Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sermon - Pentecost 7 - Matthew 13:44-52

Grace, mercy and peace....

Dear friends in Christ, do you love the parables of Jesus like I do? Who can resist these stories which illustrate great truths about the kingdom of God? Some of them are longer – like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. And others are quite short – in fact today our Gospel reading groups four together. The “Hidden Treasure” and “Pearl of Great Value” - these two make the same point. Similar is the “Parable of the Net”, which extends the same point. Then there's the “Parable of New and Old Treasures” takes it in a different direction. Let's briefly examine these this morning.

For the parables of the treasure and pearl, let's first set aside a wrong interpretation. The point of the parable is NOT simply the First Commandment – love God above all things. Nor is it that you have found God and you should therefore put him first in your life. You're not the man who finds God and gives up everything to follow him. You don't sell all your possessions to posses Christ or his kingdom.

Sure, salvation is beyond value. Sure, we SHOULD value our faith and our Lord as more precious than all our worldly wealth. But the problem is, that's not how it works. We are sinful and selfish and dead in our sins. We are unable to come to Christ on our own, of ourselves. We confess in the Catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength, believe in my Lord Jesus Christ, or come to him... but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel....”

No, to say that the believer is the man who finds the treasure in the field, or the pearl of great value – is to get this parable wrong. Instead, who is the one who gave up everything he had to acquire what he valued the most? Jesus Christ. He gave up his heavenly throne. He gave up his divine power and glory, at least for a time. He gave up being over all things to take the form of a servant, born in humble fashion, submitting to poverty, the derision of man, injustice, suffering and finally death on a cross. He who had no sin became sin for us. He gave up all that he had, why? Again in the words of the Catechism, “that I may be his own...”.

One of my favorite Christian artists, a Lutheran named Ed Riojas has tapped into this understanding of the parable, and painted a scene that expresses it beautifully. I'll show you this more closely on the way out of church. But the picture here is of a cemetery, with a church steeple in the background. And the main figure is Christ, who is doing something amazing. He's pulling a coffin out of a grave with his bare hands. And the banner at the bottom of the scene reads, “For joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field”. Ed writes about his painting as follows:
The Parable of the Buried Treasure” painting explanation by Ed Riojas

...This small painting is something I started after pondering the parable of the buried treasure in light of Christ’s love for us.

I couldn’t get around the idea of the field being a cemetery, with its scattered stones, and the man -- Christ Jesus -- coming to claim his hidden treasure. “For joy, he sold all he had and bought that field.”

Holy Scripture sometimes contains the most understated truths. “All he had” was his very life, given for us, “Not with gold or silver,” as we are told, “but with His holy, precious blood.” So that man pulls out a treasure with His pierced hands. The wounds are permanent, but His crucifixion and death are not.

The painting points to Holy Scripture with another finger: It illustrates just how much we contribute to salvation -- nothing. We were dead. Not only were we dead, but we were dead in our trespasses. If that were not enough, we were bound in satan’s chains. We were in a box from which we could not escape.

Yet Christ calls us His treasure. The English language helps us in this scenario -- the words “coffin” and “casket” are derived from the same words that are used for containers of wealth. Furthermore, “vaults” are used to inter this wealth.

What points to Christ’s love for us is not only His payment for our sins through His sacrifice, but also the reality of what He considers valuable. He treasures not gold or silver, but the sinful, the lost, the dregs of humanity, the rotting, the forgotten, the discarded for convenience, the destroyed by design, the consumed by disease, the consumed by conflagration, the consumed by woe. This mess of ugliness He treasures. Not only did Christ Jesus give His all for it, but He also enfolds it in His arms and holds it to His breast.

This is what the kingdom of heaven is like.


Dear friends, there once was a man who found a treasure, and you are that treasure. Though you bring no merit or worthiness of your own, the Triune God, in his grace, has valued you. He has esteemed you worthy of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Then we have the parable of the Fish in the Net. Here again, Christ shows that those who belong to him are valued. But it also shows the separation between us and the unbeliever. Like fishermen separate the fish caught in the net – throwing away those not worth keeping, so the angels with separate the believers from the unbelievers on the last day. And what separates us from the unbelievers, but faith alone. Those who believe in Christ as savior and realize we can't win salvation for ourselves but receive it as free gift from him. He saves us from the weeping and gnashing of teeth, from the punishments we deserve, from being lost forever – and he makes us his treasured possessions. Here is hope for us – when it seems that the wicked prosper and the believers only suffer. When you see Christians persecuted here and abroad. When you feel like the liars and cheaters around you enjoy all the good things in life while your honesty and hard work never pay off. Take heart. For the one who assigns true value to men has esteemed you – and has your future secured.

Finally, Jesus commends the teachers who have learned these things well, that is, the truths of the kingdom. Those who have received from him the treasures of his grace. And those, who then, set these treasures before others. Your pastor is privileged to set these treasures before you week in and week out. To proclaim to you the grace and mercy of Christ, crucified for sinners like you. To show you in new and old ways the unchanging truth that the blood of Christ covers all, renews all, revives all. To set before you the precious gifts of Christ's body and blood, given and shed for you, precious treasures which renew and sustain you, his precious treasures.

And having been so treasured, and having received such treasure, each of us daily sets these treasures before the world by our witness and faith. As we fulfill our callings in life, and as we give answer for the hope within us. All in Christ, and Christ in all of us, until the last day when all true treasures are no longer hidden but revealed.

Got grant us faith to believe all these things, and the Spirit to enlighten us to such treasures, and the will to set them before us always, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can view and purchase artwork by Ed Riojas here.  Great gift ideas for your favorite pastor!

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