The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

s050g11  Sunday 17  24/7/2011


'treasure hidden'.  Matthew 13.44


You may think (dear reader / listener) that I prepare these sermons for your benefit, and perhaps in times past this would have indeed been true.  In my early ministry I was so afraid of public speaking that I always did my sermons on Monday so I felt I could then go and do the other things in my ministry that I found more easy and pleasurable, safe in the knowledge that the sermon was prepared.   Once in this routine, it was an easy step to produce them 13 days prior to their delivery as it was 6.  


But in these later times, I do have to say that I do them more for myself.   Each time I sit in front of the keyboard, I find new insights come to me.   (Actually I type this horizontally in bed, in a lovely bache in Castle Hill occasionally looking out the window and the snow outside as picturesque as one can imagine – thanks Michael :-)   As I type I am refreshed in my own faith by my reflection, and such is the case today as I find new meaning in the parallels of the treasure hidden and the pearl of great price.


One of the lovely things about my existence is that, being a part-time hospital chaplain, I do not have regular Sunday duties.   In this day and age, if patients are well enough to leave a ward to attend a service in the hospital chapel, they are well enough to be discharged and sent home.   This means that most Sundays I can sit in the congregation and listen to others preach.   And just recently I heard one of my favourite preachers speak about the wastefulness in creation.  The gospel was the parable of the sower and she made the comment that the seed was sown indiscriminately.   So much was wasted, and our God is indeed a God whose grace is spread far and wide, irrespective of the conditions of the soil or lack thereof, wherever that seed might fall.  (Thank you, Mary :-)  And she went on to say that despite this seeming wastefulness, it is counterbalanced with the abundance of the harvest of the seed that finds its way to good ground.


We are given lots of snippets of things the kingdom is like – there is not just one.   The kingdom is found by someone not looking, in a place where one would least expect to find it – a field.   The kingdom is found in the merchant searching all his life in places where all the professionals look.   The first gets the kingdom at a fraction of its worth, the second pays the full price.   The kingdom is like the net fishers use.   And of course, Jesus uses many other parables.   The examples of the kingdom are all around us.


And I note that one has to get one's hands dirty to find the kingdom.   The person who finds the treasure in the field must have already been digging.   The merchant spent his life looking.   The fishers have to cast the net.   The kingdom is not compared to someone in devout prayer, when they are reading the bible, worshipping in church or even helping others.  


And we are told that Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth and those with whom he had worshipped all his life every Sabbath day, people who could name the other members of his family, and it was precisely these who were offended by this teaching.   And why wouldn't they be offended, for he taught that the kingdom was to be had not in the synagogue on the Sabbath when they were worshipping, but when they were getting their hands dirty during the week.


Now, and this is where I find new inspiration, this is the first time I have realised that this is different from Luke's account.   In Luke's account of Jesus' rejection in his hometown, his rejection was prompted by Jesus saying that God cared for people other than them – Naaman the Syrian and the widow at Zarephath in Sidon.   Matthew does not give us the detail of his sermon but it immediately follows these allusions to the kingdom – that God is found when we get our hands dirty – and Jesus' rejection is the culmination of this teaching.   (Matthew then tells the story of the beheading of John the Baptist.)   So we may conclude that according to Matthew, Jesus was rejected because he said God was found when we get our hands dirty during the week, not when we are worshipping on the Sabbath, or whenever.   And it was precisely the devout and the orthodox who got upset when Jesus suggested that the kingdom is not found when gathered in a holy huddle, but in real life amongst people living real lives.


In that other typical Matthean story of the kingdom, Jesus commends those who use their talents in the world and condemns the one who didn't.   He should have at least deposited his talent with the bankers so that the master might get back what was his own with some interest (25.27), something forbidden according to the Torah. (Ex 22.25)


And this is more pervasive than might initially be thought.  In Matthew 7 Jesus says: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven' (21).   Jesus doesn't commend worship at all, and somehow we blind ourselves to this fact.  And this is nothing new.  The prophet Amos is most revered for his words: 'let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream' but we neglect the words immediately before them: 'Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps.' (Amos 5.24,23)


Despite all we say, I suspect most in the church believe that Jesus was incarnated only into polite society.   It is a scandal to us just as it was to the devout and the orthodox of Jesus' day that he associated with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners.   We hide this treasure away because we don't believe it ourselves and don't want anyone else to realise it.  So the kingdom is hidden, hidden by the church, through the use of fine phrases and incomprehensible theology, and it is found by people living their real lives, some of whom are searching for it while others trip over the truth.   And again, this is not an innovation by the 'Johnnie come lately', Jesus.   The whole of the book of the prophet Jonah is about orthodoxy's refusal to allow that God cared for the Ninevites, and, by extension, anyone other than themselves.


For we are called to follow Jesus, we don't take Jesus to anyone.   The risen Jesus is already there affirming, accepting loving others as much as he loves us.  We are called to follow Jesus and follow him in complete incarnation, not just associating with the polite and reasonably well off, but with all, as Jesus was .. and continues to be.


Back to: "A Spark of the Spirit"