Treasure; Reading: Matthew 13:44-46
Strictly has started again. The X Factor has been running for months already. The Ryder cup is being contested this weekend, the football is in full swing. Antiques Roadshow is still going, and the Great British Bake Off is continuing. What all these things have in common, as with many other things that we enjoy and that we do ourselves, is that they are all searching for treasure. Searching for the treasure of winning, searching for the treasure of success.
Because those people that we watch on the telly are prepared to risk a lot. Those playing sport have to spend a lot of their time training, practising and playing, are prepared to risk their every move, their every mistake being headline news. People on reality TV programmes are prepared to do something similar, to be national headlines for a day or two, in return for the possibility of winning, or the possibility of being famous, or the possibility of reviving their flagging TV careers, or whatever it is that motivates them.
And along the way we’re invited to look in on them, to follow along with them, to get involved in their search for treasure. And we enjoy the challenge, the twists and turns on the way, the achievement. But, as well as watching other people searching for their treasure, there’s lots of ways that we search for treasure. Through our work, through our families, through our social life or groups that we’re involved in. What is it that we would sell everything for? What is it that we really honestly value above everything else?
And those can be good and important things. It’s good to care about our families and friends, it’s important to work conscientiously, if we didn’t give time to voluntary groups then many people’s lives would be poorer for it. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that we always get it right. Is whatever we treasure above all else something that we’re going to look back on pleased about. Is whatever we really value really worth the weight of expectation that we put on it?
Bonnie Ware is a nurse who spent years working in palliative care, helping people in the last weeks of their life. And people would talk to her about their lives, about their achievements and their regrets. And Bonnie noticed that similar themes kept on cropping up. People regretted not taking the chance to fulfil their dreams when they had the chance. People regretted working so hard, not expressing their feelings, not staying in touch with their friends. And people regretted not being happier because of their fear of change. In other words, people regretted not doing what the people we heard in Jesus’ stories doing. As they looked back over their life, people regretted not, metaphorically, selling all that they had to gain the pearl of great price, the treasure that would have made the difference.
The problem of course is that it’s often difficult to work out what is that treasure. That’s one of the fascinations of Antiques Roadshow, isn’t it? People discovering that something that they’ve known for years, or found dusty and forgotten is actually something precious and important. We don’t always know treasure when we see it. We often don’t see it at all. It often remains hidden in the field, lies unrecognised amongst the other pearls. I’m sure that those people who spoke to Bonnie shortly before their deaths would have had a different perspective earlier on. There would have been good reasons why they worked so hard, why they didn’t stay in touch with their friends, why they swapped happiness for things as they were.
Because, of course, we don’t always get it right. Have you ever thought ‘I wish I hadn’t said that’? Have you ever wanted to be able to rewind your actions and do it again in a different way? Have you ever said ‘I really wish I’d thought of that sooner’? I know I have. We all fall short of our own standards, let alone the standards of God. We look back and regret things we’ve done and things we haven’t done. Falling short of what we are supposed to be and do is called sin. It is when we are less then we could be or should be. That’s why in all our services we have a time when we lift our regrets, lift our sins to God, confident that, actually, there is someone who can do something positive about them. And confident that God will help us if we ask him to do something about them.
Because those regrets point beyond themselves towards the fact that there is a treasure worth finding. We can regret that we are not where we would like to be. We can regret that we are in relationships where we are misunderstood or taken for granted. We can regret we are in work when it is dis-spiriting or unsatisfying. We can regret that we are unemployed, feeling that we are without hope or worth. We can regret the friends we have or the ones we’ve lost, or regret what we seem to spend a lot of our time doing. We often need help to spot the treasure hidden in the field, to find the pearl of great worth.
The treasure that Jesus spoke of, the valuable pearl that the merchant spotted was, he said, what the kingdom of God was like. The kingdom of God; something very valuable, but difficult to spot. And, frankly, that goes for those of us who have been following Jesus for a long time, as well as for those of us who are sitting here wondering if it’s worth starting that journey.
So, one thing that might make it a bit easier to spot: what is the kingdom of God? Later in the service we’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us to use. And because it’s an old prayer there’s quite a few different versions that different people know. You might know it best in an older version, but we pray it in a modern version as a reminder that we can speak to God in the same way that we speak to our friends and family. And in the prayer that Jesus taught us, we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven”. Which, actually is what we’re going to be thinking about in our service next week! So, do please come along!
I don’t want to steal too much of next week’s sermon, but basically God’s kingdom is about God’s rule, God’s healing of the wrongs and damage, God’s restoration of all that is good. And the promise of God is that this is happening now, and is happening on earth, through God’s Holy Spirit. And we’re invited to get involved in the adventure of working with God for that to happen. And that is the treasure, the valuable pearl, that we can find, and can continue to find. Because, the exciting thing about following Jesus, about finding the treasure that really matters is that it’s something we can carry on with. And get help with, through God’s Holy Spirit helping us. It’s the adventure of discovering that there is more to life than we imagined, that the family that we are part of us bigger than we imagined, that the prize we are aiming for, the goal that we are seeking, can be bigger and more important that we could have dreamed of.
The poet and vicar R S Thomas wrote a poem about this, called The Bright Field. He wrote:
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. We are not defined by what we have been, or what we would like to be. Our best days aren’t behind us, but our goals don’t have to be completed for us to be fulfilled either. We are not trapped by either our past or our future. We are not defined by what we have done, or what we haven’t done. We might have missed what was of real value, by walking past it, ignoring it, being distracted by other things. Well, it can happen to any of us. But, the God of second chances is waiting for to find that treasure, buy that pearl. And is perhaps giving us a nudge in that direction too.
One of the differences about the Ryder Cup to usual golf competitions is that it turns golf into a team sport. It’s a treasure that a whole group of players can share in and work for, not just one individual. And that’s a good picture of the sort of treasure that we can find too. Because God’s treasure invites all of us to work together, to use our different gifts to get involved in God’s family. Because, the good news of Jesus is that we are defined by the things we’ve done, good or bad, or the things that we’d like to do. We’re defined by the fact that we are made in God’s image, that God loves us, and that we can be part of his family. That’s the adventure that we can all be on. But, not just that. Because the promise of God is that he sends his Spirit to help us. To help us be part of his family, to help us on that adventure, to find that treasure that is better than anything we can imagine. That’s the eternity that can await us. Amen.