Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 16, 2017
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
I have a news flash for you. Jesus loves eBay! You know - the online garage sale where you can bid on and buy virtually anything you can think of? Yes, Jesus loves it. Now, to be clear, Jesus is not an avid collector of Star Wars memorabilia or a seller of knock-off Coach purses. No, Jesus loves eBay because Jesus loves a good deal. He's all about the joy that comes from discovering something valuable - possibly priceless - while perusing piles of seemingly ordinary items.

It's the joy that Morace Park, a British antiques dealer, felt after paying $5 for an old film container. Inside he found a never-released seven-minute movie featuring Charlie Chaplin. It was later valued at $60,000.

It's the feeling Philip Gura, an American literature professor, had after paying $481 for a photograph of poet Emily Dickinson. The snapshot is just the second photo of Dickinson known to exist, which makes Gura's discovery priceless.

Kent Devey paid $25 for a used BlackBerry. He later discovered the phone contained the numbers and e-mail addresses of 50 major celebrities, including some Academy Award winners. You can bet someone was willing to pay a pretty penny for that info to be erased or have the phone returned.

Lastly, can you put a price tag on love? Maria Ariz, a nurse from New Jersey, paid $16 on eBay for a pair of jeans. When she wrote the seller to ask about other items, the two fell in love, and have now been married for seven years. Now that's a good deal -- and Jesus loves it!

How do we know? Well, Matthew chapter 13, of course, with its parables about hidden treasures and pearls of great price! A man stumbles across a pile of treasure buried in a field. He's so taken with his discovery, so overwhelmed at its value, that he sells off every other item in his possession to purchase the land and make the treasure his own. You might call it overkill, but Jesus says, "Nope. Heck of a deal."

A merchant who makes his living pushing pearls spends his days scouring the markets for the best of the best. Upon finally finding it, the man mortgages his home and sells his cars on Craigslist all to purchase a single, sparkling pearl. You might think it a waste, but not at all in the eyes of Jesus. For Him, such sacrifice, for such treasure, is well worth the investment.

Jesus is all about the joy that comes from discovering something priceless while perusing the ordinary. In fact, for Jesus, the greatest of such joys, the most magnificent of flea market finds, and unexpected eBay treasures, is none other than the kingdom of heaven. In the parables of Matthew 13, Jesus tells us that the very reign and rule of God, the loving and life-changing activity of God in heaven, has broken into our world and is available now. It's here to be discovered and embraced. Yet, like a Honus Wagner baseball card sitting in a shoebox at some grandmother's garage sale, the kingdom of heaven is found in unassuming places and encountered in unlikely ways. And whatever it costs you to "get" it is well worth it.

So the big question then is this: In what unlikely places do we find God's power and presence? Some think the key to discovering God is in getting mystical and otherworldly. They might espouse some process of escaping the trappings of flesh and world and ascending to some higher plane where God abides. Although quite great in itself, but, that doesn't seem to jibe with Jesus' idea of the kingdom's being uncovered in the ordinary.

Others might argue that the key to connecting with the kingdom is being good enough to gain admittance. You know, help enough old ladies across the street, donate enough money to charity, make a lot of people smile, make very few people cry and when your days are done boom-you're in the kingdom. But that seems at odds with Jesus' own description of the kingdom as treasure being stumbled upon in a field as if it's something freely given. (But, my Facebook friends, don’t stop donating on our link, because there are still millions of souls who need our little ministry we can’t quite reach who could use a church like us!)

No, encountering God, experiencing God's power and being caught up in God's love must be things we can encounter in the ordinary, and access easily.

What about here? Is this the place where we encounter the kingdom? Think about it for a moment. Jesus' ultimate point in the parable is that He was the means by which the kingdom had come to Earth. It was in Him that the love of God, the power of God and a reconciled, right relationship with God could all be received. Christ and His work on the cross are the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. And this is the place where that very same Jesus is to be encountered today. Do you believe that?

Do you believe that when we gather here, in this unassuming place, that the greatest treasure in the history of God's universe is here for the taking? Do you believe that when God's Word is read here, preached here or sung here, that Jesus is speaking here? Do you believe that when you hear, "You are forgiven of that sin," "You're forever a member of God's family" or "Take and eat this bread that is body, take and drink this wine that is blood" that the power and promises of Christ are taking hold in you and doing something miraculous in you?

By sight and sound alone this seems like the last "field" in which you'd find something so special. This place is filled with imperfect people and we preach a message of forgiveness and hope that to an unbelieving world sounds like absolute insanity. We believe in a Christ that is full of mercy, not condemnation. The apostle Paul said as much himself. "...the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Here's another one to wrestle with: What if the work of the kingdom is not only found here but if it is also found in you? Have you thought about that one? If you're a baptized, believing follower of Jesus Christ, then the Scriptures tell us that you are now a living, breathing "field," filled with the priceless treasures of Jesus.

