In our Gospel passage this morning, Jesus tells a series of six parables. The first five are parables about the kingdom of heaven. The last parable explains the meanings of the first five parables. The parables include the depiction of a mustard seed that starts out small, but becomes a tree with branches and birds that make nests in it; yeast that is mixed with flour until it is leavened; a hidden treasure that is found in a field; a merchant in search of fine pearls; a net that catches both good and bad fish, and a trained scribe that gathers 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; 46 on 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 we talked about Jesus telling his disciples to “carry a purse that will never wear out”. (Luke 12:33) “A perpetual purse” Like this purse this treasure chest will never wear out. The treasures collected are valuable, and they hold truths both new and old.
In the church, we treasure rich liturgy that can be traced back to churches of the first, second and following centuries. Times and cultures were different, but in many ways, we worship with many of the same pieces of liturgies, passed on like valuable treasures from one generation to the next. But, not all traditions are valuable. There are historical events in church history that we would like to erase, we wish they were not there. Saints were persecuted and sometimes murdered because they did not believe in the way they were supposed to believe. They were at odds with the powers that be.
In the 11th century a movement started by Benedictine Monks that practiced what was called flagellation. They would take a whip and whip their backs while reading the Psalms, a practice of penitence. We do not want this practice in our treasure chest. We want to carry those traditions that lift up Christ, traditions that glorify God, traditions that build up and embody the core messages of our faith in Jesus Christ. We treasure these things. We hold them in high regard.
And, some of those treasures we are willing to die for. For some of those treasures we are willing to give everything we have, to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. We are willing to do that. But, some of the things are not worth keeping. It’s like the parable of the net and the fish. The good fish are worth keeping, but the others have no place in our treasure chest.
We hold on to that which is good. Pressing on toward the 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 is my treasure, St. Alban’s. 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 all mixed up, kind of like in a blender. Your life is a treasure to those that know you and love you.
How many of you are familiar with Tombstone Pizza? There was a commercial that used the phrase: “What do you want on your tombstone”? I remember a professor talking about how people want to be remembered after they die, and he asked: “What do you want on your tombstone?” And, a student answers: “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 collective of good things, both old and new. Saints of old, like St. Peter, St. James, St. Andrew and St. Alban, and the saints in the present. You, my brothers and sisters, are the saints of God, some older and some younger than others. You are one of those saints. You are a treasure of God, worth more than fine gold.
Treasure those things that make the Kingdom of God meaningful to you, and those things that make your life meaningful to you. The important things, the good memories, both old and new. Throw out the bad memories and bring in the new, and enjoy your treasures that are both new and old.