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Sermon for 27 July 2014

FIRST READING Deuteronomy 7:6–9

6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you — for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
PSALM Psalm 125

1 Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast forever. 2 The mountains surround Jerusalem; so you surround your people, O LORD, from this time forth forevermore. 3 The scepter of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the just, so that the just shall not put their hands to evil. 4 Show your goodness, O LORD, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart. 5 As for those who turn aside to crooked ways, the LORD will lead them away with the evildoers; but peace be upon Israel.


SECOND READING Romans 8:28–39

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
GOSPEL Matthew 13:44–52

44 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. 45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 Have you understood all this? They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Some one hundred plus years ago, there was baseball game played in Salt Lake City. A team called the Rhyolites were playing against a team called the Beattys and the Beattys were up to bat. The pitcher threw the ball, the batter swung and the ball rocketed toward first base. William Giffiths, the first baseman, saw the ball coming his way. He then watched with amazement as the ball ricocheted off a small stone and landed right in his glove. It all happened so quickly that he was able to beat the runner to first and easily tag the base for the out.
The little stone had given Griffiths a lucky break, but he decided it had no business on the playing field, so he walked over and picked it up. As he raised his hand to throw it off the field, something caught his eye. He took a careful look at the stone and recognized it was no ordinary stone. He saw a glimmer of gold in it. He quietly slipped it into his pocket and went on with the game.
That evening he returned to the ball park with a lantern and spent an hour scratching around in the soil until he had accumulated a bucketful of rocks. By morning he knew that those rocks assayed at more than $900 a ton. He called in two friends and with them he quietly bought the ball park. If this story somehow sounds familiar it should; for this account sounds a lot like Jesus’ parable we read a few moments ago. The mine was called First Base, and the first shaft struck ore at a depth of only 33 feet. Infielder William Griffiths soon found himself, a very wealthy man.
Jesus once said the kingdom of heaven is like that stone that changed the life of William Griffiths. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,” Jesus said. “When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Let me ask you this, who doesn’t like a treasure hunt?
Remember when Publisher’s Clearing House would entice us to buy magazines by filling up our mailbox a few times a year with notices telling us that we may already have won a million dollars? I believe they’ve changed their tactics a bit, but it was just last week that I saw two of these advertisements in the mail. Now be honest, how many were enticed into pasting the appropriate stickers on the enclosed card and send it back in to claim your prize? How many are still getting magazines from those promotions? Besides, who needs to paste stickers and mail back paperwork when, according to my e-mail, there’s a Nigerian Prince who is trying to give me $50 million if I will advance him a small fee to help unlock the funds from the national bank in that country. Who hasn’t dreamed of buried treasure? Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery, perhaps even to the point of spending money buying a ticket?
Reader’s Digest carried a story about 81-year-old Louise White of Newport, Rhode Island who bought a lottery ticket and stowed it in her Bible. That must have been a good place to stow it because the $336 million jackpot she won was the sixth largest payout ever. As many of you know I’m not a fan of our lottery so placing a lottery ticket in your Bible for good luck, well… On the other hand, if that’s what it takes to get you to open your Bible, well play away!
Having been stationed in Las Vegas and having visited Atlantic City to watch an Allen Jackson concert, I saw first-hand the number of people filled with dreams searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And Sin City isn’t the only place where people look to strike it rich; Wall Street too is lined with folks looking for the elusive golden investment. So the passage this morning seems to be one of Jesus’ parables that we can relate to. And it would seem that human nature hasn’t changed all that much. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field . . .” One thing about this passage is obvious, Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is to be prized greatly.
It’s easy for us to relate to this parable because we place a high value on our earthly treasures, because of the improvement they can bring to human lives. So how much more should we prize the treasures of God’s kingdom? One of the things I think is important to note here, is that Jesus is talking about the entire kingdom, not just heaven, but the totality of God’s reign; God’s work in the past, present and future. Have you heard of the Mount Morgan gold mine in Queensland, Australia?
The Mount Morgan gold mine is one of the richest in the world. Yet for many years, the people who owned the land on which this mine sits lived in deep poverty. The earth beneath their feet contained vast wealth, but it was out of sight. When they discovered what was buried below, it changed their life tremendously. In the same way, the kingdom of God, says Jesus, can transform lives.
Of course, unlike the treasures of God’s kingdom, earthly treasures don’t always improve one’s life. Ask many of the lottery winners if coming into all that money really improved their lives. Evidence suggests that it hasn’t. Some even report that winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to them. People think to themselves, “If I could strike it rich, my problems would be over.” Generally that’s untrue. The reason I say this is because happiness doesn’t come from outer circumstances but from an inner assurance. If you’re not happy with a couple of hundred bucks in the bank, you probably won’t be happy with a million. As someone has said, happiness is an inside job. As I’ve said before, true joy can only come from God.
When opera diva Beverly Sills was asked if she is happy, she replied that in view of the tragedies that have happened in her life, she couldn’t say that she was happy but, she said, “I am cheerful.” Her tragedies included one of her children being deaf and the other mentally challenged. In telling about Beverley Sills’ life, Dr. Michael Brickey says that he thought her nickname Bubbles came from her bubbly personality. Actually, he says, her nickname started at birth when she was born with a big spit bubble dangling from her mouth.
