2 Corinthians 4:1-18
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46. 51-52
We make choices in life, especially about what we value, often without even realizing we are making those choices. I think about this regularly, especially as it pertains to spending money. I often have conversations about this with my kids, too. Are we going to eat out tonight? Or would you rather I put $100 towards paying off your student loans. Would I rather have that mocha and scone at the coffee shop, or would I rather put that money towards a vacation with my family. Should I give the money we received from our tax return to Hope Solutions, or should I put it away for college for the kids? I try to be very intentional in our spending choices, recognizing that every time I choose to buy something that is a luxury or something to fix up the yard and or the house, which are still a mess, frankly, I am also making a choice NOT to spend that money towards my kids’ college expenses or towards feeding people who are in dire-straights right now.
We come today to some very interesting parables about the kingdom of heaven. And while there were a bunch of them that we read today, there is definitely a predominant theme within them all, and especially within the last two. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that someone hid in a field, which someone else found who then bought the field to obtain the treasure. And the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it. Both of these tell the story of something so valuable that the protagonist in the story will give up everything to obtain it.
As you make your choices in life, is there something that you would give up everything for? Everything? Have any of you ever done that? Given up everything for one thing? Or for one person?
“The kingdom of God is like…” Jesus spoke in these parables and the disciples claimed that they have understood. But I find myself both deeply blessed by these stories, but also a bit confused. Is Jesus saying that we should seek the kingdom of heaven as the merchant sought the pearl, and as the person who bought the field, give up all we have to seek it because it and it alone is worth everything? That interpretation would make sense. We know that it is true. God’s realm, God’s life, the life and love and connection that God offers should be and are worth everything. But that doesn’t seem to be what he is saying here. Does Jesus mean that WE are like that pearl or that treasure to God and God will give it all up for us? This too makes sense and is true. We know God did and does and will give up everything out of the deepest and truest love for us. God gives up power, gives up control, gives up life in order to have real and genuine relationships of love and care with us. But I don’t think that’s really what’s being said in these particular parables either. I think perhaps these parables are much more straightforward. The kingdom of God is the place where you come to KNOW what you really want, where you have the opportunity to gain it, and where you will happily and joyfully give up everything to attain it.
In which case, I want to suggest, that the kingdom of God is much closer to us, ALWAYS, than we imagine. The kingdom of God is here for us to be part of it, for us to see it, for us to enter it. There are people who discover in this life what that thing is that they want beyond everything else, and who seek that out, being willing to give up everything for it, doing so, and finding their bliss. It’s people who take risks, who trust that God is with them in those risks, and put fear aside to seek out what they want more than anything.
I used to have a relative who had a dream of creating a successful business. He really wanted to be an entrepreneur and create something that others found useful, valuable and that grew strong and big. That was his dream. He tried again and again, starting random businesses, which also failed again and again. He was bankrupt on several occasions, without a penny in the world. But he wanted to do this. His family all thought he was nuts. Completely nuts! They would mention Paul and just shake their heads. He was a fool in their minds. A risky, stupid fool. They knew he’d never make it and wanted him to just get a regular job, a real life. They believed he’d be a sponger for his entire existence, just relying on his family again and again to bail him out. But he kept trying. He started one business, then another, then another. Through that time he lost a spouse, he alienated much of his family. He lost everything again, and again. He gave everything to try to reach his pearl, to purchase the situation he wanted for himself. Finally, he came across the idea of beginning a quick stop barber shop for both genders. It took a little time, but Paul became the founder, owner, and CEO of Super Cuts. He found his pearl of great cost, and he spent everything to get it, despite his family’s judgment, despite the losses he experienced. He is now remarried to the love of his life, and he is extremely comfortably retired. I have to admit, that wouldn’t be my goal. That wouldn’t be what I would want or would see as blissful or the kingdom of God. But it was what he wanted. He wanted to create a business out of his imaginings and his gifts and he wanted it to grow and succeed.
