In the Gospel passage this morning, Jesus tells a series of six parables or simple stories illustrating moral or spiritual lessons. The first five are about the kingdom of heaven, and the last explains the meanings of the first five. They include the depictions of: a mustard seed that starts out small, but becomes a tree with large branches that birds nest in; yeast that is mixed with flour until it leavens; a hidden treasure that is found in a field; a merchant in search of fine pearls; a fisherman’s net that catches desirable and undesirable fish; and a trained scribe who gathers fine treasure, both new and old.
Jesus put before them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So, it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all this? They answered, Yes. And he said to them, 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. (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)
Treasures that are both new and old. It reminds me of a few months ago when I spoke about Jesus telling his disciples in Luke’s gospel to “carry a purse that will never wear out.” A perpetual purse, and like this purse, this treasure chest will never wear out. The treasures collected are valuable holding truths both new and old.
In the church, we treasure rich liturgies that can be traced back to the early churches of the first, second and following centuries. Although the times and cultures that shaped the liturgies of the early church differed from ours, our worship has kept many of its liturgical elements, passed on like valuable treasures from one generation to the next. However, not all traditions are valuable. There are some events in church history that we would like to forget or erase. Some saints were persecuted and sometimes murdered for not believing or practicing the faith according to the authorities of their day.
In the 11th century a movement started by Benedictine Monks practiced what was called self flagellation. They would take a multitailed leather whip and whip their bare backs as apractice of penance while reciting the Psalms in the privacy of their cells. I don’t think we want this practice in our treasure chest. We want to carry on those traditions that lift up Christ and glorify God, traditions that build up and embody the core messages of our faith in Jesus Christ. We treasure these things amd hold them in high regard.
For some of treasures we are willing to give everything we have, to pick up our cross and follow Jesus and willingly die. Others are not worth keeping and should be discarded like in the parable of the net and the fish. The good or desirable fish are worth keeping, but the others have no place in our treasure chest.
We hold on to all the good passed down through the ages and press on toward our high calling in Christ Jesus. Some of these treasures are new things, ‘new beginnings’, something to treasure that is meaningful, something that is truly valuable to you today that was not around before. “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will be glad and rejoice in it”. (Psalm 118:24) We all have personal things that we cherish, memories, events and experiences. One of my treasured memories is December 21, 2008. On that day, I was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. Another cherished event in my treasure chest in August 28, the 45th anniversary of my marriage to Naomi. I cherish my wife and my children. This church St. Alban’s is my treasure. The church I was ordained in as a deacon and priest, St. Philips, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is also a treasure in my collection.
We all have treasures that we carry. Some are sacred treasures of the church, and some are personally sacred just to us. As members of the church, our personal treasures are intertwined with the treasures of the church community. It means our lives are hidden in Christ, and it becomes more difficult to differentiate between the sacred and the ordinary. The ordinary takes on the extraordinary, and the sacred and ordinary become all mixed up. The thin line between our space and God’s space becomes blurred and all mixed up. Your life is a treasure to those that know you and love you.
Many of you may recall the brand of frozen pizzas that ars still around today called Tombstone. The famous 1980’s commercials depicted a public execution, but supposed executioner would aske the comedic phrase: “What do you want on your tombstone?” I remember a professor once challenging his students about what they wanted to be remembered after they died. He threw out to the class: “What do you want on your tombstone?” And, one student jokingly answered: “I want pepperoni and olives on my Tombstone!” I pray that the way I live my life will be a treasure to those I leave behind, an encouragement of both old and new treasures—both memories and experiences. What do you want on your headstone? How do you want to be remembered? Is it something valuable for someone else’s treasure chest?
The kingdom of heaven parables are about a collection of good things, both old and new. Saints of old, like St. Peter, St. James, St. Andrew and St. Alban, and the living saints in the present. My brothers and sisters, you are the saints of God, some older and some younger. You are a living saint of the present day, treasured by God, and worth more than fine gold. Treasure those things, events and individuals which make the Kingdom of God meaningful to you. Recall the important things, the good memories, both old and new. Throw out the bad memories and hold on dearly to all that is good and meaningful, enjoying your treasures that are both new and old.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen