Sunday, July 24, 2011

Discover What You Treasure

First Presbyterian – Lafayette, Louisiana
July 24, 2011 – Ordinary 17 A
Psalm 139
Romans 8:24-28
Matthew 13:44-52

What is it that you treasure? What is it that you cherish? The first things that come to mind for many of us are immaterial things: friendship, love, family. A friend recently posted this statement on facebook, “What if you woke up tomorrow with only what you thanked God for today?”

Fortunately for us God is not that transactional, but it does make you think about the value we place on things. Most of us end up with homes filled with things we rarely use or need. Having just moved I can tell you that I suffer from this issue as much or more than anyone.

As a culture we place more value on what we have to own than on what we have to share. I don’t mean to say that we are not generous or that we do not share. I simply mean to say that I don’t believe generosity to be a primary motivator for our actions.

Now, I want to be very clear that my intention is not to scold anyone. My intention is to identify what I believe to be a place of tension between my experience of being human and my understanding of the gospel.

By my experience of being human I mean the patterns I have seen in my life and others that include a desperate search for the presence of God and equally desperate attempts to be independent from the claim God places on all our lives. I see these behaviors all through scripture, and I hear it broadcasted as loud as thunder through statements made in our culture about the things we treasure.

Few people understand this better than those who promote the magical world of Walt Disney. Right now they have a contest running called, Discover What You Treasure. You see? You don’t even know what you treasure, because we are going to tell you. You treasure a theme park and a cell phone, but not just any cell phone. This one helps you find things that you need in the park, including your very own buried treasure!

Summer is a good time to think of buried treasure. The lure of buried treasure has been around as long as there have been valuables to conceal. Every culture has its legends of cities made of gold from King Solomon’s Mines to El Dorado. The lure of something unattainable that can give wealth and power is the fundamental draw of every Pirate story from Treasure Island to the Pirates of the Carabean. And if you go to the website for the most recent film you will find Captain Jack Sparrow standing cruciform with guns blazing.

That is the pinnacle of placing value on things. In the end it is a denial of the presence of God, and a desire to bury the treasure that we have received. I don’t mean to say that movies and entertainment – or even the corporation of the mouse – are inherently evil. I mean to say that they can become at times a very natural expression of our discomfort. I mean to say that it is within our nature to seek that which makes us feel good about life rather than seeking ways to express the goodness of life that is already abundant and in our midst.

The Psalmist seeks to comfort us in our experience of loneliness and alienation from the abundance of God’s love by reminding us that we can not escape the presence of God. God knows every fiber of our being. God even allows for our own wickedness – searching us and knowing us while pulling us and guiding us toward that which is good.

Paul reminds us that we are saved by and through an unseen hope. God’s Spirit even intercedes for us based on God’s desires for us. It is hard to separate and understand my desires apart from God’s. One of the things that I have been struggling with as of late is the ability to see where we are going as a congregation. I want to know what program will effectively develop new membership. I want to know how to communicate our financial needs and encourage faithful giving. I want to support the development of legacy giving through our Endowment Committee. But more than all these things, I want to know that we are effectively proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and offering hope in a world that looks to pirates and buried treasures to fulfill the deepest longings of their souls.

And what is that Gospel? How does Jesus respond to our need for love and fulfillment? Well, if we assume ourselves to be his disciples, he draws us into the house and tells us secrets - secrets that read like the code language in a map to some forgotten island. The kingdom of heaven is like a buried treasure – after finding it you must buy the field. It is like a perfect pearl that you must sell everything to have. It is like a net of fish, but beware because there be the dragons!

Jesus has been speaking in parables to the crowds and explaining them to the disciples, until now. This time Jesus does not explain. This time he simply says, “Do you understand?” And when they say, “Yes.” he affirms them and reminds them that they are not only the keepers of ancient treasures but they are the ones who will reveal treasure to others – treasures both old and new.

And so it is with us. We have been given a map to a place and a description of a treasure that is within our reach. For in hearing the words of Jesus we can truly understand what we treasure, and that is nothing less than the presence of God in our midst.

United Methodist Pastor Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote a meditation about these parables and the truth they contain. He describes the treasure we have been given in this way:

The idea of a heaven far away and later
was invented by travel agents with tickets to sell.
Let them make their expeditions to Other Places.
Perhaps from there this land will seem exotic
and they’ll find their way home with new wonder.

But Jesus has no far-off land in mind.
Do you see?— the realm of heaven is not removed
but always inside something, hidden
close at hand, underground, under water, under
your nose. Nearer than your thinking.

Heaven is not up, my friends, but in.
It is the Seed of the World,
the Soul at the heart of all things,
the source from which all things emanate.
The realm of heaven is the heart of a cry,
the energizing dream,
the love in a love song.

The Holy One is the Center of All Things,
and we radiate from her like light,
like laughter, like the smell of a rose.

This mustard seed vibrating with delight
becomes the million million things you see
and when you reach to the center,
the love at the heart of each moment,
the soul of the person before you,
you are there.

You who are wandering
on the fringes of the royal estate,
who stand out in the outer darkness
and see the feast within, look:
the door is open.

The central message of Christianity is not about the limitation of space at the table. The central message of Christianity is about the abundance of God’s grace poured out for me and for you. 

That is the treasure we have found in this space and in this time that we share. That is the treasure available in every chance interaction. There is no question about God’s self revelation or God’s love for you and for me. There is only the question of how we will respond – how we will show others what we treasure. May God bless, receive, and be glorified by even our most humble efforts. Amen


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