(From Luke 12:13-21)
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops? Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
As we look back upon the course of our lives, we often discover that there were many important life lessons, lessons that have served us well, which we both experienced and learned as children. A fitting example of this truth in my own life is found in my experience of the immeasurable value of true treasure.
My Aunt Beatrice, Beaty to me, did not have any female children. I became her favorite niece, over whom she doted by giving me lots of “Girly” gifts. One of my favorite birthday gifts was a small jewelry box with large red hearts on the outside, and a red satin lining complete with a dancing ballerina, on the inside. I believe that she had placed a small trinket of jewelry in the box for me before she sent it. Over time, that jewel box became the storage chest for my personal treasures. It no longer housed only jewelry, but also many special sentimental items I collected along my young life’s travels. Most of the items it contained had no worldly value that would cause them to receive such devoted care and attention, but that minor detail was not important to me. This was my own personal treasure chest, and its contents had an important and precious emotional value to me far beyond its worldly worth.
I was drawn to the remembrance of my dear Aunt Beaty this week because our lesson from the Gospel of St. Luke concerns the topic of treasure. On one occasion, while Jesus was teaching before a very large crowd, a man asked Jesus to tell his brother to share his inheritance with him. Jesus was teaching important spiritual life lessons, and this man asked him about a man interrupted to ask Jesus about a matter of money. So Jesus replied, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then, as was his customary means of teaching life lessons, Jesus shared a parable with his listeners. It was the story of a rich landowner, who obtained a crop harvest so great that it exceeded the ability of his barns to store it. So the rich man decided on a plan to tear down his current barns to build larger ones that would accommodate the storage of many more crops. This plan pleased the man, who then said, “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink and be merry.’”
The rich man no sooner made his plan than God appeared to him. “Fool!” said God to him. “This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?” Then, Jesus admonished his listeners, saying to them “So it is for those who lay up treasures for themselves, but are not rich toward God.”
This parable of Jesus is the perfect illustration of the commonly heard saying “The real winner in life is not the one who dies with the most toys.” That’s because, as we all know, you can’t take them with you when you go to the pearly gates! All kidding aside, Jesus is very clear and consistent in his message regarding accumulating earthly riches and our need for the true riches found in our spiritual growth and wellbeing. This morning, Jesus reminded his Disciples, and in our reading us, that our lives do not consist in the abundance of possessions. He also said we are foolish if we store up earthly treasures and do not become rich toward God.
In Chapter 13 of the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus tells two similar parables illustrating the importance and value of the kingdom of God. The first parable is known as “The Parable of the Treasure Hidden in a Field.” In this parable, Jesus says the kingdom of God/Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man finds it, he hides it again to protect it, and then sells all he has to purchase the field where it is hidden. The second parable is known as “The Parable of the Pearl.” This parable teaches that the kingdom of God/Heaven is like a pearl of great value. When a merchant searching for valuable pearls found one of great value, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.
In each of these parables, we find Jesus using valuable earthly items, a treasure hidden in a field and a pearl of great worth, to represent truths about the kingdom of God, and how this kingdom operates. In each parable, the valuable item is worth so much that the one in the story who finds it sells everything in order to purchase it. Jesus is telling his listeners, through these parables, that God and God’s kingdom are far more valuable than the sum of all of our earthly possessions. They are the true treasure.
The above interpretation is the first and, perhaps, most obvious teaching we can grasp from these lessons of Jesus. Yet, biblical scholars have determined that there is another less obvious understanding we can grasp, if we dig deeper into circumstances found within each of these parables. Scholars observe that in the kingdom it is Jesus who is seeking something of great value; he is seeking the souls of believers who will become his church. Jesus came to seek and save souls, and to give all that he had, his very life, to purchase them for his eternal kingdom. That kingdom begins with his church right here on earth, which celebrates Christ Jesus sacrifice for our salvation, and equips and builds up the saints to dwell in his eternal kingdom of heaven. This interpretation reminds us that God in Christ had a plan to seek and to save us long before we ever realized we were found. Jesus was sent on a treasure hunt… and he found us! That God loves and values us so much is cause for us to reflect upon our own response to such grace, such unmerited favor God’s love has shown us.
So, church, how do we respond to the vast, wide, unconditional love, grace and forgiveness of God that continually invites and welcome us into life in the eternal kingdom? Certainly, we can see that this kingdom for which Jesus sacrificed everything, is more valuable than any earthly possession we could acquire. It is both a hidden treasure and a priceless pearl that we have been blessed to discover. Our response, like that of the finders of great treasure in the parables, should be to value it above all else, and to purchase it with the sacrifice of our earthly wealth—our time, our talents, our gifts, our witness, and our service. In fact, this is the very promise and covenant we made upon the occasion of our baptism, or upon our confirmation into the United Methodist Church. We live into this promise with ongoing activities within the life of our church. We give our time in our attendance at services and committee meetings. We use our talents in cooking, baking, counting money, cleaning, and maintaining our church and parsonage properties. We share the financial gifts of our tithes and offerings to support mission efforts like the Women’s Dorm project at Africa University and the RAHAB clothing drive. We witness in and to the world at local venues like Open M, Family Promise, and the Akron Pride Parade. Finally we fulfill our commitment to service by serving our community in missions like our stay-cation trip last week at the Spicy Lamb Farm, and by providing much needed school supplies to the local Woodridge Schools. All of these activities, and so many more, affirm that we are a people of God who value the kingdom of God, a kingdom which Jesus gave his life to purchase. We are hunting for valuable treasure that does not perish, because we understand that only what we do for the kingdom of God is eternal. Our earthly “stuff” will perish in time, but our acts of love, kindness and faithfulness will stand forever. The kingdom, brothers and sisters in Christ, begins with our activity right here in our little village of Peninsula, Ohio. We live the kingdom life each day with all of our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We genuinely desire and seek treasures that have true and eternal value, those activities in our lives that build up God’s kingdom. So, let us diligently continue on our good hunt for eternal treasures, and in so doing, may we surely find them. Amen.