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Both Old and New Treasures Matthew 13:44-50 In the midst of a world of subtle differences these parables beg our

attention. Is the difference between Coke and Pepsi, Ford and Chevy big enough to warrant the type of rivalries that emerge? Then we have we the sub-groups within a given product. Wikipedia lists over 60 different versions of Pepsi that have been marketed around the world in the history of the company. The flavours range from Pepsi Cappuccino sold in Europe and South America to Pepsi Max Punch, a Christmas blend of cinnamon and ginger sold in England. Then there was the limited Japanese edition of Pepsi Ice Cucumber. Before we make too much fun of such a situation this is often depressingly like church denominations. Even within the Mennonite church I found lists of over 20 different denominations and I am sure those lists were not exhaustive. In Bible College I joked about my suspicion of the all-to-worldly Evangelical Mennonite Church in comparison to the Evangelical Mennonite Mission Church that I was baptized in. Now many of the differences have validity in their concerns and also add variety to the overall colour and expression of the global church. But is it all just a marketing scam? Are the world religions just trying to create their own unique brand campaign even though they know that their product is essentially the same? Do we know any longer what enduring treasure is or are we too easily satisfied with imitations?

Listen to the first parable, The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. The Kingdom is like a completely unexpected surprise. In Jesus’s time, as now, Israel is the site for numerous wars and conflicts and it is believed that out of fear of being looted

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people hid their valuables in the ground. And so in the parable a poor or middle-class worker is likely working the field when he comes across some old treasure left in the ground. After covering the treasure back up he joyfully sells everything he has and buys the field. There is no need for discernment or comparisons, he has found a treasure. Where he thought there was nothing suddenly there is all he could ever ask for.

Listen to the second parable, Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a businessperson looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. The Kingdom is like finding the best of what you prize most in life. It is the feeling of being completely overtaken by something so that you lose all inhibitions. The businessperson was discerning, patient and selective and found the finest example of what he was searching for.

In both parables there is no ambiguity about what the people find. They see instantly its worth. It stands out beyond comparison. Though we tend not to use this language much any more these parables are about conversion and transformation. In the first parable we hear the conversion of someone who has hit bottom whose life consists of dirt and being dirty. Then one day as clear as the contrast between mud and gold the person gives up everything for their deliverance out of the filth they had been living in.

This parable reminded me of the story of Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov was in prison where he was mentally and physically deteriorating. One day we read that “a feeling of great desolation came over him.” Then

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in next paragraph it says that “suddenly Sonia was beside him.” Sonia was a frequent visitor who cared for Raskolnikov but whom Raskolnikov always treated poorly. However, this particular encounter was different. We read that, suddenly something seemed to seize him and throw him at her feet. He embraced her knees and wept. . . . Her eyes shone with intense happiness; she understood, and she had no doubts at all about it, that he loved her, loved her infinitely. . . . They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but in those sick and pale faces the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection to a new life, was already shining. It was love that brought them back to life: the heart of one held inexhaustible sources of life for the heart of the other. And what impact did this treasure have on Raskolnikov? We read further, And what did all, all the torments of the past amount to now? Everything, even his crime, even his sentence and punishment appeared to him now, in the first transport of feeling, a strange extraneous event that did not seem even to have happened to him. . . . Life had [had filled him], and something quite different had to work itself out in his mind. The treasure uncovered in the midst of his filth had taken hold of him, transformed him. Everything was now seen in the consuming light of this treasure. As we read in the parable, “for joy he sold everything.” Raskolnikov had nothing tangible to sell but instinctively began to give himself over fully to it.

The second parable is a little different. It is a pearl-hunter finding a pearl of tremendous value. It is the story of another conversion. This conversion flows from search and discernment. This parable may be a little bit like the story of the author C. S. Lewis. Lewis was a committed atheist by the age of 13. In this time Lewis is said to have nurtured a longing and desire for literature and myth. His seeking led him through extensive studying and later teaching at Cambridge and Oxford. In his search for meaningful and moving literature the author George MacDonald began to have greater and greater impact on him. It was through

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MacDonald, who wrote fiction from Christian perspective, that Lewis came to reconsider Christianity in a new way. In the book The Great Divorce Lewis writes of a fictional encounter with MacDonald and where tells he tells MacDonald about the awakening of imagination that came from reading his books. Lewis writes, I started to confess how long that Life had delayed in the region of imagination merely: how slowly and reluctantly I had come to admit that his Christendom had more than an accidental connexion with it, how hard I had tried not to see the true name of the quality which first met me in his books is [, this name was] Holiness.