Commenting on Sills’ statement about being cheerful, Dr. Brickey says that most people know how to be cheerful. Few, however, know how to be happy. Think about that for a moment. Most people know how to be cheerful, but few know how to be happy. Cheerful is a mood that is light, free, and open. Often the pitch of your voice is a little higher. And you feel good. Cheerful is something most people can obtain. However, notes Brickey, when people try to be happy, they usually are miserably disappointed. That’s because happiness is a byproduct of living with a sense of purpose, perspective, and appreciation. When people try to be happy without God, they usually seek an activity that will “make them happy” like going to an amusement park. However, after enjoying such pleasures, you typically are left with a feeling of “what’s next?” and “is that all there is?”
I remember when Terry, the girls and I went to see Niagara Falls for the first time. We traveled to New York with some friends of ours and they offered to take us to see the falls. Because we had to take two vehicles, we were talking about the falls with our friends over a GRMS radio. About an hour or so into the trip, my friend in the lead car got really silent. After a few minutes he asked what I was expecting to see, I told him I was excited to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Again there was silence. After a few moments my friend said I think you’re going to be disappointed: He was right. As I stood looking out over Niagara Falls, I found myself asking, “is this really it? Is that all there really is?”
Being cheerful can be as easy as the anticipation of a new experience, the recalling of a pleasant memory or as easy as whistling a happy tune. You can choose to be cheerful. But the same can’t be said of true happiness. You can’t choose it, you can’t earn it, and you can’t buy it. You must open yourself to it. To attain true happiness, you must yield control of our life to God. That’s the meaning of the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God: In the New Testament, the two are used interchangeably.
Sometimes we become puzzled when we read Jesus’ parables about the kingdom of God. One way to make understanding the Kingdom of God is to remember that it simply means allowing God to rule over our life. When we open ourselves to God and ask God to take charge of our life and we allow God to make whatever changes are needed in order for us to be all He created us to be, then we discover that sense of purpose, perspective, and appreciation that is the essence of happiness.
Those of us who are more mature, aka older, may remember the name Norma Zimmer. Norma Zimmer, if you recall, was a popular singer with the Lawrence Welk orchestra. Norma had a difficult childhood as a result of her parents’ drinking. To cope, Norma used singing as her escape! As a high school senior, Norma was invited to be a featured soloist at the University Christian Church in Seattle. When her parents heard she was going to sing a particular song, they both insisted on attending the service, much to her chagrin.
She tells about that service, “I stole glances at the congregation, trying to find my parents . . . then in horror I saw them weaving down the aisle in a state of disheveled intoxication. They were late. There were only a few empty seats left . . . The congregation stared. I don’t know how I ever got through that morning.” After she sang and took her seat, her heart pounding and her cheeks burning from embarrassment, the pastor preached on the scripture verse from the Psalms, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (46:1).
Norma said, “My own trouble seemed to bear down on me with tremendous weight . . . I realized how desperate life in our family was without God, and that day I recommitted my life to Him . . . Jesus came into my life not only as Savior, but for daily strength and direction.” So many people are trying to live nowadays without God. Many give the illusion that they’re doing well. Many are quite cheerful as long as life is going their way. But ultimately, there is no real joy; there can’t be because there is no lasting happiness without God.
Trusting God, and giving God control of your life, is the key to victory in every situation. That doesn’t mean that everything in life will always turn out the way we want it to. It means yielding control of our lives to God and He will give us strength to find meaning in every situation. A shipwrecked sailor was thrown upon a rock where he clung in great danger until the tide went down. Later a friend asked him, “Jim, didn’t you shake with fear when you were hanging on that rock?” “Yes,” he replied, “but the rock didn’t shake.” Trusting Jesus, and giving Him control of our lives, is the rock on which to build a joy-filled life. There is no treasure in this world comparable to knowing that, whatever life may send us, we can have the peace of knowing that we are in God’s hands.
Maybe you know the story of a young black girl from Birmingham, AL who was determined to be a figure skater and a concert pianist. The problem was this was in the 1960s when Birmingham was not exactly conducive to such dreams for an African-American child. Her parents, who themselves had dreams for her, named her with an Italian musical term that means to play “with sweetness.”
Sweetness discovered at a young age the cruel legacy of racism. As a young lady she wasn’t allowed to use the dressing room of a local department store, which at that time was reserved for whites only. Her family attempted to eat at a restaurant after the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. They were greeted with silence and stares. Some people would have become bitter, but not Sweetness. It only made her more determined.
It was her faith in God that made the difference. She trusted God completely. She says she “approached each setback, each insult, and each failure as part of the wonderful script that God was writing with her.” She didn’t make it as a professional figure skater. Nor did she earn renown as a concert pianist. God had something better in mind.
On September 11, 2001, a voice on the telephone informed President George W. Bush that the United States was under attack. It was the voice of the woman who, at the time, was considered by some, to be the most powerful woman in America. As she informed the president of the attack, she implemented emergency procedures to protect the president and his staff. She also assured the leaders of the world that the United States government was still up and running. It was the voice of the young lady from Alabama whose name in Italian means to play “with sweetness.” You and I know her as Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State of the United States, still, arguably, one of the most respected women in our nation. She credits her parents, of course.
But more than anything else, she credits her faith in God. Truly that faith has been a treasure surpassing the value of anything else in life. Christ offers us this same treasure today; the kingdom of God at work in our lives. Emmanuel; God with us. God within us, God beside us, God giving us strength for the living of all our days. This treasure is worth selling everything else in our life in order to purchase it. But we know it’s not something that can be obtained like a new car or a piece of jewelry. God’s kingdom is a free gift. All we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ and open ourselves and let God take control. When we do, God’s kingdom in Christ will be ours. That’s where true joy, peace and happiness can be found.

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