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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Kingdom of God is Like a Treasure Hunt (Matthew 13:44-46)


44 “The 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 it.

 

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  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has been replaced by the right to accumulate stuff.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 . . .

priceless jewels.  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 ever again.

 

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 here.”

 

“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 emptiness.

 

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.

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