Sunday 27th July
Readings: 1 Kings 3.5-12; Romans 8.26-end; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
May I speak in the name of God our Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Amen.
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.’ (Matt 13:44)
What an amazing range of story, imagery and theology we are given in this mornings readings. We read yet another famous passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans, Jesus offers some different ways for us to try and get our heads around what the kingdom of God is, and we are reminded of the great and humble request of Solomon when he became king over Israel. Of everything on offer, I would like to pick up on the themes of investment, wisdom and God’s love.
Two parts of our gospel reading tells us that the God’s kingdom is a treasure which inspires a person to sell all they have to acquire the treasure. In a round about way, this is something I have been thinking about lately; I have been thinking about what it means to invest. I have been wondering this, much more specifically, in regards to investment in a culture of the instant.
What would I sell all I have in order to possess it?
If you were to ask Meagan you would find out that I am not the best person for planning ahead. To think about and commit to what may need to be given up now in order to secure something in the future, falls farther from my natural inclinations than to simply see what happens, when it happens and respond to it as best I can. This means that I can, very quickly and without even knowing it, miss opportunities for investment that would offer more opportunity and chance for something bigger, something more meaningful and with more depth than the option I often take. I am learning that investment isn’t simply about the return but also about the quality of the return.
This is something, I think we see in Solomon in our Old Testament reading. We heard of the great gift God had offered to Solomon; this was Solomon’s chance to receive what he most desired in that exact moment. Here was a chance to look back of his life, albeit a short one at the time, and to get exactly what he wanted. If you do not value the long term, if your eyes are simply drawn to the present, you could ask for anything. New car, new clothes, the phone or computer you always wanted, limitless funds in your bank account, power to right the injustices of the world, feed all those who have no food, clothe all those who have not clothes, and the list could go on and on. Solomon asks, instead for a specific tool so that he can do what God has called him to do, wisdom to rule a nation.
He knows there is value in a powerful king, there is purpose in trying to provide for the needs of his nation, and he lives in the reality of injustices. But he sees, even before he is gifted with his famous wisdom, that in order for anything to have a lasting impact wisdom is necessary to navigate, to judge and to build up the structures that will sustain the needs of his people.
Wisdom has always been explained to me as the ability to take knowledge and give it meaning, purpose and insight in life. The dictionary definition of wisdom is, ‘knowledge of what is true or right coupled with the just judgement as to action.’ Wisdom is knowledge rooted in action, in life. It is the ability to digest information and apply it to a context, and as our dictionary definition offers, it is knowledge and action balanced in just judgements.
As we look out to the needs of our world, it is easy to think of what we can do in this moment that will make a difference; and I would say that we must be people of action, people who are willing to act in the face of injustice. But, we must too, be ready to put energy into things that will last. Solomon knew that if he were to properly govern his people he would need wisdom to see the long game as well as to act in the present.
In our reading from the letter to the Romans, there are two lines that really jump our at me, ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? […] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom 8.35, 37-39)
I find these words so comforting to hear and read. Paul is convinced! Not just thinking about it, not at the point where the evidence may suggest this to be a possible conclusion. Paul is convinced, that nothing, and he means nothing, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ our Lord. That which Christ is, the incarnate Word of God, has given everything so that we may know God’s love for us.
But I also have a fear, if you will allow me to share it. I agree with Paul and I too am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but I worry that the church has spent many years attempting to condition the unconditional love of God, that we have hindered people from knowing that nothing can separate them from God’s love.
As a zealous youth I can think of all the different ways I learned to tell people of their sin and their need for salvation. I remember ministers and congregations saying ‘God is love, but in his wrath he cannot stand to see you miserable sinner.’ I stand with the great Martin Luther who struggled to understand how he was ever going to get himself to a place of goodness to be able to stand in the presence of God and accept his love and grace. I have seen friends leave the church and never come back because they could see the hypocrisy I preached even when I could not.
A few years ago, I was having deep internal struggles with how I could hold my moral convictions, love others and not judge them in the process. I was talking to a friend of mine up in Newcastle and trying to explain to him the breadth and depth of my confusion and struggles and he simply asked, ‘Timothy, have you been baptised?’ The answer was easy, ‘Yes.’ I replied. Then he said, ‘That is your true identity, the one from which you are called to live.’ His answer started me as I couldn’t understand exactly how that answered my questions and issues. As I thought more an more about what he said, I began to understand that my identity, who I was and from where I lived my life, was entirely rooted in the unconditional love of God. I was baptised as a sacrament of something I did not fully understand, but it was an acceptance of a reality that is. God loves all people, all creation, and desires relationship with us; not conditioned by anything we can or will not do. We are loved and accepted.
This has since become the treasure for which I would sell all I have to posses. This, for me, only came through the wisdom of a friend, who himself had spent years thinking about and wrestling through the scriptures. It was his grounding of knowledge in life that tipped the balance for me. Wisdom, that knowledge rooted meaningfully and justly in life, showed me a pearl of unfathomable value – God’s love in which I find my identity and from which I can never be separated.
My prayer, for us all today, is that we would have wisdom to see the truth of what is present so that we may act to see our world become a better place. That we would be able to discern how to invest in today to make tomorrow a better world. And that we would have eyes to discover the treasures of God’s kingdom so that we may be apart of true treasure and life. And most of all, I pray that we would all have a deep and unshakable sense of the unconditional love of God of which Paul, myself and many others are convinced that we can never be separated from.