“Bumper Sticker People” on Matthew 6:19-24 by Joe Ellis — Feb. 19, 2023
Three sayings from Jesus are paired together here in the Sermon on the Mount, all saying something similar about treasures, money, and desires. I’m going to skip the middle saying about the lamp — it's a fairly complex metaphor based on the ancient understanding of how people see. I’m mostly going to focus on the part about storing up treasures in heaven. Did you know it's the only one that has a bumper sticker associated with it? You may have seen that bumper sticker. It’s kind of fun. It says, “Don’t let the car fool you, my treasure is in heaven.” We have enough body damage on our minivan that we might get away with that bumper sticker.
I have a strange thought about gathering together a roomful of people who have that bumper sticker on their car, and have a small group discussion around what they mean with that bumper sticker. We’d explore questions like: “What sort of decisions led you to acquire your junker of a car?” “What sort of things do you treasure instead?” “When the sticker says ‘your treasure is in heaven,’ where is that?”
That’s the question I’m really interested in — Where is heaven? I wonder if some in the bumper sticker small group would say, “Heaven is not here, you can tell by my piece of junk car. Heaven is somewhere else. Here on Earth I have no treasure. What matters here on earth matters only as it relates to spiritual stuff like saving souls and praying, reading the Bible, and stuff like that.” For this bumper sticker friend, their beater of a car is a sign that Heaven and Earth don’t overlap — there is an unbridgeable chasm between the two. Where is heaven? They would say “Not here.”
Now, that’s not the only perspective on heaven. If I could join the conversation in the bumper sticker group with my banged up Sienna, I’d want to say, “But what about Jesus’ first sermon, the short one in Matthew 3:2, where all He said was: ‘Repent: The Kingdom of Heaven is Arriving!’ And Jesus kept announcing this Good News that Heaven was arriving. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus keeps teaching us what the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. Jesus teaches us to constantly expect the Kingdom of Heaven to emerge into this World. That’s why in the Lord’s prayer Jesus has us pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I’d want to answer the question about where heaven is by saying that sometimes heaven is right here on Earth.
In fairness, though, we need to say that heaven is not everywhere on Earth. Heaven is the realm of God, the realm of Jesus. And we all too painfully know that this world is broken, and this world is in need of deep, deep repair. Heaven is going to one day fully and completely overlap with Earth, and the glory of God will cover the Earth like the water covers the sea. That’s our hope — yet what is also true is that Jesus began His ministry announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth, and then He went about showing this Good News of its arrival through everything He did and said. Although Heaven is not here in full, it is arriving all the time.
This means that as we live to store up things in Heaven, we aren’t simply thinking about making deposits to some offshore heavenly bank account. It means we invest in our neighbourhood (which is our world). Jesus is calling us to use everything we have in our power to invest in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, so that His Kingdom may come “On Earth as it is in Heaven.” This is one way we serve Jesus, by living to advance His Kingdom here on Earth.
Now that’s where the part about serving two masters comes into play. Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “You can’t serve two masters — either you’ll hate the first and love the second or be devoted to the first and despise the second. You can’t serve both God and wealth.” This is primarily a question of where is our heart? Is our heart following the attempt to live the North American Dream? Buying an authentic, cool, hip, and youthful identity through all sorts of products that mark us off as authentic, cool, hip and youthful? That’s the vision driving our economic dreams right now — to buy cars, trucks, snowboards, clothes, coffee, jewellery, shoes, accessories, sleds, sunglasses, bikes, beers, and bags that mark us out as authentic, cool, hip and youthful. As Jesus says, “Moths and Rust destroy these things, robbers break in and steal them.” This happens nowadays, not with literal moths and rust eating away our cool stuff, but simply due to the marketing strategy of transforming what’s cool today into last year’s fashion, last year’s products, and eventually last year's junk.
I’ve bought all these things I’ve mentioned with mixed motives. Sometimes it's because they can help me enter more deeply into God’s Kingdom — that’s my experience enjoying a good cup of coffee. But sometimes I buy stuff because my heart is wrapped up in pursuing an authentic, cool hip and youthful identity — It’s in those times that my heart is elsewhere. Often it's a strange mixture of both. The heart is very complex. The Christian walk is learning to shape our hearts to set aside those things we value for us and to desire first His Kingdom and His way of life. As our desire for His Kingdom develops, we develop our desire to see Heaven and Earth overlap, and we grow towards putting our resources towards helping this overlap of God’s reality and ours happen more and more, as much as possible.
Remember that small group of friends who have the same bumper sticker? Let’s hear from another dude about where his treasure is:
“Well, I sold my pickup and bought this Volkswagen Rabbit to help my friend who was starting a mirco-lending program in Southern India.”
“So where is your treasure?”
“I guess some of it's in Southern India right now.”
“Where is heaven then?”
“Well, from the stories I’m hearing, it sounds like part of heaven is unfolding in Southern India right now.” “And where is your heart?”
“I guess it's in the same place, in Southern India — Well, my heart is also a little bit in my top secret recipe for pulled pork. It's amazing!”
As Jesus says, it's treasures in Heaven that have an enduring quality — a quality that does not get moth eaten, rust destroyed, or robber stolen. Moths can’t eat signs of beauty in this world. Rust can’t eat away at justice. Robbers cannot steal the transcendent Spirit of God crossing into our lived experience. Love will not become last year’s fashion. Kindness to your brother or sister will never become obsolete. These things will endure forever,
This is an opportunity to reclaim our heart’s focus. Heaven does overlap with Earth, and we get to think about how to place our heart in the heavenly realms which are here on Earth. We get to know God, His character, His Kindness, His compassion, His justice, His holiness, His beauty, and His love. We listen and look for where His Spirit is moving on Earth. We invest our heart in a Heavenly Kingdom and search how we can help Jesus with questions like:
How do we create beauty in this world?
How do we create communities where lonely people are loved, welcomed and enfolded?
How do we help children develop safely and secure, knowing they’re loved?
How do we offer our financial resources in a way that lifts up those who can’t win for trying?
How do we make purchases in a way that grows an economy which better resembles the Kingdom of Heaven — are these purchases more local, more sustainable, more ethically made?
How might we care for the land around us, in a way that shapes it into the holy place it will be when God finally renews this Earth?
How do we come alongside people who feel spiritually bankrupt because they’ve bought into the deception that the material world is all there is, and are hungering for something — how do we invite them into encounter of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Ghost?
When we answer these questions by investing ourselves into pursuing these heavenly treasures with all our heart, we are investing in the Heavenly Kingdom on Earth.
“Don’t let my car fool you, my treasure’s in heaven.” One thing our bumper sticker friends really have going for them is that sometimes we don’t see heaven cross that boundary and show up here on Earth. Sometimes the car we bought turns out to be a total piece of junk, and we’re stranded alongside the road. We don’t feel super spiritual about our vehicle choice and wish we’d invested in a more reliable car. Sometimes we give our heart and our heart gets broken. Sometimes we give our spirit, our time, our money, and our love — give our whole self — and just feel like we have nothing to show for it. God sees what you are doing.
God sees that you are working for His Kingdom, even in the small, little unseen ways. Rest assured. Slap that bumper sticker on your car and know that your treasure is in heaven safe with God.