Matthew 13:44-46 7.26.20
A parable is a short story. They are almost always about every-day things…farming, baking, fishing, planning a party. Because they are so short, they are easy to remember. Some are just a sentence. Jesus uses them a lot—he works stories into his teaching in order to create for his listeners in any time and place a receptivity to God and God’s reign in our lives and in our world. As we make our way through this pandemic of a deadly virus and come face to face with the longterm, simmering pandemic of racism in this country, my hope is that we can find some teachings in the parables that offer us encouragement and hope for the living of these days. Our day to day activities have been changed. Our ways of connecting with one another have been altered. Yet we find in the scriptures stories which call to us wherever we are and whatever our current condition might be.
Today’s two short parables are part of this parable packed chapter of Matthew’s gospel, sandwiched in, little glimpses of what Jesus means by the reign of the heavens, or the reign of God. Matthew wrote to a mainly Jewish audience, and it was not considered respectful to mention God’s name aloud. So he refers not to the kingdom of God (which is used in Luke’s gospel), but the kingdom of heaven, or the reign of heaven, knowing that all his listeners would understand the meaning of the term—the realm where God is in charge, whether in this world or in the next. The reign of the heavens is the same as the kingdom of God. Jesus lived in a time when people were fed up with their government, with generations having lived under the heavy hand of Roman rule. Any hope of a different ruler, a different realm, would be exciting, enticing and encouraging indeed. His words echo through the centuries into our ears today.
In the parables, Jesus offers a series of different ways to look at this kingdom, God’s kingdom, or as some folks insist, we really should call it God’s kin-dom, recognizing the realm of God as the place where all are connected as family (kin) instead of where we are viewed as subjects of a monarch, which has many negative remembrances throughout history. God’s kin-dom is not geographical or time bound. It is an image used to describe all those who belong to God. We like to describe the church at its best as a glimpse of God’s kin-dom on this earth, when we are operating as a community which supports and cares for one another, where we reach out to those who are facing difficult times, where we stand up for justice and work for peace in the world. I do not mean the church as a building with four walls and a roof. I mean the church that exists as the connected body of Christ, wherever we might be located. Living through a public health crisis as we are, we are reminded that we are the church even when we can not gather together.
These two parables have a similar point. Jesus creates a word picture to describe the amazing and surprising and over the top value of God’s kin-dom. We have a broad spectrum of society included in these two word pictures. One features a person who is clearly not a landowner—some say he might have been a tenant farmer, working the land for someone else. Others say perhaps he was a kind of a scoundrel or even a thief, a trespasser digging around on someone else’s property. It seems more plausible to think of him as a tenant farmer, just doing his daily grind and he happened to find an unexpected treasure. Either way, this treasure finder is not on the higher end of the economic spectrum. When he comes across the treasure, he gathers all of his resources together to purchase the field, leaving him with nothing but a field with a treasure. He believes the treasure is that valuable. What about feeding and housing his family? The focus here is on the value of the treasure—it was worth everything to him.
The other features a merchant, known to be economically well off in general. Unlike the man who just happened upon a treasure in the field, this man is looking, seeking, searching for a valuable pearl. He knows what makes a pearl high in value. He knows what this one is worth, and when he finds it, he liquidates his assets and pours the value of all of his inventory into this one pearl. He believes the pearl is that valuable. What about his retirement plans? Or caring for his elderly mother? All he will have is a magnificent pearl, and that is worth everything to him.
Both of these parables describe people who do something very unusual and, you might say, unwise. They remind me of the people who take their life’s savings and turn it into gambling chips– risking everything at the blackjack table in hopes they will hit the jackpot. We tend to shake our heads and lament the rashness of that kind of behavior. Too risky, we say. That’s not the kind of behavior I want to model. Maybe that is not the kind of kin-dom I want to be a part of after all. I prefer to pick and choose what fits my schedule, my preferences, my habits, my lifestyle.
Could it be that Jesus is letting us know that being a part of the kin-dom of God, making a commitment to following him, does carry risks? It is of such high value that other things must be set aside to focus on being a part of the kin-dom of God? When we simply add our relationship with God near the bottom of our daily schedule with the other things that we will pay attention to if time allows, we have the value turned upside down. For indeed there are costs to following Christ. It is not just a free ticket to heaven. Following Christ demands commitment, energy, patience, and love. It demands using the gifts you have been given to enhance and enrich the lives of others, it calls you to be an active part of a community of faith, working for justice and equity for all brothers and sisters. Following Christ calls for a willingness to seek forgiveness when we fall short of God’s expectations for us. Following Christ demands courage and sacrifice, sharing, giving, listening, respecting, and valuing others. Those are the costs of being a part of the kin-dom of God.
How much value do you give to being a part of the kin-dom of God? Instead of looking at the treasure finder and the merchant as foolish, perhaps we can admire them for their enthusiastic commitment. They are definitely “all in” when it comes to the object they value. Jesus’ point is that the kin-dom of God is worth taking risks, worth sacrificing, worth setting aside other distractions. In a few minutes we will sing a hymn that describes Jesus as our “all in all”—a treasure, a relationship of great value. What are you willing to set aside so that you can fully commit yourselves to being “all in”? From elementary school aged kids to senior citizens, we are getting tired of not being able to see one another in person. We miss our friends and our family. We miss our church family. Sometimes the zoom platform or the internet connection or the phone line gives us trouble and we can’t hear or see what we are expecting. Sometimes we just get zoomed out, tired of too much screen time, longing for some real face to face experiences. You are not alone. We are sharing the frustration, the mourning, the heightened anxiety all across the world. I find such comfort in the words from the apostle Paul which we read today. Talk about a treasure of great value! Think about the value of the knowledge that we can never be separated from the love of God in Christ. Not even by a pandemic. Not even by illness. Not even due to hatred from others. Not even due to suffering and isolation. Not even due to loneliness and grief. Not even by death. Christ’s love is there. The kin-dom of God still exists, despite evidence that seems to be mounting to the contrary. It exists and you are a part of it, my brothers and sisters! Being a part of God’s kin-dom here on earth means doing what you can to reach out to your brothers and sisters. Have you pulled out your church directory lately? Looked over the photos and smiled to yourself? Picked up the phone and called one of the saints you have been missing just to say hello?
Today you will have the opportunity at the end of our worship to be placed into breakout groups with other members of your connect group. If you are worshiping with us today and are not already a member of one of our six connect groups, you will find yourself assigned to one of our groups so that you too can have a conversation for about 15 minutes with a small group of faces! At our open zoom fellowship time after worship it is very hard to have much of a conversation with 25 people! This way you will have a chance to relate with a smaller group and catch up with one another. Please remain online after the benediction so that you can be placed in a group. If you are on the phone, you will get instructions verbally. If you are looking at a screen, you will be asked to join your breakout group– please select join!
This is one way to exhibit the kin-dom of God, to stay connected with one another. My prayer for all of you is that you will continue seeking for ways to be “all in” when it comes to your connection to the kin-dom of God. Let your relationship with God grow and deepen during these very different days. Let Jesus be your all in all. The kin-dom of God is of great value and worth the risk and sacrifice. Thanks be to God. Amen.