We're going on a treasure hunt...

Found this etching on the sand yesterday at Dinas Dinlle. Reminded me of the Mustard Tree as I had just written a reflection for Sunday on the Matthew parables of the mustard seed, the yeast, the pearl, the hidden treasure and the fishing net.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl : Matthew 13:31-33 & 44-46

Most of us enjoy a treasure hunt. You start off with a clue which, if you can solve it, leads you to the location of the next one – and so on until you uncover the final treasure, or arrive at your destination and claim your prize. Some of you may remember Aneka Rice flitting about in a helicopter in pursuit of her prize. Most of us did it on foot or maybe in cars.

In a way, these parables, together with many others Jesus told, are clues to discovering the Kingdom. The images Jesus created in the stories were memorable because they touched on the everyday life and scenes of ordinary people. Even so, most people didn’t get the spiritual dimension of the parables – at least not immediately. The disciples were often as slow to cotton on to what Jesus was pointing to as everyone else. So, sometimes he had to help them solve the clues and explain the deeper meaning behind the simple illustration. Jesus was nurturing the disciples to think more deeply about all that he had to say. They weren’t academics with degrees in philosophy or theology. They were fishermen and the like. They needed help getting their heads around the idea of a Kingdom other than those ruled over by emperors and kings. So, time and again, Jesus prefaces his stories with, the kingdom of heaven is like -. But, guess what? At the end of the day, the Kingdom of God is among you, around you and within you! The trouble is that sometimes we have buried it so deep, we have a job unearthing it without returning to some of the clues Jesus gave us.

It is interesting that in the two parables of the hidden treasure and of the Pearl, both characters are not poor. On discovering the treasures, they both have to go and sell everything they already own in order to possess the new-found desire of their hearts. It is likely that a merchant would have been fairly wealthy. That did not stop him from giving up everything he had traded for over the years when he finds the pearl of his dreams.

In a previous reflection, I instanced the reaction of someone who had listened and watched a Godly play presentation of the story of the Pearl. In the time of wondering which follows the story, when asked to consider what the pearl might be, he exclaimed – it is me! Until hearing that personal revelation, I had always seen the Pearl a s Jesus and whoever discovered Him as their Saviour would be prepared to sell everything they had in order to follow Him. Yet isn’t this alternative perception just as valid? Not me finding Jesus, but Jesus finding me, and seeing me as a treasure of great worth, being prepared to give all that He had for me! Wow! Doesn’t that make me feel special.

The problem is, our treasure is often hidden very deep under layer after layer. And that is true for us and for everyone we meet. So how do we rediscover the treasure in each one of us? Fortunately, Jesus gives us clues not just in stories but in action. Jesus was the supreme treasure hunter. He came across a miserly little tax collector called Zaccheus who most people perceived as a money-grabbing employee of the occupying Roman regime. But Jesus spent enough time with him to dig deep under the shell he must have hardened to survive the resentment of his neighbours and to discover the person who, like everyone else, needed to be valued. We don’t know what Jesus said to him, but I suspect the fact that Jesus treated him, for those moments, as though he was the only person who mattered, gave Zaccheus a sense of his own worth. And that was transforming.

Jesus must have done something similar for the Woman of Samaria. Someone who had had seven husbands, was from a different culture and faith and who was of less status simply because she was a woman. Suddenly she is confronted by a man who treats her so differently from the way other people did that she has to go and tell others about this foreigner who was a bit special, because he had made her feel special.

The difference with Jesus was that he always looked beyond the superficial, the greed, the appearance, the bad reputation and took time to dig deep and find the treasure. Just as well, because we all have a tendency to accumulate layers of defence and disguise which obscure our true selves. It isn’t always easy to throw away those protections against life’s slings and arrows and the expectations of others to behave like the majority. But then we are confronted by the image of someone with the outstretched arms of openness and vulnerability who is willing to risk being hurt in the hope that we might realise our real worth to him and, throwing off all the detritus of life, rush into his embrace.

