WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Matthew 13:44-52; Jeremiah 29:11-13 Theme of the Month Life Together Church and Community
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Sharp
Lead Pastor, English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia
Sunday Sermon for 25 July 2010
Scripture Passage Matthew 13:44-52
"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. 44
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. 45
"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 47
"Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked. "Yes," they replied. 51
He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." 52
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 11
A certain man went to church one Sunday… •he frowned when the organist missed a note during the opening hymn. •he stared menacingly at two young people talking to each other when the congregation was at prayer. •during the scripture reading he kept looking impatiently at his watch. •when the collection basket was passed he felt that the usher was watching to see how much he gave. •during the sermon, he felt mighty pleased with himself when he caught the preacher making a slip of the tongue. •he was tight-lipped during all of the hymn singing. •as he slipped out a side door during the closing hymn, he muttered to himself, “that was terrible. What a bunch of clods. Never again!” A certain other man went to church one Sunday… •he was edified by the organist’s moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.” •he marveled at the sight of a father exchanging hugs with the little child draped over his shoulder. •he had just one thought when the collection basket was passed: “Some of what I give will be used to serve the needy. Am I giving enough?” •he listened attentively to the scripture reading which spoke of God’s incredible love for the human family. •he heard something in the sermon that helped him with a question that had bothered him for a long time. •he enthusiastically joined in the singing of the closing hymn of praise. •as he left the church, he said to himself, “How good it is to be here and share in the experience of the presence of God!” Both men had gone to the same church, on the same Sunday, at the same time. One was looking for the worship service to be boring, uninspiring, a gathering of hypocrites. The other came looking for God and evidence of God’s grace and beauty. And each had found exactly what he was looking for. And that is true in so much of life. We often find what we are looking for – in a relationship, in a job, in ourselves, in life, in God.
We who have gathered today in this church, what are we looking for? What are you looking for? As members of the community of Christ, as followers of Jesus Christ, what should we be looking for? What should come first in our lives? I ask that question because often our expectations and what we are looking for will impact what we find. As we come into the presence of God and try to see our lives in the light of what it means to follow Christ, what should we be looking for? Should material concerns be our first priority: “What are we to eat? What are we to drink? How are we to be clothed?” to quote a line from Jesus (Matthew 6:31)? No, that is not priority one in our lives if we are followers of Jesus. “It is the unbelievers, the people who don’t know God and his goodness and his care who set their hearts on all these things,” Jesus says (Matthew 6:32). “Your heavenly father knows you need them all. Set your hearts on his Kingdom first . . . And all these other things will be given you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This is probably the most defining statement of the focus and priority of the disciple’s life. And yet it isn’t just to be the goal of those who have decided to follow Jesus, it really is the intended goal of everybody’s life. It is the thing that ultimately satisfies and completes and gives meaning to all of life, even if the majority of people don’t know it. Sometimes we call it looking for some direction in life, or finding my calling or focus in life, or trying to understand what this mysterious, exciting, confusing, tragic-comic thing is that we call life. Today’s Gospel passage contains three parables – the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great value, and the parable of the net. All of them are intended to explain, point in some way to the nature and reality of the kingdom of heaven/the kingdom of God. The kingdom of Heaven/God is the reality that God intends for the world and the way of life that he calls us to experience. In figurative language, Jesus wants to challenge us, to startle us, to urge us to look at life and our search for the meaning of our life in a larger, more fuller way than we usually do. An eighteenth century Italian named Alessandra Mazoni wrote a book in which he explored the seventeenth century social conditions of the people of Lombardy. In it he said: So long as he is in the world, man is like a sick person lying on a bed more or less uncomfortable, who sees around him other beds nicely made, to outward appearance smooth and level and fancies that they must