Finding, Valuing, Responding 30 July 2017

Matthew 13:44-46 &  Psalm 105:1-2  

What God gives us (however we obtain it) is not just ours to keep.

Introduction

As we go through life, we acquire a lot of stuff. Much of it is necessary and useful stuff. Other things can begin to seem unnecessary as time goes by, and eventually we either throw it away or give it away.  In the UK there are “Charity shops”, operated by nonprofit organizations, that resell donated items. Here in Tainan, the Ray of Hope organization operates one of these stores.  There are also shops that act as “go betweens” for people who want to sell things that they are no longer using. The shop doesn’t own the things, but sells them for the person who has placed them there, and keeps a percentage of the sale price for itself. There’s one of those shops on East Gate Road, just east of Lin-shen Road, a little further along from the Catholic Church there and across the street.  There’s another near to the old Japanese Magistrate’s house on Chien fong Road, just a short walk from here. There are also 2nd hand markets, but I don’t know where to find one in Tainan, and, in fact, could only tell you where that market WAS in Kaohsiung 15 years ago. It’s been a long time since I visited it.

Students leaving school after a year or more of dormitory life sometimes advertize  used items on the University Student Association facebook page or on the Tainan Bulletin.

If you need something, looking at these places might save you a lot of money. But, if you’re NOT needing anything, you might come home with much less money in your pocket and many things you never imagined even wanting in your bag.

This afternoon we read a couple of stories from the New Testament about people who found treasure. Jesus used these to encourage us to think of the value of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I   Finding something for which you weren’t searching  Matthew 13:44

The first story is told beginning to end in one verse, was about a person who found something unexpected, beyond his dreams of what might be there. For some reason, this person was digging in a field. We shouldn’t ask too much about why he was digging, but one Biblical instruction might give us a clue. In Deuteronomy the people are told to “have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.” That’s only one reason to dig a hole in a field. It could have been for some other reason, but this person, as he dug, discovered a treasure unexpectedly.

I have a friend in Tainan. He’s from the Philippines. “Edgar” is a  musician and a professional choir director. After completing his undergraduate education in the Philippines he obtained a scholarship to do further study at a university in the USA.  He’s in Taiwan now because he was the treasure found by his wife when she, coming from Tainan, went to the same university in the USA to study for her own master’s degree.  Someone once told me that her relatives wondered, on seeing her off to America as a young single woman, whether or not she would find someone there to marry and then settle there. They were quite surprised when the life partner she found was from the Philippines, and she was bringing the treasure back here!

My own two children were born in Kaohsiung. At times when I mention that to Taiwanese friends, they ask if my children are Taiwan citizens. When I say that they’re not, because Taiwan’s government didn’t allow non-Chinese persons born here to take Taiwan nationality in the 80s & 90s, I hear protests. “If OUR (meaning Taiwanese) people have children in America, they are American citizens. What happened to you is unfair.”  When I hear that, I ask, “If an overseas worker from Philippines or Indonesia gives birth to a child here, can that child take Taiwan nationality?” I hear objections. “Of course they can’t!”  The question and the answer reveal some amount of racial prejudice in favor of white people (like my children and I) and against brown people.

The Taiwanese woman who brought the Filipino husband back to Tawan wasn’t looking for him when she went there. But “digging around in university life” while there, she found far more than she was looking for. And her response showed how she valued the treasure that God had revealed to her. If she had married a white (or even a Taiwanese) American, she would have had no problem. Marrying a Filipino meant that she likely had to answer some fairly pointed questions. BUT, her husband has worked his way into the love of that family, of their church, and of the musical community of South Taiwan.

Finding “the treasure in the field”, she gave herself 100% to obtaining it. In this parable, Jesus says to us that the Kingdom of God is that valuable. It is worth everything we are and have to be associated with, to become one with, what God is doing.

II  Finding something for which you have been searching  Matthew 13:45

In the first parable, the “finder” of the treasure hadn’t been looking for it. The other parable we read was longer, it took TWO WHOLE VERSES! We find a person who is actually looking through stuff that is for sale, pearls.  This person is a merchant (one who buys and sells) and knows how to value what he’s looking at. And among the pearls that are for sale he finds one of great value. It is worth more money than he has in his pocket or in his bank account at the moment, so he set it aside with the seller, and went home, turning the value of everything that he had into money so he could return and buy that pearl.

The parables are fairly similar. People find things that they recognize as valuable, and they exchange everything else that they own for these things. The point of the parables is the value of the Kingdom God. The difference between the parables is only in the “accidental” discovery in the first and the “found what I was looking for” in the second.

