Pentecost 7, 2014, Matthew 13:44-52
Parts of many community celebrations is a hidden treasure hunt. This year in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, three high school boys were the winners. Asked about their winning strategy they said, “We were just walking around and stumbled onto it.” This morning in Jesus’ first parable about the kingdom of heaven, a man stumbles on a great treasure hidden in a field.
In Jesus second parable, a merchant searches for fine pearls and finds the perfect pearl; the pearl of great price. The current Funky Winkerbean comic strip features a woman searching for a certain rare copy of a Starbuck Jones comic book. Finally, she finds one in the bins of a comic book collector. Only after the proprietor agrees on the sale spice, does he learn what he possessed all along.
Sometimes, a person might stumble upon of the kingdom of heaven even while unknowingly searching for exactly what the kingdom of heaven offers. A woman who had everything she thought she could want in life told about one Sunday morning when she was walking to the local Starbucks, for her morning sacrament of coffee and crullers. She certainly didn’t have any need for what was being offered in the church she walked by every Sunday. She didn’t need the guilt and cross. But one Sunday, for no discernable reason that she could detect, she was drawn to walk into this strange and foreign scene. It was what she expected, so-so singing , boring bible readings, the sermon not earth shaking; and yet, she did sort of agree with what the preacher was saying. And when everyone else was going to Holy Communion, well she might just as well go to, though a cube of bread and a sip wine wasn’t quite on the level of a coffee and cruller, but still there was something like a blessing in it. Next Sunday she found herself back in the church; and afterward saying for church coffee in Styrofoam cups. And so it went week after week, soon she found herself signing up to work in their food pantry. Eventually, she discovered that she had a sense of contentment, peace and a real purpose in her life, which didn’t know she had been lacking. She felt like she never wanted to be separated from the love which had found her in Christ Jesus, and that she never would be. As time moved along she found herself in God’s kingdom serving as director of a women’s shelter; there too were treasures beyond measure waiting to be found.
Martin Lutheran put it this way, “This word takes hold of one today and falls into his heart, tomorrow it touches another, and so on. Thus quietly and soberly it will do its work and no one will know how it all came about.”
The question I had to ask myself, just what is this kingdom of heaven Jesus compared to a treasure hidden in a field or the “one pearl of great price?” What is this kingdom that Jesus likened to a farmer going out to plant some seed, of which only one in four seeds will grow to maturity; yet when the threshing crew finished, the farmer had up to 100 times more seed in his granary than he planted. What is this kingdom which is like a grain of mustard seed that grows into a plant able to provide a home for nesting bird? This kingdom which is like a woman hiding leaven in wheat flour and watching it quietly cause the dough to rise? This kingdom in which God’s judgment is likened to the weeds in the field will be thrown into fire at harvest time; or a net full of fish from which the worthless are culled and tossed out for the sea gulls and feral cats to devour? This kingdom that Jesus said is nearby. This kingdom for which we will pray that it will come in which his will be done on earth as in heaven.
I found the answer in St. Paul. Paul says it’s the secret treasure hidden for ages revealed in Jesus Christ. Listen, God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Did you know that? We have every blessing already that is available in heaven. There’s more. Though our trespasses and sins killed us, God in his great love made us alive together with Christ. This had nothing to do with our own doing, but God gives us the gift of faith. Thus “we have been raised up (with Christ) and seated with him in the heavenly places.” Now I look around and this doesn’t quite look how I imagine heaven to be, but our true situation is already in place in the heavenly places. It’s as good as ours, hidden in Christ, when at the end of time we will receive the full measure of Jesus our priceless treasure. For now, we have Christ, who shed his blood for our sins and grants us forgiveness. What is the kingdom of heaven? It’s Jesus and his word, which comes to us in its preaching and teaching, in baptism and in the bread and wine. We hold this treasure in earthen jars, our bodies. And there is nothing in heaven or earth, not even death or angels or things going on today or in the future neither the devil, nor anything in all creation which, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Now the person who stumbled across the treasure and the merchant who found the perfect pearl sold everything they had and bought it. Now this flies in the face of wise investing. They put all their eggs in one basket. We are supposed to diversify our portfolio with stocks and bonds and mutual funds and property. But Jesus is saying, when it comes to the kingdom of heaven, you should put all your eggs in one basket. You are even able to count your chickens before they are hatched. And it is unwise to diversify your spiritual portfolio, but rather to seek first the kingdom of God and all the rest will be added.
Yes, the merchant and the passerby had the means to purchase their treasure. What do we have to sell to Jesus that he would be willing to purchase and thus we too would possess the treasure of God’s kingdom. Actually, each of us could hold a huge rummage sale of the things that Jesus would gladly buy. In fact on the cross he already paid the price for them. If would we but look around, we could fill several tables filled with our spiritual rummage. We could bring out our ill will against some people. On one table we could display our rationalizations that what I did or said wasn’t so bad. Another table could be for all the times we got our hurt feelings. A table could hold our misreading and mishearing someone’s words or actions or tone of voice. Oh don’t forget to save space for our complaints, those will need a big table. And what happens at our rummage sale? Jesus would come along and claim them for himself. “What is all this anyway? It belongs to me. I bought it a long time ago. Why you got this junk out here anyway? Give that junk to me.”
Once we have sold all our junk to Jesus, we will discover that in place of the junk in our lives, Jesus replaces it with himself the priceless treasure. Then we discover that now we are precious treasures in the eyes of our Lord. Now that’s living in the kingdom of heaven.