Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Matthew 13:44-58
October 23, 2005
Well, it’s official. I’m sorry to tell you that I did not win the $340 million lottery! And I’m not very happy about it! I had a real nice Ferrari all picked out and everything! Needless to say, the guy I promised to buy it from isn’t very happy either!
Don’t we all dream of hidden or unexpected treasure? Are we not at least a little bit envious when we hear the story of the guy who bought a picture in a garage sale for five bucks, only to find out later that underneath the “dogs playing poker” was an undiscovered Picasso? Or how about the story I heard recently about the guy who found a lottery ticket in the trash, had it checked out, and found out it was a winner!
Hidden treasure! Jesus tells a story about hidden treasure in this series of parables in Matthew 13. He tells us that the kingdom of God is such an amazing, wonderful thing it’s like the man who discovered a treasure hidden in a field and sold all he had to buy that field. I want us to think about that today.
As we’ve been saying, this is the time of year we emphasize Stewardship. And as we do that, we need to do a couple of things. First of all we need to see that this is just a time of Stewardship “Emphasis.” As was pointed out in a recent meeting, Stewardship is something we think about all year! This just happens to be the time we concentrate on it. This is just the time we think about our commitment for the coming year. And of course it’s hoped that we think about the giving of our time and our talents as well, not just our financial commitment.
The second thing we’re called on to do is to think about what it is we value in our lives. Is the kingdom of God for us really like the man who found the buried treasure? Is it that important that we would give all we have to obtain it? Do we echo the words of Paul, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”? Is God’s kingdom that valuable to us?
We live in a world where there is a great deal of confusion over the value of things! Tony Campolo once wrote a book in which he asked the question, “Who switched the price tags?” In that book he said that people seem to have switched things all around. They’ve put the wrong price tags on the wrong things in this life.
Just imagine if someone broke into a store, and instead of stealing stuff, they just moved all the price tags around! Think about that! What if they switched the tags between the toasters and the plasma TV’s? The customers would be happy! Hey, I want to go to that store!
Then, what if they switched price tags between stores?! What if there was a Kmart right next to a Neiman Marcus or a Sacs Fifth Avenue? What if people ran back an forth switching the price tags! Wouldn’t that be the same thing as finding hidden treasure? Well as Dr. Campolo observed, it seems as though someone has done that. They’ve switched the price tags in our world! They’ve gone around and put the high price tags on “things,” and put the low price tags on people!
That’s what he said. And isn’t that true? And is our world not confused about what is really important in this life? Is it not overly enamored with things? If you’re not sure, just wait a few weeks until the Christmas shopping season kicks in!
Oh and by the way. Here’s a little warning for you. I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with those who have been on a campaign to remove the word “Christmas” from the Christmas season! I’m tired of hearing “Happy Holidays” when it’s an obvious substitute for “Merry Christmas.” For several years now, I’ve been on a personal campaign to fight against those who would remove the word “Christmas” from our vocabulary, and seek to talk only about buying our “holiday gifts,” going to “holiday parties,” doing our “holiday baking,” and a particularly annoying one I saw in a commercial last year – “Baby’s First Holiday.” (growl!)
However, it is often at Christmas time that it is most keenly observed how our world is overly enamored with things. It is at that time of year that we see most vividly how people in our world have valued things above everything else. And the sad part about that is that, while over-valuing things, they have under-valued people. And of course, many have lost the value of God’s kingdom altogether!
Add to all that the message of the “Prosperity Gospel” preachers, who I think have “muddied the waters” of this whole thing. They are the ones who preach that “God wants you to be rich.” Actually, that is true. But if you were here last week, you heard the scripture and the message about God’s riches. God wants us to have riches – his riches. But they’re not the same as the world’s riches!
The sad part about that is that some of those preachers play on people who are hurting financially or otherwise. I’m sorry to say that there are always those in this world who are “happy to make money on people who are hurting.” And there are a lot of people in our world who are hurting! They’re hurting and they’re empty inside, because they have switched the price tags! They’ve bought the world’s message. They’ve bought all the stuff the world said would make them happy. And they’re not. They’re empty.
I’ll never forget the words of a friend of mine a long time ago. This was in high school. And this friend was the first guy anyone knew to have a job! That was a big deal! He had a paycheck. He had money! He had a car when he was 16! That was unusual then. It wasn’t like it is today where kids turn 16 and expect to be given a car! And often they are given a car – by parents who are tired of giving them rides!
So anyway, this day my friend and I were sitting on his porch talking and he said, “You know, Skip, it’s funny. I have a job, so I have money, I have a car, I have a stereo, I have everything everybody thinks it’s cool to have. And you know what? Those things don’t make me happy.” I’ll never forget that! I think that was a pretty amazing observation coming from a teenager!
We need to see that it is not things that make us happy. We need to say “no” to the world’s understanding that value is found in material possessions. We need to know that it is in people that our riches are found. We need to know that we were made for God’s pleasure, and that seeking first his kingdom is the path to fulfillment, and peace, and joy.
If we see that as the reason we were created, and the purpose of our existence, then when it comes to Stewardship, we will see that the important thing in this life is that we are to be Stewards of all of God’s creation. Then we will see God’s kingdom for the treasure it is – like a treasure hidden in a field for which we would sell all we have to obtain!
Then when we give to his kingdom, we will give of ourselves for the right reasons. The Bible tells us over and over again that in giving of ourselves we receive wonderful blessings. But that doesn’t mean that we “give to get.” Our giving is not some “formulaic” way of making out better financially somehow. We shouldn’t be thinking, “I’d like to have more money, so I’d better give the Church more.” That’s not how it works. Leave that to the “prosperity gospel” people!
You see, it’s much more glorious than that! We give because we see the infinite value of God’s kingdom – like buying the field with the hidden treasure! We give because we choose to make that a priority. We give seeking to serve God – gladly. We give because we recognize that we’re all in this together. We are the body of Christ! We give because we see the joy and the glory in that!! That’s what we look for!
The other reason we give is that we wish to share the glory with others. That’s part of Stewardship, too! Think about the kinds of things people share with each other in this world. People will share places they know with better gas prices. They’ll share hot stock buys. They’ll share the best place to buy crackers. They share those things because they are excited about them. They share them because they see them as important. They share them because they think they are of value. But to often they fail to share that which is of the greatest value.
Be sure in your own life, and in our Church that we have the price tags on the right things. Value people above things. Value God’s kingdom above all. Give of yourself seeking the glory of God’s kingdom. Share that glory with each other. Do what is pleasing in God’s sight. And to God be the glory in the Church, now and forever, world without end, Amen.
Eternal God, help us to understand each day what it means to be part of your kingdom in our midst. Help us to see the glory in the life lived in you. Show us how you want us to give of ourselves, to work for your kingdom, to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ to the world. For this we pray in his name, Amen.