Have you ever seen something that you just had to have? Maybe it was a purchase, like that piece of art or that shiny new car. How do you go about acquiring it? Will you beg, borrow, or steal? Will you save up, research, and prepare, or will you purchase it instantaneously?
Or maybe what you want was or is someone, the person you wanted to marry or the child you wanted to have. Maybe you’re like me, and while watching The Runaway Bride, you realize that you’re the runaway and that your girlfriend is the woman you’re supposed to marry. Or maybe you’re not like me…
Or maybe it was that life, either someone else’s life, or a version of your life that existed in your imagination. Maybe you value the lives your grandparents have lived, the marriage your parents shared, the carefree but stable existence of your next door neighbors.
Maybe you’ve achieved that thing or purchased that item. Maybe you haven’t. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. But each of you recognizes some thing that you had to obtain, had to have.
I remember dating my wife long distance. We’d dated for a year at the University of Richmond, but now I was in Kentucky at Asbury Theological Seminary, and she was finishing up her undergraduate degree. We were dating and it was good, but marriage was….somewhere out there.
I remember being invited to go with a group of friends to see The Runaway Bride, with Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, and thinking that my girlfriend would like the film, but she wasn’t there, and it really wasn’t my cup of tea. But somehow I went. Somehow I realized that I was the person running away from relationships, never committing. And I remember the sleepless night that followed.
The next day, in Kentucky, I went to five different jewelry stores, and I bought an engagement ring. I didn’t know her size! I didn’t know what she’d like! But I knew what I needed to do.
Three nights later, in a conversation I steered of course, she told me that she wasn’t ready to get married, or to take the conversation to the next level. I was devastated, as I stared at the ring I was holding in Kentucky, talking to the woman I wanted to be my wife who was in Virginia.
A week later, I was scheduled to go spend a few days with my fiancé’s parents for Christmas break, before flying home to see my own parents. I was supposed to leave at 8 a.m. the next morning, but that night, I couldn’t sleep. I remember lying in bed, staring at the ceiling as the clock ticked from 10 to 11 to 12… Finally, at 12:30 a.m., I hopped in the car and drove to Colonial Heights.
I was there at 8:30 a.m. in the morning, when my fiancé showed up for her winter break job. She was visibly surprised, but I told her that I’d bought a ring and that when she was ready, I wanted to propose to her.
I had spent thousands of dollars, lost weeks worth of sleep, and driven overnight, to lay out my heart, my aspirations, and my dreams.
Have you ever wanted anything that badly? (I know, some of you are thinking, that foolishly?) Have you ever been that saturated by love, or devotion, or motivation, or desire, that you would sacrifice everything, and lay it all on the line?
In our parables today, two simple stories from the words of Jesus remind us of that kind of devotion.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
I like the first one best. Did you ever have a treasure map, real or imagined? Did you ever go looking for it? What about finding ‘treasure’ by accident?
I remember the time I found a $100 bill in our backyard. I was about 10 and I was ecstatic! I remember that my parents made me ask anyone we could if they had lost any money, and we had to wait to see if anyone came looking for it. But finding $100 to a 10 year-old? That was AWESOME!
So, here in Jesus’ story, there’s treasure found hidden in a field. It doesn’t matter who put it there, but someone finds it unexpectedly, and recognizes that what he has found is so spectacular that he has to have it. So he reburies it, goes home and sells everything so that he can go back and buy the land.
This isn’t bargain shopping, but the ‘finder’ in our story knows that everything he owns pales in comparison with the treasure. He knows that what he is gaining is immensely more important, and leaving everything behind is hardly a cost.
That treasure, says Jesus, is the kingdom of heaven. Not salvation, which the Jews don’t understand, and not faith in Jesus, because Jesus hasn’t died on the cross and risen again. No, Jesus says that participation in God’s plan is what’s best for humanity.
Doing God’s work is such a tremendous gift, says Jesus, that a person would sell everything that they had to participate.