be more comfortable resting places. He succeeds in making an exchange; but scarcely is he placed in another, before he begins, as he presses down, to feel in one place a sharp point pricking him, in another a hard lump; in short we come to the same story over and over again. And for this reason, we ought to aim rather at doing well than being well. That’s good advice, even for this day, because for all of us, especially those of us who claim to be Christian “doing well” means entering into the kingdom of God. Now we need to be clear – the Kingdom of God isn’t so much a place as it is a condition. It is living life in relationship with God; it is knowing and experiencing the love of God and knowing and doing the will of God. For us who claim to be followers of Jesus “doing well” means living under the reign of God (the rule of God). It is learning what pleases God, what God’s intention is for me and my world and ordering, living my life accordingly. We are doing well when we are doing God’s will, which Jesus tells us in today’s lesson is like buried treasure or a merchant’s search for fine pearls.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found and turns his/ her upside down (Matthew 13:44). The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls and when he finds one of great value he is so overwhelmed by its beauty and awesomeness that he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it (Matthew 13:45). When Jesus tells us that the rule of God is like a buried treasure, he is not saying that it is beyond our reach or hard to find. He is telling us what we should be looking for. We are all on a quest. We are all looking for something. From the day we are born until the day we die. Wholeheartedly or half-heartedly, we are on a mission, pursuing something. For many people, taking our cues from the world around us, we think that what we are looking for is success or wealth or the happiness and the security we think they bring. In New York City, there are supposedly eight million cats and eleven million dogs. New York City is basically just concrete and steel, so when you have a pet in New York City and it dies, you can't just go out in the backyard and bury it. The city authorities decided that for $50 they would dispose of your deceased pet for you. But one lady was enterprising. She thought, “I can render a service to people in the city and save them money.” She placed an ad in the newspaper that said, "When your pet dies, I will come and take care of the carcass for you for $25." This lady would go to the local Salvation Army and buy an old suitcase for two dollars. Then when someone would call about his or her pet, she would go to the home and put the deceased pet in the suitcase. She would then take a ride on the subway, where there are thieves. She would set the suitcase down, and she would act like she wasn't watching. A thief would come by and steal her suitcase. She'd look up and say, "Wait. Stop. Thief." My guess is the people who stole those suitcases got a real surprise when they got home. A lot of us are like those New York thieves. We're chasing after happiness, and we grab what we think will give us happiness; but, when we get it, it doesn't quite deliver. The actor/comedian Jim Carrey once said: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer. Many people learn to late what Lee Iacocca, the legendary carmaker and former head of Chrysler, wrote in his autobiography: “Here I am in the twilight years of my life, still wondering what it’s all about. I can tell you this: fame and fortune is for the birds.” But many of us don’t get it or believe it and we keep going down that road – thinking that somehow this world and what it offers will bring us happiness and security and satisfaction. Only to be disappointed. If we have read the Gospels with any attention at all, we know that that the gospel truth is that the thing we are really pursuing, the thing that we are looking for, the thing that ultimately satisfies is the rule of God, is the rule of love; that our satisfaction in life is to love; that doing well is to love well. And it all begins and is anchored in the love of God – God’s love for us and our love for God. And if we learn that, we learn to treasure it: we learn to treasure it enough to live it. And the more we learn about it, the more we understand it, and the more we experience it, the more we realize the urgency of it. The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the reign of WHATAREYOULOOKINGFOR 4
