Proverbs 24:3-4; Matthew 6:19-21; Mark 10:13-16
The Rev. Tom Herbek
August 27, 2017
In Jesus’ day, the people who were considered to be the most important were the ones that were the most wealthy. Many in his society saw great wealth as a sign of God’s blessing, and great poverty as a sign that you did not merit God’s blessing. But Jesus was clear that accumulating wealth was not what it was all about in life. The treasures that were to be sought were the ones that filled up our heart, not our bank account. And the writer of Proverbs said that, if we want to create a home that has real value, then we should fill it with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge.
Sometimes children teach us what real treasures are like (sometimes it’s grandchildren). Children can open our eyes to heart treasures. Their wisdom, understanding and knowledge can often remind us what is most important.
In his book, It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulgum relates such a time:
The cardboard box is marked “The Good Stuff.” As I write, I can see the box where it is stored on a high shelf in my studio. I like being able to see it when I look up. The box contains those odds and ends of personal treasures that have survived many bouts of clean-it-out-and-throw-it-away that seize me from time to time. The box has passed through the screening done as I’ve moved from house to house and hauled stuff from attic to attic. A thief looking into the box would not take anything- he couldn’t get a dime for any of it. But if the house ever catches on fire, the box goes with me when I run.
One of the keepsakes in the box is a small paper bag. Lunch size. Though the top is sealed with duct tape, staples and several paper clips, there is a ragged rip in one side through which the contents may be seen.
This particular lunch sack has been in my care for maybe fourteen years. But it really belongs to my daughter, Molly. Soon after she came of school age, she became an enthusiastic participant in packing the morning lunches for herself, her brothers, and me. Each bag got a share of sandwiches, apples, milk money, and sometimes a note or a treat. One morning Molly handed me two bags as I was about to leave. One regular lunch sack. And the one with the duct tape and staples and paper clips. “Why two bags?” “The other one is something else.” “What’s in it?” “Just some stuff- take it with you.” Not wanting to hold court over the matter, I stuffed both sacks into my briefcase, kissed the child, and rushed off.
At midday, when hurriedly scarfing down my real lunch, I tore open Molly’s bag and shook out the contents. Two hair ribbons, three small stones, a plastic dinosaur, a pencil-stub, a tiny seashell, two animal crackers, a marble, a used lipstick, a small doll, two chocolate kisses, and thirteen pennies.
I smiled. How charming. Rising to hustle off to all the important business of the afternoon, I swept the desk clean- into the wastebasket- leftover lunch, Molly’s junk and all. There wasn’t anything in there I needed.
That evening Molly came to stand beside me while I was reading the paper. “Where’s my bag?” “What bag?” “You know, the one I gave you this morning.” “I left it at the office, why?” “I forgot to put this note in it.” She hands over the note. “Besides, I want it back.” “Why?” “Those are my things in the sack, Daddy, the ones I really like- I thought you might like to play with them, but now I want them back. You didn’t lose the bag, did you Daddy?” Tears puddled in her eyes. “Oh no, I just forgot to bring it home,” I lied. “Bring it tomorrow okay?” “Sure thing- don’t worry.” As she hugged my neck with relief, I unfolded the note that had not got into the sack: “I love you Daddy.”
Molly had given me her treasures. All that a seven-year-old held dear. Love in a paper sack. And I had missed it. Not only missed it, but had thrown it in the wastebasket because “there wasn’t anything in there I needed.” Dear God.
It wasn’t the first or the last time I felt my Daddy Permit was about to run out.
It was a long trip back to the office. But there was nothing else to be done. So I went. The pilgrimage of a penitent. Just ahead of the janitor, I picked up the wastebasket and poured the contents on my desk.
After washing the mustard off the dinosaur, and spraying the whole thing with breath-freshener to kill the smell of onions, I carefully smoothed out the wadded ball of brown paper into a semi-functional bag and put the treasures inside and carried the whole thing home gingerly, like an injured kitten. The next evening I returned it to Molly, no questions asked, no explanations offered. The bag didn’t look so good, but the stuff was all there and that’s what counted. After dinner, I asked her to tell me about the stuff in the sack, and so she took it all out a piece at a time and placed the objects in a row on the dining room table.
It took a long time to tell. Everything had a story, a memory, or was attached to dreams and imaginary friends. Fairies had brought some of the things. And I had given her the chocolate kisses, and she had kept them for when she needed them. I managed to say, “I see” very wisely several times in the telling. And as a matter of fact, I did see.
To my surprise, Molly gave the bag to me once again several days later. Same ratty bag. Same stuff inside. I felt forgiven. And trusted. And loved. And a little more comfortable wearingr the title of Father. Over several months the bag went with me from time to time. It was never clear to me why I did or did not get it on a given day. I began to think of it as the Daddy Prize and tried to be good the night before so I might be given it the next morning.
So the worn paper sack is there in the box. Left over from a time when a child said, “Here- this is the best I’ve got. Take it- it’s yours. Such as I have, give I to thee.”
I missed it the first time. But it’s my bag now.
I am often amazed at the things that people keep. We often hang on to things- to treasures- that most people would throw away. When I see something that someone has kept, I often ask them to tell me about it. These stories of what makes this treasure valuable are ones that move me, that tug at my heart, just as they tug at their owner’s heart.
So many in our church family have gone through periods where they have had to move or down-size, and, when those moves happen, we are forced to decide what are the things that are most valuable. Very few people make those decisions based on the financial worth of the things they keep or throw away. Instead, the decisions are based on which treasures are treasures of the heart, which treasures are real treasures for that person, even if no one else would decide to keep them.
Treasures of the heart, real treasures, are full of meaning, but only when you know their story. Many of them fill us with wonder that only a child would fully understand- or someone who sees with the eyes of a child.
Jesus called on us to approach life like children. Most of us don’t fully comprehend this until we become older. As Wendy Lustbader comments:
In Growing Young, Ashley Montagu celebrates the qualities of open-mindedness, resilience, a sense of wonder, and enthusiasm as “the most valuable possessions of our species, to be cherished, nurtured, and cultivated.”
People who evince agelessness in their manner of living are those who have retained child-like qualities throughout adulthood, or have managed to accomplish their recovery.
We may find at the end of life that our curiosity and our craving for self-expression speak louder than our reticence. As a function of our full and final emergence, much of what once restrained us may recede in importance. We may no longer feel bound by the need to compete, conform, or seek approval, allowing us to express ourselves more completely than ever before. As the pianist Artur Rubinstein remarked, “I am eighty. So now I take chances I never took before. You see, the stakes are not so high. I can afford it. I used to be so much more careful. Now I let go and enjoy myself and to heck with everything but the music!”
So let us not lay up treasures on earth, but treasures in heaven, treasures of the heart, by recovering the sense of wonder of a child. And then we will also be enabled to value the treasures of those around us by sensing their wonder.
May we lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, filling our homes with wisdom, knowledge and understanding, and with great wonder. And perhaps that will enable us, too, to grow younger each day.