Now, it seems almost unfathomable to most of us, even me now, that someone would invest money they didn’t have, would boldly profess love in a situation where uncertainty waited, would travel all night to deliver a message. (For the record, she said yes 24 hours later.)
But can we possibly fathom the goodness of the work that lies before us if we work to make God’s kingdom come on earth? Are we so fully invested? Are we willing to sell all and sell out for the glory of God?
Every once and awhile, I get asked, “so why are you a pastor?” It’s usually followed with a shaking of the head, and a comment or two about how I can’t make that much money and I have to deal with people and their problems, and just “why would anyone want to do that?!??!”
The truth is that I’ve known for years, since my junior year in college actually, that I was supposed to be a preacher. Some of you take joy in teaching a kid how to do a math problem for the first time or how to build something or how to cook. I love to hear a kid (or an adult) explain how they heard a story again but understood it for the first time, or how something about God’s love through Jesus unlocked something in their heart.
I love it when we work through a situation here at church, when we find a way to make a difference in the community, when we go out and we serve. And I recognize that the piece of the treasure I’ve found, God working through me, is in fact priceless. And I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But I don’t think the treasure is just for the preachers, just for the those who everyone else thinks is “in.” I think the treasure buried in the field is for everyone. I think we’re supposed to share it but we’re supposed to be so committed to the treasure that we’re all in, no looking back, like the disciples leaving their nets to follow Jesus, like Zacchaeus repaying the people he had stolen from above and beyond what he had taken, like Paul turning from Christian-killing to Christian-who-saved.
See, the parable of the buried treasure is about recognizing the piece of the kingdom that’s yours to hold and to share and to grow, and recognizing that without it, there’s just nothing that compares. What is that for you? Have you found it? Have you recognized that God loves you enough that he sent his son to live your life?
Have you recognized that Jesus put his Godhead to the side so that he could really see what life was like for us? That Jesus suffered and bled and lived and loved with us, that God wanted us to know that he was and is here?
Have you recognized that the relationships that God had with humanity in the Garden of Eden were the way God always wanted it to be, and that God worked through Jesus so that it one day would again?
That all of the bad stuff, all of the crime, and the suffering, and the sickness, and the death that drags us down, that the kingdom of God is about the fact that one day all of that would be wiped away? That the buried treasure is the hope and the promise of that time?
That all of us here have been told that and it’s up to us to share it and make it so?
No pressure, right?
Are we seeking those opportunities for buried treasure, recognizing it when we find it, and holding onto it with great joy?
It’s been told before, but I have a belief in this church that has defied conventional logic. Before I came, I had several older pastors go, “you’re going there?” with pats on the back and conciliatory hugs. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I didn’t know Prince George from Prince Charming, or how to pastor a little church.
But I found a place that had something of what God was calling us to be. That there was community here, that ‘kingdom of God’ we talk about so much. It was a treasure buried, a pearl undiscovered.
After the first six months, the district superintendent said he’d considered moving me after a month to a ‘bigger opportunity,’ and now, he wanted to move me in the next appointment year. I said I’d stay.
We had similar conversations after the second year, and the third, and now, in my sixth, I’ve had friends and colleagues ask me why I don’t leave. I tell them that Blandford still has that undeniable trait, that ability to actually be a kingdom church, to welcome in the lost and the neglected, to serve in a completely organic way, to grow to be more like the early church than many of the churches I’ve seen in thirty-plus years of church life.
I found the buried treasure in my parents’ home as a child, and at my first church; I grew to have a deeper understanding of that treasure as a college student; I’ve been exploring the treasure, recognizing a desire to sell out, to sell all, to grasp it.
I know that without the love, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I am nothing. And I believe that in this place, others might come to recognize that, too. It’s the kind of thing I’d do anything to convey, to share, to make real in the hearts and minds of those around us.
May we all experience such longing, and sell all in the pursuit of God’s kingdom.