. For then the kingdom of heaven is formed in us, where the Lord Himself governs and controls all things in our lives.

Amen

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