Worship Services


Worship Services



“Return on Investment”

A sermon by

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Nagel

Sunday, August 6, 2017


TEXT:    Micah 6:8, Matthew 6:19-24, and 1 Peter 4:10-11

Micah 6:8

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God? 

Matthew 6:19-24

 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

1 Peter 4:10-11

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 

          Many people find that there is too much month left at the end of their money.  They mistakenly believe that if they just had more money, all their problems would be solved.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that this is true.  There are numerous stories of people receiving a windfall only to have it ruin their lives.  A good example is William “Bud” Post III.  Just two weeks after winning $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery, Post had blown through $300,000 on a car lot, restaurant and even an airplane — even though he couldn't fly.  He was $1 million in debt one year after winning.

Not only was he broke and forced to declare bankruptcy, but his own brother was arrested for hiring a man to kill him.

"I wish it never happened. It was totally a nightmare," he once said of winning the lottery.  Post was later jailed for firing a gun over the head of a bill collector.  He was on food stamps before dying at age 66.

The Lottery sells hope…hope of the big payout, hope of being set for life, hope of having more money than you need, hope of security for the future.  Unfortunately, based on the population that regularly plays the Lottery, lottery systems constitute a tax on two groups…the poor and those who cannot do math.

            Jesus points his disciples to place their hope in a different direction.   ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’

Jesus speaks to issues that still concern us today.  We all have possessions.  We will all face the future.  We all worry about whether we will have enough for retirement.  We all worry about providing for our family, educating our children, establishing a home and earning an income.  Nothing has really changed since Jesus’ time.

            What Jesus taught his disciples then and what Jesus attempts to teach us today is this…our hope and our focus can never be in the things we own, the things we wear, the things we can do, the money we can earn or the toys we accumulate. 

Why not?  First, all these things are passing.  In our lifetime, we will lose things that matter to us.  They will be stolen.  They will wear out.  Things break.  Material possessions are undependable… here today and gone tomorrow.

Second, we, too, are passing.  This world is our temporary home.  It is not our destination.  Therefore, we can never really treat as permanent something that is only temporary.

In chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel, we find this incident. Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  

The man expects Jesus to help.  The man expects Jesus to chastise the brother for being so greedy.  Jesus turns things around and instead, chastises the petitioner.  Jesus as much as says that the man’s focus is distorted by his own greed!

Then Jesus tells a story.  The subject of the story is a wealthy man…a very wealthy man.  The man is a farmer.  He is apparently a very good farmer.  This is obvious for several reasons.  One, he has more than one barn. Two, his harvest is bountiful.  Three, he produces more than he himself can store or use.  This most recent harvest is so large that his existing barns cannot contain it.

What to do?  What to do?  This is where the man’s attitude comes into play.  Here we discover what is most important to this farmer.  He never thinks of giving anything away.  He never considers using his wealth to feed the hungry or care for anyone but himself.

‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  There is another character in this story.  That character is God.  God says to the man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  That is a good question.  All wealth ultimately slips through our fingers like so many grains of sand.  We do not possess it. We only use it.  Sometimes we earn it and sometimes it is passed on to us in the form of an inheritance.  We can spend it, we can increase it, we can invest it.  The one thing we cannot do is keep it.  That is why Jesus warns in this parable, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.         

All of us will leave our wealth behind.

That is why Jesus, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, tells his disciples not to worry about the things that too often occupy our attention.  Jesus tells us not to worry about what we wear.   Now, I don’t think that Jesus was encouraging us to run around half-naked.  Nor do I believe that Jesus was encouraging us to shop exclusively at thrift shops and second-hand stores.  However, Jesus’ teaching does beg the question for us today, “Must we have the latest fashions?  Must we buy brand names?  Can we meet our needs for clothing in keeping with God’s desire that we place God at the center of our lives?”

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink.  I do not believe that Jesus means for us to ignore our health.  I believe, instead, that Jesus is pointing us beyond preoccupation with human appetites to the setting of more appropriate priorities. 


The culture that surrounds us can subtly create and enforce its own idolatries.  It has always been this way.  We begin to see what we eat, what we wear, what we drive, where we live and where we travel as an important reflection of the type of person we are and how we wish to be seen by others.  This, then, becomes our focus…sometimes, even as disciples.  We fall into the trap of believing that we are the sum of what we eat, what we wear, what we drive and how we look.  Our focus can become, “What will please me?  What will make me happy?  What will make me look good in the eyes of others?”

Jesus points us in a different direction.  It is consistent with everything else that Jesus taught.  When asked to select the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by saying, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”  Here, Jesus tells his disciples to focus on God’s Kingdom first and doing the right thing foremost. 

God will take care of everything else.

Love God most.  Put God first.  Seek God’s Kingdom.  Get our priorities in the right order and the things about which you and I are most prone to worry will not seem as important as they once did.

In the movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ferris's best friend takes him into the garage and shows him his dad’s car.  He tells him that his Dad's favorite thing on earth is his red Ferrari.  He never drives it.  It is a showroom piece, sitting in a glass-sided garage.  Ferris replies, "A man with priorities so far out of whack does not deserve such a fine car."

Contrast such an attitude with Jesus’ teaching to put God first and not worry about the rest.  Acting upon this teaching requires faith.  It requires some risk.  It requires trust in God.  Why?  It’s because it is contrary to our upbringing.  It is counter to what we have been taught.  It echoes heavenly values and not earthly values.

Jesus is not saying that we should be reckless, careless, thriftless or shiftless.  Jesus is not saying we should not work.  Jesus is saying that we should put material concerns in proper perspective…a perspective that finds its center and focus on God, not on ourselves, and not on our possessions.  Jesus echoes the teaching of Micah.  What does God require of us?  God requires us to do what is just, love the kind act word and act, and to walk humble with our God.  Jesus is saying that we should simply do our best and trust God for everything else.

In the end, that will change our lives.

Jesus says, ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ . . .  ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ 

You and I have been given the kingdom.  Our father, the King, has unimaginable riches.  We can learn to manage well what our father, the King, puts in our hand.  We can learn to share what we have been given by our father, the King.  As children of the King, we do not have to fear.  Faith is the currency of our Father’s Kingdom.

Our Father, in giving to us the Kingdom, has not promised to extend our lives, protect us from all harm or loss or give us lives free from problems and challenges.  However, he has given us opportunity to make our lives count for something true, something enduring, something radically life-changing for others and ourselves.  Isn’t that what we really want?  Don’t we want our lives to matter?

Jesus tells us to spend our wealth in ways that really matter.  He doesn’t tell us to sell all our possessions and give to the poor.  However, He does tell us to sell our possessions and give to the poor.  It is by this action, thinking of others, caring for others, people who cannot pay us back or do us good, that we lay up treasures in heaven.  Nothing can destroy these kinds of possessions.  Nothing can take them away.  They are the way we live lives that matter and make a difference in our world.

It is impossible to serve God and money.  We cannot have two masters.  However, we can serve God with money.  A disciple gets his stewardship priorities in the right order.

It is a matter of discipleship.  It is a matter of obedience.

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  It seems so backward to the way our world operates.  “My money follows my heart.”  “I give to what moves me” “I give when I feel like it.”  Jesus says, “No. Your heart will follow your treasure.”  It is not a matter of “Where your heart is, your treasure will be.”  Instead, it is, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

In the end, stewardship is a matter of priorities.  It is a question of whether to put yourself first or putting God first.  It is a matter of giving out of obedience to God or taking totally for self.  It is a matter of giving in trust to God…giving in faith to God. 

Do not wait for your heart to be moved or persuaded.  Give first and you will discover an amazing transformation taking place in your life.  If you give first, your heart will follow.  If you give first, you will find yourself beginning to love the things that God loves.  If you give first, you will find yourself beginning to value the things that God values.  If you give first, your life will indeed matter.  You will make a difference.

It all depends upon your focus.  It all depends upon your priorities.  If your treasure is in the things of this world, that is where your heart will be.  That is where your focus will lie.  If your treasure is directed toward eternal, enduring, life-altering, world-changing activities, that is where your heart will be.  That is where your focus will lie.

It was Winston Churchill who so aptly stated, “A man makes a living by what he makes.  He makes a life by what he gives.” 

                Timmy didn’t want to put his money in the offering plate Sunday morning, so his mother decided to use some hurried creative reasoning with him.

“You don’t want that money, honey,” she whispered in his ear. “Quick! Drop it in the plate. It’s tainted!”

Horrified, the little boy obeyed.

After a few seconds he whispered, “But, mommy, why was the money tainted? Was it dirty?

“Oh, no dear,” she replied. “It’s not really dirty.  It’s tainted.  It just ‘taint yours, and it ‘taint mine,” she replied. “It’s God’s.”

That’s what a true disciple believes.  That is how a true disciple lives. 

Investing in the Kingdom of God is the only investment that really lasts into eternity.  ‘Taint yours.  ‘Taint mine.  It’s God’s.  We are stewards and caretakers.

Soli Deo Gloria.  To God alone be the glory.  Amen.




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