Preached by Rev. George Yando on July 30, 2017.
Focussing on What Matters
About fifteen years ago, my wife Beth Anne, our daughter Beth, and I took a trip to Vancouver as part of our summer vacation. For Beth Anne and Beth – neither of whom had ever been to the west coast before that trip – it was an opportunity to see some of the sights they had only read about or seen on TV.
Knowing that two weeks would be far too short a time to see as much as we would like to see, planning the agenda was quite the experience, each of us bringing to the table our personal lists of places we’d like to see and things we’d like to do, trying to come to a consensus about what we would see, and what we would have to leave to possibly another trip at some time in the future.
So much to see, so much to do, so little time, how do you choose? What sights and attractions were worth seeing? Which were most important to us? Given time and budget constraints, we had to make some choices, and in so doing, decline the chance to see some sights in favour of others.
Sound familiar? I’m sure it’s a common experience. It’s life. Think about it. The very process of living our lives means making choices; it involves a lot of trade-off and bartering. We are forever giving up some things in order to have others; we regularly choose to sacrifice this in order to have, or to do, that. We do it in our marriages, in the choices we make with regard to our occupations, in matters affecting the raising of our children, in the decisions we make about how to spend our money and our free time; we do it at almost every juncture of life’s journey. Whatever scenic road we take through life, we do so at the price of denying ourselves the sights and the adventures along other roads we might have taken. We’d like to believe that what we are getting is worth what we’re giving up, or missing out on. We want to think that to gain something of importance we are giving up something of less – or no more than equal – value. And we hope that whatever we get or choose in life is worth the price we paid.
The price we pay for the things of value to us in this life comes from the resources that we have, the most important of which, actually, is not money. I’m speaking of a currency of much greater value: time.
Each of us is given a wealth of time measured in days and months and years, a fortune. After all, what is the money that we have or accumulate except a medium of exchange for our time: so many hours a week at so much an hour in wages or so much per annum as a salary paid to us for working at a job? Our money is a function of our time, a measure of our lives poured out in fulfilment of some purpose. We give up the time we work in exchange for money to allow us to purchase something of value to us. Anything we do with our time, therefore, has a certain value, because we only have a fixed measure of it; a certain – but to us – an unknown amount, ours to use as we choose.
Day by day each of us is using up that resource, till at length, we use it all up, right down to the last moment. And along with that resource of time we have a finite measure of strength, of energy, of power to act and to do, to make and to create. And we will spend all of that, too, right down to the last flex of a finger, the final flutter of an eyelid.
What for? That is the question, isn’t it? Will what you get be worth the price you have paid?
Jesus understood very well the immense importance of life’s inevitable element of trade-off and barter. In Matthew 13 – from which was drawn the passage that was our Gospel lesson for this morning – the author records a number of stories told by Jesus, parables about the Kingdom. In this morning’s parables, Jesus is saying to us that God’s kingdom – the kingdom of heaven – is a goal that is really worth going for.
Jesus said, “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.”
[And] “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Jesus is talking here about investment, about putting out something of value in order to possess something of a value greater still. He is talking about effort, about doing what’s worth doing, about going for what’s worth going for, about seeking what is worth seeking. The object should be worth the quest, He is saying. And the object is not treasure or pearls; the object is the Kingdom. And what is the Kingdom? The Kingdom is nothing less than the will and rule of God, in our lives and in our world. The Kingdom – that’s the treasure to be sought, that’s the pearl of great worth.
If you and I are to make good use of the resources of our lives, if we are to expend ourselves wisely, it’s important that we have some sense of value, some notion of what is of genuine worth.
In these parables of Jesus, one man stumbled upon a treasure, but he did realize the value of it when he saw it. The other man diligently sought out an object of value, a pearl of great worth, knowing what it would be like when he found it. The point in common between the two stories is this: each individual knew what was of worth; both of them were then able to make some discerning judgments and decisions because of what they knew. When it comes to the values that impinge upon our human lives, you and I need to cultivate the ability to spot a pearl or a treasure when we see one, and, in like manner to develop an insight for recognizing a fake or a gaudy imitation for what it is.
The consequences of not acquiring these skills are significant. Indeed, failure to gain such insights and act on them as we make our pilgrimage across the years, is to risk coming upon a treasure and not knowing it, or else becoming obsessed by some ornate bauble that isn’t worth our interest, much less our investment. It’s important, then, to know – or to be able to find out – if that which we treasure in life if worth treasuring, or even if it’s safe to be treasured.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul writes, in 1: 9 “This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best . . . .” “So that you may be able to discern what is best.” The original Greek might also be read “that your love may be more and more rich in knowledge and all manner of insight, enabling you to have a sense of what is vital,” or “that you may learn to prize what is of value.” The apostle Paul’s concern in one we would do well to share.