Lewis’s search for the pearl of beauty and truth ultimately led him to Holiness as the Pearl of Great Price. And as his life tells us he too, having recognized the value of what he found, gave himself over to it in his life and work. Conversion is not a popular term these days. It recalls too many images of violent crusades of forced or manipulated conversion. These crusades could be modern or medieval or physical or psychological. And in as much as the church can still be guilty of inappropriate forms of evangelism we also need to start recognizing advertisers as the new crusaders claiming ownership of mental and physical territory in our society. The parables and the stories above remind us of the need for and reality of singular and particular commitment. We cannot be committed to truth, in general, we cannot be committed to religion, in general. We are committed through specific relationships and experiences. These parables speak to us of recognizing something for what it is worth. Conversion or transformation is not by nature a subtle or practical. It is simply necessary for certain paths. Some paths in life demand more commitment than others if you want to follow them. The two conditions for the people in the parable were that they were either in a

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position to see the stark contrast of the treasure before them, the treasure in the ground. Or they were actively seeking out what was best and willing to pay any price for it. This seems to be at least in part where the first two parables are guiding us. Seek and you will find. And when you find don’t hold back, you will only be satisfied, you will only receive, when you give all to it. But there are three parables and what of the third?

Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Well, we are probably even less comfortable with language of judgment than we are of conversion. But to understand this parable we must look at the chapter as a whole. Jesus connects the three parables by beginning each one with the repeated phrase “again”. The parables, however, are also connected with the rest of the chapter. Chapter 13 begins with the more familiar parable of the sower who spreads seed on along the path, on the rocks and among the thorns. After explaining this parable to his disciples he tells another parable. In this parable good seed is planted in field while later weeds are planted by an enemy. When the servants ask if they should pull out the weeds the master says no because in pulling out the weeds the good seed will also be uprooted. Rather they need to wait until harvest when the weeds will be burned and the wheat will be gathered. This is a direct parallel to the parable of the fish that need to be sorted at the “harvest” or the end of the age. Both parables speak of the righteousness and evil and will only be separated at the end of the age.

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What begins to creep up on you as you pay closer attention to this chapter is that the parables of the treasure and the pearl that have been looking at also have parallels. We find in the beginning of chapter 13 that the seed that was spread on rocky ground is like a person who hears the word and receives it with joy but withers because it has no roots. This is the same word for joy that is used of the person who finds treasure in the ground. We also read about the seed spread on the path which the birds come and eat up. These are the people who do not understand the message. Jesus says that in this case the evil one comes and, like the birds, snatches away the seed or the message from the person’s heart. The Greek words for “snatch” and the Greek word for “sell” in the parable of the pearl sound very close to each other. It may also be that the image of snatching from the heart parallels how the businessperson would have viewed his pearl, also keeping it close to his heart. We also find an interesting parallel in Matthew 22. This passage also introduces a parable with phrase “again” which was not the common introduction for parables in Matthew. In addition the passage ends with the same phrase of judgment, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as we read in our passage in Matthew 13. The parable, however, is about a king’s wedding banquet. In the parable it says that those who received invitations “paid no attention and went off – one to his field, another to his business.” And these people no longer deserved to come to the banquet. Now field and business are the same two words describing the people in our parables this morning. So surrounding the parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price are other parables critical of those very people. The earlier passage telling how the seed of the kingdom does not bear fruit and the later passage in chapter 22 describing how these

