Once upon a time a subsistence sharecropper was plowing a wealthy land owner’s field. Driven by need the sharecropper plowed past the established edges to increase his narrow margin. The sharecropper borrowed to pay for seed, did all of the work and took all of the risk. At the harvest he surrendered better than half the profits to the land owner.
As the sharecropper was plowing near some old trees along the fields edge the plow hit something and slide off the furrow grinding to a stop. Not wanting to press the old team the sharecropper unhitched the team. With a few jabs of a shovel it appeared the plow had hit a stand of rocks. Was it an old buried wall? The sharecropper fell to his knees and with calloused hands troweled the dirt away from the carefully stacked rocks. Removing the rocks he saw an urn. Taking his pocket knife he forced the lid open, his eyes wild with speculation.
2000 years ago, the banks were not federally insured and the government might fall in a war or raid. Wealthy people buried treasures.
The sharecropper now touched a forgotten treasure: stacks of gold, jeweled bracelets, silver work, goblets, and money belts. It was a fortune that his subsistence farming could never earn or even imagine.
If this treasure could be his, he would never need to work again. His heart raced. He stood and looked around nervously to see who might have seen his efforts. Seeing no one and noticing the horses resting easy the poor tenant carefully stacked the field stones back around the treasure and covered his discovery with soil.
The sharecropper hustled home and loaded every tool and implement into his cart. He rode two towns over where moving from farm to farm he sold each piece. He sold a hoe here, a shovel there, his pruning knives at another, his plow and tack at another farm. Finally, he sold the wagon and the old team. Walking home fearing robbers, he wondered “did he have enough?” What if the land owner suspected something and asked for more? What if someone found his treasure before he could buy the field?
Once back in his village the sharecropper gathered every pot, pan and knife from the kitchen. By noon he had sold every spoon. skillet, sandal, shirt, and a heirloom sickle handed down from his grandfather. Some neighbors took pity and others took advantage of the sharecropper’s obvious desperation. “Has he lost his mind?” They wondered. Does he hold debts with the gamblers? Has a child been kidnapped?
Having sold everything the sharecropper took a bath put and changed clothes. He made the journey to the far away city with all his worldly assets hanging in his satchel. There was nothing left at the tenants’ shack. He steeled his nerves in the synagogue and walked to the landowner’s house pondering each word. He wondered what he might say. Perhaps he said: “please, sell me that small corner field so that I might have my own land before I die.” Perhaps he just made an offer. The land owner drove a hard bargain and smiled at his good fortune to sell the land for nearly twice its value. It is easy to sell to a desperate man. The Sharecropper and the land seller ratified the deed on a clay tablet to be stored in the Temple. Perhaps, even the land owner even laughed at the peasants desire.
That evening the sharecropper went to his field with a borrowed shovel and neighbor’s wheelbarrow. He dug up his treasure and entered his village as the wealthiest man in the region.
- Do we live with a sense of desperation?
- Would we take such a risk?
- Do we have a treasure that surpasses all our other treasures?
- What would drive us to so radically realign our living?
- Have we discovered something so worthy of our time, attention, aspirations, possessions and focus that we would reshape all our commitments?
Matthew 13: 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone finds then goes and sells all that they have and buys that field.”
- Have we discovered the treasure that surpasses all treasurers?
- Have we found the treasure, which compels us to reevaluate all lesser treasurers and radically realign our living?
- Is the Kingdom of God that sort of treasure to us?
- Have we discovered the depths, the width, and the span of the God’s love for us?
- Does Jesus cause us to radically re-evaluate all lesser treasures?
- For Christ would we trade it all: houses, cars, clothes, or careers?
- For Christ would we risk it all: organ, pews, stained glass, hymnals, drums, guitars, screens and projectors?
- For Christ would we drop treasured comforts, iconic niceties, and entrenched theologies?
- Our Bishop asked us: “will we leave it all on the field for Jesus?”
- What have we discovered In Jesus?
- Do we know a life changing discovery?
- Does our church revolve around the surpassing treasure that is the Kingdom of God?
- Are we about discovery?
- How does the Great Discovery change our priorities, patterns and passions?
Jesus lived out a parable and it goes something like this. A church leader named Simon invited Jesus over for a big dinner party with lots of guests from church and the office. A woman often associated with sinful living and sinful people crashed Simon’s party. She came clutching an exquisite alabaster. She moved straight to Jesus. She dropped to her knees, pouring an almost inconsolably stream of tears onto the feet of Jesus. The crowd watched wondering if she was drunk or off her medicine. People gasped as she uncovering her hair, a terrible taboo. Then almost flat on the floor she wiped Jesus’ feet dry with her hair. She broke the alabaster jar and the fragrant aroma filled the room as she anointed Jesus’ feet with the precious expensive oil.
