PICTURE THIS: TREASURE BOX
The Rev. Helen Havlik
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
This summer many artists have helped us picture the small, but ever-growing kingdom of God that’s about grace, persistence in prayer, forgiveness, giving of ourselves, being good neighbors and welcoming everyone who wants to join in, especially those who have been “lost.” We’ve looked at paintings by Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Eugene Burnand, Jan Sander Van Hemessen, and Giotto di Bondone, along with contemporary artists Kelly Schumaker and Soichi Watanabe. As we finish this series today, we’re picturing the treasure Jesus has helped us see. I’m reading from Matthew, Ch. 13, beginning with vs. 44. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
I don’t know what happened to my treasure box! You had one, too, right? Maybe it was an old cigar box or jewelry box or some other container to keep stuff in. Mine was a cigar box where I saved feathers and lucky pennies and pebbles and shells and interesting leaves. For some reason I was fascinated by those nickel-sized metal pieces my father pushed out of electrical boxes when he was wiring the upstairs of our house. I pretended they were money. Couldn’t get them wet, though —or they’d rust! When my brother’s kids were little I gave them some photo boxes I didn’t need anymore so they’d have a place to put their own treasures. For awhile they collected some of the same things I did—rocks and shells and pinecones, but they especially liked stickers and DS games. Times change, sort of. Most of us don’t just live in the present moment—we keep mementoes to remind us of the past and we put away treasure for the future. Now instead of printing photos and keeping them in bound albums, we carry digital libraries with us on our phones to swipe through so that we can “picture” the ever-flowing moments of our lives. Times change, sort of.
Jesus didn’t have a camera, of course, so he created snapshots out of words. As he shows us his pictures, we may think all we’re looking at is a pearl and a net full of fish and a treasure chest but, just like the paintings we’ve seen this summer, each picture is a different view of God’s kingdom. Each image helps us see our ordinary experience in an extraordinary way—each image is a glimpse of God on earth. So when we swipe through all we’ve seen this summer, ultimately we have a picture of God and God’s action in the world. That’s the treasure—the seeds and all the rest show us that God’s relationship with the world is alive and dynamic, leading to continuing growth and possibility. And though it can seem so small as to be hardly noticeable (like the mustard seed) or even hidden (like treasure in the field), God’s action is still real and will bear fruit in God’s time. Ultimately God’s kingdom is a place of welcome and sanctuary, a world where there is peace and there is enough—and everything in this kingdom is good.
Today Jesus shows us pictures of how we might respond to this amazing treasure. As we go about our daily activities, God’s presence sometimes surprises us, as though we’ve stumbled across buried treasure in a field. I call these “God-things,” where we’re suddenly aware that more is going on than meets the eye—that what happened isn’t just a coincidence but a gift directly from the hand of God. Or this treasure may be “the pearl” we look for day and night and don’t stop until we find it. A lot of us actively seek those God-things, worshipping and studying and praying and selflessly serving, trying to be in those places where God has been known to be present, keeping our eyes open everywhere. Jesus doesn’t doubt that this treasure will be found—the question is what will we do when we discover what God is doing in the world? Will we drop what we’re doing and dance for joy? Will we receive the gift with grateful hearts? Will we do everything we can to respond to God’s work by joining in? Will we share this treasure with the people around us?
The net is a snapshot of the amazing variety of creation: giraffes, broccoli, Petosky stones; women and men; Africans, Asians, Americans; Pakistanis and Finns, introverts and extraverts. All types and kinds and colors—the whole shebang gathered into one net as God offers the kingdom to everything and everyone. “For God so loved the world…” The net is a picture of inclusion not exclusion, of extreme hospitality because the kingdom of heaven touches everyone and everything with its power and its mercy. The church exists not to be the gatekeeper to this kingdom, but to be, as Robert Farrar Capon says, a sacrament of the kingdom, a visible sign of an invisible mystery. (The Parables of the Kingdom, p. 149)
And finally, we’re seeing the seriousness of the choice we make in deciding to live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Those first disciples heard loud and clear the choice is between life and death. The life Jesus offers us as we experience and respond to the kingdom of God around us and in us—and the death that is our refusal to see and act. The disciples answer a resounding, “Yes!” and urge us to join them. Often we mistakenly hear these parables as only a call to individual faith and faithfulness. But Jesus is speaking to all of his disciples—and by extension to the church where Matthew belonged and to us. So Jesus also is calling us as a congregation to look at these pictures and make our choice: heaven or the world, trust or fear, life or death.
So as we gather around this holy table, to share in this taste of the heavenly banquet, picture this: you’re on a beach and you see something poking out of the sand. It’s a treasure box—the one you used to have when you were a kid. Finding it fills you with joy! You open it up and everything’s still there, right where you left it. Whom will you show it to? A lot has happened since then—what do you want to add to it? What blessings will you put away to remind you of God’s kingdom? Whom will you share your treasure with?