God, the rule of God, the rule of love is now. Now, in all areas of life – at home, at school, at work, in the market place, in our relationships, in church. The kingdom of God, the reality that God calls us to experience isn’t out there somewhere – but it is here in the now. Over the years, a young man had earned the reputation in his home of being “the messiest person in the family.” Getting him to clean his room had become the impossible dream of his mother and father. True, every now and then he went through the motions of tidying up a bit, but he never really got around to doing a thorough job of it. After graduating high school, he joined the marine corp. When he came home on leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned so far. “Well, dad,” he said, “I learned what ‘now!’ means.” In Mark’s gospel, Jesus began his public ministry of announcing the good news from God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). These words are just as relevant to us now as they were to Jesus’ followers twenty centuries ago. This is the time of our fulfillment! The rule of God is at hand. The rule of God is present to us NOW! We are called to live in the “now-present” kingdom. Our faith in Jesus’ Good News is to be reflected in the way we live now! Not in the future. Not when we have time. Not when we get it all sorted out. Not when we have become more perfect. Now! We are called to follow Jesus in the real world – where we work and eat, play and rest, where we struggle and triumph, where we cry and laugh. Are you doing that? What would that look like in your life? In your family? In your work? Your relationships? In your hopes and dreams and actions? What would that look like in your life if you are a student? An engineer? A Pharmacist? A husband? A wife? What would it look like if you took the reality of God’s kingdom seriously? Jesus is not asking us to reject our earthly world in favor of some out-of-this-world ethereal kingdom. He invites us to embrace the world, to participate in it and our relationships as he did: in the holy spirit of sacrificial love. “Follow me,” Jesus says to us. “Follow me into the kingdom of God. Follow me and place yourself, without reservation, under the sovereignty and rule of God.” Realize that this is God’s world and that God is directing it to a future. In the words of the passage from Jeremiah – God wants to say to each of us – “For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not to harm you, plans to give you a hopeful future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Now is the time to bring your life under God’s rule -- your physical and your emotional wellbeing: your relationships; your job; your concern about the world out there. It’s all there, ready to take on new meaning in your life because you are building a relationship with God now. This is what makes life exciting and beautiful and good. Jesus invites us, “follow me,” not “up above” somewhere, or “way out there” somewhere, but here-and-now. When you are at home, at school, at work, in your relationships, the Kingdom of God is inbreaking. Jesus comes right into our midst to tell us that we all can have a part of the life that God wants to give to us. He stands among us, arms outstretched, ready to receive us. He invites us to follow him into God’s kingdom of unspeakable love.
So let’s come back to the original question: what are you looking for? What is the treasure you seek? Are you still blinded and seduced by the siren voices around you promising that you can have it all – that satisfaction, happiness, meaning, purpose, joy is out there somewhere and that if you are rich enough, popular enough, well-connected enough you can have it? The reality is that all of us are looking for love. And this is the treasure that Jesus gives. From the day we first enter this world until the day we leave it, we all are looking for love. Not the syrupy, conditional type of love; one that is more heat than substance. We need real love, we want love, we live for love. And the God who is love offers it to us. This is the real treasure. And this treasure can be found by anyone who really looks for it. Again God says through the prophet Jeremiah—“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13) Not everyone who buys a lottery ticket will win; not everyone who invests in the stock market will make money. Those treasures are elusive. But God offers a treasure that anyone who is willing to look for will find. Do you want peace? Do you want forgiveness? Do you want fulfillment? Do you want happiness? Do you want love? Do you want joy? Look for them, Jesus says, in God. Make his treasure the desire of your heart, and seek him with your whole heart—and you will find him. This is one of God’s outlandish promises. Or at least it seems so at times. But that is grace. And there are millions, billions of people who acted on those promises and found them true. But you might be a follower of Jesus or you might point to someone you know who claims to be a follower and say that that’s not true in my life or his/her life. My response is that if it isn’t true it is because you or they have not acted on the spiritual resources that God gives to grow in that relationship. A few years back During Superbowl XXXVII, the world-wide courier service FedEx ran a commercial that spoofed the movie Castaway, in which Tom Hanks played a FedEx worker whose company plane went down, stranding him on a desert island for years. While he is on that island he survives. And he has a package that he holds on and keeps him focused towards the future. He vows that when he gets off the island he will deliver that package. In the commercial, looking like the bedraggled Hanks in the movie, the FedEx employee in the commercial goes up to the door of a suburban home, package in hand. When the lady comes