Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Costume Jewelry or a Pearl of Great Price
When I was growing up, one of the days we looked for was the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog in the mail. We poured over the wish book imagining and dreaming of all the toys we wanted. My grandmother brought us down to earth by saying, “If wishers were horses, beggars would ride.” Ouch. My dad had another way of bringing me down to reality; he told me I had champagne taste on a beer budget. Don’t you just hate it when people know you that well to expose your weakness? It hurts to have somebody know you that well even if the truth is meant for your benefit. As we stand before God, I wonder what He thinks of the way we look at the things of this life. We are severely tempted by the things of the moment. It does not matter to us what is coming, all we want to know is what we are getting right now. A bird in the hand is definitely worth two in the bush, right? But the down side of this is that we too often settle for a pale imitation of reality, with far less than what God wants to give to us. We seem ever ready to exchange the promise of His eternal future for the passing glory of the moment.
Today Jesus speaks to us of desire. He speaks of the desire for that which is truly of value, priceless, beyond imagination. Instead of settling for costume jewelry, we hear of a man who sold all to possess only the pearl of great price. This is not simply about values but about the faith and trust we have in God. This is complicated by the fact that God's treasure is often hidden and not obvious. It is a treasure that often requires us to choose between the moment and the future God has prepared for us. It is a matter of choosing between what we see now with our eyes and what we see in God through the eyes of faith.
Jesus tells us a couple of stories. About a man who finds a hidden treasure, keeps it hidden and sells everything to purchase the ground which holds this treasure. About a fisherman who has toiled so many times for nothing and who comes up with such a catch that he can afford to throw back the fish of lesser value. About a jeweler through whose hands have passed countless gems and pearls but who gladly gives them all up for the one pearl of great price. We hear of hidden treasure that costs the everything of the moment before it can be grasped or a pearl of great price that required you to let go of all the other pearls and gems you called your own or a net so filled with fish it meant letting go of the ones less valuable in order to keep only the best.
This is not theory. This is not a discussion for the classroom. This is real life. These are the choices we face each and every day. The treasure of God's grace remains one hidden from the vision of this world and its values. Do we see it clearly enough in faith to let go of everything else in order to possess only the hidden glory of His promise and grace? Do we believe that we can be picky about the treasures we call our own – picky enough to let go of the wants and desires of the moment in order to hold on to eternity? Do we believe that the things that God has given us in Christ are the real and true treasures of our lives – and that which makes us masters, lords, and rich?
Faith is trust but not trust in what we see but trust in the promise and Word of God. Faith is trust in what God has promised us in Christ and the outcome of our lives prepared for us by the cross and empty tomb. Today we are challenged to look at what we hold in our hands and what we behold by faith in the cross and empty tomb. As Luther once told us, we are empty bags with nothing to call our own and nothing of value until God fills us with His gracious favor of the gifts of the cross – forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, and everlasting salvation.
The work of the Spirit is the work of persuasion. The power of the Spirit is to help us see beyond the moment around us into what is God's gifts, God's grace, and God's timing. The Spirit does not compel us but persuades us, persuades our hearts, persuades our minds, that the grace of God is our richest treasure and the hope built upon the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is that which most true and most real in our lives, that forgiveness, life and salvation are the truest of treasures and worth loosening our grasp upon this moment in order to possess for eternity.
We do not make a onetime decision to believe but daily are persuaded by the Spirit at work in us through Word and Sacrament. Daily the Spirit teaches our hearts to believe that God delivers what He promises and that His grace is the most solid and secure thing in our whole lives. Daily the Spirit leads us to live according to this value and truth. Daily through repentance and confession the Spirit makes the scales to fall from our eyes that we might see in faith what is most true, most valuable, and most to be trusted.
We come here today with the same wants and desire as most people in this world. But we come with an awareness of what God in His mercy and grace have provided for us. Today we pray that we may see the hidden grace of God, hold on to it by faith, and grow in joy through the realization of all that Christ has done for us sinners living in the shadow of death. Here is Christ teaching us that the promise of God is more sure and solid thing in our lives, that holding on to the hidden treasure of grace means God will daily and richly supply our needs for this body and this life as well. We do not learn faith by trusting God for the little things in this life and then learn to trust Him for eternity. No, we trust Him for forgiveness, life, and salvation and it is this trust for eternity that frees us from today's fears and leads to see what is most true and secure.
The truth is we as Christians act more as victims than conquerors. We act as if our fears and regrets are more real and powerful than God's promises. It is certainly true that what is often the appearance of defeat is the victory of God – at least as the world sees things. How tempting it is to give up God's pearl of great price for some costume jewelry of the moment! How tempting it is to believe that the slings and arrows of this mortal life and earthly fortune define us instead of the riches that belong to us by baptism and faith!
Is the promise of God worth letting go of the things of this moment? Are the treasures of grace flowing from the cross as real as or more real than the glittering treasures of this moment? What God gives us, no one can steal, nothing can devalue, and nothing can destroy. This is what the Spirit works to persuade us of, to convince us of, that we might be free from our fears and confident of His gifts, graces, mercies and promise. We come as sinners confessing that we have drunk freely of the things of this world and this life. The Spirit has shown us that what we thought was most important turns out to be worthless. Yet in the midst of our failure, regret, and confession, Jesus points us to the pearl of great price – the cross and empty tomb. For this we would gladly exchange everything of earthly value and importance because it is this treasure that makes us rich forever. Nothing less will do. No costume jewelry is worth what this pearl of great price gives to us. Like those in Jesus’ parables, we pray for faith to see this and to see by faith. Amen