Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wednesday Morning Eucharist

The clouds were dark and the air itself nearly water as we gathered for an early morning service of Holy Eucharist in St. Francis Chapel at Kanuga. It is a lovely outdoor worship space, and this was our only time we would be using it during our week together. About three sentences into the sermon, the rain started falling and didn't stop until just after the post-communion prayer. Most of this didn't get preached as we hurried through the service. Everyone stayed, though. The kingdom of heaven is like this...

Matthew 13:44-46

The kingdom of heaven is like...Again, the kingdom of heaven is like... I shared at vespers a few nights ago how my dad imagined Jesus being inspired by a field of waving wheat, a scraggly mustard bush, and a woman with a basket of bread as he searched for ways to describe the marvelous and transforming, growing and rising, stubborn and persistent kingdom of God. Seeds, weeds and yeast were common, ordinary, everyday things with which his listeners were familiar.

But treasure? Pearls? In Jesus’ day, and especially among those who flocked to see him and hear him and hope to be touched by him, these were hardly common, ordinary, everyday things. Very little was sparkly or shiny in their dusty lives, very little was valuable other than food and water and shelter.

Who has not, however, as a child (or perhaps even as an adult!) secretly hoped to find a fortune hidden away, a treasure in a field, a pearl of great price? Whether we desire to pay the bills or to purchase playthings, we love the prospect of finding something precious, something worth more than we can ask or imagine...

I’ve been on a treasure hunt recently. In fact, I go on them quite regularly in the living room of our home back in Jackson. I don’t mean the times I’m searching for my car keys, which grow more and more valuable the later I am running in the morning. I mean real treasure hunts, searching for gemstones and silver and gold and pearls - made of plastic, but real nonetheless to the eight-year-old who has collected them. He fills a little box with his treasured trinkets, hides it in the living room, and then sends me seeking.

We play by the “warm and cold” rules - he tells me I’m cold if I’m nowhere near the treasure box, and then getting warmer as I get closer. My favorite part of the hunt isn’t the finding, though. It’s the moment just before the finding, when Charlie, so delighted that the treasure is nearly discovered, will say something like, “You’re so warm you’re really hot and if you look under the pillow on the sofa you’ll be really super hot!”

It used to happen during games of hide and seek, too. “Ready or not, here I come!” I would call out after counting to twenty, and then start looking for him. I usually didn’t have to go far before I heard giggles from behind some curtain or under some table, and so I knew just where I could find him. Charlie delighted in being discovered.

So it is with the kingdom of God, it seems. The kingdom is like a treasure hunt, a game of hide and seek, in something of the same way children’s games are played. The kingdom is hidden, but often in plain sight, so desperately does it want to be found. Its value, though, far surpasses those little plastic pearls and, for that matter, the precious ones as well.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid. Scholars have suggested that the “someone” in this parable was a tenant farmer of sorts, working land that was not his. When he found the treasure he sold everything he had and bought the field for himself, so that the treasure could be his.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found a pearl of surpassing beauty and worth, he sold all that he had and bought the pearl for himself.

The kingdom of heaven is like this. The farmer accidentally stumbled upon his fortune as he went about his work in the field; the merchant’s work was devoted to seeking fortune until he found something beyond his wildest dreams. Both, then, found the shiny, sparkly treasure worth all that they had simply as they went about their common, ordinary, everyday lives. And so it is that the kingdom is waiting and hoping to be found, delighting in being found, hidden in plain sight like a giggling child or a box full of whatever it is we treasure most.

Another preacher has written of this story and its companions, in which the kingdom of heaven is like a big messy field and a stubborn mustard seed and a lump of leavened dough, “these parables are about the hiddenness of the kingdom, and so they teach us about our seeking.” We do not have to look far to glimpse a glint of kingdom life and love - as we break our daily bread together, as we look upon each other’s shining faces, we’re really super hot, and if we listen we might hear the sparkling sound of God’s delight in being found.

For ready or not, God’s kingdom is come, hidden in plain sight, revealed in the course of our common, ordinary, everyday lives, and worth nothing less than everything. Amen.

Artwork: Path leading to St. Francis Chapel; "Pearl of Great Price," by Janice Vancronkhite; "The Hidden Treasure," from; "Discovering the Pearl of Great Price," by Daniel Bonnell.

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