Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Saturday Night Sermon

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 69

Read: Matthew 5:1-15:39

Verse that stood out:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

OK, this isn't really blogging, but a full day of family fun means I'm out of time to blog. So here's a sermon from my pre-Southland days from Matthew 13. One of my favorites. I realize it's a little long for a blog post. So no hurt feelings on my part if you don't read it.

Believe it or not, one of my favorite shows on all of television is (and this is hard to admit) the Antique Road Show. For those of you who have never heard of this show, because you are obviously cooler than me, let me explain its basic premise. This show sets up shop in convention centers around the nation and invites people to bring their stuff. People show up in droves bringing with them grandma’s old desk or an old lamp they found in the attic. The premise is simple. Appraisers pick out some of the junk and tell us how it’s not really junk at all, but really priceless treasures. Basically, it’s reality TV, antique shop style. Now, in order to redeem my self-image a little, I would never set foot in an antique store, so why in the world would I enjoy this show? I’m rarely interested in the stuff people show up with, but there is this one part in the show that catches me every time. Inevitably, after the appraiser tells us about the piece, he asks the owner, “So, do you have any idea what its worth?” Sometimes they’re brave enough to tell what they paid for it, most of the time they simply shrug their shoulders and say “I have no idea.” It really doesn’t matter, because all of America is waiting to hear, not what the owner thinks about it, but what the appraiser has to say.

For instance, I was watching one time when this couple brought in a rather plain looking blanket. It was large, pretty worn, with broad navy and pink stripes. The appraiser was ecstatic. He was almost in tears as he explained that this was a Navajo chief’s robe. He described the way it was made, the materials that were used, and all sorts of other information that I don’t remember. What I remember is the question, “How much do you think this blanket is worth?” The old couple, well into their 70’s said they thought it was probably worth a couple of thousand dollars. The appraiser smiled as he told them that their blanket, which they used in the winter as an extra layer on their own bed, was worth between $350,000 to $500,000. Furthermore, it was of such quality and rarity that it was indeed a national treasure. At that point, it was the most valuable piece ever shown on the show.

Now, that is captivating television, whether is makes me a nerd or not. I love a good treasure hunt. The idea that an old couple could be sleeping under an old blanket that they don’t even really like but is worth half a million dollars – you just can’t beat that. From movies about pirates’ buried treasure to antique shopping, we love to discover things, especially things of value. Jesus touched on this desire when teaching the disciples privately one day saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Treasure stories have been around along time, and Jesus had his disciples sitting on edge, “Don’t you see, it’s right in front of you – the treasure – the finest pearl – the kingdom is here for the taking.” It’s easy in our busy lives to miss this treasure. Can you remember the last time that God’s kingdom aroused in you the type of nervous anxiousness that comes with a great find? When I watch the Road Show, my pulse picks up as I wait to hear what this civil war commemorative vase might be worth, and yet our bumping into the kingdom all day long draws little or no excitement from our souls. In life’s hectic scurrying, we feel rushed to figure it all out, tired of all the meetings, and bored with the same old routine.

Maybe we aren’t seeing the treasure – it is after all a treasure hidden in a field. It’s an old blanket at the foot of the bed, always there, but rarely noticed. The gospels are full of references to the hiddeness of the kingdom. Jesus came declaring that the Kingdom of God is at hand, but then spent so much of his ministry explaining its hidden nature. The kingdom is to be found with those who mourn, those who are poor, those who are meek, those who are persecuted. The first end up last, and the last, first. The kingdom is hidden in prayers for enemies, cups of water for the thirsty, and visits to prisoners. Treasure is forever linked with poverty, life forever connected with death. Like I said, it’s a hidden kingdom.

Even in his ragtag group of followers, Jesus clearly is trying to explain how his kingdom is not where you would expect to find it. Tax collectors and prostitutes have found it easy to follow him as well as fishermen and not a few gentiles. However, those who would seem to be prime candidates for the kingdom don’t make the cut. Most of the religious leaders never even recognize the treasure in front of them. Those who catch glimpses, find it hard to sell all and take possession. A Pharisee once had an evening encounter with Jesus that must have been amazing, but couldn’t bring himself to go public with his find. A rich young man, full of outward signs of righteousness did seem to see in Jesus something of a treasure, but when it came time to sell all he had in order to gain that treasure, he went away sad. Jesus’ kingdom just didn’t fit their ideas of where treasure would be located. Maybe we lack excitement, or joy thereof, because we are looking for the kingdom in all the wrong places. We keep looking for the kingdom in programs and in projects, in big buildings and even bigger budgets, all the while, the kingdom is there, Jesus says, as we come to know him and make him known.

The apostle Paul, who himself had considered all things loss for the sake of knowing Jesus and making him known, put it this way, “I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Knowing Jesus and making him known, that is the treasure we are presented with.

