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

s050g14   Sunday 17  27/7/2014

‘one pearl of great value’ Matthew 13.46

The parable of the pearl of great value and the treasure found in the field shows us that people find the kingdom in different ways.   For the merchant, the find was no accident, but the result of a lifetime of diligent trading, developing an eye for perfection when it comes to pearls.   The treasure in the field is most likely found by a labourer, clearly accidentally.   If the treasure contained a number of pearls, some may well be discarded by the professional jeweller.

The merchant might well begrudge the accidental find of the labourer and the labourer begrudge the wealth of the merchant able to afford the one fine pearl - but the fact that the parables are put side by side shows us that neither is the more kosher way.    The fact that the parables are put together, side by side, actually puts the people together, side by side.   Each has to acknowledge the existence of the other and the reality of their different perspectives on life and faith.

While we can see an expression of the difference between capital and labour here, I want to first turn to the church.

The trouble is that a multitude of christian denominations believe that there’s is the only way, blithely ignoring the fact that there are 41,000 different denominations that believe they are too.  (1)   So I recently read this comment: ‘Those who are deluded are those who .. believe they have a better plan for redemption than what God has revealed in the scriptures.’  This ‘Anglican’ minister believes that there is only one plan for redemption in the bible, and it is all about sin being forgiven by Jesus on the Cross when a straight person repents and believes.  Of course a gay person must commit themselves to lifelong celibacy!   How convenient this is for it avoids all the passages in the New Testament about acceptance, forgiveness and loving.

This ‘Anglican’ minister, along with the minimum of 41,000 other ‘christian’ leaders refuse to acknowledge the existence of others and the reality of other’s different perspectives on life and faith.   Any communion, any conversations with others will essentially be one-way - preaching at .. rather than dialogue with ..   They are neither real communion or real conversation.

The pearl and the treasure in the field show the breadth of God’s mercy, the multiplicity of different ways to include all people.   Indeed it is the multiplicity of different ways of accepting and including all people that is the real pearl, the real treasure.

While the denominations and ministers continue to preach at others, proclaiming the rightness of their particular way and the wrongness of every other way, they are failing to perceive the real treasure, the real pearl.   Denominations and religions are particularly fond of lauding life-long study of scripture, replicating the devotion of the merchant, failing to see that others accidentally chance upon grace, independent of study and devotion.

In fact, throughout the bible the usually accepted precedence of the first-born is subverted and the younger is preferred.   In macro terms, for me this translates to the need to let go of ancient verities and to embrace the new.   It means that God always has more for each and every generation, which implicitly implies that any sacred scripture will be inadequate to deal with a continuously evolving scientific understanding of reality.   It means that there is always something new, always something surprising to discover, sometimes by deliberate and pain-staking searching, sometimes chanced upon accidentally.

For the artist, the muse might come half-way through the night, yet the muse would not come without the day to day struggle for expression.  

Christians interpret the new faith supplanting the ancient faith of Israel foreshadowed time and again in the Old Testament.   So the ‘christian’ faith depends on an evolving understanding of God, but so often itself has become stuck in a somewhat less ancient language and thought form.

The other sayings which form part of our gospel for today talk about the very earthly character of the kingdom.  The mustard seed needs to be planted in the soil, it has to become dirty.    The flour needs to be contaminated with the yeast until it is all leavened.   Both of these speak about an existence almost the precise opposite of going to church in our ‘Sunday-best’ clothes.   Indeed the kingdom is more likely when we leave worship, divest ourselves of our finest, put on our overalls and get our hands dirty in our secular occupations.  

As I visit people in hospital, one of the very common observations is how people want to get back to work.   I often say how there are some mornings I get up lamenting that I have to go to work, yet if illness prevented me from doing so, I would soon miss it.   Much of our feelings of self-worth are involved with our jobs.   Whatever our occupation is, people and society in general value what we do enough to pay us a wage or purchase our goods.

And I note that finding the exquisite pearl or the treasure, the seed being planted or the flour leavened don’t actually contribute much to others.   None of these is especially earth-shattering.   Poverty is not eliminated, racism and discrimination are not confronted, the world is no better place for them.   They describe life as it is, not a fantasy reminiscent of the comic-book super-heros.   They are not the achievements of hermits and the devout.   These are real people, living life as it really is, and finding in life that which sustains rather than that which diminishes.   We do not have to change the world into our image and likeness, we are called to live and let live.

And in all its forms that which sustains are other people, people who are as prepared as we are to get our hands dirty and work for the common good rather than divide up society into the merchant and the labourer, the orthodox and the heretic, the saint and the sinner, the acceptable and the expendable ..

Both the merchant and the labourer immediately recognise the value of their finds.   The value of our day to day occupations sometimes eludes us until we can’t go to work, so their value is really never far away.   People find affirmation in a vast variety of ways - in intimacy, nature, art, music, fantasy, social action, sport, ritual, community, creativity, helping, the list is endless.   Each and every one of these is of God.   These things sustain us over a lifetime.   It is when the affirmation we get is at the expense of someone else’s affirmation then it is likely to be shortlived and it is not of God.   If we thank God that we are not like other people: ‘thieves, rogues, adulterers’, female, person of colour, not straight, even if we were able to claim: ‘I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income’ others will not be affirmed and included, and society will be fragmented rather than unified. (2)  A society that is fragmented cannot be anything different from what we now decry.   For while the rich get richer, the orthodox condemn the questioner, the devout dismiss those who aren’t, the straight deny the integrity of those who aren’t - there will always be others who are expendable, those whose perceptions, beliefs and feelings don’t count for anything.  

It is not that there will be a future reckoning for these things, it is that the society that we have now, that which we regard as ‘normal’ and given, is less than it could be - for everyone.

So often we hear disparaging comments about capitalism - that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and more recently that capitalism assumes that wealth ‘trickles down’ to the workers.   I wonder if there is any difference in the church when we look at spiritual riches.   When will the spiritually poor, those on the margins, the fringe-dwellers - when will their existence be acknowledged let alone valued by the church?   When will some of the blessings of orthodoxy ‘trickle down’ to these others?

I was amused to read that: ‘In New Zealand, Labour Party MP Damien O'Connor has, in the Labour Party campaign launch video for the 2011 general election, called trickle-down economics "the rich pissing on the poor”.’  (3)

In New Zealand, one of the many commonly used Maori words is ‘Taonga’ - treasure.   We, each and every person, are taonga.   There is nothing more valuable than life and people.   And God brings people together to recognise the taonga in all.   As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said: ‘We should really genuflect before one another.   Buddhist are more correct, since they bow profoundly as they greet one another, saying the God in me acknowledges the God in you.’ (4)  Community and communion, people, all people, are meant to be gifts one to another, and the saddest of people are those who are alone.

God wants us to find the treasures that are put all around us, there are really so many it’s hard to pick which is best.   We are meant for one another, for communion and for joy.

2.  Luke 18.11,12
4.  Desmond Tutu 'God has a Dream’.