You’ve no doubt heard the saying about the need to put “first things first.” The challenge, however, is in understanding or deciding or discerning what “first things” are, or what ought to be first.
Recall when Jesus was brought before Pilate, Jesus’ accusers levelled all manner of charges against Him. Only one, however, was valid: “this man puts God before Caesar,” they said. In the days of Jesus, Rome considered that a crime. Well, if so, Jesus was guilty. Jesus was guilty because He was utterly serious about giving up earthly security in the interests of something higher. Jesus readily and willingly abandoned the kind of visible and tangible things that so many people in His day – and ours – cling to and depend upon. These concrete assets and securities to which so many people cling were things Jesus freely gave up and in so doing, He pointed us to values far greater than these. If we want to be followers of Jesus, then we must strive to ensure that our sense of values is kept sharp, that the dividing line between what is of ultimate value and all else that is of only passing worth, is clearly known to us; we must know how we must choose and on which side we take our stand.
You see it’s not enough merely to know what is of value and worth: we have to claim it as our own, we must be willing to go for it. In these parables of the treasure and the pearl, while one man stumbled upon a treasure, the other found it only at the end of an unrelenting quest. He believed it was out there somewhere, and he went looking for it. He committed himself to a crusade. And when he found it, he sold everything he had in order to have that one precious pearl.
We talking here about effort, about trying, about striving, about giving in order to get, about paying a price in order to receive. We all know what that’s about. We all do it. Indeed there is a lot of it being done in our world – people paying high prices for a lot of things. Many people pay dearly for what is not worth the cost. Many people use themselves up in pursuits unworthy of their time and strength and effort. One of the most tragic commentaries that could be offered up about a person at the end of his or her life is this evaluation: “He – or she – or I – spent everything and ended up with nothing. It was a bad deal.” How terribly sad. What a tragic and unnecessary waste.
Each of us eventually becomes used up by what we go for, by that in which we invest ourselves. No focus in life can be more important than to endeavor to make certain that what we live for is worth the living. All of us end up in the course of our lives going for something; very few of us do nothing.
Few of us are like the guy who celebrated his 100th birthday. Amid the festivities, someone asked his wife what she thought about it all. She snorted and said, “I can’t see what all the fuss is about. The only thing he ever did in his life was to grow old and it took him a hundred years to do that!” Since few of us are like that, most of us seek something in life, something worth doing, something worth living for. So, what is worth doing, what’s worth seeking? The answer to that question will determine the difference between a life well used and one misspent, abused, and wasted.
Having acknowledged, we need to be aware that the flipside is also true. A goal that is worthy of the investment of one’s life deserves and demands a commitment that is complete. Most of us learned to do things like run, jump or swim at some point in our lives. Not many of us, however, attain the prowess of an Olympic calibre athlete.
In like manner, there is a story told of how, in an autograph signing session backstage after a performance, a renowned pianist was approached by an admiring fan who said, “Maestro, I’d give anything to be able to play like you do.”
The master musician replied, “I bet you wouldn’t give half an hour a day.”
His admirer responded, “I’d give my life if I could play like that.”
And the musician said, “That is precisely what I have given, my life.”
Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure to be found, like a priceless pearl to be sought. In Matthew 6 Jesus says, “Seek the Kingdom; seek it first.” But elsewhere in that very same chapter, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” Somewhere, then, between our seeking and the Kingdom’s coming, we ought to get together with it at length.
I believe Jesus is saying that not only is the Kingdom coming, but that it will come; the Kingdom will come to us – if we are willing to do some coming ourselves, if we are willing to come to terms with IT. Our Lord doesn’t ram the Kingdom into our lives, or pry open our hearts and our hands that we might receive it. The Kingdom will not accommodate itself to our shabbiness, our indifference, our hardness of heart.
Rather we must be willing to venture forth in quest for it, moving out from where we are, reaching forward in heart and soul, straining to touch the reaching hand of God, knowing that we who are seekers are also being sought.
In Luke’s gospel, 12: 32 Jesus says, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” God wants us to have it. He knows we need it. He knows we’ll enjoy it, once it’s ours.
Have you seen it? Have you caught a glimpse of the treasure which all the while has been waiting in this field?
You’ve been a seeker all your life. Some things you’ve found, while others you have not. Some have satisfied, some have not. All this time, maybe you have known what it was you’ve been seeking for. If so, perhaps today, you’ve found it.
Or perhaps, all this time, you’ve not known what it is your thirsting soul has been thirsting for. If so, perhaps today you’ve discovered what it is. You can make it yours, you know. You can possess the Kingdom; you can have for that precious life of yours the very best that God can give.