Most of us who’ve been attempting to follow Jesus for a while know that – at least in our heads. Occasionally, as we’ve gone on a mission trip or reached out to a person in need sharing the good news of Jesus, we’ve run across the kingdom occasionally. But what do we do when we find it? Jesus leaves little room for diversity of response. Both the men in our story sell everything they own. These are short parables and hardly give us any details. Did they have to weigh their options, evaluate their gain, before making the decision? It doesn’t appear so. Apparently the treasure and the pearl were so captivating that the response to forsake all for the objects’ sake seemed to follow naturally. The parable of the treasure does hint at a motivation – the NIV says “that in his joy” while the NASB translates it “from joy over it”. Both are accurate and convey the idea that the joy is both inward and outward. It is not only for his own joy, but also for the sheer sake of the treasure, that he becomes possessed. It makes me think once again to the Navajo blanket. The appraiser, recognizing what he had, was beside himself – indeed he gushed, “Imagine the most important thing that exists in a field. This is it. It’s absolutely the Holy Grail of Navajo blankets.” His gushing on and on about this national treasure revealed that his joy was solely for the object – he would receive no financial gain from the blanket. The idea is the same in the parables – yes both men would benefit from their discoveries, but their joy was rooted not in self interest, but in true appreciation of what they had found.

So it is when we discover God’s hidden kingdom. In this world of dog eat dog, we can be overcome by the sheer absurdity, the magnificent beauty of this alternative kingdom where needs are met by the mere asking, where value is placed on the very fact that we bear the image of God regardless of how broken and bruised we now find ourselves. Our discovery ought to prompt us to shout in sheer joy – “We’ve found it.” This happens every time we truly see it. When we see grace offered instead of condemnation, hope instead of despair. We bump into the kingdom in times of true fellowship with other people, a rarity in today’s electronic communities. We think to ourselves, “This is the way it is supposed to be.” The good news that life is more than stuff stirs in us the same anxious feelings of any great find – Can this really be true? Is this the real thing? Is it for the taking? We are almost sure that if we turn our heads for a moment it will be gone – and so it may.

The man in the first story takes no chances and re-hides the treasure. It sounds crazy to us, but the image is a person who has already sold everything. He’s hanging on, he’s cashing in, he’s convinced. This treasure is not just an interesting walk in the field, it can be his, and he has decided to do everything possible to obtain it. The second man also has an immediacy of action. He too departs with all in order to obtain his prize. We look at these stories and shake our heads – surely Jesus is not telling us to sell all we have? We are the young ruler of Matthew 19 who also could not fathom the cost. Our man in the parable cannot fathom the deal – his focus is not on what he has just sold, but rather what he has just gained. I imagine he paid a fair price for the field, I imagine he got quite a deal on the treasure.

When’s the last time you were so enraptured by something that regardless the cost you had to obtain it? For me, I can really only think of one time. It happened ten years ago. I gave up my ability to buy things whenever I wanted, I gave up my right to plan my days activities solely around what I wanted to do, I gave up the ability to do all sorts of things. But ten years ago, I wasn’t thinking at all about what I was giving up, no I was thinking all about, incessantly about, what I was gaining – a beautiful wife, a partner in life. And it is still the same. My single friends have much more flexible lifestyles than I do, they tend to go where they want, when they want, and yet I don’t for a second wish I had what they had, what I have gained far outweighs what I have given up.

That is the crux of the parables – the kingdom is more valuable than anything we could ever give up to obtain it. A missionary who eventually gave his life for the kingdom once wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot loose” (Jim Elliot). It is a crazy idea at first glance. The world’s values are so different than the kingdom’s. The world says that success is measured in the amount of cars you have in the driveway and the number of bedrooms you have under your roof. Worth is determined by how many zeroes are in front of the decimal point and value by how many people know your name. Yet God’s kingdom, this hidden kingdom, says that power comes through service and love, love comes simply from being a part of God’s family.

Who would really trade houses and cars and comfort for the uncertainty, discomfort, and danger of God’s kingdom? Only the person who recognizes that by giving up what the world offers she is gaining the keys to a kingdom that is immeasurably more real, more valuable, more lasting. We ask ourselves so often, “Can’t we give up only part? Do we really have to sell everything?” Our questions betray our lack of trust. It is as if you were reading your Wall Street Journal and you came across a nothing little stock that nevertheless caught your attention. You did a little research only to discover that this company was on the verge of a major breakthrough. You got so excited, not only at the prospect of making a profit, but at the very idea of being a part of history. You truly believed that this was the equivalent of getting in on Coca-cola or Microsoft form the very beginning. You went and against the advice of your stock broker, your family, everyone you sold all you had and bought all the shares that you could. Every one warned you about not having all your eggs in one basket, they told you to diversify your portfolio. “Just sell some of your stuff – Maybe give up only part.” But you would have none of it. Why invest in anything else, this was it – To borrow from our appraiser – this is the Holy Grail of stocks. You only appear the fool until it pays off – then your face is the face on Forbes while everyone else wishes they were you.

So too the kingdom of heaven – To truly grab hold of the kingdom for all its worth, really for what it is worthy of – there can be no other investments. There is no diversifying among kingdoms, no hedging of our bets – it’s one or the other. Will you appear foolish? Of course, but only for a while. We’ve all been there I think – in the field, eyeing the treasure. Our heart races as we anticipate all that it means. Could I really sell all? What if I’m wrong? Then we look again. Is it an old blanket or a national treasure? An unknown stock or the beginning of history? A foolish investment or a path to glory? Maybe you’ve heard the call to the kingdom and are afraid to answer. Could I really travel around the world for the sake of his gospel? Could I really sell all and live a life in stark contrast to my culture? Could I really live in a way that my major investments are in cups of water and prayers for peace instead of stocks and bonds?

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, a blanket, a stock, a call – and for the sheer joy of it, they went and sold all they had and bought it – That my friends, doesn’t just make for captivating television, that makes for a captivating life.

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