Faith in the Treasure

Text: Luke 12:22-34
Date: Pentecost XI (Proper 14) + 8/8/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

This Sunday’s Word is about faith. But it’s more than that. The first two readings are about faith and the third reading from Luke’s Gospel is about worry, the opposite of faith. But it’s more than that. The last verse of the Old Testament reading is that classic and important sentence that describes and defines the central message of the Bible, “the justification of the sinner by God’s grace through faith” when it says, “And [Abram] believed the Lord, and [the Lord] counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). How is a person saved? Through faith alone. For the sake of faith in Christ God declares the sinner justified, righteous, restored, redeemed, saved.

What is faith? Our second reading from Hebrews 11:1 is the classic definition. Faith is assurance, hope and conviction given by God: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Then it lists the Old Testament heroes of faith, Abel, Enoch, Noah and, above all, Abraham and Sarah. It describes faith as something that primarily looks forward into the future. The “homeland,” the “better country,” the “city” faith looks forward to is a heavenly one.

Faith, as is salvation itself, is purely a gift of God, not something we somehow conjure up in ourselves by becoming worthy of it, and certainly not just any blind hope we might manufacture in our imagination. In fact, faith is something that stays alive and hangs in there even when we are quite sure it is faltering because of our doubts, convinced of failure. Today’s Gospel warns against worry and everything that threatens to weaken or steal away the gift of faith. So the Gospel is about the struggle of the journey of faith, what faith does as we make our way to that future goal of eternal life.

Remember that these words follow immediately Jesus’ parable of the rich fool and His warning, “be on your guard against all covetousness” (Lk. 12:15). Few of us, it seems, fall prey to the temptations of riches, at least to the extent of the parabolic rich fool. More likely are we to fail the other way: be anxious and worried that the checkbook doesn’t dwindle to a balance of zero, that the old furnace or water heater or the old beater in the garage doesn’t quit, or that we at least have enough money to cover the monthly bills even if that means cutting back on everything else. Anxiety and worry more than abundance and riches, it seems, have the power to unhinge faith and throw us into a whirlwind of confusion and even despair.

Therefore today our Lord turns His attention back from the man who interrupted Him, back even from the crowds He was speaking to and addresses His disciples, saying, “do not be anxious about your life,” “do not seek [merely earthly things],” “nor be worried” about them. Our Lord speaks to that gift of faith planted in you by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, restoring our attention to the object of faith and speaking about “a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”

Most Lutheran lay people have a basic understanding of our claims over-against the Roman Catholic Church that we are saved by faith and not by works of the law. Fewer of our folks, however, it seems can tell you what makes us different than the other protestant or reformed churches. Whereas many of the other Reformers after Luther’s conservative reformation began, with us, with the understanding of “faith alone,” many then went too far the other way. As you know they also deny the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as being anything more than merely symbols of a movement of faith in us, in our hearts. In fact faith itself quite often is spoken of not as it is the working of God the Holy Spirit in the believer’s heart, but as something you create and produce. In their denial of the sacraments they give up a great treasure, the treasure Jesus speaks of at the end of today’s Gospel.

Jesus ended the parable of the rich fool by saying, “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21). There is earthly treasure that passes away, earthly treasure that you can’t take with you, and there is heavenly treasure that makes one “rich toward God.” What is that heavenly treasure? Above all it is Jesus Christ Himself. For where Jesus is there is His salvation, the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, new, eternal life. These things you do “take with you,” or, rather, they take us, lift us to the status of “children of God” and guide us on our journey toward the goal of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

The Apostle Paul said, “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2). This seeking and setting of the mind is, however, not merely a mental exercise. The treasure is, primarily, Jesus Christ. “Jesus priceless treasure,” we sing (LSB 743). But then the treasure is also all the gifts Jesus gives that bring us and keep us as members of His kingdom: the teaching and learning of the Word of God, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are not little liturgical “extras” that merely express something in us, but are the very means through which God Himself creates, strengthens, sustains and emboldens His gift of faith and along with faith also hope and love. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So there are only two choices: treasure on earth that is here today and gone tomorrow, treasure you can’t take with you, treasure that grows old and fails, where the thief approaches and moth destroys. Or the eternal treasure of heaven, the treasure that endures even through the grave and gate of death, the treasure that does not grow old but is ever new, that does not fail, which no thief can steal nor moth destroy.

For the journey of faith, for those seeking the kingdom, God will provide for your every need in your journey in this life but even more, He provides the heavenly treasures in Christ: the daily washing of baptismal repentance and forgiveness, the daily feeding with the heavenly food and medicine of His very body and blood, and the guidance of His Word. “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16).

Faith sings:

Hence, all earthly treasure!
Jesus is my pleasure,
Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory!
Naught to me thy story
Told with tempting voice.
Pain or loss,
Or shame or cross,
Shall not from my Savior move me
Since He deigns to love me. (LSB 743:4)

Jesus, Priceless Treasure.