Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon - Matthew 13:44-51 - Pentecost 6

Matthew 13:44-51
Pentecost 6
July 24th, 2011
“A Keeper”

Growing up in Baltimore, near the Chesapeake Bay, we would on occasion go “crabbing”. There are various ways to catch Maryland Blue Crabs, but one way is in basket-trap. You bait it, and then you come back later and pull it up.

But you can't just keep whatever you find in that crab-pot. Sometimes you have to throw the females back, during a certain season of the year. And for the males, there's a minimum size of 5 inches from point to point. I'm sure when you go fishing for other kinds of fish, similar rules apply. But when you get that one that meets the requirements, you can consider your fishing or crabbing excursion a success. It's a keeper!

We continue with a series of Jesus' Parables from Matthew 13. Today we have several shorter parables. The Hidden Treasure, the Pearl, the Parable of the Net, and the New Treasures and Old. In all of these, the parable hinges on the idea of a “keeper” - that is, what is so valuable that it is kept – sometimes at great cost.

In the first two parables, which are very similar, a man goes to any possible lengths to obtain that which is so valuable to him. A treasure in the field, or a pearl of great worth. And you can imagine that the man knew to take care of his newly purchased property. It was his keeper.

In the parable of the fish in the net, the good fish are the keepers, and the others are thrown back. Again something of value is found, identified, and kept.

Finally the man who brings out his new and old treasures – he has accumulated these keepers over the years. He wants to show how much he has, how valuable it is. He sets them out on display, for others to enjoy.

What is Jesus getting at here? What are we supposed to take away from these parables about the “keepers”?

One wrong direction often taken here is when the preacher decides that the kingdom of heaven is the great treasure in the story. That we should do whatever it takes to get Jesus, and keep him. That we should sell our possessions, and everything of value, and that our faith is what is really most important. So, come on you people, make God first in your life!

But that doesn't really work. First of all it doesn't work because we can't and don't do it. But more importantly, that's all law talk. And Jesus is getting at so much more.

It's true. We SHOULD put God first in our lives, and we don't. It's true, we do take our faith for granted. We do fail to treasure the treasure that is his forgiveness, life and salvation. We let other things distract us, and we're very good at rationalizing it all away. Yes, we're sinners. Poor and miserable. If we only acted like the people God has made us in baptism. If we'd only live up to that name that has been placed on us. If we could only be like Jesus. But we can't. Which is why we need him.

The real point of these parables, like all of Scripture, is not what you do or should do (even though you fail to do it). The real point is what Jesus Christ does, and does for you.

Jesus finds you. He's the main character here, the one who finds and keeps the thing of value. Just like the shepherd goes looking for the lost sheep. Just like the woman sweeps her house looking for the lost coin. He takes the initiative in finding you. You don't find Jesus. He isn't lost, you are. He seeks you out, finds you, and claims you, not the other way around.

And you are the thing of value to him. No, you have no value in and of yourself. If you look in the mirror, you'll see your sins. You don't see a treasure, you see a pile of dirt. You don't see a pearl, you see something an oyster spat up. But Jesus sees the real value. Not the value intrinsic to you in your sin, but the value he imparts. You are worth everything to him.

So much so, that he “sold all that he had”. Yes, he gave up his heavenly throne. Yes, he gave up earthly pleasures and luxuries, and lived a poor, humble life. And most importantly, he gave up his life. He shed his blood, to purchase and win you from sin, death, and hell. So that you may be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, in perfect righteousness, innocence and blessedness, forever.

You might be wondering, as you read your bulletin today, what that strange picture is next to the Gospel reading. And what is it doing there? I don't know the artist or exactly what he was thinking, but it was the suggested graphic for this reading, and I think I know why. That's a coffin. It's a coffin that has been buried in the field. Presumably there's a body inside it. Maybe it even stinks. But Jesus sees a stinky corpse, like you, and he sees one bought and paid for by his blood. And he doesn't leave you to the grave. He sells everything he has to get you – and to keep you – and to raise you to life and to eternal life. Such is the strangeness of the kingdom of God. So is his wonderful blessing.

And these last two parables – the fish in the net – much like the parable of the weeds from last week. Here we see, again, God separates the keepers from the wicked – and the wicked are cast away. It's another reminder of the coming judgment, and that in that judgment we are not cast away.

And finally, the scribe who is trained, that is, the one who becomes a disciple. He brings out his treasures, new and old. The believer in Christ treasures what Christ has done. Even as Christ has treasured us, loved us, by sacrificing all. Setting out the treasures happens here in the Divine Service, as we read his word, as we receive his sacrament, as we preach and hear the sermon, as sins are forgiven, and hymns and prayers respond. It happens when we live our lives in repentance and faith, and confess in word and action the love he has already shown us.

He has found you and he values you. He treasures you, and gave himself, his all, for you. And he will always keep you. Finders keepers – in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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