Understanding the value of life related to God is what we’re being taught here.  I finished reading a 19th century novel last week. It was set among rich, upper-class people in England around the year 1800. When, in the end, a couple of sisters who have been raised and educated to appreciate good manners and good things make bad choices of men (who are rich, handsome and clever, but one of whom has little intellectual depth and the other of which is dishonest) and run away to marry them, these women’s father reflects sadly that he had neglected seeing to it that they had any training in morality and deeper values. He came especially to view the twisted sense of values that one sister had learned from her aunt, whose only concerns were beauty and money.

As we move through life, even with only the shallowest exposure to religious truth, we are constantly put into situations where the reality of life in relation to God is near us. Sometimes we discover it by accident (a paragraph in an otherwise not religious book, a scene in a movie, a line in a song, a word from a friend,…), and like the man who found the treasure in the field, we cover it back up. Some people go out, make arrangements, and come back to devote their lives to what they have found in “Life-in-relation-to-God”. Some don’t. They cover up what they’ve found, accidentally, tell themselves that it was not really a treasure, and avoid thinking about it.

Others go looking for life-in-relation-to-God.  You’re being in Church today makes it appear that you’re on that adventure. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you’re here today only for the air conditioning and the snacks afterwards. Maybe you’re here today because a man or woman you’re interested in comes here.

I’m not going to pretend that anything I might say today or any day is “a pearl of great price”. I urge you NOT to give up your life for something just because you’ve heard ME say it. I do encourage you, though, to value the possibility of life lived in relation to God, in whatever it is you do in life as a member of a family, as a friend to people you meet, as a citizen of the nation you call home, and as part of the family of believers known as the church.  

III The persons in these illustrations “secure their possession” of what they’ve found.  But there is much more to do.

The merchant who found the pearl had to set it aside for a while, because he couldn’t buy it with what he was carrying. But he came back and claimed the valuable thing that he had found while looking.  If, in the words of a song we sing here, or in a prayer we pray, or ia scripture we read, you find that pearl, you’re not required to give up everything for it right away.  I encourage you, though, not to just walk away from it.  

In the both parables, the response to what was found was to “go, sell everything, and do what it takes to secure for yourself the treasure you’ve found.”  These were about what we might do for ourselves.

But that’s not the only bible responses we read today.  Several others were in Psalm 105.  They speak to us of how to respond in the direction of God, and of other people around us.

In Palm 105:1(a) (the first half of the verse) we are invited to give thanks to the Lord and call on his name.  I can imagine the guy who found the treasure in the field saying something like, “I went out there with my spade to get rid of something foul, and I found something wonderful.” Thank you God!

Beyond thanking God, Ps 105:1(b) suggests that we share the good news. “Tell people what God does!” Don’t keep it private or secret. You are telling people, NOT IN ORDER TO convert them to Christianity. You are telling people because you’re happy! And when you’re happy, you naturally smile, you naturally let people know. Beyond letting people know, you have no other purpose. So, the suggestions are that we Thank God, and Tell People. After all, you’ve found a treasure.

Verse 2 is similar. We’re encouraged to sing praises to God. Sometimes we mix praise and thanks together. No problem. But if you want to separate them out in terms of what we’ve read from the bible today, think of it this way.  You’ve found the pearl of great price among the ones you were looking at, and you’ve made it your own. So you say something like “Thank you God (that’s thanks). You’re wonderful! (that’s praise).  And the second half of the verse leads us to “tell of all God’s wonderful works.” The “all” here is not “all the people”, but “all the works”. So it’s not just “I found a treasure, I found a pearl,”  but “God has done this, and this, and that, and that, and is doing this, and that, and will do this, and this, and that, and that.”

Conclusion

We’re called today to see in what God does for us the great value of living in relationship to God. So, what we find, we must not just put into our pockets, or cover up. We have a responsibility to evaluate it. Our evaluation of our own actions may bring us beyond thanks and praise, to confessing that we’ve valued God too low, and we’ve turned away from telling others what God has shown us.

And there are many responses. Jesus recommends giving up everything else for it. The psalmist recommends thanking, praising, singing and telling.

As we spend time in prayer this week, let’s reflect on the wonderful treasures God has shown us, has enabled us to find. And then go out and tell somebody about it, not to convert him or her, but just to spread the knowledge a little. Maybe we’ll develop new habits of life.  AMEN

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