to the door, he explains that he survived five years on a deserted island, and during that whole time he kept this package in order to deliver it to her. She gives a simple, "Thank you." But he is curious about what is in the package that he has been protecting for years. He says, "If I may ask, what was in that package after all?" She opens it and shows him the contents, saying, "Oh, nothing really --just a satellite telephone, a global positioning device, a compass, a water purifier, and some seeds." Just the sort of things he could have used on the island. Like the contents in that package, the resources for growth and strength and maturing in our relationship with God and experiencing the love and presence and guiding of God are available for every Christian who will take advantage of them. But we so often don’t. WHATAREYOULOOKINGFOR 6
What about you? When we read the parables, we see that the reactions of the man who found the treasure in the field and the pearl merchant were identical. They each sold everything they had in order to buy what they recognized to be valuable. The spiritual parallel should be clear: a relationship with God is more valuable than anything you own or will ever own. We sang earlier that a relationship with God is “more precious than silver; more costly than gold; more beautiful than diamonds.” That nothing we desire compares to God. We sang it, but do we believe it? If we believe the gospel, if we take Jesus seriously, when you consider all that we can hope to accomplish in life on our own, and all that we can hope to accumulate on our own, it doesn't add up to much when compared to all that God offers. It's been said that God offers us the chance to trade that which we cannot keep for that which we cannot lose. God wants you to recognize that a relationship with him is worth more than anything you own, or anything you could ever aspire to. You may have dreams for yourself, but God’s dreams for you are far beyond anything you could imagine. If you're willing to give all of yourself to him, he will give you, in return, a treasure beyond your greatest dreams: Peace that passes understanding; Unconditional forgiveness and acceptance; Joy unspeakable; Life abundant. This is the treasure that God has in store for you—and it is worth far more than anything you could ever hope to attain on your own. A relationship with God is more valuable than anything else in the world. He's offering to you something more valuable than everything else the world has to offer. It's available to everyone—young or old, rich or poor, male or female, regardless of race or geography. There's only one way to find it. You have to look. God won't drag you into the kingdom kicking and screaming with resistance, and neither can your parents or your friends or your spouse. YOU have to want it. You have to look for it. And when you look for this hidden treasure, when you look for this pearl of great price, he has promised that you will find it—and your life will never be the same. Do you know what this is? This seeking-finding-committing? It's a calculated risk. You give up your life which, metaphorically speaking, is worth a small sum--and exchange it for the treasure of God’s riches, which are worth an enormous amount. It's a risk because you're stepping out in faith, giving up all that is dear to you and surrendering your life to him. But it is a calculated risk--a risk worth taking--because you are surrendering yourself to the God of creation--the one who loves you more than anyone else could possibly love you, the one who can offer you infinitely more than anyone else could possibly offer, the one who can be trusted more than anyone else could possibly be trusted. This is the challenge that comes to every single person on this planet. It is the challenge that comes to you and to me and God is waiting for a response. We can ignore it and follow the crowd pursuing the treasures that the world offers or take God at his word and surrender to his love. What about you? It’s your life. It’s your future. WHATAREYOULOOKINGFOR 7
Centuries ago, God said through the prophet Amos -- "Seek me and live" (Amos 5:4). My friend, if you haven't already, take that calculated risk today, and find the treasure, the life God has in store for you.
Reflection Questions 1. As you read todayâ€™s scripture passages what jumps out at you? What questions, reactions, thoughts do you have? 2. Do you agree that what we often expect to find influences what we actually find or our reactions? 3. How would you answer the questions: What are you looking for? What is the treasure that you are seeking? 4. What struggles do you have in living under/out the Kingdom of God, the reign/ will of God? 5. Do you feel that you are taking advantage of all the resources God gives to nourish and strengthen your relationship with God? If not, what is it that is keeping you from doing so? 6. Do you agree that a relationship with God is more valuable than anything you own or will ever own? Do you believe that a relationship with God is the most important thing in life? Does your life reflect that? 7. What questions, thoughts, reactions do you have to todayâ€™s sermon?