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It’s Nothing Really

buriedtreasureMatthew 13: 31-33 and 44-46
Introduction to the reading
Jesus continues to teach his disciples in parables, four short ones this week and with no explanations as before with the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat.  Now we have to figure out the interpretation for ourselves.  Notice that they all begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

Sermon
In August three years ago, my son and his wife bought a house in a close-in suburb of Philadelphia.  It was part of an estate sale; the surviving widow had died.
    
The house was built in the mid-1950s.  A single story with a basement and a one-car garage, it looked exactly like a number of other houses on the street.  Because it was the kind of sale it was, they had to buy it “as is”.  There would be no inspection and they couldn’t require the owner to make any repairs or adjust the price.  But they had gotten a good price in an excellent school district, which was very important to them.

The house needed a lot of work – new roof, new windows, old shrubs removed.  And inside…well…  The house was pink, a popular color in the 1950s, Mamie Eisenhower’s favorite color, so I’ve heard.  Save for a couple of rooms that were mint green, light purple, and gray-brown, almost everything else was painted pink or patterned pink:  walls, woodwork, curtains, carpets, kitchen linoleum, counter tops, even the vintage Caloric wall oven.

Everything, that is, except the finished pine-paneled basement.  That was the “man cave” and apparently, the site of a regular high-stakes poker game.  My son found the ashes and charred remains of playing cards in the small incinerator next to the furnace.  The house was wired so that someone upstairs could press a button and set off an alarm downstairs to warn the players of who knows what.

A separate room had been built in the middle of the basement, most of which was a lovely, real wood cedar closet.  And in the middle of the closet, cemented into the floor, was (and still is) a heavy, heavy safe.  They could open the outer door, but inside is a compartment that requires two keys, long gone.

What is in that safe?  Poker ledgers, family photos, a million dollars?  We do not know, but they are not pinning their hopes on finding some great stash of cash that will secure their future.  They’re very busy with jobs, parenting and all that repainting still…

Not many of us have such a potential fortune waiting to be unlocked when we get around to it.  And yet every one of us does...  the kingdom of heaven, life in the Spirit, following the Way of Jesus – this is the treasure that each and every one of us already has.  We just have to recognize and acknowledge it and then, act accordingly.  

“The kingdom of heaven is like”…a mustard seed, a little yeast, a hidden treasure, a fine pearl of great value.  What do we know about these?

  • Something grows way out of proportion to its initial size or humble beginning, maybe even the parable itself. The mustard seed is small, but not the smallest of seeds, it does not grow into the “greatest of shrubs” and it does not become a tree vast enough for flocks of nesting birds. So, what is Jesus saying?  First, that yes, the kingdom of heaven grows to great size from very small beginnings.  But also, that real greatness is not what you might think it ought to be.  Do you remember what else Jesus had to say?  The last will be first, let the little children come, feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish.
    The yeast, in Jesus’ day, was a popular symbol for corruption.  We might liken it to a computer virus or hacking today.  What the woman does with the yeast implies stealth.  She really doesn’t innocently mix the yeast into the flour; she hides it.  And evidently she is baking for an army; three measure of flour is about fifty pounds, enough to make bread for a hundred people.  So this parable pictures the kingdom of heaven as a hidden force, working silently to “corrupt” the corruption of the world.
    When you live your life according to the kingdom of heaven, according to the Way of Jesus, this is the kind of influence you may very well have upon the people around you, upon the way the world works in your particular place.   Influence for good, for forgiveness, reconciliation, justice, peace and love.
  • Something proves to be worth far more than everything else like it. The parables of the treasure and the pearl are similar in that someone discovers something of precious and compelling value and sells all that he had in order to possess it.  For the one, it is hidden treasure found by accident, a great and wonderful surprise.  For the other, the merchant in search of fine pearls, it is finding what he has been seeking, the meaning for his life.

Most of us, I daresay, are not on such a quest and most of us are not likely to discover hidden treasure in some field, or in a safe in a cedar closet in a basement.  We go on, day to day, simply living, parenting, working, aging.  And yet, don’t you know, there are those times or events and those thin places where all at once, it seems, life becomes holy, Jesus feels near, and everything is put in proper perspective in light of God’s presence.

On Friday afternoon, I had the great joy of meeting six-pound, two-ounce Elliot Aaron Manning.  Born that morning, he was not yet seven hours old.  Like most new parents, Tim and Olivia were filled with joy and thanksgiving and pure love.  Their baby boy is perfect and precious – a mustard seed, a grain of yeast, a treasure, a pearl of great price, a miracle.  The kingdom of heaven, life in the Spirit, following the way of Jesus is like this.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
I pray this sermon.  Amen.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
July 30, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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