August 10, 2014
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Matthew 13: 44-51
“Do You Understand?”
The lesson I have chosen for us today contains three parables, all of which are about Jesus trying to get his audience to understand what the kingdom of heaven is like! As we move toward a deeper understanding of these we must first grasp the fact that uncovering the hidden meaning in a parable is at best a two phase effort. First: grasping the simple message offered and exploring its meaning. Then and only then, move on to discover the hidden parallel message that Jesus truly intends for his listeners to fully comprehend!
Let us start with the treasure hidden in the field. We are being told that someone finds a treasure then leaves it hidden in a field. In their joy (joy strongly suggesting that they are really excited about the treasure they have found) they sell all that they have so that they can buy the field where the treasure now is! What does this really mean?
One of the great theologians, John Wesley, says within his notes that: “The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world, and from the most wise and prudent in it. He that finds this treasure, (perhaps when he thought it far from him,) hides it deep in his heart, and gives up all other happiness for it.” We can thank the author for his insights, yet I am not sure this fully explains the parable!
Rev. Todd Weir offers us this thought which may shed some further clarity on the subject: “To what would you compare the Kingdom of Heaven?” And he answers saying, “It is like finding the technology stock you bought in the 1980s for $50 and suddenly realizing you are a millionaire. It is like the owner of DeBeers finally finding the perfect diamond and selling a billion dollar empire to have it. It is like the harassed physician tired of the HMOs, selling home and BMW and finding bliss in a mission in the Congo. It is like the crack addict waking up with a clear head and is free to choose a new life.” This analogy draws us to the conclusion that the kingdom of heaven is a treasure, a mighty treasure!
Now, as we continue to seek opening up the deeper meaning of today’s lesson parables, let us ponder these words from Augustine of Hippo back in the 5th century. He says it this way. “Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book, the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Note it. Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead God set before your eyes the things that God had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?” Ah yes, how true! Creation speaks volumes of the enormity and creativity as well as the power and beauty of God! Surely, by knowing about the kingdom of God (heaven itself), through God’s creation, we will more fully come to know God.
What is the real purpose in seeking to discover what Jesus said regarding what the kingdom of heaven is like? Is it that we need to be sure we really want to be a part of it, before we completely commit ourselves to the road that will take us there? Or is that we do want to get to heaven and thus are yearning for deeper insights, so that we can weave our coming actions and priorities with heaven in mind, as we move into the future? Personally, I get excited about the use of this phrase “in his joy,” within today’s parable lesson; perhaps you do as well! I want to know more about heaven because I want more joy in my life and I want to be sure I am advising folks on how to grasp on to this joy the scripture speaks of!
Janet H. Hunt suggests to us that we might “Consider setting aside a little time on each day, in the days to come, to meditate on each of these marvelous everyday images. Then think about ‘writing your own parable.’ How might you complete the sentence: ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like…’?” I kind of like the idea of Janet’s encouraging us to create our own understanding of what heaven is like – based on our understanding of the world in the Twenty-First Century. Emily Dickinson once said: “To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.” So let us fully live while we are weaving, weaving our own parables and understandings, based on what we have, and yes based on our own biases, which take into consideration our understanding of the teachings of Jesus, including these parables.
What about the second parable from our lesson? Do we understand that when a merchant is in search of fine pearls, it is not expected that they would ordinarily sell all that they own to buy one exceptionally great one? You see, if we do understand this, while knowing that in this parable the merchant does exactly that, then ultimately, at this point, we can then assume that the pearl was the very best he had ever seen and in the seeing it brought joy to his heart, so much so he made the irrational decision to sell everything just for the privilege of owning that one great pearl!
Ask yourself this: “What is the greatest reward the world can offer you? What are you willing to sacrifice so you can own it?” /Larry Broding’s/ Yes indeed, this is a thought provoking one to be sure, and yes it is a question we each need to ask ourselves!
I am hopeful that at this point you are starting to get the idea how Jesus was putting across the message that Heaven, the Kingdom of God, is like a great pearl, is like a great treasure, it is so special that it ought to cause you to be willing to change all your priorities in life and seek after it! If this means needing to downsize the level of car you drive or the quality of your home, because you need to pursue a different line of work or seek after different things, or invest your resources differently, simply because you want, with all your heart, to be assured of a place in Heaven; if this is what you need to do, then do it! Clearly, these first two parables are striving to put this very point across! Heaven is a priceless treasure, a priceless gift from God!
Our third parable draws us to the sea as a fisherman casts his net, catching fish of every kind. In this allegory when the net is drawn ashore it is full. And as every fisherman knows you only keep the good ones and throw out the bad. It speaks plainly and is quite easy to understand. Jesus even takes us a bit further to talk about heaven itself. It is my impression that it is here that Jesus moves away from his story to speak plainly. “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” There is no way for me to soft pedal this writing. Jesus is saying that the evil ones will not only be denied an entrance into heaven; there shall be a consequence for being turned away; “those shall weep and clench their teeth.” This is nothing short of a stark reminder that you really ought to want to make it into the Kingdom of God; Heaven is the place to be!
Karoline Lewis tells us “The promise of the parables about the kingdom of heaven is that even when the kingdom is not seen, it is near.” As we begin to fully embrace the concept and the fullness of what the kingdom of God, heaven itself, is all about we need to answer the age old question: “Are you ready to go the distance when it comes to the realm of God? I’m not completely sure that I am ready,” says Bob Cornwall. Are we starting to grasp, are we willing to grasp, the rule and instruction of God in and for our lives?
The Disciples were there when Jesus spoke these parables for their ears and their very hearts to hear. As Jesus drew the discussion to closure he asked them: “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” I can only wonder if they truly did understand that day. I am not sure that we all understand, fully, what Jesus said that day. Let us pray that our hearts will stay open to God’s leading, as we stumble upon the pathway of life, we surely will need a helping hand.
Hear now excerpts from the poet’s rendition of “Heaven at Last”:
Angel voices sweetly singing,
Echoes through the blue dome ringing,
News of wondrous gladness bringing…
Ah, ’tis heaven at last!
On the jasper threshold standing,
Like a pilgrim safely landing
See, the strange bright scene expanding…
Ah ’tis heaven at last!
What a city! What a glory!
Far beyond the brightest story…
Ah, ’tis heaven at last!
By Horatius Bonar
Matthew 13: 44-51
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.”