7th Sunday after Trinity
1 Kings 3:5-12; Mt 13:31-33,44-52
St Barbara’s 26.7.2020
It can be quite emotional watching the BBC’s The Repair Shop. Someone turns up with an item of deep sentimental value, and it has been broken, it’s a mess. In the state it is now it is just a useless piece of junk, but one that has memories, that has value. The craftsmen take it and restores it and someone comes in and sees something that was always precious to them restored and made whole again. Watching can be a moving experience.
There are several stories in the readings today, but I want to start with the story that Jesus tells of the hidden treasure. A man finds the hidden treasure, and he hides it again and then he with joy sells everything that he has and buys the field. People often read the story as faith being something of great worth, something worth giving everything up for, and we should go and give everything we have and gain Jesus.
Except that does not work, because faith is a gift given by God, not by works so that no one can boast. We are sinners and though we might go ouch if we say that the only thing that we bring to our salvation is our sin, the Bible is clear salvation cannot be earned or bought. So, what is the hidden treasure? What is Jesus talking about? What is the pearl of greatest worth? What is that which everything is given for?
What I am about to say sounds mad and shocking, but I do believe it to be true. What is the hidden treasure that everything is given for? What is the pearl of greatest worth that everything is given for? Well, as John 3v16 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
To God you are the hidden treasure of greatest worth, that God loved so much that he gave everything for you, because he loves you so much that he did not even spare his own son, but He gave him for you because he believed that you are worth it. I don’t know if you have heard or seen the videos of the song the blessing, if you have not I would particularly recommend the Makaton Blessing you can find it on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=va048-XxFTI). Repeated so you can hear it again, again and again, it states “He is for you, he is for you, he is for you.”
We believe God loves us, God is for us. We were broken and we needed to be fixed, and Jesus died and came to save us that we might be mended and be made whole and be healed. God loves us, we are the apple of his eye. What this broken world needs to hear more than anything else is that we are loved, we are precious, God is for you and he died for us.
We have a number of problems with this. I remember walking through the Bull Yard in Coventry and there was a street preacher. He was saying “God loves you but… God loves you but…” and while the message was initially Good news, God loves you, when you heard the rest it did not sound really that God loved us at all. And it struck me, the problem with us as Christians is that we have too big a buts. God loves you, but, you need to stop being you and become like us, is not the gospel, is not good news.
God loves you as you are and He sees the buried treasure. He sees the you that hides behind the mask. He sees the you that you hide deep within and He loves you deeply. Yes, God loves you and because He loves you so much He was prepared to die for you. He wants you to turn from those destructive behaviours that God knows hurt you and for you to turn and put your trust in Him, that you can become more the you that you were created to be, and He died that you can be again. God does not want you to be less you, He wants to take away the things that would harm and damage you so you may prosper, so you may know that you are loved and you are precious. He is seeking the hidden treasure. He is working to restore you.
I am deeply conscious that there is something in all of us, including myself, that revolts against the free love of God for us and also for others, but God loves us too.
However, if God really loves us, then why is there all this suffering and pain in the world? If God really loves us, why are we all in social distancing from Coronavirus while thousands are suffering and dying every day? Why do people get ill and die? Why are people beaten up and killed because of the colour of their skin? Why God? And many of us will have our own stories of grief and pain.
We read of the story of Solomon and how he had a dream and God met with him and said in Roy Orbison style anything you want you got it. What do you want? Ask away. Solomon asks for wisdom but he hits the jackpot anyway because despite the fact that he was the child of an adulterous relationship, where his father King David did not just commit adultery with another man’s wife, but he killed the husband. If anyone was born in sin, it was Solomon. Yet, God loved him, and that love meant that Solomon was a man blessed, with great wealth and honour, the Kerching blessing.
I was listening this week to Kate Bowler’s powerful account of being diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer at the age of 35, called Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s available as an audiobook online from Coventry Library. The audiobook is read by Kate herself, so when the narrator’s voice breaks as she tells of imagining her child and husband living without her, it is Kate herself reading. Kate works at Duke Divinity School in America, and her first book before this was Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel. So she is well aware of the theology that states that if God is for you then you will be blessed here and now in this world. She writes in Everything Happens for a Reason;
“What would it mean for Christians to give up that little piece of the American Dream that says, “You are limitless”? Everything is not possible. The mighty kingdom of God is not yet here. What if ‘rich’ did not have to mean ‘wealthy’, and ‘whole’ did not have to mean ‘healed’? What if being the people of “the gospel” meant that we are simply people with good news? God is here. We are loved. It is enough.”
We are loved, and I do believe that love can change the world, but it has to start with love changing me, and that is the bit that so often we are uncomfortable about. We need to know that we are loved, that the King of the universe loves me, that I am precious that I am loved. God’s love needs to flow into me and my heart, so that through me it can change the world.
We live in a world where so much is wrong, but in my lifetime I have seen Apartheid fall in South Africa, Communism fall in Eastern Europe and the people of God were involved in both, and there are many other places I could mention. I saw on YouTube a black man, Daryl Davis, who attended Klu Klax Klan rallies and met and talked with people and persuaded them to change, the second paragraph on Wikipedia about him starts, “Davis is a Christian”.
There is still so much pain and suffering in the world but we are a world touched by divine love and we need to be people of divine love, who having encountered God for ourselves are changed and become people who change the world. I do not believe that we have the power within ourselves to change the world, we need the love of Christ to come within us and to change us.
We need the life and the love of God to change the world. As you may be aware, I have always had an interest and involvement in politics, but much as I believe politics is important, I believe that the essential problems in the world are not political but spiritual. If we all received the love of God in our hearts and that love changed us and changed our relationship with one another, then poverty and war would be abolished. We would look at each other and see the image of God, and everything would change.
For what does the gospel mean not just that I am loved, that I am precious, but that the other person, even the other who irritates me most, is also loved and precious? A person that God loves and Jesus died for, and who I am called to love.
More than anything we need to receive the love of God, so that it can overflow from our hearts and into our lives and into the world.
As we face the world, we need to face it knowing that we are loved, not just as a thought but something that by the Spirit of God changes our very being, and a people who know that it is not just that we are loved but that every other person who we meet is also loved.
You are hidden treasure. You are the pearl of greatest worth. You are loved. You are precious. This is good news, for us, for those we meet, and for the whole world. The words of Kate Bowler ring in my ears, “God is here. We are loved. It is enough.” Though of course, as a people, who are loved we are called to go out into the world and make disciples of divine love and change the world in Jesus name.