Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

11th Sunday after Pentecost (July 27, 2008)
“Treasure” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” goes the old saying. And so off we go on our own particular treasure hunts. We dig around at garage sales, thrift stores, antique shops, or used book stores trying to find that one special item that we have been looking for. A cool leather jacket. The perfect pair of jeans with just the right tears in just the right spots. A porcelain teacup like grandma used to have. A pristine first edition of your favorite novel.

Not many of us get to go on real treasure hunts. Some of you, I know, are in to geo-caching. This is where you use a GPS receiver to guide you to a hidden container somewhere. But when you get there, it’s not really treasure that you find, but a logbook in which you write your name. Maybe you get to take a little trinket with you. But that’s not much of a treasure. The treasure was simply in finding the spot and having fun while you did it.

But what if you were able to go on a real treasure hunt? What if you were invited to go diving off the coast to search for a sunken vessel containing millions of dollars worth of Spanish doubloons? What if you found an old map from a far-off place with a big “X marks the spot”? What if you were told that untold riches awaited you if only you would sell all that you had in order to go on this treasure hunt? What kind of treasure would be so valuable that you would be willing to give up everything you had in order to obtain it? Would you be willing to do it?

In today’s reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells two parables involving real treasure hunts. Listen to them once again: “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. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Would you be willing to do what those two men did? Would you be willing to sell all you had in order to buy a field so you could claim the treasure that was hidden there? Would you be willing to sell all you had to buy one single pearl? Would you receive the expected return on your investment? Would you be willing to lay it all on the line?

That’s exactly what Jesus did for you. You see, you are the treasure that Jesus was seeking. You are the pearl of great value that Jesus found. Jesus gave up the riches of heaven itself in order to buy you and make you his very own. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Paul writes, “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) In Christ, God himself took on flesh from the Virgin Mary in order to live as Man and live a perfect, sinless life in your place. Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:8)

How much did this treasure, this pearl, cost Jesus? It cost him his life. In John’s vision in Revelation chapter 5, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fall down before the Lamb of God and sing, “you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed [or purchased] people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) And in 1 Corinthians 6:20, St. Paul reminds us that “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.”

Now let’s be honest. Do you really consider yourself to be a treasure? Forget about how many times your parents may have told you how much they treasure you. Forget about how many times your spouse has told you what a great catch you were when they married you. Forget about how many times someone has said you’re a real peach ... a real gem. You know and I know our real inner selves, and we’re no treasure. Our sinful hearts make us fit for the trash pile. We might be a real peach, but we’re rotten to the core. We’re not a gem, but rather a rock with a lot of rough edges. We think things, say things, and do things that prove we’re no treasure. We might be a catch, but we’re the kind that deserves to get thrown away, like the bad fish in Jesus’ parable about the net thrown into the sea. Why would Jesus go looking for someone like me?

It was the same for God’s Old Testament people. There was nothing special about them. They were just as sinful and disobedient as the other people around them. But God had given a promise long ago, that the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, would come through the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There was nothing in the descendents of Abraham that caused God to choose them. It was an act of grace. It was an act of undeserved love and favor. Listen again to Moses’ words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 7: “For you are a people holy to the Lord. 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, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but 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. 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.”

“You are a people holy to the Lord.” So, the Israelites were special to God after all. Why? Because of something special in them? Not at all. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people of all the ways the people provoked God in the wilderness by their stubborn disobedience and rebellion. No, the people were holy because of God’s special choice of them. “The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession.” They were set apart from the nations around them in order to bring salvation to the nations of the world ... to you and me ... through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Baptized into Christ and through faith in him, you are brought into the Kingdom of Heaven. You are a part of God’s New Testament Israel, the Church. God sets you apart as “a people holy to the Lord.” Is it because of anything special in you? Not at all. Rather, it’s because of God’s gracious choice. You are his “treasured possession.” Titus 2:14 says that our “great God and Savior Jesus Christ ... gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession.”

When we compare ourselves to God’s Law, you and I know that we are not much of a treasure. Our hearts are full of a lot of junk. We’re no pearl of great price. We’re just a tiny, insignificant grain of sand.

But you are baptized into Christ Jesus. Therefore, God sees you differently. And when God’s holy angels return on the Last Day to separate the evil from the righteous, you will be in that group of good fish taken out of the net ... not because of anything in you, but because of everything that Jesus has done for you. The blood of Jesus has washed your sins away. You are forgiven and set free from the condemnation of God’s Law. The perfect life of Jesus is credited to your account. Jesus has earned your citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. You are holy. You are righteous. You are a treasure. You are a pearl of great price.

Knowing that you are so treasured by God, you and I can change the way we seek for treasure. In our hearts we can give up all allegiance to the things of this world that fade and wear out and break. Remember our Lord’s words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matt. 6:19-20) Find your true treasure in Jesus and in his Kingdom ... his rule and reign in your heart by grace through faith. Dig deep into God’s Word which points you to Christ and the treasures of the Gospel. And come often to the Lord’s Table, where Jesus has provided for you a feast of eternal treasures ... his precious body and blood for you to eat and drink, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.

Jesus, priceless treasure,
Fount of purest pleasure,
Truest friend to me,
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee;
Naught I ask beside Thee.

Hence all earthly treasure!
Jesus is my pleasure,
Jesus is my choice.
Hence all empty glory!
Naught to me thy story
Told with tempting voice.
Pain or loss, or shame or cross,
Shall not from my Savior move me
Since He deigns to love me. (LSB 743.1,4)


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