Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6 (Proper 12), Series A

Sermon on Matthew 13:44-52
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 24, 2011 (Proper 12, Series A)

The first two parables in today’s Gospel both portray for us men who find one thing that is so important or valuable to them that they give up everything they have to get that one thing. Now, in today’s society, surrounded as we are by all sorts of “stuff,” it’s hard to imagine anything being so valuable that someone would want to sell everything he has for it. But that is, in fact, what the kingdom of heaven is compared to here: something so valuable that it is worth giving up everything a person has in order to get it. And that does make sense. After all, the kingdom of heaven will last forever, while we only spend a few decades here. Nothing in this old world will last forever. What doesn’t rust or wear out or break down will be left behind when we ourselves rust and wear out and break down. As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

But what God demands of us is not just that the “stuff” we will have in eternity be more important than the “stuff” we have here. What He demands in the First Commandment is that He be more important to us than everything and everyone else. After all, He is the One who made us. He is the One who gave us our very lives, and still sustains us, not to mention that He created and gave us everyone and everything we have here in this life. And the most important part of eternity is not just that we will have perfect bodies not subject to illness or infirmity, nor that we will have all our loved ones who died in the faith with us, nor that the things we have will not be subject to rust or decay or manufacturing defects (leaving aside the fact that we have so little understanding of eternity that we really have no idea what “things” we might have there anyway). The most important thing about eternity is that we will be united with our Creator and share in the love and fellowship that exists within the Trinity Himself, because we will be, and already are by faith, members of the Second Person of that Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The problem, of course, is that here in this old world we can’t really see any of that. We can’t see or measure what lies ahead for us on the other side of the grave. For that matter, we can’t even really prove from a scientific perspective that God exists, let alone that He is Triune, that He loves His creation, and that the historical Man named Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, His eternal Son sent into the world to redeem us and bring us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Granted, the very existence of the world strongly suggests the existence of some sort of creator, but who He is and how He sees us and what happens after we die is a complete mystery apart from the Holy Scriptures, while the people around us in this life, and the things we have, such as houses and cars and food and clothing, are very real. Thus the temptation to disregard eternity in favor of what we can see and feel here and now is very strong, and it’s a temptation we give in to more often than not. How many of us are being completely honest when we sing that line in “A Mighty Fortress:” “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The kingdom ours remaineth.” If you think you can, with your whole heart, pray that line honestly, you are simply fooling yourself. Nobody is completely free of the idolatry that attaches us to this old world.

That’s why God had to come to us: by nature we can’t free ourselves of this old world’s entanglements. That’s why God the Son had to condescend to be born among us, become one of us, live our life in this old world, suffer and die our death. As far as anyone could tell, we were like a vacant field with no special value to anyone. He died for us while we were still sinners. He gave up everything for us. Only He could see the hidden treasure, the new man in Christ, recreated in His image, to live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.

So, which is it? Are these two parables about how nothing should be more important to us than God, or about how nothing is more important to Him than us? I’d say the answer is both. After all, we can only love God because He first loved us. We are only capable of giving up everything for Him because He gave up everything for us. It’s only because He redeemed us while we were still sinners that we can see, and obtain the treasure that is eternal life. He bought us so that now we can see Him where He has hidden Himself. An ordinary field with buried treasure doesn’t look like anything special. Neither does an ordinary man standing in front of church on Sunday morning. Neither does ordinary water poured on someone’s head. Neither do ordinary unleavened wafers and wine. But there’s treasure hidden there, too. The forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are hidden here, but revealed to those who have faith in God’s Word. Nothing is more important than that. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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