Our gospel reading today shows Jesus making one of his most memorable quips. You all probable know it. It is one that has been quoted millions upon millions of times. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” It is a profound statement. It is clear where Jesus thought about the placement of our treasure. Jesus wanted his followers to place there treasures in God by giving as much as we can to God’s people, to the poor, the dispossessed, and the most vulnerable among us. Let’s be frank, few of us, really, live up to Christ’s expectations. We do our best and give what we can, but we are all works in process. Jesus knew this. He was gracious and forgiving when it came to imperfections. However, he did look to results, to the most vulnerable being taken care of. And he looked at the heart as the seedling that gets us to those results.
We should be careful to note that a treasure isn’t necessarily just financial. The treasure might include the wealth of memories, memories, for example, of times when the church was full and vibrant. The treasure might be the wealth of time people have put into building the church, growing the church, preparing the worship service or maintaining the structures.
One of the draws of a collective community like a church is that despite individuals' mortality and impermanence the collective community can live on as one generation passes on the torch to a younger generation. Human beings are meant to die. Churches are not. The next generation breathes in the last breaths of the older generation and the collective keeps breathing, keeps living, keeps doing the work of God.
Nevertheless, and I don’t need to tell you this, but churches are dying. Older generations increasingly have no younger generation to pass the torch on to.
As we ponder treasure and the heart, the older generation in the churches across the country have no younger generation to pass the treasure and the heart of the church onto.
On a practical level, at the level of leadership, I ask myself what is the graying church to do? Not only do I ask myself, others ask me for possible solutions. Of course, not all churches are struggling. Some churches see people coming in droves. Usually they are Evangelical churches that a traditional, conservative approach to theology and a contemporary, progressive approach to worship. So you have drum-thumping one hand and Bible-thumping on the other. Mainline churches do it differently though not always exactly opposite. We have traditional, conservative approach to worship and a more moderate approach to theology. There’s no drum-thumping nor Bible-thumping.
I’d suggest there needs to be some kind of thumping going on. Think of a drummer. A drummer can’t be someone committed to quiet music. A drummer is someone who likes things being loud and clear and is committed to bringing the clarity of noise! A drummer thumps on the drum because he or she must be heard. In other words, it is the conviction that the thumps the drum. A good drummer can’t be in the middle or half-hearted.
If a church is not going to have an actual drum thumping or a conservative brand of Bible-thumping, then there needs to be a different kind of thumping. There needs to be a conviction of belief one way or another. There needs to be clarity about how we approach the Bible, the faith, the world. If you embrace a progressive brand of Christianity, then be loud and clear about it. If you embrace a traditional brand of Christianity, then be loud and clear about it. If you embrace diversity of belief, then be loud and clear about it, though if you embrace diversity yet want community, you need to be loud and clear about what unites you.
It doesn’t stop there, though. For young people, especially, a self-enclosed, insular church simply will not do. For young people, a community must be active and engaged in the larger community. Of that is how young people who haven’t grown up in church find us and feel safe with us. They find us because of what we are doing in the larger community.
This is to say, looking outward is key to churches that are struggling. When there is no next generation in-house to pass on the treasure of the church to, looking out of the house for the next generation becomes necessary.
I am true believer that for churches that are struggling, finding a singular cause to support and be an active part of is vital. I am not talking a passive, financial support kind of way. I am talking an active, volunteer in the community kind of way. When people are not coming to church, you bring church to people.
Finding a niche and building on it is essential. The question then becomes what cause, what niche?
That is for you to decide, really. And maybe you have your own ideas. One idea that I’d like to offer this morning deals with a global issue that is increasingly dire, and that is climate change. I don’t want to go into whether humans are behind it though I believe the science is clear we are. The earth is now vulnerable and needing care. And our vulnerable earth means the already vulnerable among us face more immense hardship. We need solutions no matter the cause. And I want to go into possible solutions.
One big help to getting rid of the dangerous amounts of carbon in our atmosphere is planting more trees. There have been scientific studies that suggest that planting trees on a massive scale could fight back the tide of climate change. Yes, reducing carbon-producing things like polluting manufacturing plants and gas-guzzling vehicles is still necessary. However, planting trees means more carbon is being eaten.
There is a huge project that is worldwide called the Trillion Trees Project. It is devoted to planting a trillion trees as soon as possible. You can go to trilliontreecampaign.org and find more about it. You can also hit the explore tab and go to a map that shows where in the world trees are being planted as part of the campaign. There is a Middletown organization that has planted 20 trees already, the Middletown Garden Club. Maybe you know someone who is a part of that club or you yourself are a part. I haven’t been able to find contact info for the Garden Club. Maybe you have a contact. But St. Paul’s joining with them and planting trees would be a wonderful thing! A terrific niche that could serve as a model for churches like this one, aging churches that have a great deal of resources but not a great deal of young energy to utilize and enhance those resources.
As I come to a close, I go back to Jesus’ immortal words. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be. May St. Paul’s heart follow Christ’s heart of self-service and good news. May St. Paul’s heart be a heart that thumps loud enough for the larger community to hear. And may St. Paul’s thumping heart lead to thumping feet, feet that actively pounds the pavement in our larger community, bringing the church to the people in active service and engagement. And though it may not be actual trees we plant, may we plant seeds of goodness and kindness and love in the hearts we meet along our daily way. Amen.