A.J. Thomas is the Founder of Joyful Giving Group, whose mission is to cultivate a culture of generosity.
A.J. is a practiced believer in the power of generosity to transform individual lives, congregations, and entire communities.
A.J. is an ordained United Methodist pastor with over a decade of leadership experience in the local church. He is appointed to Joyful Giving Group as an extension ministry of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The Kingdom of God is Like a Treasure Hunt (Matthew 13:44-46)
kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which
someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and
bought that field.
45 “Again, the
kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. 46 When
he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought
What do you value the most?What is
most important to you – maybe a possession, a relationship, an idea that you
prioritize over everything else?What do
you value the most?
Several years ago, my car was broken into overnight, and when I came out
and discovered it the next morning, my first thought was, “My golf clubs!” and
I popped the trunk and breathed a sigh of relief to see that they were still
there, and then it took me several minutes to discover that my GPS and pocket
change in the tray were what had been taken through the smashed window.That incident helped me realize what, of the
contents of the car on that night, anyway, I valued the most.
We all love our stuff, don’t we?Our
possessions, our things, our stuff?Over
the last 30 years, the size of the average American home has increased by about
700 square feet.At the same time, the
number of people living in the average American household has continued to
decrease – we need bigger houses for fewer people – why? Because we love our stuff, and we have more
stuff than we used to, and we need more places to keep all our stuff.
And actually, even our bigger houses are too small, and so we rent storage
units to keep the rest of our stuff.If
I had known then what I know now, I would have invested early on in the
self-storage business! We pay every month for that unit to keep our stuff, and
occasionally, we drive over to the storage unit so we can visit our stuff.
That’s just the American way, isn’t it?Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the
right to accumulate stuff.We think
having lots of stuff will make us happy, at least, if it’s the right stuff, but
it doesn’t give us the joy we think it will, and rather than granting us
freedom, it takes some of our freedom away, with the time and energy required
for us to obtain, store, and care for all our stuff.
One of the shows Ashley and I enjoy watching is Tiny House Hunters¸ capitalizing on the “tiny house” craze as
people look into moving into homes that are often just a few hundred square
feet.As people downsize and simplify
their lifestyle, they have to get rid of a lot of their stuff.They are forced to make some hard decisions
about what stuff they will keep, what stuff they value the most.It’s a task that seems daunting and
impossible, at first, but when it’s complete, there is a joy and freedom that
comes from living the simple life, and not having to look after all that stuff.
Jesus said, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”
(Luke 12:15).Rather, the abundant life
Jesus desires for us and points us toward is a matter of knowing what has true
and everlasting value, and treasuring that more highly than the rest.
The kingdom of God is like a treasure hunt.We have read just a few, simple verses today – yet they tell us of what
matters most, and the lengths to which the faithful will go in order to grasp
it.I know you heard it a moment ago,
but I invite you to hear the story again:
The kingdom of God is like
this: there was a hired man who worked in this field and it wasn’t a very
good field either, with lots of rocks in it. Not a field worth
owning. The farmer was plowing along one day, with his wooden plow and
its iron tips, behind his own scrawny mule wearing a worn out harness.
And he kept on hitting rocks in this crummy piece of land. Clunk.
And the farmer would stop and dig out the rock. He would plow a little
more and another clunk. Another rock. And he would dig it out.
He dug out so many rocks,
that a rock wall surrounded this field, as is often true of ancient
fields. Plow, clunk, dig. Plow, clunk, dig.Plow, clunk, dig. Plow, thunk. Thunk?
That was a different sound? A thunk and not a clunk. He stooped
down, dug and there was, not a rock, but a treasure chest. He opened up
the box and it was filled with . . .
Incredible. His heart skipped a beat.
He looked around, but there
was no one nearby.He quickly covered up
his new found treasure and kept on plowing as if nothing happened. At the
end of the day, he went and sold the shirt off his back, sold his old mule,
sold the old harness, sold the iron tipped plow. In fact, he sold everything he
owned, and went back to the owner of the field, and as non-chalantly as
possible asks, "Ummm, how much would you like for that rocky, worthless, barren field
out there? Call me crazy, but I'd like to buy it."
Jesus says the kingdom of God belongs to people like that.
Jesus told another
riddle. The kingdom of God? It’s like merchant, a very wealthy
merchant, who owned fleets of ships that traveled all the seas of the
world. His ships went to the farthest ends of the earth in search of the
finest jewels the world had ever seen. His treasure chests were filled
with the finest emeralds, rubies, jasper. And one day, in his travels, he saw a
pearl like he had never seen before, a pearl of great price. Quietly, he
went and sold all his ships, his entire fleet of ships, all his jewels, all his
emeralds, rubies and jasper. He happily sold it all and bought this
one finest pearl the world had ever seen.
