Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 26, 2020
Proper 12 (Year A)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
The Great Pearl Before Us

Oh, Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serves you. Help us so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you, that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Here we are in the middle of July and the skies are blue, days are long, and the ease of summer has settled upon us. Even in the midst of this COVID world life is a bit easier today than it was in March and April. Life is a bit easier in this July, as it is every July. And for a moment, you might hear this morning’s parables and think to yourself, “How nice the kingdom of heaven is like a great treasure or a beautiful pearl.” Who doesn’t like unexpected treasures or beautiful pearls? Whether it’s a blockbuster Powerball winning or the great garage sale find we’re all familiar with the stories of unexpected windfalls. And I suspect we’re all familiar with the dreams that such windfalls elicit in us. Dreams of what we would do if we won the next Powerball or found an original Monet being sold for just $5 at a neighbor’s estate sale.

In either case, whether dumb luck struck or a hidden eye saw a value no one else perceived, we’d almost invariably take our new wealth and go back to living our lives. That is to say, we’d invariably go back to our old ways of living, our homes, our savings, our hopes, and goals and values and make them better. The car we’d been driving would be updated. The house would be enlarged, if not a second one purchase. The vacation we’d barely dreamt of taking would happen. The education we had prioritized for our children would be secure. And that retirement that we’d put off would start immediately. And yet, with all of those tangible changes, I’d contend, nothing really will have changed. The problem with the Powerball life is that nothing actually changes. Houses get bigger, savings are more secure, but the values, the goals, and the priorities in our lives stay the same.

All the lottery did was make those old dreams and goals possible today. And in the midst of the ease of summer, it’s tempting to think that that’s all there is to these parables, that the kingdom of heaven is like a great power ball victory. We find it and just go back to our old life and make it better. Good for whoever wins it, but no change for anybody else. Now, before you say, that’s not me, let me say I see this all the time. I see it in me. I see it in us at Christ Church. I’ve seen it in every church from the slopes of Monica, to the shores of Palm Beach, to the blue skies of Denver. We want the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God to fit comfortably into our life and our priorities as they are today. We squeeze Sunday morning, not to mention daily prayer, we squeeze it in when it’s comfortable and convenient. We study the Bible when it fits into our schedule. We support the church after all of our other higher priorities are met, but it’s not just the church related values of our lives.

We can say the same thing for the sociopolitical values of our world today. I’m all for Detroit schools being better, just as long as my child or my grandchild gets the very best education possible. I’m for having everyone have access to great healthcare so long as I don’t pay for it. I am for better housing, equal rights and opportunities, safe water, only after I have all that I want first. But that’s not what this parable says. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone found and hid. Then in his great 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. On finding one pearl of great value he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Yes, the kingdom of heaven is of great value, but it doesn’t come freely. It’s not a mega-millions windfall for one to take. It is not a mega-millions windfall for one to take when they find it. The fortunate merchant, doesn’t just get to take the great pearl home straight away. And the tenant farmer, can’t just sneak away with a trove of gold. No, Jesus reminds us that the kingdom of heaven, the greatest treasure that we will ever find comes also at a great price. These stories are of course not about actual money. They’re about values, a way of life. And the way of this world, and the way of God are antithetical to one another. They must be exchanged. They must replace, so to speak, one another. We cannot love God and our neighbor like ourselves when we perpetually prioritize ourselves ahead of our God and ahead of our neighbor. We cannot say that we love our neighbor when we allow her to live in poverty and we live in luxury.

We cannot say that we love the children of Detroit when their schools are crumbling. We cannot say that black lives matter when black men are disproportionately subject to police violence and black communities are disproportionately mired in poverty. No, the kingdom of heaven is not free. It is a great treasure, yes, but it comes at a great price. To enter it, to purchase it, so to speak, we must sell all that we possess. All the values, privileges, and priorities of this world that we have clung to for so long in order that we might, that they might be replaced by the values, privileges, and priorities of the kingdom of heaven. We must choose between the great treasure we have found and whatever we have accumulated along the way. We must choose between the great pearl before us and all the pearls that we have in store for ourselves. We must choose which kingdom we will live in and which kingdom we will value. Friends this is hard work.

So hard in fact, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, because the cost is so great, and it’s not a single dollar. It is about the values and priorities of our life. Values that privilege ourselves or a kingdom that will privilege all. But it can be done. Not easily, of course, but persistently by prayer. We don’t talk about daily prayer often in the church, but it is true. The daily reconnection and recommitment to the way of love, that is the way of Jesus. It is fundamental. It is fundamental to the way of the kingdom of God. We must study too. We must regularly reimagine the world around us through the life and story of God. We must see the world in a different way with new eyes and with new ears in order that we might live the world differently. And we can’t do it alone. We do it with the support, surrounded by a cohort of fellow Christians committed to loving God and their neighbor steadfastly supporting you, me, and one another in our common commitment to walk in love. To walk in love not simply for ourselves, but to walk in love for God and for our neighbor.

And finally it comes through practice, by the tangible sacrificial acts of loving the stranger, by giving sacrificially of our time and our money for the betterment of their lives. I say time and money because both are required. The two most valuable possessions that we have we so easily and often hoard for ourselves, giving only a scant little to others, prioritizing their value for ourselves and our families. And so we have to practice. Practice tangibly giving them away sacrificially for another, through the service that we provide with our hands and the opportunities that we make possible with our money. And so it is that we talk about these four priorities, prayer, study, fellowship, and practice as the very fundamental tools to living in the kingdom today. Friends, the kingdom of God is like a treasure, a treasure hidden in the field of such great wealth and value. It is worth everything that we have, and it will demand all that we are. Amen.