Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 12)

Text: Matthew 13:44, 45
“The Kingdom of heaven is like this.  A man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field.  He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field.  Also, the Kingdom of Heaven is like this.  A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.”

Priceless treasure

Once there was a successful factory that made drills and drill bits. One day the owner told his management team that he was handing over the business to his son.  At the next board meeting the son asked the members of his board, “What are your goals for the company for the next five to ten years?”

One board member replied, “Well sir, we're looking at new sizes and shapes for different drills and (he paused for dramatic affect and excitedly continued) we are starting an advertising campaign to sell our new colour coded drill bits.  No more looking around in a tool box for a 5mm drill bit because all 5mm drill bits will be red”.

The son and new boss then dropped his bombshell. “I have news for you – there is no market for drills.”  You could feel the tension in the air.  He continued, “From now on we will not think drills.  We will not sell drills.  We'll sell holes!  People want to make a hole just the right size in just the right place!”

So they set about finding new ways to create holes in different materials using lasers, compressed air and water etc.  The change in goals kept this company in business while its competitors lost business.

In 1987 Howard Schultz walked down a street in Chicago and stated that in 5 years everyone in this street will have a Starbucks cup in their hand.  At that time hardly anyone had ever heard of Starbucks.  Schultz had a clear goal and that goal made Starbucks worldwide today.   

I recall a speaker talking about goals opening his presentation by stating something to this effect, “Life is short.  In a blink of an eye I will 80 years old and I will look back on my life either happy that I have achieved all the things that I wanted to achieve or look back and regret that now I am too old to do the things that I wanted to do but never got around to doing.  He went on to say how important it is to have goals.

What are your goals?  What is it that you want to achieve?

What excitement there is when the sacrifice and effort put into a something are all worth it and a goal is achieved. 

Jesus picks up this whole question in two brief parables in our Gospel this morning.  He simply says: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.  A man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field.  He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field.  Also, the Kingdom of Heaven is like this.  A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.”

Here are two men.  Their goals became quite clear. 

One man is working a field; he’s been hired to plough the ground.  Every day he goes up and down the paddock making sure the furrows are straight, stopping every now and then to wipe the sweat from his forehead. His plough strikes something and bending down to get a closer look he suddenly realises what it is – buried treasure. 

Apparently it was quite common to find buried treasure in those days.  Because there were no banks people would bury their most cherished belongings in pots in the ground. Sometimes the owners would die or be killed by invading armies and the location of such a treasure would never be found. 

When this ploughman found this treasure “he hid it again, and then sold all he had and bought that field”. 

By the way, he isn't doing anything underhanded here. The Jews had a “finders keepers” law.  What Jesus is emphasising here is this man had found something amazing and was prepared to give up everything in order to make it his own possession. 
The goal of this ploughman is quite clear.  He becomes single minded. 
He wants nothing else than to own this treasure and nothing will distract him from achieving his goal. 

Note that how suddenly the goals of the ploughman changed.  Once his goal was to plough a field with straight furrows; now his goal is to get this treasure.  To get this treasure he must first buy the field.  Everything he owns is sacrificed so that he can acquire this priceless treasure. 

Jesus goes on to tell a story about a man from a very different socioeconomic group to the ploughman.  He was not a labourer.  This was a wealthy merchant who dealt in pearls. 

In Jesus’ day pearls were more precious than gold or any other gemstones.  The Roman Pliny, a contemporary of Jesus, tells us that Cleopatra had 2 pearls worth $4 million.  Before Arab sheiks made their fortunes in oil, they made them in pearls from the Persian Gulf.  In his business of buying selling expensive pearls the merchant found one pearl of exceptional beauty.  He was so delighted in this pearl that he sold everything he had and bought it. 

In this case the merchant would have been a man of substantial wealth, and yet it meant nothing for him to sell it all in order to buy that beautiful pearl.  Jesus makes the point clearly – these men were single minded.  They had only one thing in mind, to sell everything to get these valuable items.

