This is a rewrite of my earlier sermon on Treasure, from a couple of years ago. We also had a number of visitors, who had come for the service and then to bury the ashes of two family members. I’ve changed the names of the couple.
Treasure; Reading: Matthew 13:44-46
Over the summer, we’re giving people an opportunity to look at their favourite Bible passages, or characters or whatever. And this is one of my favourite parables, one of my favourite stories that Jesus told.
One of the reasons I like these two very short stories are all the details that get left unsaid, the questions that you’re left with. As short stories, they’re very frustrating, because they don’t tell you all sorts of stuff that you’d like to know! Which is one of the interesting things about Jesus’ parables; they invite you to spend time thinking about them, living with them, allowing them to shape you.
And, in exactly what way is the Kingdom of God like a pearl or hidden treasure anyway?
A few years ago now, I went into Birmingham to stand in a very long queue to see some other treasure that had been discovered in a field near Lichfield. This was the Staffordshire Hoard, a huge collection of Anglo-Saxon objects made of gold and gems, which were valued at over £3 million.
This hoard was probably buried when someone was fleeing for their life. They couldn’t take it with them, so they buried it, hoping that they would come back. When it came right down to it, they realised that, no matter how valuable their treasure, their lives were even more valuable.
And that’s one of the challenges of these parables. There are 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?
Some of us have gathered here today to mourn the death of Jim and Betty. We’ll pay tribute to them later, but the fact that they were worth treasuring is shown by how many of you have made the effort to come here this morning. Their lives were important, hopefully enriched those who knew them. Probably all of us have someone who has died whose memory we treasure.
And probably all of us have regrets as well. Regrets at failing to treasure things more. Regrets at how things turned out or didn’t turn out.
Because, at the time, it’s often difficult to work out what is the most important thing to treasure. Did whoever buried the Staffordshire Hoard have to wrestle with themselves before they buried it? Did they carry it just that bit further, hoping that somehow they’d be able to keep hold of it and stay safe? 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.
Sometimes it’s only looking back that we realise when we failed to sell all that we had to gain the pearl of great price, the treasure that would have made the difference. Because, those regrets that we have tell us that 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. That isn’t always a guarantee that we’ll spot where the next bit of treasure is hiding, where God’s Spirit is at work now, what God is calling, longing for us to do next.
Complacency. Feeling comfortable. Feeling it’s too late. Thinking “it’s not for me”. And so on. Those are the sins that can trap us.
So, the question ‘in what way is the kingdom of God like treasure, like a pearl?’ leads us to the question: ‘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. 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”.
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 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. How many people walked over that field before the Staffordshire Hoard was discovered? Well, it can happen to any of us. But, the God of second chances is waiting for us to find that treasure, buy that pearl.
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.