Saturday, July 23, 2005

10th Sunday after Pentecost, Matt 13:44-52, July 24, 2005

10th Sunday after Pentecost, Matt 13:44-52, July 24, 2005

(Matthew 13:44-52, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Have you ever been excited about something that valuable? Just think about that guy there in the parables, weather we’re talking about the treasure chest or the pearl, when he found that thing of great value he sells “all that he has.” Jesus says that that’s what the kingdom of heaven is like… and I wonder exactly what he means. How do we figure out this parable?

I was going to bring a string of pearls my wife has, a string that I bought her when I was a computer consultant, and had money to buy such things. I decided better than to even ask. Those pearls are pretty valuable to her. She didn’t sell everything she had to get them. Neither did I. But if we had to sell some of our stuff those pearls would be toward the end of the stuff we’d sell. You’re not going to find them at the “Burt Days” garage sale. So, we value them highly.

You’ve all got things that you value very highly. The funny thing is that what’s valuable to you isn’t necessarily valuable to anyone else. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” These things that we value have value for different reasons. The other night I saw on PBS the Red Green show. The gist of the show was that The Antiques Road Show was visiting town and everyone was taking their prize possessions to see what they were worth. One of the characters, Harold, was taking a small ceramic doll that turned out to be worth some thousand dollars. Red, the main character, took his father’s fishing basket. It was tattered, and patched with “the handyman’s secret weapon,” duct tape. Red said it was the most valuable thing he owned. The Road Show disagreed. They said it was just junk. “What do they know, anyway?” was Red’s reply.

Jesus tells us a story about value, it goes something like this:

My name is John; I’m going to tell you a story about myself. I wasn’t always wealthy. In fact at one time I was just an average person with an average income. But everything changed for me one day. You wouldn’t believe my luck. I was looking all around for a small parcel of land to buy and sell on speculation. It was something I did to help me make ends meet. As I was looking at one particular piece of land I noticed a bump of ground seemed out of place… so I dug. What I found was beyond my dreams. A treasure. It wasn’t just a few thousand dollars either, but a fortune, enough that I’d never have to work again. It was there in the land and mine for the taking. But how to do it to assure that it would all be mine. I made a plan. I re-buried it and made sure the place looked as if no one had been there for years, just as it was before. Then I rushed home and sold all that I had. And when I say all I mean everything. Pots and pans, blankets clothes, beds, house and home. I had to raise enough money to be sure that I could get the land. It was worth the risk. Everything I owned was not as valuable as what I had found in the field. It was hard work to close the deal but in the end that’s what I did. The price I paid was worth it. And now I’m reaping the profits of my labors.

Jesus story can make us ask the question “What would you give for a treasure?” Or maybe even the more important question, “What kind of treasure would be worth giving up everything?” Well, Jesus doesn’t tell little stories for the fun of it, he wants us to struggle with questions like these. And even more specifically, He wants us to think about those questions in terms of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” When ever Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, he’s not just talking about where we go when we die. He’s talking about having forgiveness of our sins. He’s talking about living life as is that forgiveness makes a difference. He’s talking about having faith in Jesus and all that he did for you, and living in a way that shows it. And that’s exactly where the parable really gets us where it counts. I don’t know any of you who haven’t at one time or another taken your faith and Christ’s church for granted. I know it’s true because I’m guilty of it, too. Who among of us hasn’t just gone through the motions on Sunday morning, acting as if all that God does for us in this place, and especially the forgiveness of sins is no big deal? And even acted as if the forgiveness that Christ gives us here is something we’ve earned? “God can forgive my little sins because I’ve not been so bad this week.” Who among us hasn’t begrudged the collection plate and the check we’ve put in it? We’ve all been reluctant to sacrifice to help the spread of the gospel. We’ve all held our tongues at times when we knew we should speak for fear of criticism or ridicule. And haven’t we been selective about who we want to belong to “our church?” The man in the parable gave everything he had for the most valuable treasure he had ever seen. We have the treasure of Jesus Christ, and we don’t even want to part with a few dollars or a little personal time to nourish it. Doesn’t that kind of make you wonder if you really have the treasure at all? The man in the story I told had the treasure and couldn’t wait to tell you how he got it. That’s not how we act all the time is it?

