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Sermon for SUnday 26 July 2020

First Reading                              Deuteronomy 7:6-9

6{Moses said to the Israelites,} “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, 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. 9Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations ….”

Psalm                                                          Psalm 125

1Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast forever. 2The hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the Lord stand round about his people, from this time forth forevermore. 3The 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. 4Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart. 5As 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

28We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor 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{Jesus said to the disciples,} “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. 45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”


There was a news story on the internet several months ago about a U.S. Air Force veteran who bought a Rolex watch back in 1974 through the Base eXchange in Thailand.  He bought the watch, a Rolex Oyster Cosmograph, after hearing that it was good for scuba diving.  When he received the watch, he decided it was way too nice to wear in saltwater and decided to lock it away in a safe deposit box.  It remained locked away for nearly five decades.

At the time of purchase, the watch cost $345.97; a lot of money to pay for a watch in 1974, especially for a military member whose salary was between $300 and $400 a month.  But as it turned out, it was a great investment.  While appearing on an episode of “Antiques Roadshow”, this veteran learned his watch, which was unworn and came with its original box, certification and a guarantee, could fetch between one half and ¾ of a million dollars at auction.  Upon learning the value of the rare, pristine watch, our veteran collapsed to the ground.  I probably would have too.  Some people have all the luck.  

Of course, most of us would never spend a full month’s pay for a Rolex.  Yet we hear stories like these frequently: paintings bought for pennies at a yard sale that turn out to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Antique coins worth thousands, even rare barn find cars, some of which, when properly restored, will fetch more than 1 million dollars.  Makes you want to head to the barn, rethink what’s in the storage closets and find a yard sale doesn’t it?!  However, for now, I hope these stories remind us of two of the similes Jesus talks about in our gospel reading for today.

In today’s reading, Matthew records Jesus as saying, “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.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  Jesus is illustrating two discoveries that were worth selling everything their owners had—nothing held back—in order to acquire those treasures.  Think about what Jesus is saying here.  The kingdom of God is something so valuable, that some people will give all they have to obtain it.

Jesus is highlighting the fact that there are some things in life that are so valuable that they could be considered priceless.  For example, how much would you take for your health?  Or, what’s the value of your mind?  Or how much would you take for one of your children or grandchildren?  Now, some of you might be thinking, “Which one?”  We’re kidding, of course, all our children and grandchildren are precious.  Speaking of the preciousness of children, Pastor Gill shared with the pastor’s group something that happened this past week.

Pastor Gil went the other day, as usual, to pick up his grandson from daycare.  On the way home, Sabastian normally talks a mile a minute about his day.  However, on this particular day, he was unusually quiet.  Concerned, Pastor Gill asked what was on Sabastian’s mind.  Looking out the window Sabastian responded, “I’m looking at God.”  Curious, Pastor Gil asked what he meant.  Sabastian said, “see that tree, God made it.”  He continued “see that horse, God made that too!”  Pastor Gil said for the remainder of the ride home, Sabastian continued to point out all the things God made.  Many of us don’t stop long enough to really appreciate the important things in life until we lose them.  

There are so many things that are priceless, though we may not realize their worth at the time.  We need to sit down periodically, to stop and smell the roses as it were, and enumerate those priceless things in our life and ask whether our day-to-date priorities reflect the things that matter most.  The biggest problem we suffer today is one of myopia.  We seem to only focus on what’s near and dear to us at the moment, unwilling to refocus on the really important things.  Didn’t Jesus entreat us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21a).  We expend far too much energy chasing after the treasures of this life and not near enough time looking, obtaining, and appreciating the priceless treasures God offers.  Let me tell you about someone who learned about faulty focus the hard way.

