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Sermon for Sunday 30 July 2017

FIRST READING Deuteronomy 7:6-9

6{Moses said,} “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,} “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.”



It was one of those terrible summertime scenarios you hear about on the evening news. It’s mid-July on a swelter afternoon. The thermometer stands at 95 degrees and the humidity measures 68%. A woman and her sister pull into the local supermarket. It’s the last stop of the errands they have for the afternoon. It’s 4 o’clock, they’re hot, they’re tired and as they get out of the car, the Aunt accidentally locks her 10-month-old niece inside their parked car. Frantically she and her sister, the baby’s mother, run around the car in near hysteria. A by-stander calls 911 and then tries to help. He attempts to unlock the car with a clothes hanger, but his efforts fail. Soon the infant is turning purple and has foam on her mouth. It quickly becomes a life-or-death situation.
At this point a wrecker driver, arrives on the scene. He quickly grabs a hammer and smashes the side window of the car to save the small child from certain death. He was successful. Now in my mind, I’d say the wrecker driver did the right thing, and the paramedics who also arrived on the scene agreed. Now some might go so far as to herald the man as a hero. I personally think the term hero is misused today, nevertheless, the fact is, the man did, in all probably, save the infants life and his quick actions need to be recognized. But that’s not how it turned out according to the baby’s savior.
According to the wrecker driver, the aunt, who accidentally locked the car, was mad because he broke the window. The wrecker driver continues, “I just thought, what’s more important–the baby or the window?” That’s a question for us today, “what’s really important in our lives?” In Confirmation classes, when we talk about the first of the Ten Commandments, I explain that anything that gets between us and our relationship with God is an idol or a little god. I then ask them to name these little gods. What takes priority in our lives, our blessings, or God, the one who gives us these blessings? To what do we assign the highest priority or to where do we focus most of our attention?
In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus continues His teaching by 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.” Now the first thing we need to understand this morning is that Jesus isn’t telling us to seek after material wealth as a source of happiness. What Jesus is saying here, is that a fulfilling life only comes to those who have determined what really matters in this world and then gives everything they have to pursuing that one thing.
If there’s one thing in life that matters more than anything else, it only makes sense that we lock in on that one thing, and then make it the single most important priority in our lives. That’s the way to achieve success. Of course, the difficulty for us, is in deciding what’s the most important thing in our lives.
A man went to the sheriff’s department to report that his wife was missing. “My wife is missing,” he reported to the desk sergeant. “She went shopping yesterday and hasn’t come home.” The sergeant asked: “What’s her height?” The man said, “Gee, I’m not sure. A little over five feet tall, I suppose.” The sergeant asked, “What about her weight?” The man looked helpless. “Don’t know,” he said. “Not slim, not really fat.” The sergeant asked, “What’s the color of her eyes?” The man answered, “Never really noticed.” “What about the color of her hair?” the sergeant asked. “Well it changes a couple times a year,” said the man. “Maybe dark brown.” “What was she wearing?” the sergeant asked. “Could have been a skirt or shorts,” said the man. “I don’t remember exactly.” The sergeant asked, “Well what kind of car did she go in?” The man said, “She went in my truck.”
“OK, what kind of truck is it?” the sergeant asked. The man smiled real big and said, “It’s a brand new 2017 Ford F150 King Ranch 4X4. It’s two tone Green and Gold with custom leather seats and weather guard floor mats. It has a heavy-duty towing package with gold hitch, a DVD with navigation, a 21-channel deluxe CB radio, six cup holders, and four power outlets . . .” Then he paused for a moment. “My wife put a small scratch on the driver’s door the other day,” he said. At this point the husband started choking up. “Don’t worry,” the sergeant reassured him sympathetically. “We’ll find your truck.” The reality is, everybody has their own set of priorities, their own set of what’s important in life.
Storyteller Bill Harley tells about a children’s T-ball game he witnessed several years ago. On one of the T-ball teams was a young girl with special needs named Tracy. Tracy limped and she couldn’t hit the ball at all. But everyone cheered for her anyway. It was her team’s last game and Tracy came up to bat. She swung at the ball and quite miraculously hit it. Her coach yelled for her to run to first base. Then he yelled for her to keep going toward second, then toward third. By this time the fans in the stands were all on the feet cheering Tracy on toward home plate. But as she neared home plate, something wondrous happened. An old dog loped onto the field and parked itself just off the line between third place and home. Moments away from her first home run, Tracy stops dead in her tracks, kneels in the dirt beside the dog, and gives it a big hug.
She never made it to home plate, but the crowd cheered her anyway. She had showed them what was really important to her . . . and it wasn’t winning at T-ball. The question we need to ask ourselves is, what is it that’s really important to us? What is it that we care about most? Many of us would say that our families are really important to us, and that’s good. We were created for relationships and the family is the most basic of all relationships. Not that family life is easy.
Pardon another corny joke, but it reminds me of the Census Taker who stopped at a suburban home. “How many children do you have?” he asked the lady of the house. The woman answered, “Four.” The Census Taker asked: “May I have their names, please?”
The woman answered wearily, “Eenee, Meenee, Minee and Frank.” The Census Taker was somewhat amused by this and said, “Okay, that’s fine. But may I ask why you named your fourth child Frank?” The woman answered, “Because we didn’t want any Moe.” Even in the best of situations, living together as families is difficult. Nevertheless, our families should be one of our highest priorities. This is where we learn that we’re loved, and this is where we develop our values. Our children need our time and our guidance. And of course, the most important guidance we can give our children is our own example.
An author for Reader’s Digest writes how he studied the Amish people in preparation for an article he was writing on them. In his observation in an Amish school yard, he noted that the children never screamed or yelled. This amazed him. He spoke to the schoolmaster. He remarked how he had not once heard an Amish child yell, and asked why the schoolmaster thought that was so. The schoolmaster replied, “Well, have you ever heard an Amish adult yell?” Interesting!
