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Sermon based on Matthew 13:44-46
In 1963, Mel Fisher cashed out all his financial resources and took a huge gamble in life. He sold everything and brought his family to Florida. He had a desire to find buried treasure underneath the sea of the Florida coastline. He hired a crew and began his search among shipwrecked vessels that had become lost in various storms over the years. Many of these lost ships were carrying gold and silver. He partnered with a group called Treasure Salvors Incorporated and they agreed to work without pay for an entire year or until they found treasure. Near the end of the year Fisher’s crew uncovered hundreds of Spanish gold coins. Fisher later discovered one of the richest vessels ever to go down in the Caribbean known as the Atocha. Thousands of silver and gold coins, bronze cannons and other treasure were discovered beneath the sea. For Fisher, that euphoric feeling of discovery did not last long. The state of Florida laid claim to the treasure so the Fishers became embroiled in years of costly litigation. Beyond the litigation however there was a worse fate for the Fisher family. One night there was a terrible accident upon their boat. As they were sleeping the boat began to take on water and suddenly capsized. Fisher, his wife and son and another crewman were trapped below and they drowned. The Fisher family paid a high price for the buried treasure they uncovered. Their fabulous find did not lead to instant riches or wealth. Fisher’s search for buried treasure cost him dearly, it cost him his very life.
This morning our Scripture passage speaks of another treasure in the Kingdom of God that comes at a high price as well. Jesus explains this cost in the form of two parables, the parable of the Hidden Treasure and the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. As we look into our gospel lesson we learn that Jesus was a master of the short story. His parables were amazing exercises of storytelling; it was his unique way of communicating. As Jesus went around preaching the message of the Kingdom of Heaven, he did not always find a receptive audience. Some sought to trick him, so they might have reason to accuse him. It was for this reason, that Jesus began teaching publicly in parables.
This morning we will be taking a closer look at the cost of these buried treasures and whether we are willing to pay the price. The first parable of the hidden treasure, like the parable of the pearl of great price is shared in just a single verse but this verse speaks volumes in describing for us the meaning of being a follower of Christ.
Again the kingdom of heaven is like the treasure hidden in field, which, when a man found, he hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.
The setting of this parable was one easily understood in Jesus’ day. Many people hid treasures such as jewels, gold or silver in jars and buried them underneath the ground. In a land that was often invaded by enemy forces, the safest thing to do with one’s treasure was to bury the treasure and flee. Upon their return people would dig up their treasure. However many people were unable to return to their homeland so many jars of treasure disappeared with their burial location unknown to others. The picture that Jesus describes is that of a laborer who made a discovery of a treasure buried in a field. He avoids passing this information along to others and arranged the purchase of the field by giving up everything he owned to buy that field. For us, our hidden treasures come in different forms. Some people may invest their resources to purchase a dream home in the mountains or on the coast. Others may invest their resources to begin their own business. Still others invest their resources on getting rich quick through investments. While all of these possibilities have the potential of earning more, there is also a risk, the risk of losing it all. The best investment we can make in our lives is in the future of God’s Kingdom. Within this short verse from Scripture, we learn of a remarkable message about our salvation. To make a commitment to loving and serving Christ requires three things mentioned in this parable.
There is a discovery.
The laborer discovered the treasure.
There is a response.
The laborer responded by hiding the treasure.
There is a total commitment.
The laborer secured this treasure by selling everything else he owned. In essence this is the nature of what it means to be dedicated to serving and following Christ in our lives. We discover that desire to follow and serve Him in our lives, we respond by finding ways to fulfill this desire through our membership or involvement in a church and we find ourselves committed to doing all that we can to serve and love Christ in greater ways. For us this should be a discovery that is filled with joy.
Our second parable, the parable of the pearl of great price reminds me of my days being involved in a fraternity at UNC Charlotte. In my office among the pictures I have hanging on the walls is one of a magazine cover from the Carnation, a monthly publication sent out by the fraternity Delta Sigma Phi. In 1899 two students attending City College in New York City founded Delta Sigma Phi. One of the founders was Jewish the other a Protestant. They created a fraternity in which men of all races and religious affiliation would be welcomed. The cover of this magazine celebrated the 75thanniversary of Delta Sigma Phi. It shows one chapter that was founded in 1915 and the Eta Rho Chapter of UNC Charlotte. I was a founding father of this chapter back in 1989. As part of our pledge education and ceremony of initiation we discuss the meaning of the pearl of great price and what this means in relationship to being a part of a brotherhood. While I certainly value and treasure the friendships that I have developed with my brothers from Delta Sig many friendship now over 30 years in length, there are other relationships I also treasure. The relationships developed among family and friends are something I treasure. My relationship with God and with my Lord and Savior, Jesus is another relationship I treasure greatly that I cannot place a price upon.
Our parable from Jesus illustrates that upon finding something so precious, that one would be willing to make any sacrifice or pay any price to obtain it. The Kingdom of Heaven is so wonderful that we should strive to obtain those riches in our lives. As we strive to obtain the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, we are left to answer this following question: How does a person come to posses the treasures of the Kingdom?
In our first parable the laborer stumbled across the treasure buried in the field. Perhaps it was blind luck. For many of us we enter into the Kingdom of God in similar ways. We have not been searching for the Kingdom. We did not become a Christian through any intense soul searching or through any blood sweat or tears. Many of us were brought up in Christian homes and we came to possess this treasure at an early age. For others, like searching for the pearl of great price our faith journeys were not so easy. We have been seekers or pilgrims. While there was a desire to believe and trust in God, there was a time of struggle. These people are like that merchant searching for the perfect pearl. The key to his success was he kept searching and searching until he discovered what he was looking for in life. Whichever way we have come to posses the treasure of the kingdom we must realize they are two sides of the same coin. For the one who stumbled upon the hidden treasure we recognize that the Kingdom is a gift. For the one seeking the pearl of great price we see that the reality of faith is that we must desire the Kingdom above everything else. On one hand God finds us and offers us the treasure of his grace through Jesus. On the other hand we must have faith to recognize and accept the treasure as being the most important thing in our lives, and giving up whatever we must in order to obtain this gift.
The story has been told of a missionary who became a good friend of a pearl diver from India. The two had spent many hours together discussing salvation, but the diver from India could not understand anything so precious being free. Instead, in making preparation for the life to come, the diver was going to walk to Delhi, a journey of several hundred miles. He thought this would buy entrance into heaven for him. The missionary struggled to communicate to his friend that it is impossible to buy entrance into heaven because the price would be too costly. Instead, he said, Jesus had died to buy our entrance into heaven for us. Before he left for his pilgrimage, the diver from India gave the missionary the largest and most perfect pearl he had ever seen. The missionary offered to buy this pearl from the diver but the diver became upset and said that the pearl was beyond any price, because his only son had lost his life in the attempt to retrieve the pearl from the depths of the ocean. For that man from India, the pearl was worth the life of his son, so in his mind there was no price that could be placed upon its value. As he said this to the missionary suddenly the diver understood all that the missionary had been trying to teach him. God was offering him salvation and that salvation was also a priceless gift. It was so precious that no person could every buy salvation. The salvation of all who believe had cost God the life of his only Son.
In that very moment the veil was lifted; he understood the cost of the buried treasure. May we understand and believe in these words from the gospel of John.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
February 24, 2019