Michael was visiting the one‑hundred‑year‑old Victoria Falls Bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia.  This bridge is nearly as long as a football field and it offers a spectacular view of a large chasm below.  Unfortunately, a continuous spray from a massive waterfall makes the rocks and vegetation along the lip of that chasm extremely slippery and very intolerant of error.  While taking pictures at the falls on New Year’s Eve, Michael dropped his glasses over the rim.  For some strange reason, he decided to retrieve them.  A headmaster at Summit College in Johannesburg and a highly regarded lecturer in geography, Michael was certainly aware of the risk.  Nevertheless, he slowly edged his way to the rim.  But then it happened.  His foot slipped—and he fell more than 100 feet to his death.

Sadly, Michael lost his life trying to retrieve a pair of glasses.  He placed the price of risking his life on the cost of a pair of eyeglasses.  Some things are priceless, they cannot be measured in dollars.  Our life is one of those.  Our family is another.  Our health is yet another.  But the thing I haven’t mentioned to this point is the most important and most costly, our soul.

Jesus said that 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 of heaven, he added, is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  On finding one of great value, he went away and he sold everything he had and bought that pearl.  Note that both these precious finds were worth everything these men had!  In other words, no matter how much you may own, no matter how glamorous you may be, no matter how high on the I. Q. scale you register, if you miss out on the kingdom of heaven, you have missed out on the one thing in life whose value exceeds all others.  According to Jesus’ teachings, this is the most important thing for us to understand.

If in fact the kingdom of God is worth more than everything else we own, then doesn’t it make sense that we strive to know as much about kingdom that Jesus is describing as we can?  And furthermore, don’t you think that this should be our foremost vocation—to appropriate that kingdom for ourselves?  What then can we say this morning about the kingdom of heaven that will help us see how precious it is?

By the way of reminder, the terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are considered by scholars to be interchangeable: They mean the same thing.  As I’ve also pointed out before, a good Jew considered the name of God so sacred that he or she wouldn’t even write God’s name.  Perhaps that’s the reason that Matthew, who was writing for a Jewish audience, was hesitant to write “kingdom of God” for fear of violating the holiness of God’s name.  So instead he used the term “kingdom of heaven.” Either way, they mean same thing.

What then is this kingdom that Jesus spent most of His ministry proclaiming, and how can we go about appropriating this treasure for ourselves?  First, the main thing we need to remember is, the kingdom of God exists anywhere that God rules.Therefore,the first question we need to ask is, does God rule in our life?  If the honest answers is yes, then you’re already experiencing the kingdom of God.  Wherever God is, wherever we allow Him to be primary, there His kingdom will be.  This is to say that wherever God is, love, joy, peace, and total contentment will be found.  The second question for us then is, what would it be worth for us to have love, peace, joy and contentment in our life?

There was an interesting story online recently about the world’s third richest man, Warren Buffett.  Buffett has an estimated net worth of $83.3 billion.  Somehow, with all that money, Buffett has managed to maintain many of his Midwestern values as well as a wonderful sense of compassion.  Buffett is a pretty savvy man when it comes to money.  People pay small fortunes to solicit his advice.  

Each year Buffett auctions off the chance for someone to have a personal meal with him and he gives the proceeds to charity.  For the past two decades, he has donated the proceeds from those auctions to the GLIDE Memorial foundation, a ministry of San Francisco’s Glide Memorial church.  Glide Memorial is a multicultural church committed to helping the poor, the homeless, and the most vulnerable among us.  Since its inception, the auctions of these lunches with Warren Buffett have raised more than $30 million for that ministry.  30 million dollars for a series of simple lunches with the Oracle of Omaha.

Guess how much the most expensive of these lunches sold for?  This year’s winner paid $4.6 million to have lunch with Warren Buffett.  Which brings me to this: Lunch with Warren Buffett is one thing, but how much would either of us pay to live in the Kingdom of God continuously?  In other words, what would it be worth to have God totally rule over our life? 

That’s what it means to live in God’s kingdom.  Or more literally, how much would it be worth to us to have the kingdom of God live in us?  That is the option that Jesus is offering us.  And that, of course, is the option that we resist.  So why are we so resistant?  Is it because we think we can do a better job than God in ordering our life?  We love to be in control, even if being in control offers us a mediocre life at best.  We miss so much in life because we refuse to turn over complete control of our lives to God.