Interestingly, the emphasis is not on the finding of the treasure or the
pearl, but on what the person does when they find it: “he went and sold all he
had and bought it”. Taking hold of the treasure that God wants to give us
involves our whole person. We cannot search for the meaning of our life with a
bit of ourselves; it’s all or nothing. Now that sounds rather frightening for
us human beings: is it possible to risk everything, to “sell all we have”?
The merchant who finds the pearl of great value must certainly already have
possessed a collection of pearls.But
the pearls the merchant has also create a difficulty for him. He had invested a
lot of time and energy to collect them. Now he has to let them all go in order
to take hold of something more important, and this is hard. We, too, need to
discern between what is good and what is better. We have many things in our
life which in themselves are good.But
even good things can become distractions!We can spend our time doing good deeds, accumulating good experiences
and possessions, while the center of our life remains curiously empty.
How many of us have
devoted our lives to the pursuit of things and the accumulation of stuff?We have built a business, made a name for
ourselves, developed a reputation.We’ve
worked hard, been promoted, we have rank and title and privilege, we have
everything we’ve ever wanted, and yet, it’s not enough.Even through all the pursuit and accumulation
of that stuff, an emptiness remains inside of us, a longing we cannot fill.Perhaps the key lies in the joy which the man who finds
the hidden treasure discovers. When we discover a joy that comes from God, a
joy which is authentic, then our attachment to other things will be loosened,
our priorities changed.
The treasure of God’s
kingdom – now that’s the real deal!The discovery of God’s
kingdom fills us with a joy that changes us from the inside out.Those who come face-to-face with the love and
grace of God are changed!When we
genuinely encounter the treasure of God’s love and grace, and we will never be
the same old people, doing the same old work, pursuing the same old agendas
Fred Craddock tells the story of visiting in the home of one of his former
students.After dinner, the parents went
to put the children to bed, leaving Fred alone in the living room with the
family dog – a beautiful Greyhound who had spent a successful racing career on
the dog tracks of Florida before being adopted by this young family.
Right there in the living room, the dog eventually turned to Craddock and
asked, “Is this your first time to Connecticut?”
“No, no.I used to go to school up
“Well, you probably heard, I came up here from Miami,” the dog continued.
“Yes, I heard,” said Fred.“You
retired from racing?”
“Retired?Is that what they told
you?No, no.I spent ten years as a professional, racing
Greyhound.Seven days a week, I chased
that rabbit around the track.Well, one
day, I got real close and got a good look at that rabbit, and you know
what?It was a fake rabbit!All those years, and I’d been chasing a fake
rabbit!I didn’t retire, I quit!”
How many of us have spent our lives chasing a fake rabbit?Accumulating possessions, listing off
accomplishments, earning rank and title and privilege?Looking for happiness in the next job, the
bigger house, the fancy car, the next election, the new gadget, only to find
that we’ve dedicated our lives to chasing something that just doesn’t fill our
And yet we cling to these things, we prize these things, when the treasure
of God’s kingdom is just waiting to be discovered.We hold onto these things like they are the
treasure itself, when in reality, they are the rocks that need to be cleared
away in order for us to find the treasure.
The treasure is relatively small in size by comparison.A tiny box, in a vast field of hundreds of
acres.A priceless pearl is a small
thing in a world full of fakes and baubles, yet it has greater value than anything
we already possess.And a great
treasure, unexpectedly found in a seemingly worthless field full of rocks, will
require giving up everything we have.
It’s easy to give up what you have when you don’t have much.Easier to join Jesus on that adventure when
you don’t have much to lose.How much
harder that becomes when we have accumulated some things we’ve grown fond of.
There was a time in my life, maybe yours, as well, when I was up for an
adventure at a moment’s notice.But
then, I graduated.I got a job.A mortgage.Student loans. Health insurance.A retirement plan.I have
responsibilities, obligations, rank, privileges.I have a lot of stuff, now, Jesus, and I like
a lot of my stuff!I’d like to join you,
Jesus, but what should I do with all my stuff?
In these parables about treasure, Jesus says, “How about you stop chasing
that fake rabbit, and pursue God’s kingdom, instead? How about you let go of all your stuff, even
your good stuff, and reach for something greater?
Did you hear about the man who reached all his life’s goals by the time he
retired at 65? He spent the rest of his
life lamenting that he’d set his sights too low.Life is short.The only thing worse than not meeting your
goals is setting them too low, and reaching them.
God help us when we sell out too quickly, settle for too little, dream too
small.God help us when we give our
whole lives to make nothing more than money, and thereby miss the treasure.
Two men discovered treasure.One had
nothing.The other had everything.They both gave all they had in order to
obtain the treasure.The kingdom of God
is not so much in the prize, itself, but in what we are willing to do in order
to obtain it.
We discover the kingdom of God when we give everything – all we have, all
we are – to the One who gave us everything, and we find in him a treasure that
is precious beyond all measure.