"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, 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. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." (Matthew 6:19-24)
One of my all-time favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof. In the movie, a hard-working Jewish dairy farmer, Tevye, must make some tough decisions as his daughters grow up and move on. Tevye wants to honor his history and his tradition while also loving and blessing his progressive daughters. On a number of occasions, the watchers are privileged to hear Tevye's internal dialogue as he wrestles with the issues. A repeated phrase is, "On the one hand ... but, on the other hand..." That is the way of things, isn't it? Like a coin, everything has two sides to it. It's the way of the world — North Pole or South Pole, East or West, good or bad, suffering or hope, sin or forgiveness. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Yes, duality is a reality. It is also true when you read Matthew 6:19- 24. In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about our "stuff." He says that it is really difficult to have our treasures in two different places, especially when earthly currency isn't recognized in the economy of Heaven. And while Jesus is talking about the two sides of riches, he also brings up the dual nature of Christianity. "You cannot serve both God and money." Just like you cannot walk on both sides of the street at the same time, you can't play on the side of the world and on the side of God concurrently.
Every road has two sides that define the way, and sometimes we don't want to choose either. So instead of walking on either side, many of us choose to walk in the middle. See, easy journeying is contingent on walking in the middle. The middle of the road is where the sand of the road is smooth. The middle of the road is well worn, well traveled. In the middle of the road you can see the tracks of others as if the road were saying, "People have already passed this way. It is okay, see the footprints? Someone else has already stepped here, here in the middle."
Think of a few things that are safe in the middle. Switzerland stayed neutral during WWII, and for the love of all that's good, no one gets mad at them 50 years later. It's good to be in the middle. When trying to hole a six foot putt, you want to hit the ball and the cup "right in the middle."
The middle is safe. The middle isn't right and the middle isn't left. The middle isn't good and the middle isn't bad. The middle is steady. It is horribly comfortable. No rickety steps, no spitting into the wind, no rocking the boat when you're right in the middle.
"Throw one down the middle of the plate," yell baseball fans to the pitcher. As if the middle is REALLY safe. Throw one down the middle and see how far Alex Rodriguez or Ken Griffey Jr. can make an 8oz, white orb with red stitches and some Mississippi mud fly! See, the middle isn't safe at all. You can get in trouble standing in the middle. Try standing in the middle of I-35 to see how safe it really is!
One sticky July, my family drove the 120 miles west from our house in Destin, Florida to pick up my Aunt Vickie from the Mobile, Alabama airport. She had flown from Dallas, and we drove the exciting 2 hours to Mobile to get her. Over several bridges that span deep Gulf waters (Mobile Bay Bridge is 7 miles long), then under the Bankshead Tunnel.
The tunnel was my favorite part. All that water over your head and huge cargo ships floating above you, and I'd think as we descended, "At any time the entire thing could collapse and water would surround us like a blue blanket. Water everywhere, hugging us tightly, but it would be a rough squeeze. It would not be like great-grandmother hugs. No, these squeezes would not be for love but squeezing you for your life."
So we were all stuffed in the car, my Dad, my Mom, Aunt Vickie, my brother Stephen, and me. Heading home, back the way we'd come. Everyone was jabbering.
"How was the flight?"
"Is Mom feeling okay?" my mom asked Vicki about my grandmother.
"Did you eat on the plane?"
"What day do you have to go back?"
The questions and answers flew as we traveled 65 miles an hour ... down the middle of the Interstate.
My dad pulled over a few hundred feet farther and jumped out of the car. The car became as quiet as a library. Hushed whispers and prolonged silences were categorized and shelved under the subject "apprehension." We were afraid to speak loudly because we knew something awful had taken place and to speak loudly might desecrate the event.
My father eventually returned to the car, buckled up, and merged into traffic. Once again we were headed home ... but this time, a bit more wary about being in the middle.
The man who was hit was apparently on the way from his home to a convenience store. He tried to cross the busy lanes of traffic, speeding east on I-10, but failed. It is odd to think of where the man was hit. He wasn't stuck on the shoulder of the road. No, he was hit, and pronounced dead, right in the middle.
Genesis 3:3 says the tree that got Eve and Adam in trouble was in the middle of the Garden. In Mark 6, Jesus' disciples are in the midst of a storm, pulling at the oars, and the text says they are in the middle of the lake and cannot make it to safety. See, the truth is that the middle can be quite a dangerous place. That is why a bit earlier in Jesus' teaching he says, "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:37) In other words, don't straddle the fence.
Staying out of the middle is important to Christians. It is so important that in Revelation 3, Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. When I stand before the gracious God, I can promise you, I do not want to be "in the middle."
And so, we have to choose. The life of God revealed in us should not be compromised. We're in or we're out. We walk with him or we walk away. As we travel in our "hem-haw" world, we have to be decisive about our Cross-commitment. In our "on the one hand, but on the other hand" culture, we have to be bold about our discipleship. As people who wear the name of Christ, can we really afford to continue to walk like the world does ... somewhere in the middle?
Now, I need to go to Starbucks, but I just can't decide ... should I get the House Blend or a double Tall Cappuccino?