I never really thought about it, but we must consider that a child’s behavior is sometimes the best gauge of what that child observes in the home. My dad used to tell me, out of the mouth of babes come everything that shouldn’t have been said in the first place. Most of us, if we were asked what’s really important to us, would have on our list our families. Another thing many of us have on our list is our health.
It’s interesting, and most would agree that our health is very important. After all, a person could have a billion dollars in the bank, but, if they don’t have good health or someone to enjoy it with, what good would it do them? Several of us here today are really conscious about our health. Several of you take time each day to take brisk walks, some include Zumba in their exercise routines and a few attend, or even teach, aerobics. Some of us even utilize exercise machines. For those who are extra serious, they will only fill their supermarket cart with only healthy food choices. I believe God wants us to take as good a care for our bodies as we can. Nevertheless, life sometimes can play cruel tricks on us.
Some of you are old enough to remember the name Euell Gibbons. Gibbons became quite a celebrity during the 1960s for advocating natural diets featuring wild berries and nuts. Some of you may remember him as a spokesman for Grape Nuts cereal. He even made it into a popular folk song of the time called “Junk Food Junkie.” This song featured a hippie-type guy whose image among his friends was as a health food enthusiast. However, secretly, he was addicted to junk food.
He begins the song by singing about all the healthy foods that he consumed. But after each verse he would go into a refrain that went something like this: “Oh, but at night I take out my strongbox that I keep under lock and key and I take it off to my closet where nobody else can see. I open that door so slowly take a peek up north and south then I pull out a Hostess Twinkie and I pop it in my mouth.”
There’s a verse in the song that begins like this: My friends down at the commune they think I’m pretty neat. Oh, I don’t know nothing about arts and crafts, but I give ’em all something to eat. I’m a friend to old Euell Gibbons and I only eat homegrown spice.” For a while Gibbons was a pop icon, well known for his dietary habits. However, cynics like to point out that Euell Gibbons, the outspoken advocate for healthy diets didn’t live long enough to collect a Social Security check. He died at age 64, but it had nothing to do with his diet. He died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm related to a genetic condition he had. Life is filled with such ironies.
Runners the world over were shocked when Jim Fixx, author of the 1977 best-selling book The Complete Book of Running, died of a heart attack while jogging at 52 years of age. His father had died even younger of the same cause. But that takes nothing away from the sport of running. Sometimes genes are more powerful than any lifestyle choice. Life is tricky. Family and health are vitally important to many of us. But our families can turn their back on us and our health will someday fail, no matter how disciplined we might be. The mortality rate for human beings is still 100%. The reality is, if we’re to be faithful disciples, there can only be one priority that can be at the top of the list of the things that are really, really important to us and that’s our faith and obedience to God.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,” said Jesus. “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.” In other words, we’re to give our first priority to seeking the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is God’s rule in human life. Everything else in this world is perishable. Everything else in this world has an expiration date, a “sell by” date. There’s only one thing that is truly eternal; God’s kingdom. And when we seek His kingdom above all things, the other things that are important to us have a tendency to fall in place.
Want a great family? Seek God’s kingdom first. If we do, then we’ll be more conscious of setting a good example. The more committed we are to God, the more committed we’re likely to be to our family. Martin Copenhaver tells about a rabbi in Newton, Massachusetts who made quite a stir in his community by challenging the members of his congregation to hold the line on not playing sports on the Sabbath. Please realize, this wasn’t a fundamentalist preacher in the deep South. This was a modern Jewish rabbi in New England telling his congregation not to let their children play sports on Saturdays which is the Jewish Sabbath.
To a gathering of parents in his congregation he simply asked this question, “How many of you want and expect your children to grow up and become professional soccer players?” No one raised a hand. Then he asked a second question, “How many of you want and expect your children to become good Jews?” The person telling this story doesn’t tell us how many hands went up, but there were some parents there that morning who were deeply stirred by his question. The truth is, there aren’t many ministers crazy enough to ask that question in today’s sports-focused society. But the question is still a valid one: What is our top priority? What or where is the focus of our time and energy?
The same thing is true of our health. Seek first His kingdom. There are studies out there that show that religious people are healthier than non-religious people and have longer life spans. One reason is because most of us do live more disciplined lives than our less religious neighbors. We’re less prone to indulge in such physically destructive behaviors as drug abuse or other excessive indulgences. You could say that it’s a package deal.
Seek God’s Kingdom first and you’ll be a better disciple, spouse, parent and member of the community. Other things will also fall into line and I believe it will also have a positive effect on your attitude about the future. It will help you in your relationship with your neighbors and your view of the world and of all humanity. From a First Commandment perspective, who is the ultimate God in our life? God tells us we’re to have no other god before Him. There are so many things in our lives today that can take our focus off God. Kept in the proper priority, these things aren’t bad. Even after school sports are a good thing, so long as they don’t come between us and our devotion to God. This includes how we spend our time on the Sabbath. The in the third Commandment God tells us to, “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” Holy means to set apart; to treat it differently from the rest of the week. Remember that God rested on the seventh day and declared it holy. He set it apart as a day of rest and so should we. So, what’s at the top of our priority list? It’s a question we must ask ourselves daily.
What is it that really, really matters to us? What is our treasure in a field, our pearl of great price? As Jesus said in another place, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33).

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