Yes, you with all of your past mistakes and present problems. You're filled with the truth of Christ that can change someone else's eternity. You're filled with the Holy Spirit who's given you the same compassion as Christ and a desire, like Christ, to bless others in need Yes, you're now part of a royal priesthood whose very presence has the power to "...proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

Yes, we as a community and each of us individually as believers are the unlikely, ordinary and easily accessible places where the greatest treasure in the world can be found and encountered. With that realization comes an incredible responsibility. We - you - are the field for the wandering to stumble upon salvation. We are the marketplace of pearls for the seeker to finally find what he's looking for. We are the online auction where a hurting world can bid on trash and receive untold treasure in the form of forgiveness, unlimited and life-unending.

Knowing such things, what is your attitude toward such things? Do you come to this place each week expecting to hear from God himself and have an encounter with the kingdom? Or have you been blinded by the ordinary facade of the same people in the same pews and the same persons standing up front? Are you inviting others to this field to find the treasure in this field? Are you offering others the undeserved compassion of Christ? Are you ready and willing to answer the seeking or bear witness to the wandering about the life-changing truth of Christ?

Maybe you're here as the seeker or the wanderer yourself? Maybe you’re afraid that our little community here is just like other churches that you either found unwelcoming or too condemning? Nope; not here – sorry – we’re different than the norm and proud of it. Christ wants you to bet your life on this – on Him!

One popular show on cable television some time back was A&E's Storage Wars. It follows a group of men and women who make their living bidding on the opportunity to take ownership of unopened, repossessed storage units, in the hopes of finding hidden treasure. Yes, this is a television show. They've discovered everything from coffins and artwork to the world's most valuable comic book collection, all while paying as little as $10 to take it all home.

If you're here as the seeker or the wanderer, then what you need to know is that you have a lot in common with such modern day treasure hunters. Today you're sitting in a place and among people that may not seem like much, but if you'll open yourself up, untold treasure awaits you. The kind of treasure that only God Himself can offer. Yes, it comes at a cost. Taking ownership of all that God has in store for you through Jesus Christ will come at the cost of confessing your brokenness and your need for a savior. It means saying goodbye to a life of wandering. It means living a life of worshiping Jesus. It will mean that your days of searching are done and finding peace in the fact that you've arrived in God's family.

That might sound to you like chump change. It may be asking the world. But what you'll one day realize is that such sacrifice for such treasure is well worth the investment. In fact, you'll learn that it's such a lop-sided steal that it can only be called a gift. It can only be described as grace.

Some years ago, Pastor Mike Ernst of Hales Corners, Wisconsin stumbled across an old Corvette. As a car aficionado he knew he'd found something unique in this early 1960s', rusted and worn-out Chevrolet. Buying it from the college student who was tooling around in it, Ernst took it to his barn and began the slow work of restoration. It soon became clear that this was no ordinary, old Corvette. Some searching on the Internet revealed that Pastor Mike's old clunker was in fact the world famous 1962 Gulf Oil Corvette - a car that won first place 12 times in races at Daytona, Sebring and beyond. When Ernst found the car, he paid $3,000 for it. It was later sold at auction for $1.5 million.

Jesus loves eBay. Our Lord loves a steal of a deal and the joy that comes from discovering something valuable - possibly priceless - while perusing piles of ordinary items. Why? Because He's offering the most incredible item around: Himself. Free of charge.

May this be a place where the treasure of a Christ is easily encountered. May the treasure of Christ be accessible for the world, in you. May you, wanderer and seeker, find this treasure. Use what you've learned. It's not to be found in expected places; and no matter what the price tag seems to be, it is definitely, undeniably worth the cost!
Let us pray.
That the Church throughout the world may act as mediator in finding solutions to problems affecting peace, social harmony, and civil rights. We pray to the Lord. (Lord hear our prayer.)
For an end to the culture of death so that the dignity of every human person will be revered. We pray to the Lord.
That God will bless and strengthen all families in faith, hope, and love. We pray to the Lord.
That our parish will be a vibrant community of prayer, evangelization, and charitable action. We pray to the Lord.
That the Lord will be close to the poor, the sick, the dying, the lonely, the marginalized, the unemployed, the addicted, and the homeless. We pray to the Lord.
For the grace this week to devote ourselves to the Word of God in its richness and that we will seek the kingdom of heaven at whatever cost it may be to ourselves. We pray to the Lord.
We continue to ask that the Archangel Raphael, the healing angel, that he visit the family members of our parish who have been deeply ill for the past few weeks. We pray to the Lord.
Loving Father, let us see Your kindness, and grant us Your salvation. Give us the courage to seek You out no matter the cost. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

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