The 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Pastor Scott E. Schul
In a rapid fire string of parables, Jesus endeavors to teach us about the kingdom of heaven. The parable that most intrigues me is this one: “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.” In other words, the kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure.
As a seminarian in Gettysburg, I was surrounded by historical treasures. Each day as I walked down Seminary Ridge to class from my home at North Hall House, I was overwhelmed at the thought of the people who had walked those same steps, and the events that had unfolded there. Robert E. Lee, John Buford, and John Reynolds were just a few of the Civil War notables who had once traveled the Ridge. Giants of American Lutheran history like Samuel Simon Schmucker, Charles Porterfield Krauth, and Abdel Ross Wentz made their homes there too.
But of all the wonderful things I saw, felt, and experienced on Seminary Ridge, one wish remained unfulfilled during my time there. I never found buried treasure. My wish was modest. I wasn’t seeking anything monumental, like General Lee’s binoculars. I just wanted to find one single bullet there on the battlefield. Buying a bullet from a store just wouldn’t have been the same. I wanted to find it myself. That’s harder than you’d think. Generations of treasure hunters have picked the battlefield clean, and federal law protects the battlefield’s integrity by prohibiting folks from digging it up or sweeping it with metal detectors.
Still, I wished that I could find just one bullet. I wasn’t willing to risk committing a federal crime to get it, so I dreamed up another idea. All it required was convincing the Seminary to sell North Hall House to me and draining my savings to buy that rundown, old building. That way it’d be perfectly legal for me, as the owner, to dig the grounds to my heart’s content until I uncovered the old bullet I longed to possess. Fortunately, I did come to my senses. It would’ve been foolish to sacrifice everything to buy an old dilapidated house just so I could dig up the yard to find battlefield bullets. No buried treasure is worth that kind of sacrifice, right?
And yet Jesus offers us a parable, advocating that very course of action: “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.” Is there something – anything – that is so special that you’d sell everything you own and sacrifice everything you possess just to have or experience that one thing? Is there really anything that important and that precious that you’d surrender everything to have it?
For example, would you give up everything just to have one more day with a dear loved one who has died? Would you sacrifice all of your money and all of your possessions in exchange for a cure for a terrible disease or the end of a war? Would you sign over everything you have just to ensure that your kids get a good education and good jobs?
We could sit here all day and come up with worthy causes that might justify that kind of sacrifice and that kind of commitment. But let’s be honest. Actually doing this would be really hard. Imagine giving up everything you possess for just one thing. No matter how great or meritorious that one thing might be, it would be so hard to part with everything else we have. Buried treasure seems so alluring, so inviting, so necessary and so important… But when we look at the true price of obtaining it, we hesitate, we hold back, and then we walk away, unable and unwilling to make the sacrifice… because it costs too much.
Jesus said, “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.”
Do me a favor. Take a look at your hands. Think for a moment about all the things that pass through those hands. Those are the things we really hang onto. Those hands hold calendars filled with work deadlines, social events, family obligations, and a nearly endless parade of things that consume our time. Those hands hold smartphones that demand our attention. Those hands pilot the TV remote that captivates our eyes and imaginations. Those hands hold money and credit cards that give us access to all manner of stuff that we have to have. Those hands hold on tightly to the things we really treasure. What, if anything, are we willing to let go of so that we can hold on instead to the treasure that is Jesus?
Our society is full of so many enticing things that compete with Jesus for our attention. Are we willing to sacrifice a little sleep, a social event, a weekend away, or a sporting event so we can experience the treasure of encountering Jesus Christ here on Sunday mornings? Are we willing to sacrifice a little time so that we can actively serve our neighbors and participate more fully in the life of the church? Are we willing to sacrifice a little money so we can support the ministries of this congregation? What’s God calling us to let go of so that we can cling to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven? Or is that not really our treasure? Jesus said, “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.”
We’ve been spending most of our time today thinking about what we might sacrifice and surrender in order to experience the kingdom of heaven in joyful fullness. But as I hope you’ve heard me say before: in matters of faith, it’s not about us – it’s always about Jesus. So let’s consider this parable from a fresh angle, by focusing on Jesus. You see, we’ve been assuming that the person who found the treasure is us. But what if that person is Jesus? And what if we are his buried treasure? Oh, I know we aren’t literally buried underground, but as Pastor Lynn said last Sunday, we are all a little “weedy.” We are spiritually dead because of sin. We have buried ourselves with our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our faithlessness, and our greed. We are as good as dead if getting to heaven depends upon our righteousness. And besides, there will come a day when each of us will take a final breath, and shortly thereafter, we will be committed to our final resting place: earth-to-earth, ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust. As our remains enter the columbarium or the backhoe pours the dirt upon our casket, is that the end of our story?
The answer from Jesus Christ is a resounding “NO!” Whether we are metaphorically buried in sin or literally buried in dirt we remain his beloved treasure, and that will never change! This world may discount, devalue, and diminish us, BUT despite our brokenness, our stubbornness, and our faithlessness Jesus never will. We are treasure in a field, but treasure that has become captive to sin, treasure the evil one desires to seize.
What would it take to rescue, redeem, and liberate us? Everything. Jesus looked at the cross and knew full well the price. But he never hesitated, he never held back, and he didn’t walk away. He was willing to sacrifice everything he had: his possessions, his dignity, his comfort, his status, his blood, and even his life because no cost was too dear when it came to us. With his final breath, his purchase was complete. The treasure was his. And in his emergence from the tomb he joyfully claimed us, unearthed us, and continues to mercifully lift us back up whenever we fall to the ground. Why? It’s not complicated. Jesus loves us. We are his treasure. And he is our Savior. Thanks be to God. Amen.