Now, Jesus isn't giving us a lesson on treasure hunting or how to find priceless pearls, but he is talking about the kingdom of heaven.  He is talking about the change that came into the lives of the ploughman and the merchant after finding something that was priceless.

Jesus is speaking today to people who are like the ploughman. You have been ploughing for months, maybe years, laying down straight row after straight row in the same field.  Going to work, doing your best, coming home, trying to be a good parent, going to church and on it goes.  All you see before you and behind are the furrows, all the same, moulded by your ploughmanship.  You find some sense of satisfaction in that; some sense of meaning and purpose. But you wonder, “Is there more?”  

The message of the parable says “Yes! There is more!”  There is treasure, priceless, invaluable treasure.  It’s a treasure that is waiting to be found.  It is a gift from God.  It is the priceless treasure of Jesus our Saviour. The treasure is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through no merit, work, or worthiness on his part whatsoever, without his doing anything, the ploughman is suddenly a millionaire several times over. Through no merit, work, or worthiness on our part whatsoever, Jesus died in our place and the forgiveness and eternal life he gives is the most valuable treasure that we could ever wish for. This is a gift of grace.

These parables of Jesus also tell us that with the gift of the gospel there is also sacrifice.  The common theme that runs through both these parables is the response of both these men. 
Their goals in life changed. 
They sacrificed everything they had. 
They committed everything they had and
let nothing stand in the way of getting the treasure or the fine pearl. 
You might sum it up like this – no sacrifice – no treasure or priceless pearl. 

Jesus spoke about sacrifice and commitment on quite a number of occasions.  He pointed out the necessity to surrender everything that stands between God and us. 

Take these words of Jesus for instance: “Anyone who loves his father or mother ... his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37,38).  These are powerful words about commitment. Remember the cross demanded total commitment from Jesus himself and he is here urging total commitment from his followers to take up their cross” “and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”.

Or think of Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler who came wondering what he had to do to have eternal life. Jesus answer was, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).  Jesus was telling this rich young man that nothing was to come between him and God.  There was something more important than anything or anyone else in his life – his relationship with his heavenly Father and his place in the Kingdom of God.

God has given us a wonderful world and given us so many wonderful things in our lives to enjoy and appreciate. It's true that too often we get things out of perspective.  We look at the things that God has given us as the great treasures of this life.  And when I say things I include everything you could imagine, our homes, our families, our sports team, our education, our leisure, our work, our hobbies, you name it.  And if I said to you, “Hey, your sport's activities, or your work, or whatever, are interfering with your relationship with Christ” you might get offended and tell me to mind my own business.  But I am speaking today not my words but the words of Jesus himself.

Think of the four fishermen – Peter, Andrew, James, John.  They left everything they had – boats, nets, the family business – to follow Jesus. 
Think of Matthew, the tax collector, who heard the call of Jesus, closed his tax books and followed Jesus.

They leave the old life behind and follow Jesus in complete obedience and faith.  Nothing stands in their way to following as disciples.

In the parables there is an element of sacrifice or giving up something less important in order to gain the more important.  We are challenged also to look at ourselves and discover what it is that is preventing us
from putting following Jesus first priority in our lives,
from using our time and talents to help others,
from being his witnesses out there in the world,
from being here at worship and
from doing his will every day in every interaction with other people.
As God’s chosen people we are challenged to sell out on everything that detracts from our loyalty and service to Christ.

I know how poorly I have pursued the goals of God’s kingdom in my life.  That brings me to an even greater realisation just what a priceless treasure I have in Jesus Christ.  The amazing grace of the Gospel offers to each of us again and again reconciliation and newness because of Christ’s death and resurrection.  This is the treasure that God has given that no money can buy. We heard Paul rejoicing in the love of God in Romans 8 when he said, “There is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord”.  If we have nothing else in this life and only this, then we are richest people in the world. 

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
27th July 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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