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       Weekly Scripture
 
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that  field.”
Again the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
 
         Matthew 13:44-46
 
July 26, 2020
  Sermon
 
I am fascinated by pearls.
Anytime I stroll by a jewelry store window or jewelry counter at the mall, if pearls are on display, they always catch my eye. What’s funny is Cathy doesn’t share my appreciation for pearls, which surprises me. You see, I’m not captivated by pearls because of their value or the fact that they can be made into fine jewelry. That doesn’t really interest me. What does interest me, though, is how they are made! My inner nerd is about to show, just bear with me. Most people understand that pearls are produced mainly by oysters, but what they don’t realize is the unique biological process involved in making a pearl and the fact that a pearl is the product of an oyster’s natural defense mechanism. Quick biology lesson for those who may not know: a pearl is made when a foreign body such as a parasite (rarely a grain of sand like many believe) somehow enters the oyster’s shell, lodges itself inside, and irritates the animal. In response to the nuisance and potential threat, the creature begins to secrete a thick organic liquid commonly known as “Mother-of-pearl” which encapsulates the foreign entity and eliminates the threat. That is why I’m fascinated with pearls. A pearl is the product of a unique biological process. Nature is grand.  I warned you I was about to “nerd out” on you. Even though the process of how a pearl is made isn’t relevant to today’s scripture, it felt like a good opportunity to share about how pearls are made since Jesus does mention a pearl along with other valuable treasure in today’s passage. Not much has changed since Jesus’ time when it comes to pearls. They are still valuable and highly sought after by many. There are some who are willing to pay a high price for a rare, naturally occurring, perfectly shaped pearl. But, in today’s parables pertaining to the treasure and the pearl, Jesus wants us to see there is something that is of much greater value that is worth searching for… Today, we once again join Jesus as he sits in a boat a short distance offshore and teaches the large crowds that stood on the bank before him. We hear him share with them a series of short parables pertaining to the kingdom of heaven. Among these parables there is one pertaining to a man who finds treasure in a field and another one about a merchant who finds a fine pearl. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.” Jesus said. “When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.” Immediately following that parable, Jesus shared the one concerning the merchant and the pearl. “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.”   Back in Jesus’ day, it was common for a person to protect money or valuables by packing them in a jar and burying that jar somewhere on their property. Only the person and maybe their spouse or child would know where it was located, making it extremely difficult for someone else to find it. If those who knew where the jar was buried died or it was simply forgotten about over time, the buried goodies would be left deserted for someone else to stumble upon. Stumbling upon the jar is exactly what the man in our parable did. However, the man couldn’t simply take the jar; that would have been stealing even if the landowner had forgotten or didn’t know about the treasure on the property. If the landowner found out about the found treasure, he would have had a legal right to it and would have most likely demanded it be returned to him. So, to ensure his claim on the treasure, the man had to secure the land for himself, which then secured his claim to the treasure found on the land. The man’s actions, his willingness to sell everything he owned to secure the treasure, was an indication for the audience of the treasure’s value. It was obviously incomparable to anything else the man possessed. The parable of the merchant who finds a fine pearl of great value reiterates the same theme. Pearls were highly valued in the ancient world. A high-grade pearl could fetch a pretty penny and leave the seller with a nice profit. However, the merchant would have had to get a good deal on it if he was to turn a profit. So, the merchant’s extreme reaction of selling everything he owned to obtain it would have been thought of as a foolish business deal … unless the pearl was of a far greater value. In other words, the merchant’s decision only highlights the value of his purchase, indicating that it, too, much like the treasure, is incomparable to anything else and worth whatever it takes to obtain it.   In both parables, we see two different men willingly – one joyfully! – selling everything they had to obtain two things of great worth, both of which Jesus likens to the kingdom of God. Both individuals recognize real value and willingly discard that which is not to obtain it. In these two parables, Jesus draws our attention to the rigid dichotomy between two differing kingdoms: the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. With the imagery of treasure and a fine pearl of great value juxtaposed against the unknown, undistinguished possessions of the two individuals that they easily sold off, Jesus highlights for his audience the unquestionable and incomparable worth or significance of the kingdom of God. Through the elaborate response of the two individuals regarding their valuable finds, Jesus draws our attention to the fact that it is less about what is given up to obtain the kingdom of God and more to do with what is gained. We often forget that.  We often forget that with Christ, who, as the embodiment of the kingdom of God, is the treasure and pearl in our parables, we gain something of immeasurable worth, something that goes beyond our comprehension yet offers us something that cannot compare to anything this life has to offer. Instead, we tend to get hung up on the sacrifice part, where the man in the field and the merchant sell everything, they have to purchase the treasure and pearl. We know what Jesus is saying and we tend to pump the brakes when we realize that the kingdom of heaven might cost us our egos. We just might have to shift our focus away from ourselves to obtain what he has to offer. We cannot have our cake and eat it too; one must be sacrificed for the other. In a world that rewards self-promotion over selflessness, sacrificing one’s own aspirations is not an easy task, even if it is for something much better. Seeking the kingdom of God, following Christ, being a disciple … is costly. It  costs us our lives, selfish ambitions, and the personal kingdoms we have worked so hard to build. However, in sacrificing these things, there is freedom; freedom from meaningless distractions to finally look past the ordinary and search out places and moments where Christ is at work, bringing to fruition the kingdom of heaven here and now among us. Like the pearl and the treasure, these holy moments and sacred places that offer us a taste of the kingdom of heaven are only found when one takes the opportunity to step out and search for them. Like a bargain hunter in a thrift store, one must be willing to look past the trinkets and bobbles, and appealing opportunities for self-promotion that are enticing, but offer no real value… to find Christ, who is worth more than anything the world has to give. And honestly … it’s not that hard to find him. He made it clear where he can be found – among the hurting and the sidelined … the sick and grieving. Much like he was when he was walking the earth, he can always be found with the least among us offering them a taste of the grace, love and restoration that is the nature of the kingdom of God, inviting us to work alongside him and experience the kingdom of God as we do so. You see, it is in the forgoing of one’s self, the sacrificing of one’s ego and selfish ambitions to serve alongside Jesus among the broken, hurting, and downtrodden that one is given the opportunity to experience grace, mercy, and love, which are fundamental characteristics of the kingdom of heaven. Like a buried treasure or a fine pearl, Christ is out in the world waiting to be found; the kingdom of heaven waiting to be had. Jesus invites us to join him and what awaits us is well worth the cost. The question is … are you willing to search for it?
Amen.
                                                           