There was a fascinating story in God’s Little Devotional Book for Women taken from the Los Angeles Times some years ago.  According to this news story, a screaming woman was trapped for a time in a car dangling from a freeway transition road in East Los Angeles.  “A half dozen passing motorists stopped, grabbed some ropes from one of their vehicles, tied the ropes to the back of the woman’s car, and hung on until the fire units arrived.  A ladder was extended from below to help stabilize the car while firefighters tied the vehicle to tow trucks with cables and chains.  “‘Every time we would move the car,’ said one rescuer, ‘she’d yell and scream.  She was in pain.’

“It took almost 2 1/2 hours for the passers‑by, California Highway Patrol officers, tow truck drivers, and firefighters—about 25 people in all, to secure the car and pull the woman to safety.  “‘It was kinda funny.’  LA County Fire Capt. Ross Marshall recalled later.  ‘She kept saying, ‘I’ll do it myself.’”  That’s us, isn’t it?  We want to be in control of our own lives—even if we sometimes mess up our lives, even when we’re not too satisfied with our lives.  Yet Jesus says tells us that we will never find the abundant life that God offers us until we put ourselves completely under His control.  That’s a lesson that the late Catherine Marshall learned.  

Catherine Marshall is a name some of you may recognize.  At one time she was married to the Rev. Peter Marshall who was the chaplain of the U.S. Senate in the late 1940s.  During that time, after only 13 years of marriage and while he was the chaplain of the U. S. Senate, Peter Marshall died quite unexpectedly of a heart attack.  Later Catherine wrote a book about his life titled A Man Called Peter which became a best seller and was made into a popular movie.

Catherine Marshall was an accomplished author who sold more than 16 million books.  Her best-selling book was a novel titled Christy.  It was based on her mother’s childhood in the southern mountains.  It was turned into a CBS television series and a television movie.  Catherine Marshall was a remarkable woman, but like us all, she didn’t get through life unscathed.

In 1961 she wrote an inspirational autobiography titled Beyond Our Selves.  In that autobiography she tells of a dark time in her life even before Peter’s sudden death.  After their son’s birth in 1940, Catherine was homebound with tuberculosis for nearly three years.  She was ordered to bed 24 hours a day for an indefinite period.  It was a devastating time.  Her husband and young son needed her—and she was confined to her bed.  And yet, after a year and a half, she was no better.

During this time, she wondered—was God punishing her for some secret sin from her past?  She tried confessing every wrong that surfaced to her consciousness.  For example, once in high school she had cheated on an algebra test.  There were other minor transgressions that troubled her mind, though none as bad as you and I have perhaps committed.  She wrote letters to everyone she could think of that she had wronged, including her husband, asking their forgiveness for any sin she had unknowingly committed.  Still, she grew no better.

Ultimately her search for health became a search for a new relationship with God.  Prior to this, she had been a conventionally religious person, but now she longed for something more.  The question was what was blocking that relationship?  Finally, she admitted to herself that she had never put herself completely under God’s control.  So, she took that critical step that changed her life forever.  One sunny June morning in 1944, she made the following promise, “ From this moment, I promise that I’ll try to do whatever you tell me for the rest of my life, insofar as you’ll make it clear to me what your wishes are.  I’m weak and many times I’ll probably renege on this.  But Lord, you’ll have to help me with that too.”  That was Catherine Marshall’s pledge.

Within six weeks there was a significant change.  She was out of her bed, taking walks, participating in activities with her family.  In her words, suddenly “life was good, so good.”  That didn’t mean that she no longer faced adversities.  Remember, this was but a short time before her husband Peter had his fatal heart attack.  Life still had its challenges, but with God ruling her life—living, as it were, in the kingdom of God—she was able to face life’s challenges with the knowledge that she could always count on God to bring her through.

Isn’t it time we stop searching for the less important things and instead begin to focus on the priceless treasures of God’s kingdom?  In closing I’d like to leave you with the reassuring words we find in our Old Testament reading: The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, … it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, … Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:6-9).


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