July 26, 2020 /8th Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading 1 Kings 3:5-12/ 2nd Reading Romans 8:26-39 / Gospel Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
What It’s Worth
How might you complete the sentence that begins: “I would do anything to . . . .” At different points in your life you may have expressed wishes that were framed in a sentence like that.
After several months of eating cafeteria food my freshman year in college, one night I exclaimed after consuming a dinner of mystery meat (that they called “Salisbury Steak”): “I would give anything for a home cooked meal.”
In my lifelong regret for quitting piano lessons at a young age, I have said on occasion: “I would give anything to be able to play the piano effortlessly” (like Wendy)
As I marked the 100th anniversary of my mother’s birth last month, the thought did come to me: “I would give anything to see my mom again, to see her as she was before Alzheimer's came along and took her away.”
What ending would you write to that sentence?
Let me ask another question in a similar vein. What would you give, in other words what’s it worth to you, to know for certain that nothing could ever separate you from the love of God?
What’s it worth to you that the Holy Spirit actually prays through you and for you when you can’t find the words – translating your deep sighs and groans into prayers to God?
What is it worth to you to know that, ultimately, “all things work for good for those who love God?”
How much would it be worth to you to discover that because God is for us, nothing can finally stand against us?
On occasion, these pandemic times we are living through do provide a little extra time to ponder things – whether it’s time saved because you’re not commuting to work, or because you are out of work, or even time at night when you can’t go back to sleep. Use that time to consider what value you would assign to blessings like: God’s amazing and saving grace; the entire forgiveness for all your sins knowing the whole truth, the truth that sets you free; having a hope that won’t disappoint you. What are such things truly worth to you – what would you be willing to give in return for them?
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Of course, these are in one sense silly and inappropriate questions – because none of these things is for sale. These blessings are already given, free of charge. Why, then, aren’t we more amazed and joyful? It’s because so often we make the mistake of assuming that something free cannot be worth very much. We know very well that things of extraordinary and enduring value are expensive and hard to come by. They must be earned. Actually, these gifts did come at a cost – there was a price to be paid. That price was the life of God’s own Son. Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection have opened to us the rich blessings of God’s kingdom – the kingdom Jesus is always describing in his parables.
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So now ask yourself again: What’s it all actually worth to you: This being a Christian. Belonging to the People of God, being a member of the Body of Christ. Walking wet with the promises of Holy Baptism: forgiveness for all your sins, eternal life with God, God’s Holy Spirit, abiding in you. Having a Good Shepherd whose goodness and mercy follow you faithfully, all the days of your life. Having within yourself the spirit-powered capacity for life-giving blessings like love, patience, faithfulness, joy, kindness, gentleness, peace, generosity, self-control. Having access to genuine wisdom – the ability to discern what’s truly good and what’s finally worthless, to choose wisely. Wisdom like that given to Solomon. (By the way, don’t you wish that leaders today had even a small measure of that kind of wisdom?)
We know for sure what God has to say about what’s worthwhile: God loved the world and everyone in it so much that he gave his very best, he gave of his own self, he came to us in Jesus – who did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness (John 3, Philippians 2).
This morning we heard what Jesus has to say about what’s worthwhile:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
So I ask you: what do you say? What is it all worth to you? Does it humble you to be on the receiving end of such enormous (and also undeserved) blessings? Does it cause you to be grateful whenever you ponder what you have actually already received? Does it move you to want to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; to love and forgive others the way God loves and forgives you? Does it make you eager to help your children and grandchildren recognize and embrace these blessings from God – to appreciate their surpassing value and never take them for granted? Does it stir in your heart a desire to grow closer to this gracious God, to get better acquainted with Father, Son and Holy Spirit through worship, study and prayer? Does it encourage you to try to see Christ present in this world where he says he will be found: in the hungry, the lonely, the desperate, the suffering, those left out and neglected?
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Here’s the thing: The greater part of wisdom is discerning who and what is truly worthy. The cynic knows the price of everyth
ing – and the value of nothing. The wise person recognizes the true and lasting treasure.
Today what I hear Jesus saying to us is this: Belonging to God and the People of God isn’t just one good thing among many other good things. It’s the best thing. It means everything. Ultimately it’s the only thing. It is the source of all goodness: the path to enduring peace and joy. For with God, nothing will be impossible. No matter what else we have, without the love of God, we end up with nothing.
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The Kingdom of Heaven is like this: A married couple had an old painting stored away in their attic, covered with years of dust. A grandson who was exploring the attic came upon the painting and asked his grandfather about it. The grandfather explained: that painting has been in the family for generations. Years ago we put it in the attic because it just didn’t go with our modern décor after we redecorated. The grandson asked if he could have the painting. The grandfather said, “Certainly, it’s not doing us any good sitting in the attic.” When the grandson took the painting to a shop to have it refurbished, the dealer informed him that it was actually a valuable work of art by an Impressionist painter from the 19th century. The grandparents didn’t recognize the great value of something already in their possession.
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My hunch is that for some of us, belonging to the Kingdom of God might be like that. We don’t realize it’s true and lasting worth. We can set this blessing aside like an old painting in the attic.
Know this: Happiness is not getting what you want – it’s recognizing and wanting what you already have, what God has graciously given. Today Jesus speaks of the great joy that comes with finding and embracing the Kingdom. As children of God, you and I have been given the pearl of surpassing value. Don’t cast it aside. Don’t leave it in the back of some drawer. Think of what Christ gave so you might have it.