Exchanging Pennies for Treasure


This morning, I found the notes of a stewardship letter, that I sent to the congregation many years ago.   It relays a  great sermon illustration almost as old as the Civil War itself.   It was made popular and  shared frequently by an old evangelical preacher from the south during the 1950’s.   I cant seem to find the name of the preacher to attribute it to, and I am copying verbatim from the notes to that letter…In the end, I just love the illustration because it rings so true…

“The pastor tells the story of an old slave in a southern state after the close of the Civil War.  This slave, had spent the majority of his live, as the servant of a plantation owner.    Each and every day, he awoke to serve his owner without question or hesitation.    Every day he did the same thing.  He even did it on the day, that Abraham Lincoln announces the emancipation of all the slaves.

Knowing that he was old and could never manage on his own, the plantation owner begged the slave to stay and take care of him. He promises his freedom, and gives him his word that he would be taken care of after he died.    Despite being a slave and servant,  the slave, who was named Sam, loved the old man, and humbly agreed to stay as his servant, until he was called home by God.

After he died, the former slave found himself out of work, as the plantation was sold.   He did every odd job he could find.   He mowed lawns, chopped kindling, and ran errands to make a living.

Eventually, time caught up with him, and his legs grew stiff and his body became bent with age. There came a time when he couldn’t do enough work to buy even the poorest and simplest of groceries. He lived in an old shack and got his clothing out of people’s garbage.

Once while the former slave was rummaging through the garbage, an old friend of the plantation owner’s family saw him, chased him down, and said to him directly:  “Sam, you don’t have to live this way, your master told me that he deposited $5,000.00 in the bank for you. Go to the bank and get some money to buy what you need!” 

In the period of reconstruction a man might work a whole day for less than one quarter, and $5000 made Sam, very well to do. After much persuasion the timid, old, former slave finally decided to go to visit the bank. After standing in line, and finally making his way to the teller’s window,  he nervously asked the teller if any money had been left in the bank for him.

The clerk looked up his name, and confirmed that there was indeed money in the bank for him and that he could have it whenever he wished or whenever he needed.   After a few seconds of concerned thought, he looked at the teller and very meekly asked, “Could I have as much as fifty cents to get me a sack of flour?”

Again, the teller replied that he could have as much as he wanted or needed, 50 cents or  $5,000.00. 

With that the former slave asked the teller to withdraw 50 cents.  He left the bank with a brand new fifty cent piece, and with a hunched back slowly made his way to the general store to buy some flour.       He purchased his flour, hauled it back to his little tar shack and his scavenged clothes and his poverty.    3 years later, the harshness of his poverty and hunger caught up with him, and one cold night he passed away in that tired old shack.    He passed away without family, food, or more than a piece or two of tattered cloth.   He passed away with $4,999.50 in the bank.”

Ultimately as I read that note, and revisit the illustration, The simple and scary truth is that for many of us, we are former slaves and we choose pennies over treasure.  We choose slavery, poverty, and unhappiness when we refuse to move towards a greater, and more powerful relationship with Jesus.  

We cannot forget there is a promise to our faith.    There is a treasure beyond our imagining that awaits us.    That treasure is not the treasure you about hear from television evangelists, who promise only material wealth and happiness if you believe.   The treasure we are promised is something infinitely better.     

The promise is that we will be forever and radically changed.   Our promise is a life so complete and grace filled, so filled by living in the shadow of the Love of God, and so radically different from anything else that can be offered to us, our very definitions of treasure, wealth and happiness are forever changed.

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