I think this is the most common understanding of the parable. “Salvation is the great treasure; you should be willing to give up everything you have to attain it. You should be willing to give up anything you have to hang on to it.” I wonder though how much would be enough? Is 10% of your income enough? If you faithfully tithe is that an indication of the value of your treasure? Most people don’t even give that much. So if you give that you must value it more than they do, right? But if 10% is good isn’t 20% better? The man in the parable gave up everything. Doesn’t that mean that you need to sell the farm, quit your job and go to a monastery, become a missionary, go to the Seminary? Well the truth is that no matter how much you value salvation you can’t give enough to earn it. Sin shuts you out from it. Even if you offer your life it’s not enough. You can’t give enough to match its value. Your sin condemns you to separation from God forever. And if you want the indication of just how sin is true in your life, just ask the question the parable asks: When was the last time I took my faith for granted, or acted as if it was not important at all? When was the last time you acted as if church (and here I’m not talking about the building, or the budget, or even the social events here, but the fact that this is the place that God uses to give you forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.)

Well, that’s what comes of interpreting the parable wrong. That’s what comes with putting ourselves at the middle of the attention, again. That’s the strongest indicator of the depth of our sin. We always want the story to be about us. This parable isn’t really about us, in the sense of telling us what we need to do. That puts us at the center. This parable is telling us what God does, more specifically Jesus.

You know how always say that Christ is the center of everything we do and talk about here? Well here’s a classic example. When you what to interpret this parable put Jesus in it instead of yourself. Make Jesus the man who gives up everything for a treasure beyond value. When you do that it all comes into proper focus. In fact, when you do that the parable will also tell you exactly what you have to do to get Christ.

Now it makes sense doesn’t it? Jesus, is God, he had everything, and he gave it up to be born of a poor unmarried woman. He didn’t even come into the world’s riches. “The son of man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus said. Everything was his and yet he lived as a poor man. And more importantly he died a poor man’s death, even a death reserved for the worst of criminals. He hung naked and shamed on a public road; as if he’d been strung up on one of buildings on the highway coming into town, where everyone coming and going would see him. When you think of who Jesus is, no one in history gave up more to achieve a goal, to have a treasure. Jesus has to be the man in the parable. Now I told you, not to put yourself at the center of the parable, but really in a way we should do that. Because Jesus goal was a treasure of priceless worth. All that he did he did to have you. You and I are the treasure Jesus gave up everything to have. At first it might make us feel good, but if you are honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you aren’t worth the trouble. You’re not Harold’s porcelain doll, the truth is your not even Red’s tattered fishing bag. And yet, you can see how much God values you. That’s how much God is willing to give to have you with him forever.

And what do you have to do? Well, what does the treasure do to be found? What does the treasure give up to belong to the land purchaser? What does a pearl do to end up around my wife’s neck? Nothing at all! You see, God does it all, God gives it all, God makes it happen for you through Jesus Christ. We can’t do enough good stuff to cover over the evil in our hearts. Everything we do is covered with sin. Every good work we try turns on selfishness. “Why should I do that? Because in the long run it’s good for me!” We say. That’s why the treasure seeker does it all for you. He values you beyond your value. He loves you in spite of yourself. And he gives everything, his very life, to have you as his.

What a valuable treasure you’ve been given, you are God’s valued treasure! What does that mean in your life as you live it every day? You see, everyone in this room is God’s valued treasure. Everyone on Burt is God’s valued treasure. Everyone in Iowa, the US and the whole world, in fact. That means you can reflect God’s value for them by treating them the way that God does. God takes care of you in so many different ways, you don’t have to worry about yourself, you can (and you do already) serve your neighbor. Help when help is needed. Comfort when comfort is needed and even money when that’s needed. The thing is you might miss the fact that you do it because of what God has done for you. You don’t have to give up everything to serve your neighbor and to show you value the treasure God has given you. You don’t have to sacrifice to receive the treasure of God’s Kingdom. He’s already done what’s necessary to put you in it. He’s given you faith in Christ. You are God’s treasure. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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