Menu Close
2nd August 2020

Finding the Treasure

Passage: Matthew 13;44-46


So: buried treasure! It is the stuff of fairy stories, isn’t it? Or Enid Blyton. Someone finds their way into a secret cave or a hidden dungeon and discovers this long-long treasure. But actually, in Jesus’ day, before banks and security vaults, people really did bury their treasure deep in the ground. If you were afraid of enemy invasion or earthquake, you would dig a deep hole and hide your valuables there where they would be safe. But then, of course, if you were killed or carried off into exile, the treasure remained buried until-possibly hundreds of years later- some lucky person happened to find it.

If Jesus were telling this story today, he might talk about someone coming into an unexpected inheritance or learning that some old vase of their Granny’s is worth thousands of pounds. “Unexpected treasure.”
Or, for Jesus knew, as we all know, that money cannot buy happiness or love or satisfaction, he might have spoken about those times when you just happen to help someone with a heavy suitcase on a train, and they become the love of your life. Or when picking up a stray leaflet leads you to your dream career. Discovering treasure you never knew was there does happen in everyday life.
“So,” says Jesus, this is what the kingdom of heaven- God’s world- is like. It is like an unexpected treasure that you find and then give all you have to possess.” What do you think he means?

Back in the Old Testament you will find a book of Psalms-prayers, poems and hymns, many of which are written from a deeply personal perspective. And in many of these Psalms (notably Psalm 119, the longest of them all) you will hear the writer claim that “the Word of God” is the greatest treasure he has found in life. He is not talking about the Bible-the book- because in those days hardly anyone had access to written words. In the Hebrew language (the language of the Psalms) the “Word” is something which is not only written, not only spoken but that which brings the presence and power of the speaker into a situation. When God speaks, things happen. When God’s Word is said to come upon a man or a woman, they are enabled to do amazing things. When God’s Word is given to someone at prayer, they come to a new level of understanding and they receive tremendous comfort and strength.
This, says the Psalmist, is the greatest treasure in my life.
What do you make of that?

I asked at the start of the service what you would like to happen more than anything else in your life right now? What would be your perfect treasure?
Like the rest of you, I can think of all kinds of things I would love to happen- a visit to the Hairdresser for a start- but do you find, as I do, that your dreams nowadays become clouded by a darkness? Because what we need to happen more than anything else right now is for Covid to disappear from the world. While it lasts, there are no safe places; no safe predictions; no ultimate comfort; no dreams that are not clouded by “what if” or “what if not?”

We also know that even if a miracle vaccine could be discovered and administered right now, the crisis would not be over. Quite apart from the huge economic, social, emotional and mental devastation to be overcome, there still remains the huge challenge of global warming and the very real threat of more global disasters to come.
What kind of treasure is going to put all this to rights? Come to that, what does “right’ look like? I am not sure I know anymore or that anybody else does.

The writers of the Psalms were living through pretty difficult times. Their land was under constant threat of invasion; there were droughts and famines; sicknesses for which there was no cure. And, since the Psalms have survived, mercifully, un- edited, they express a lot of personal inner darkness: anger, fear, frustration, confusion. Yet, the thread runs through- that the Word of God, the presence and power of God- is what will save them. It is the greatest treasure you can find in an uncertain world.

To me, this is making sense, perhaps more than at any other time in my life. Because right now, I cannot organise anything; as fast as you organise something, the situation changes and you have to re-organise all over again. I can try to organise myself into sensible routines but then things change and all my good resolutions come to nothing. What I need, what we all need right now, is coping skills: living with high levels of uncertainty without going under;
maintaining relationships under immense pressure without screaming at each other; managing fear and pain without losing all faith in life;
enjoying the present moment without stressing about the moments to come; believing that Christ’s church has a future even when we cannot plan for that future and holding together.
This is the kind of treasure I am looking for at the moment because any other kind -let’s face it- is worthless under our present circumstances.

And the Word which has come to me is “grace.” Christians used to call themselves “sinners saved by grace.” We were told off about that because the church should not be trying to make people feel guilty and inadequate in this self-affirming climate.
But actually, in the first place being called a sinner does not mean that you are hopelessly depraved. It means simply that you are human-fallible, struggling to live in a fallible world. And that is all of us, isn’t it?
And in the second place, to be a “sinner saved by grace” is not something to feel despairing about but something to give you the most incredible hope, even during a worldwide pandemic. Yes, we may be fallible and frail. We may get things wrong. We may be facing a situation that fills us with dread. But there is grace out there. There is saving grace. There is something greater than us, which can save us.

This is not about diminished responsibility-“I’ll just sit back and let God get on with everything.” If anything, it is about greater responsibility because we can believe in ourselves as people of God, able to live by the grace of God.

Nor is it about a self-centred comfort zone. If anything, it is about getting right out there into the hugely messy world, believing that by the grace of God we do have the power to make a difference and get things right.

It is not dependent on everything in our lives going smoothly. St Paul once wrote of experiencing what he called a “thorn in the flesh.’ We never found out what that thorn was- whether it was an illness or a persecution or a person who was persistently getting on his nerves. In his prayers he begged God to take this thorn away, but God said to him “my grace is sufficient for you. My strength will be made perfect through your weakness. “

It is not about denying the worth of such precious things as relationships, families, education, careers, homes- even golf! It is about being able to enjoy them all the more because you are no longer dependent upon them to make sense of your life. The grace of God is what holds you, guides you and makes you strong.
Can there be a treasure more valuable than this in the place where we are right now?

Going back to Jesus’ story, did you notice that that man was not actively digging for treasure. He just happens to find it.
There are many good things we can and should do to nurture our faith and strengthen our relationship with God (such as prayer, Bible reading, worship, serving God in others) but we cannot co-erce grace. Grace is given as and when we need it. Sometimes we don’t even realise it has been there until afterwards. So each day, each hour of each day, there is the potential for Gods’ treasure of grace to be poured into our lives even when we are not looking for it. And when I can get over being a control freak who lives to make everything happen myself, I realise the immense value of this unexpected, non-manoeuvred treasure. Because it is something in life that is not about me but about God.

Today we shall shortly be celebrating God’s call to Eldership in the church and I have to say that my experience with most people who are approached to be Elders is that they are taken totally by surprise. I more or less have to pick them up off the floor.
But most, once they take the time to think and to pray about it, recognise that the grace of God has been at work in their lives and in the prayers and actions of those who have nominated them. And this is enough to give them the confidence to accept the nomination. They are still apprehensive. I have never yet known an Elder to announce ‘Yes! I am God’s gift to the church. Here I come.” But their trust is in God far more than in themselves which means that over and over again we have thrilled to see them grow and blossom out in faith and in service.
So what I would say, to finish is start each day prepared to be surprised. For treasure is there waiting to be discovered in your life. And that treasure is God’s overflowing grace. Amen.