Sermon for May 26, 2019
Texts: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 37:1-9; Matthew 13:44-46, 51-52
Sermon: "Sorting Our Treasures"
The City of God, the New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven. It is the very kingdom of God, glistening with the glory of the Divine. It is radiant like a fine jewel, John tells us near the end of the book of Revelation.
The city has twelve gates; each of the gates is a single giant pearl. And then John says, "The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb." The walls of the city and the streets are gold. Brilliantly colored jewels adorn the heavenly places. A pearl, a treasure, natural beauty and bounty from the earth that God created -- these are the everyday sights of a place where God dwells.
And in the language of parables that Jesus uses to teach us, we are given inspiring images of the Kingdom of heaven as a place that is beautiful, welcoming, surprising, generous, abundant, and full of mercy and grace. It is a place where trees give shade and provide life. It is a place where everyone has enough bread and where all who call on the name of the Lord may dwell in peace.
The pearl of great price, the pure white, gleaming pearl is uncovered one day by the one who had been seeking it -- the great reward for his long, hard search; the one thing he wanted above all things -- that perfect pearl. It was the one thing for which he would give up all that was his in order to obtain it.
If we can search and find that pearl, what is it that we find?
Is it faith? Is it love or grace? Is it God himself?
Seeking and finding can bring joy. But along the way, it can be a little scary.
The Christian writer and theologian C.S. Lewis tells about seeking and finding, saying this:
It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. "Look out!" we cry, "It's alive." And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back. I would have done so myself if I could, and proceed no further with Christianity.
An impersonal God is well and good: A subjective God of beauty, truth, and goodness, inside our own heads -- better still; a formless life force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap, best of all. But God Himself alive...that is another matter…
Then, there comes a time when suddenly the seeker of God draws back and says, "What if we find Him? Do we really want to find Him? We never meant it to come to that! But, worse still, what if He finds us!?" (Lewis, Miracles, 1947)
Well, it seemed to happen frequently in Old Testament times. God appears as a stranger or an angel. Or God appears in a burning bush! It happens to Solomon in a dream. Solomon had only recently become king of Israel. He is a young man -- not a little child as he refers to himself in the scripture we read, but a young man.
God appears to Solomon in a dream and offers the young king anything he wishes God to provide for him. Remarkably, Solomon responds to God in a most mature manner.
First, Solomon gives thanks to God for the blessing of his steadfast love.
Second, Solomon speaks humbly before God, referring to himself as just a little child who is in need of God's guidance.
Third, Solomon acknowledges the huge task that is before him of leading the great people of Israel, God's people.
And the fine pearl that Solomon requests is this: an understanding mind and a discerning heart. God's Spirit filled Solomon, who knew somehow even in a dream that he needed more than any material riches. He needed the wisdom of God.
The pearl merchant, the one who dealt in pearls and perhaps other fine gems, searches for the finest pearl, Jesus tells in his parable. The restlessness within the jeweler prompts him to seek something he may not even have understood. But when he finds it, he knows it is what he has sought. It is the one thing in the world for which he had no doubt he would offer his whole stock of pearls and other jewels, everything he owned.
In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus repeatedly emphasizes "seeing," "hearing," and, above all, "understanding." These all lead to faith that is real and alive.
Throughout Chapter 13 Jesus has been speaking in parables. He has been teaching his disciples. And, finally, as he wraps up this set of speeches, he asks the disciples, "Have you understood all of this?" They answer him, "Yes."
Jesus teaches and trains the disciples to become true children of God who then might teach others; he trains them to be "scribes" in the kingdom -- educated teachers who will spread the true word brought from the treasure chest found in the household of God. In that treasure chest are the new and the old. Both are precious.
Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. That was the old but good, true, and timeless way God reached out to teach his people and reveal himself as God of all. Now Jesus, as the very heart and mind and body of the realm of God, has come near.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near," Jesus says as he begins his ministry (Matthew 4:17). Jesus comes, the new and the old -- the new interpretation of the law that Jesus promises will not change one iota but will be embodied in new ways, his way of love -- love of God and love of neighbor.
Jesus also promises that suffering, sadness, and failure will be fellow travelers along the way of a life dedicated to discipleship. He teaches his followers, though, to seek that treasure, that pearl no matter what the day or night might bring, no matter how hard the journey.
Jesus teaches his disciples about faith that conquers fear and doubt. He teaches that no matter how impossible the obstacles seem -- no matter how needy the people are around you, no matter how serious the mission is that you are given in life: God in Jesus Christ is there to give you strength to accomplish that mission.
Jesus in truth becomes the world's treasure, our treasure.
Jesus is the realm of God we seek, the finest pearl, the wisdom and discernment of God's own divine care and compassion for the world.
We dream with Solomon of a God who will give us wisdom and direct our lives to the fulfillment of our calling. We seek with the jeweler that finest of pearls not knowing that we can live up to the responsibility of owning such a treasure.
Where do we meet God to receive his wisdom? Where do we seek that pearl so that we might know the peace that passes all understanding? Are we even capable of doing these things?
The themes rising from our scripture today remind me of the encounter between Jesus and the man who came to him asking how he could be sure he would have eternal life.
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The young man turned and walked away. He was grieving because he had many possessions. Would he be able to do what Jesus said? (Matt. 19:21-22)
We do not know the end of the story. He walked away. And he was sad. But if Jesus touched his heart, he became a searcher, seeking the most valuable thing he knew -- becoming God's child.
The young man walked away. Was his heart fertile ground? Or was it choked by thorns or inhibited by rocks, as Jesus describes in the first parable in this chapter of Matthew -- the parable about the sower, the seeds, and the soils.
Jesus does throw out the seeds to take root in our hearts, to grow there as love and compassion for the world, as faithfulness and obedience to the way of Jesus, as an abiding need to search and find life eternal offered as God's gift to all.
Sometimes what is most precious is hard to find. It is hidden under all kinds of things that we allow to grow up in our hearts and minds so that we are too entangled in worldly things to see and hear and discover where God wants us to go and what God wants us to do and what God has out there for us to find.
But we know the call of Jesus Christ. We know the peace he brings to our hearts. And so we come in prayer and supplication, giving thanks and praise and asking for God to lead us to the field where the pearl is buried, to listen in our dreams for God's voice offering us wondrous gifts.
Then we know what we are to do. We bring all we have and lay it before God in the name of Jesus Christ. And then we ask for God's Spirit to lead us where God wants us to go. We pray for God's power to make us grow in spirit and truth. And we ask God to teach us again and again how to be the Body of Christ, his church, his realm, his reign, his kingdom in this world.
The city of God, shining like a jewel: The Kingdom of Heaven, brought near to all of us by Jesus Christ for all who believe and follow. Treasure in heaven, the gift of life, is ours on earth. Sorting our treasures, we see what shines the brightest; we know the priceless value of the empty cross. And we see: Yes, we have only to follow the risen Christ to find the treasure we seek. Thanks be to God. Amen.