What a difference it can make to our own world when we realise that God’s Kingdom has come into our lives and transformed the way we look at things. Joy Cowley, a Christian writer and poet from New Zealand, sums up that difference for me when she describes a way of perceiving the kingdom all around us:

God of washing, God of unmade beds,

God of dented saucepans and worn-out brooms,

your presence in the most ordinary things

often takes me by surprise.

I listen to the morning news

and think of your presence

at a United Nations' peace conference,

at the launching of a space probe,

or in the development of a vaccine,

or the discovery of a new planet.

Then I look down and see you

winking in bubbles of detergent.

God of washing,

God of stains and missing buttons,

wherever else you might be,

you are right here with me,

defrosting and cleaning the freezer,

picking up bits of plastic toys

from the living room floor,

and each time you nudge my heart

with the warmth of your presence,

recognition leaps like a song.

I know it! Oh, I know it!

God of washing,

God of vacuum cleaner bags'

God of sparrows, lilies and mustard seeds,

my house is your tabernacle.

Perhaps we could substitute ‘tabernacle’ with ‘traesure chest’ when thinking of the parable of the hidden treasure? And if we have discovered our true value and the location of the Kingdom, through the great efforts of the supreme Treasure Hunter, we now have all the clues we need to be treasure hunters ourselves. Because out there, in that world beyond our doorsteps, are countless undiscovered treasures to be unearthed. For many, the Lockdown and its consequences will have buried people’s sense of worth deeper than before.

The young theatre technician who was furloughed at the start of lockdown has now received an email to say ‘they’ have let her go and she is now unemployed – not required.

The care workers who were not considered a priority for PPE which merely enforces the lack of value reflected in their basic wage rates.

The asylum seekers bundled into cramped accommodation where Covid can spread rapidly and helpless to change their circumstances,

The hungry unemployed who are forced to swallow what little pride they have left and turn to the local foodbank for a couple of carrier bags of charity.

We all have a role to play in helping such as these uncover their true worth. Oscar Romero, the South American archbishop martyred for his championing of the poor, once said in a radio broadcast:

'How beautiful will be the day when all the baptised understand that their work, their jobis a priestly work, that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench, and each metal-worker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand, are performing a priestly office! How many cab drivers, I know, listen to this message there in their cabs;

You are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.'

So many more people at present are losing sight of any sense of being precious in the eyes of anyone other than, maybe, their own family or true friends. Part of our God-given task is surely to be true friends to such as these. To look at the people we meet each day with the eyes of a treasure seeker, through the eyes of the Christ who found us and spotted the gem in each of us. We are called to take the Good News that people matter to every person we meet in the street, in our homes or online and to declare loud and clear, ‘the kingdom of God is among you, around you, within you.’ There are so many hidden gems out there. Let’s get digging! Amen

(There were some technical difficulties during our Sheffield URC Sunday Worship Zoom meeting which meant the images I had prepared were not seen. For those who have expressed an interest in seeing them, I have put them below with a few notes on their origins.)

This is the tip of LLannddwyn Island, off Newborough Sands, Anglesey. Llanddwyn means the Parish of St. Ddwynwen. She is the Welsh saint of lovers, a rival for St. Valentine!

This carving is titled: The Storyteller and is situated in the chapel at the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas, just off the A38 south of Burton on Trent. It seemed to be an appropriate picture for display during the reflection on some of Jesus' parables.

I came across this huge carving many years ago near the shores of Derwentwater. I use the picture whenever we sing a Fischy song called 'Written on the palm of God's Hands'. At Shiregreen, we often use Stephen Fischbacker's songs in worship and at our 'Messy Church'

This was the caption for our Coffee and Chat session after worship. Jenny and I don't drink coffee, but we are vulnerable to a nice cup of hot chocolate. This café is in the top left hand corner of Scotland near Cape Wrath. The photo below is of the beach 5 minutes walk away.

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