We may wonder what this has to do with God. I mean his search for this job was a pearl that we may not understand or value or find godly at all. But I want to suggest to you that God’s realm, the kingdom of God, that bliss of living in God’s light, God’s way, God’s presence can often be found in your heart’s desires. God is in the dreams that you have, especially when you invite God in, especially when you seek for God’s will in your dreams, especially when you meditate on God’s call for your life. Our family member, Paul, was a man of deep faith. He remains so. He took the wealth that he earned from his company and has done much to contribute to the church and to Christ’s work in the world with that money. His seeking of his pearl was also an act of faith. He trusted God to be there enough that even when he lost everything in pursuit of what we might think of as a worldly goal, he knew God would sustain him through the financial and emotional catastrophes and hard times. Even when he lost his wife, he did not cave in, but kept working for his goal, seeking for that treasure.
Children are often much closer to the kingdom of God than we are. Our children have dreams, they have visions, they have hopes, they have sight that allows them to see the kingdom of God around them. Recently a saw a post that said that a child was asked to list the seven wonders of the world and she was really struggling with it. Finally, the teacher approached and asked her if she needed help. She replied that she thought she was done but there were a couple more she could think of that didn’t fit into a simple list of seven. The teacher asked what she had so far. She listed as her seven wonders: hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing, feeling, laughter, and love. She was seeing the kingdom of God, she was experiencing the kingdom of God, not in the yearnings of her heart, but in the joy of her heart. Children are better at having awe and seeing the wonder and majesty in the world. We, as parents and grandparents, sometimes are given the gift of seeing through their eyes. The kingdom of God is like the awe and wonder of our children.
I saw another story about a child who was trying out for a part in the school play. He had his heart set on being in it, but chances were very good that he would not get a part. On the day that the kids were learning what parts they were getting, the boy’s mother went to pick him up from school with not a little amount of fear and trepidation. But her son rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement as he said, ‘Guess what, Mom, I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer.’ Again, that vision into joy, that vision into possibility, that vision into God’s kingdom with us no matter what our lot in life.
In the book Finding Chika, Mitch Album wrote about a time he and his wife took Chika down to Disneyland. He wrote,
“What I remember most is what you did first. We entered through Main Street, passing souvenir shops. The rides were up ahead and I wondered which would make you scream, ‘Can we do that one?’
Instead we passed a small pond, and a gray duck wandered out of the water. And with Astro Orbitor to your right, Thunder Mountain to your left, and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle straight ahead, you pointed down and yelled, ‘Look! A duck!’ And you chased after it and giggled wildly, ‘Duck! Duck!’
I glanced at Miss Janine who was smiling too. With all those amusement park attractions calling, you got low to marvel at another living creature….
…you came along Chika. And maybe because I’m older now, or maybe because your eyes were so much wider than mine, or maybe because it’s simply different when the child is in your care, something stirred. I began to lean over, to see tiny miracles the way you saw them. Baby ducks running. Frogs hiding in the weeds. The wind lifting a leaf you were about to grab. One of the best things a child can do for an adult is to draw them down, closer to the ground, for clearer reception to the voices of the earth…”
Chika, as with all young children, saw the kingdom of God, experienced the kingdom of God. But as adults, sometimes we have a harder time hanging on to our dreams, our hopes and our vision of God. We lose sight of those deep, deep yearnings and tuggings at our hearts because we stop having the faith that those come from God. But the Kingdom of God is like the man who found a pearl of great value, sold everything and went and bought it. The Kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field that when found, the man who found it sold all he had to buy the field that contained that treasure. And God wants you to be in and part of the Kingdom of God. Not tomorrow, not after you die, but NOW.
What is your pearl? What is your treasure? And do you trust God enough to let God lead you into the kingdom where you find, or with God’s help create, that which you value the most? If you’ve forgotten what that is, I invite you to take time with God and ask what dreams God planted within you that you can’t remember. If you’ve never had a dream like that, ask God what dreams God wants to plant within you to seek out.
The Kingdom of heaven is here. Waiting. For you.