Pastor Joel Schwartz - The First Sunday in Lent - Sunday, February 26, 2023

Text: Matthew 13:44-46

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I am sure you have heard something along those lines before: “A diversified portfolio is the best way to save for retirement.”. The idea is simple – the more diverse your investments are, the less risk there is over time. With a diversity of investments, no one investment will hurt you badly.

In the Mediterranean world of 2,000 years ago, those who had some wealth to save understood the idea of diversifying their investments. You might find someone dividing their wealth this way: 1/3 of their wealth might be turned into cash for everyday purchases in the marketplace. Another 1/3 of their wealth a person might invest in precious stones or jewels. This was smart because you never knew when you and your family might have to flee an invasion. In this case, one could grab the bag of precious jewels and run, go and start fresh someplace else. The final 1/3 of your wealth, you might bury in the ground on your property. Sure, there were bankers back then. There wasn’t the security of vaults in banks like we might think of today. There was no such thing as being “FDIC insured.” So, people would often bury part of their wealth on their property. As you can imagine, for one reason or another, some of that buried treasure was never unearthed. There it sat underground, unbeknownst to the one working the land.

Maybe that helps to understand Jesus’ parable a little better. A man is working in the field one day and unexpectedly … thud! His shovel hit a wooden chest. In an excited frenzy he keeps digging around it, clearing the dirt off of it. What is it? In Jesus’ story he doesn’t tell us what the man the found, only that what he saw was extremely valuable, he had to have it, and he was willing to part with all he had to get it.

What about this merchant? The word Jesus uses for the merchant is a word that describes the merchant as a “wholesaler.” This was the kind of merchant who probably had an inventory of dozens, hundreds of pearls, all different sizes and shapes and shine and value and luster. This was a merchant who was continually looking for and searching for more pearls. It doesn’t say he was looking for or expecting to find the perfect pearl, but when he saw this one pearl, he had to have it! This pearl was so exquisite compared to all the other pearls. He got rid of his collection of pearls and went all in on this one pearl!

Two different situations Jesus gives us, but the same outcome. Both unexpectedly come upon something of value. And when they recognize its value, they are willing to part with all to keep it.

Let’s look at some of the key elements in Jesus’ parable. The man in the field wasn’t looking for buried treasure, it just fell into his lap. It was an unexpected discovery. Just as you don’t do anything to get yourself born into this world, you and I didn’t do anything to get born into God’s family.

Should God’s people in the Old Testament have imagined that God chose them because of something in them, Moses declares in Deuteronomy 7:6, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God, the Lord your God chose you out of all the nations of the earth to be his treasured possession.” Why? “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than all the other peoples, you were the fewest.” In other words, God didn’t choose the Israelites as treasured people because they were so numerous, they weren’t numerous compared to other nations. He didn’t choose them because they were so faithful to him. They were often unfaithful. He simply loved them and blessed them just because that was his choice. It was grace, God’s grace, undeserved love.

The Apostle Peter uses almost the exact same language about you, baptized children of God in the New Testament, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (we might say, God’s treasured possession) (I Pt 2:9). God chose to love us not because we are of a good Lutheran lineage, he didn’t choose us because he saw in us a golden heart that would be extra faithful to him.

In his love, God went all in to make us his holy people. Think of how that happened. Jesus did not give 10% of himself, Jesus went all in for us. He gave 110% for us. He left the streets of gold in heaven and entered a feeding trough in Bethlehem. He lived on earth without a place to call home, a place to plop his head on his own pillow at night. He went all the way to the cross for us. At the cross he doesn’t swipe some divine debit card to buy us back from death and the devil. The only payment acceptable was the holy, innocent blood of Jesus in our place to give us the kingdom of heaven.

In his love, God sent his Holy Spirit to us who opened our eyes to see Jesus and his forgiveness. He opened our eyes to see that our sins are hurled in the sea. There are places in the darkest depths of the ocean where human beings have never been, and I dare say, will never go. In other words, your sins are buried in a place where they cannot be retrieved.

What more valuable treasure could we possess on this earth than to know our sins are forgiven?

Think of where you would be without this treasure of knowing Jesus. You might be where so many thousands, millions of souls are, looking to find your value and worth in what you own. Without the treasure of knowing Jesus you might find yourself consumed with trying to make a name for yourself with your job or good grades, your degrees or the trophies you won. You might be checking your social media every few minutes to confirm for yourself if you are liked and accepted. Without knowing Jesus, you might agonize over sins of the past wondering if they are paid for. You find your soul is restless, wrestling with what your purpose is. Where would you be without this treasure of God’s good news in Jesus our Savior! Through it we have a clear conscience, guilt gone; we know we are accepted and loved by God, you know you are valued by God. He tells you who you are “A royal priesthood, God’s special possession” and what your purpose is…“To declare God’s praises.”

When Jesus told this parable, he was speaking to disciples. They were in the quiet of a house, away from the crowds of people. It was just Jesus and his disciples. Jesus was with those who already knew Jesus as their priceless treasure. His parable makes it clear, Jesus is concerned about his people’s reaction to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is concerned about our reaction.

Jesus doesn’t want us to be like the museum worker who starts to walk by the art in the museum as though it is no big deal. He doesn’t want us to be like the museum curator who takes the masterpiece for granted. There is the danger that those who have had the priceless treasure of Jesus can take it for granted. We repent of the times we have taken too lightly the treasure of knowing Jesus.

We pray for the Spirit’s guidance to choose that which is truly valuable in life. We arrange our priorities in line with that which will advance God’s kingdom. We willingly trade in time to sleep in on Sunday morning so we can dig into God’s Word at worship. We take time to talk with and encourage and support the fellow Christian in the narthex. We go out of our way to talk with and encourage the non-member family in the school and seek to provide support and maybe invite them to learn more about Jesus. We forgo using all our resources only for self and we use it to support kingdom work and training the next generation to seek Jesus and the priceless treasure of God’s Word.

Do not misunderstand Jesus’ words, God is not asking us to be minimalist monks or hermits who cut ourselves off from the outside world and sell all our earthly possessions. God does want us to put our earthly wealth in perspective. Christians who have the treasure of Jesus respond to God’s grace using their talents and abilities, their jobs and their wealth to serve God and others. They view their money not as an end in and of itself, but as a means to an end… to declare God’s praises, to thank God and demonstrate trust in God, they see their greatest purpose in life is to give praise to God in all they do, including how they use their wealth.

Over the next days and weeks consider the great treasure God has opened your eyes to see and he has given you in Jesus. Ask yourself, “Where would I be without Jesus? Ponder the great gift you have in Jesus and ask, “How can I point people to the precious gift of Jesus their Savior?” Amen.