Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
There was a time not long ago, when I used to regularly watch a TV show entitled, Storage Wars. In this particular TV show, antique dealers and pawn shop owners in the Los Angeles area, meet at storage facilities and bid on the content of storage lockers that have been repossessed for unpaid storage fees. The bidders get a few minutes to look at the contents of the locker from the door opening and then they bid and if they are successful, they then try to sell the items in the storage locker in order to make a profit.
When the locker is initially opened, there is usually a lot of moaning and groaning because at first blush it appears that there is nothing of value inside.
Sometimes there are valuables hidden in and among the junk and occasionally one of the bidders hits it big; the seemingly useless stuff in the storage locker turns out to be a great prize. Of course there is great joy, great excitement AND great SURPRISE.
But it isn’t always just all about the dollars. Occasionally the top bidder finds something in a storage locker they don’t want to sell; for some reason they value that item and want to keep it for themselves. You or I might look at that item and see more junk, while they see something that is to them, almost priceless.
So part of the process for the bidders, is to see or imagine value, in and amongst the small items, the seemingly unimportant, or valueless items.
Sometimes I think it is easy to look at small and insignificant things, and be disappointed. We don’t see value necessarily, we see little items instead of big ones, yet maybe all those little items add up. Maybe it all adds up and we begin to see the value and the treasure. I think, to some degree, this describes the ministry of a congregation. I also think that today’s gospel reading helps us see that.
Today’s gospel may help us see the value in our congregation’s ministry, even though today’s gospel might appear to be a hodge-podge of different topics and concepts. As we look through the open door of the storage locker, today’s gospel reading from Matthew contains quite a variety of items:
Kingdom of heaven
Mustard seed, trees, birds, nests
Yeast, flour, a mixer, dough
Empty field, hidden treasure, discovery, joy, purchase
The scribe who is entrusted with the message of the kingdom of heaven
Those are the hodge-podge of topics that seem to sit, tangled and twisted on the floor and as we first look at them we may not imagine any value at all. Then, as we take a second look, we begin to see all the surprising things that happen in today’s gospel.
The tiny Mustard seed grows to become a large plant
Yeast is small and when it does its work, the dough grows by huge amounts
An empty field turns out to be a treasure trove
Just another pearl turns out to be the one of great value – although it takes time to find it and
There is a sacrifice in obtaining that pearl of great value
In this eclectic gospel reading, Jesus is pointing out the surprising nature of the kingdom of heaven. It may start out small, it may be disappointing to you or it may not seem like much, but the kingdom of heaven is bigger and more surprising than you might imagine. The kingdom of heaven may not appear to have much value, but there is always more than meets the eye.
The kingdom of heaven is surprising and it may not always be what we imagine or expect or demand. The kingdom of heaven also takes time to find; there is a discovery and it doesn’t always come easy; there may be a sacrifice involved in discovering the kingdom of heaven.
Looking at the small, the insignificant, the disappointing and imagining that this is supposed to be the kingdom of heaven, isn’t initially inspiring. In our cynical moments, or our moments of disappointment, we might ask if that all there is.
Often the small and the insignificant has great value; the kingdom of heaven is greater than we would have imagined. The reason I think, is due to the grace of God which is always far bigger than we could have imagined.
Some Biblical commentators would suggest that these parables are a great description of God, who God is and how God works. There are many graphic examples of the grace and work of God and the history of the world is replete with stories of how God has worked in the lives of human beings through the ordinary, the mundane and that which does not appear to have much value.
The most dramatic example of a gracious God moving in the world comes through the cross of Christ. Peering up at the cross on that fateful day, or watching from a great distance, I am sure that the disciples of Christ did not see much value, rather they probably saw disaster. They imagined that the power of God would be unleashed through the standard feats of glory and power, or armies and politics, or fame and fortune.
What they learned was that God would bring in the kingdom of heaven through suffering, weakness, and vulnerability and that would be the sign to show the world that God is present and saves us and the rest of the world. Reigning through "weakness," becoming empty for the benefit of others, bringing life out of vulnerability and death, speaking in love and forgiveness, is the nature of God.
The storage locker may look empty or value-less, but in the discovery, great pearls of wisdom and life abound.
Yes, the kingdom of heaven has great value, even if you can’t see it at first. Yet, beyond that, Jesus has more for us today.
In the last verse of the gospel, Jesus says,
“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."
The kingdom of heaven was “lived out” in the ministry of Jesus. One of the amazing things he did was to take the old treasure, the concept of God’s kingdom of heaven, and make it seem new.
Jesus reinforces this thought with the final quote. He believed that it was the duty of the scribe, the rabbi, the religious person in the temple, to bring out the idea of the treasure, look it over and find something old and something new, each and every time it was examined.
I think pastors often do such a thing; we go to congregations, we look at the old and often we see something new. Pastors often scratch their heads as they see something new while the congregation continues to see old. Maybe the trick IS to see something new in the old.
But it is not just that pesky pastor who is prodding us to see something new in the old. The gospel of Christ calls us to look at the gospel and see something old and something new in that treasure; Jesus pushes us to look harder and longer.
This affects who we are and what we do. What do we DO as a congregation? What is our current ministry? What is our ministry SUPPOSED to look like? Should we do radical surgery and completely reshape our ministry? Or should it remain the same? Is it just an old treasure that we dust off and put back out for continued reuse? Are there NEW aspects to this old treasure?
Which leads me to think that we should never underestimate the value of our ministry! Sometimes we might imagine that we don’t do this well or we don’t do that well. Sometimes we might think that the church next door does it better than us.
A lot of congregations think that way but that is not the message of the kingdom of heaven. It is those little things, those things of seemingly little value that are important. They all add up. The storage space of little value is priceless in a way.
Something old becomes something new when it is lived within the context of the grace of God and the power of Christ on the cross. God give us the grace, the sight and the wisdom to see the old and the new. May we be equally surprised and filled with joy as we continue to discover our ministry.