 
 
 
                               Prayers of the People
 

Gracious God, today we take a moment to recognize that we are standing in the presence of the risen Christ. No matter who we are, what we are struggling with, or what is going on around us, Christ is with us, speaking to our hearts, “Peace be with you.” God, we recognize that there are many in our community who are struggling to experience that peace and who long for the comfort, strength and healing that Christ brings. We take a moment to lift them up to you know.

We pray for those who are sick. We continue to pray for those who are fighting the coronavirus as well as those who are dealing with other life-threatening illnesses. Be with them, Lord. May your Spirit strengthen their bodies and immune systems to combat whatever it is that threatens their lives and to withstand whatever harsh treatment may be required.

We once again pray for our medical professionals as well as the hospital support staff who are working constantly to care for those who are sick. As they meet the demands of their vocation during this difficult time, we ask that you give their bodies stamina and strength to do their jobs well. Give them mental and emotional strength to deal with anxiety and grief that they will face and may they find time for personal care as well.

Lord God, as we do each Sunday, we pray for our civil servants: our leaders, firefighters, police officers, and the men and women serving in the armed forces. We ask that you lead our leaders as they discern how best to move forward. Bless and protect those who put their own bodies in harm’s way to protect others. Sharpen their minds to handle the intense situations where quick thinking is imperative and grant them the emotional health to cope with the tragedies that they must sometimes witness. Also, Lord, bless their families that support them. Give them strength and courage to continue loving and supporting those who are serving our communities, and peace in knowing that you are with their loved ones as the go to work.

Lastly, Lord, we pray for your Church. May Christ be seen in everything we do and his love felt.

Lord, we love you and end this prayer with a word of thanks. You are our constant companion and our strength. You love is everlasting, your mercy unmeasurable, and you grace, overwhelming.  And for that we are eternally grateful. In Christ’s name we pray; Amen.