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Bible readings: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=152

 

Proper 17 Year A (July 27, 2014)                                                              St James', Peace River

 

If there's a soundtrack for the book of Genesis, I'm pretty sure the violins take over today, with a big crescendo as we hear this sentence: “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” That has to be the most schmaltzy-romantic verse in the whole Bible. But when you put it next to a couple of the parables Jesus told us in the gospel, it comes a little more down to earth. Life can really be like that. The person, or the goal, you are most focused on can be what gives your life the lift you need, and makes it seem that time is flying rather than dragging. If you've found the pearl of great price, or the treasure in a field, then everything else revolves around that and the small stuff fades to insignificance.

 

Even so, it's kind of romanticizing to think that the aura of Finding Your Destiny will actually last for every minute of the whole of your life. The garbage still needs to be put out and the toilets still need to be cleaned, speaking both metaphorically and literally. And then there are the long stretches of our lives – some longer than others – when we don't have the clear-sightedness that Jesus' parables seem to assume. When it turns out that, like Jacob, we've been working hard but not for the goal we thought we had. Where is the kingdom of God then?

The pearl of great price and the hidden treasure are images which invite us to check our ambitions. Are you focused on some one thing with laser-like intensity? And if so, what is it? Is it something worth giving everything else up for? Sometimes we start out with specific ambitions, say becoming Prime Minister, and life throws us a few curve balls along the way. Or it may be something more general – to be rich, or famous – or something centred more outside yourself – to be a good husband and father, or to dedicate your life to your art. And some of us would say we don't have any such single-minded focus, life is too busy, or perhaps more positively that life has too many wonderful dimensions to let any one thing take over so completely. Even then, we may strive mightily to find the still point or the balance point at the centre of it all, that will allow us to keep the juggling act going.

 

But if the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, then none of these ambitions, whether selfish or selfless, quite fill the bill. Wonderful as they are, they are not the kingdom. We might even achieve them, and still find that “When morning came, it was Leah!” - we haven't arrived at the destination we wanted after all. Our goals teach us the value and the joy of focusing on something, but they don't teach us what it is that we are always aiming at, and always missing.

 

To see what that is, I think we actually have to turn these parables around and look at them from the other direction. On the surface, they invite us to seek the kingdom – in words that Jesus used on another occasion, and that we just sang, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be yours as well.”[Matthew 6.33] And yet Jesus also taught his disciples not to look over here or over there for God's kingdom, because “God's kingdom is already among you”. [Luke 17:21] Two of the other images Jesus used in today's passage fit better into that way of looking at things: the tiny mustard seed, planted and ready to grow; and the yeast mixed into a huge batch of flour, ready to get to work. God's plan and purpose for this world is coming to us – has already come to us, in Jesus, and while our own plans and ambitions teach us how good it is to long for its fulfilment, they also run the risk of distracting our attention from what God is up to while we look the other way.

 

In fact, I wonder if we might re-read the images of the treasure and the pearl from this other point of view. Who found the treasure and sold all that he had to buy the field? Who gave all that he had to buy one pearl of great price? Don't those images contain in themselves the gist of the story of what God was up to in Jesus? The treasure, or the pearl, are this world which God loved so much that he gave his only begotten Son for. The treasure is your life, the pearl is you, because you are indeed that valuable to God. Perhaps only when each of us realizes that, can we really begin to turn the image the other way up again, and begin to have any idea of what it means to be so passionate for God that we would dedicate everything we have, our whole life, to the search for and the achievement of God's kingdom.

 

But if we take that two-way reading of the parables and re-apply it to the goals and ambitions that we live with in our own lives, then I think we've really got something. This world that we live in, these lives that we live, the people we make those lives with, the hopes and dreams that we have for them and for ourselves – these are what God sees as the pearl of great price. Or perhaps more accurately, God sees the treasure hidden in them, the goodness that is not always on the surface, the potential for our goals and ambitions to bear fruit. And so God is already here, holding his plan and purpose in tension with our own designs, allowing us to shape our part of the world, to make mistakes, to succeed in ways unlooked for, and to begin to wake up to that seed planted at the heart of who we are which is God's grace, the seed of God's kingdom.

 

Knowing that God is in that kind of partnership with you, whether your own goals are tightly focused or uncertain and all over the map – that changes things. It makes you better able to “go all in”, knowing that God sees the good in what you are aiming for, and will let you in on the secret it you let him. It gives you a motive to aim high, no longer just for the sense of accomplishment (which so often disappoints) but for the sake of having something to share with God who has shared so much with you – and who never disappoints. Your pearl of great price can simply be the one task that is in front of you, not because it is of great value in itself but because what you are doing is precious in the sight of God.

 

I hope you have had a taste of what that is like, and that somewhere in your life it's also true right now. If not, then please let God show you how much he sees of value in all the things that your life is about: how God is involved where you're succeeding and where you're failing, in what frustrates you and in what fulfills you, in your sense of being overwhelmed by all that life demands of you, or in your feeling of being underwhelmed, left out, or not sure what to do next. Remember that God has given everything for you; that God's patience and persistence is even more than Jacob's, willing to work not just seven years but a lifetime and then a lifetime more to be in partnership with you. You are the field God has paid the price for, because of what is hidden in your heart and in your dreaming.

 

And if you do catch a glimpse of that, then share it. Billions of people need to know it's true for them too, and some of them live not very far away from you. This is the good news of the kingdom, for every one of us on earth. The grind, the ratrace, the systems that oppress and bring people down – these aren't the kingdom. They aren't what God is seeking, and they aren't what any of us hope and dream of. But in the midst of them, the leaven is working, the seed is growing, a different way is taking shape, where each of knows what God has been willing to give for us, and in return, out of love, we begin to give ourselves back to God.