Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sermon: Matthew 13: 44-46 Treasure and Pearl

I wonder if you’ve heard of the Broighter gold? These days, you probably know it as the rapeseed oil with its distinctive gold colour, grown and produced at Limavady and available to buy down the street in Supervalu. But the original Broighter gold was discovered outside Limavady in 1896. Tom Nicholl and James Morrow were ploughing on farmland near the shore of Lough Foyle when they came across some items buried 14 inches under the surface.

They described it as a lump of mud, but when it was cleaned up, it was stunning. There was a model boat, 7.25 inches by 3 inches, weighing 3 ounces. There was a torc, a collar 7.5 inches in diameter; a bowl, two chain necklaces and two other torcs. All gold. One of the finest discoveries of treasure in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps we should invest in a metal detector! Derek McLennan was out in a field in Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland (think Stranraer / Cairnryan - that southwestern part of Scotland). In 2014 he discovered Britain’s biggest ever Viking treasure - about 100 items including silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring, an enamelled cross and a bird-shaped gold pin. The Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (who rules on the value of items declared to be treasure) valued the find at £1.98 million - which the National Museum of Scotland would have to pay to the treasure finder. (It’s different in the rest of the UK - the money is split between finder and landowner). Not bad going for a day’s metal detecting!

The Broighter gold and the Dumfries field are real life examples of one of the stories Jesus tells in our reading this evening. Over these summer evenings we’ve been listening in to Jesus telling some stories. But these aren’t just stories about the good old days, or just made up stories. They’re stories with a point - they’re to teach us something about the kingdom of heaven. What is God’s kingdom like?

Now tonight, we have two stories that, on the surface, seem very similar. They’re both about a man, and something very valuable, and what the man does to get the valuable item. So was Jesus going on a bit too long, as sometimes preachers are in the habit of doing? Or what is Jesus teaching us through these two stories? Let’s look at them in turn, to see what the kingdom is like.

Verse 44: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.’

In this first story, we’re introduced to a man who is out digging in a field. He doesn’t have a metal detector like Derek McLennan. He’s just working in the field - like the Broighter farm labourers. And as he digs, he comes across something he’s not expecting. Treasure, hidden in the field. There were no banks or safes when Jesus was telling the story. The only thing you could do with valuables was to hide them in a field.

The treasure was hidden in the field, and found by this man. Immediately he knows how precious his find it, and he knows he must have it. So he goes and does what he has to do. He hides the treasure again, goes and sells all he has and buys the field (and with it, the treasure).

The second story starts in verse 45. And it sounds the same. But it’s different. See if you can work out what’s different as I read it: ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’

Now, he goes and sells all he has to buy the precious pearl. But what’s the difference between the two stories? The first man found his treasure by accident, but the second man has been hunting for a long time, knowing exactly what he’s looking for. He’s a merchant looking for fine pearls.

Think of some of those daytime TV programmes. Bargain Hunt, where the people try to find the things that will make the biggest profit at auction. Or you had the Antiques Roadshow the other week at Stormont, where people could bring their antiques to be valued by the experts, those who know their stuff.

Well this man in Jesus’ story knows his business. He’s a merchant, dealing in pearls. He’s bought and sold many pearls in his time. He has seen them all... but then he finds a very special one, ‘one of great value.’ He knows that he must have it. And so he does what he has to, in order to get it.

The first man found his treasure by accident; the second found his after a careful search, but in both cases, it was a life-changing discovery. Do you remember what they did after finding their treasure? They both sold all they had, giving up everything else, in order to get the most precious thing.

In one sense, it costs them everything, but stop them, if you can, and ask them, is it worth it, and they’ll say yes, yes, a thousand times yes! Having found the treasure, nothing else compares, nothing else matters. To be able to buy the field and receive the treasure - nothing else compares to that!

Now maybe you’re sitting thinking to yourself, maybe I should dabble in antiques, or maybe you’re wondering how much a metal detector would be. But remember that these aren’t just stories, they’re parables. Jesus is telling these stories to teach us something about his kingdom. But what’s the point of these parables?

Well, remember how he starts them both. We could so easily slide over these words, miss them in the excitement of the treasure hunt. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like...’ These stories are a picture of the kingdom. So what is the treasure? What is the pearl of great price? These two parables point us to the greatest treasure we can know - the Lord Jesus himself.

The two stories together show us that people find Jesus in all sorts of different ways. Some people stumble upon him, when they’re weren’t looking for him, finding him unexpectedly, like the man finding the treasure hidden in a field. Perhaps that was the case for some of you here tonight. You had a sudden encounter with him, and your life was changed in a blink of an eye.

But others are more like the merchant hunting for pearls. They’re on a long search, exploring many different philosophies and religions and spiritualities, before discovering the great glory and value of the Lord Jesus. Maybe that’s your story.

But however you come to find Jesus (or maybe better, to be found by him), getting to know him and trust him is a life-changing event, because of how precious Jesus is. Compared to Jesus, nothing else matters.

When we find Jesus, we discover great joy, because Jesus is more precious than anything we can own or buy or give our life to. It’s what Paul says in Philippians 3. Before becoming a Christian, Paul (Saul as he was known then) was extremely religious, very strict in following the Jewish customs. Yet here’s what he says: ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him...’ (Phil 3:7-9).

Paul says that nothing else matters, nothing compares to knowing Christ. Jesus is the great treasure, the pearl of great price, and we can experience the joy that comes from knowing him. More than that, we want to share this joy, as we help others to find him as well.

Perhaps you have found the priceless treasure of the Lord Jesus. Rejoice! As you take the bread and wine, give thanks to the one who gave himself to save you, the one who came to seek and to save the lost. But as you rejoice, you’ll have a story to tell of how it happened - whether by a lifelong search, or by a sudden unexpected discovery. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories. Tell them to others as well. Here’s a great way in - ask them, what’s most precious to you? What do you value above anything else? Then tell them how you discovered the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price.

But perhaps you realise that you haven’t found Jesus yet. You might be searching. You might not be bothered at all. Well, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, don’t give up. Keep looking, keep searching. And even if you’re not looking for him, he might just be looking for you, and suddenly, unexpectedly, when you least expect it, you might just discover the greatest joy of all in Jesus. My prayer is that all of us will find Jesus, or rather, be found by him, so that we all find this joy, the joy of knowing Jesus.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 20th August 2017.

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