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people ignored their invitation to the banquet. Were the people in those parables wrong or mistaken? We can ask a related question. Does the initial ecstasy of love and affection sustain a couple through 40 years of marriage. Dostoevsky does not miss this in his account of Raskolnikov. He describes the effects on Raskolnikov in “the first transport of feeling.” Similarly some of you may have had a purging phase in your Christian walk. I can remember building a big fire in the back of my parent’s farmyard where I burned CDs, books, posters and clothing. In Bible College there were students and teachers who would make fun of themselves or others for doing things like that. Now, I personally do not feel the need to perform such a ritual at this stage in life, not to say that it wouldn’t be helpful, but I also don’t look back with any regret or embarrassment on that stage. I was hunting for something precious and I wanted nothing to do with something that would compromise that search. Though I grew up in a Christian home I would definitely call that a conversion period for me. Maybe some of you have had amazing experiences at a youth conference or on retreat or at camp or in individual prayer and reflection. And in joy you committed yourself fully to God. Then you went back to school or back to work or back to your family where you felt more like the parable of the sower with weeds growing up around you or your roots unable to dig deeper. There is another scenario. Maybe the pearl that you found was a special gift that God gave to you. Perhaps God healed you of something or gave you an amazing experience in worship or blessed you in your work or in your family. And now that is all that you are looking for. Where is the best worship? How can I recreate church ministries to look

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like what as meaningful to me? Who can pray well enough to receive another blessing? How can I make my work even more productive? And then, as we find later in Matthew, someone invites us to dine with Jesus and we are too consumed with trying to recapture some past experience. You are convinced that Crystal Pepsi that was released in the early 90’s was God’s chosen soda and so as you are waiting for its return you miss out on all the new flavours. This series of parables shows Jesus laying the groundwork for the image of the marriage between him and the church. At the end of the parable Jesus tells his disciples, “every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” In marriages and in other meaningful friendships we often want to preserve and recapture those earlier experiences that were so formative but if we are not open to the new treasures, to be surprised in unexpected and even unnerving places, then we run the risk of being stifled, stunted and bitter. God reminds us in the final parable that the kingdom is a net encompassing everything in its reach. Though we often come to know God through very specific experiences, that does not mean that our one love should exclude the many treasures hidden in the Kingdom. Our early experiences of intimacy whether with a spouse, a friend or with God are very personal and usually distinct or removed from the rest of our life. Not only is it impossible to maintain those earlier untainted feelings but it is wrong to try and do so. The parable tells us, as life itself does, that nothing remains or ever was completely

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untainted and that to live means living in a world of both wheat and weeds, good and bad fish. This goes for the world around us and within our heart. Our one love calls us out beyond our innocent beginnings. It calls us out from walls of Bible College, church and insulated friendships. It calls us, as we touched on in Matthew 22, to dine with any who would come to the Table. At the Table we can offer up the tangled sin in our hearts, in our lives and in the world. This is a parable of judgment, a word we don’t like to hear, but it is as much a parable of healing for those who would receive. Too many of our minds, families and communities are being overtaken with weeds that are too sensitive to pull, weed that threaten to uproot us with we try to pull too hard. But there remains a farmer, a physician, a healer who can still judge with integrity. Our parables this morning remind us to be open to the one who cares for us as a mother and father should. One who can be both tender and stern. Our parables remind us to be open to the treasures of God; to be open and remain open. It was only after I had already included the image of conversion found in Crime and Punishment read early that I continued to read what happened after Raskolnikov’s initial experience of submission to the love between himself and Sonia. Raskolnikov still had seven years left in prison and lifetime ahead with Sonia. Dostoevsky describes it this way, At the beginning of their happiness, at certain moments, they were both ready to look upon these seven years as seven days. He did not even realize that the new life was not given him for nothing, that he would have to pay a great price for it. . . . But that is the beginning of a new story, the story of the gradual rebirth of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his gradual passing from world to another, of his acquaintance with a new and hitherto unknown reality. That might be the subject of a new story – our present story is ended.

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As our scripture readers this morning so wonderfully presented to us, we carry treasures both old and new. Never forget the times of exhilaration or intensity in your spiritual walk but don’t become consumed by recapturing or recreating them either. You can reminisce but you cannot go back. Remain open to being surprised by the treasure uncovered beneath your feet in the dirt of your life. Remain vigilant and unrelenting in seeking the pearl of great price. Remain sensitive to the voice, to the one love, that calls you and remain willing to give all when you hear it.

Amen.

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