Simon chuckled “If this Jesus fellow were a prophet, he would know the sort of woman making this scene at his feet. Why just look at her. You need no line to God to know that she is a sinner.”
At that very moment Jesus caught Simon’s eye with a soul piercing stare. Jesus spoke “Simon, suppose there are two debtors. One debtor owes the lender five million dollars and the other fellow just owes say five dollars. Now neither debtor has the money. They both face debtor’s prison or having to sell themselves into slavery until the debt is satisfied. Yet for some gracious reason the lender forgives the full debt of both debtors. Now Simon, who do you suppose will love the generous lender more? Will it be the one owing 5 million or the one owing five bucks?”
“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” Simon answered
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus continued “I tell you, as for this woman, her sins which are many are forgiven- can’t you see her extravagant love? Oh friend, be careful: whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
- Oh church, who are we in this story?
- Are we people who love little?
- Are we people, who believe we have done little that needs forgiving?
- Have we discovered the deep reservoir of Jesus’ forgiveness?
- Are we people, who know the love of God and long to show it?
- Has the love of God been lavished on us?
- Has the love and forgiveness of God been poured into our hearts?
John Wesley made the Grand Discovery proclaiming that his “heart was strangely warmed” by the love of God. Wesley went on to speak of knowing his forgiveness and being alive in Christ! We Methodist used to speak of the love of God being spread throughout our hearts.
- What have we discovered?
- Have we found a treasure that we would sell it all for?
- Have we found a treasure that we might risk it all for?
- Have we found a treasure we might make spectacle over?
Friends, There is something to be discovered in Christianity.
There is a treasure in this world. There is a treasure in this field! There is a treasure in this campus, in this community, and in this Conference. There is a treasure in this city.
What is the treasure?
The treasure is simply Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ brings forgiveness, salvation, love, courage, wisdom, peace, hope and purpose. Christianity is not a worldview or set of rules or a conference wide plan. Christianity is a spiritual treasure: a transformation fueled by God. The Christian journey begins and ends with an encounter with the Risen Christ. When people forget that the Risen Lord is the Great Discovery they begin to live for other lesser treasurers. They go through the spiritual motions.
If a life never discovers its deep need of Jesus, it will never love Jesus very much. A non-discovered life will think Christianity is about being good or about doing good. A non-discovered life will look at others to measure its own spiritual progress and will not ponder its own walk. A non-discovered life fails to look to Jesus in order to truly live. A non-discovered life will treasure certain catch phrases, emotional experiences, theological buzz words, moving songs, bygone moments, holy grounds, progressive ideals, old standards, comforting traditions, and other spiritual externals. It will polish the outside of the spiritual cup to a high gloss but not deal with the inner life!
We have a great, mysterious, lovely, and confounding treasure in our field- whose name is Jesus!
What do we have to offer the world without the transforming presence of our Risen Lord?
What is a church without The Discovery that is Jesus? A church without the Discovery of its deep need for Jesus will throw up programs and plans. It will seek to market its existence outside of its transformational core. A non-discovery church will mistake the tools of the church for the heart of the church. Such a non-discovery church may foist a stagnant non-transformational-ism of burdensome works, lackluster faith, toilsome rules, tired traditions, crippling legalism, vapid idealism, or isolating judgmentalism upon others.
There is a radical life-changing discovery to be made; whose name is Jesus!
The Apostle spoke of the Discovery, the Treasure, the Power, the Catalyst, the Hope, the Salvation that is Jesus. I pray that out of God’s glorious (boundless) riches God strengthens you with power through the Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to comprehend how wide, how long, how high and how deep is the love of Christ. I pray that you will discover Christ’s love that surpasses understanding—so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to the Lord who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Adapted from Ephesians 3)
- Have we made the Great Discovery?
- Have we found that sort of Love?
- Have we encountered life-changing power?
- Is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts?
- Do we know God as a pardoning God?
- Do we desire nothing but God?
- Or do we live in deadening non-discovery? Do we plan and program in sterile fields without the great treasure?
- Is there something a little desperate about us to lay hold of the great Treasure?
There is a great treasure in every life, every field, every city, every community, every church!
The church that is not helping people discover the treasure that is Jesus like a lovely bank. This bank is filled with friendly people, nice leather chairs in the lobby, great customer service, and a nice coffee machine in the corner. However, there is no money in the bank.
The non-discovery church is like a museum with a lovely gift shop, welcoming guides, arching sunlit galleries, a full service cafeteria, grand architecture , smiling guards, lovely golden frames, polished marble pedestals, and velvety ropes but no master pieces. It is an artless edifice.
The tragedy is that we who think we need little forgiveness- love little. Not knowing our need for forgiveness we have little impetus to change. We have not made the discovery, so we dwell. We dwell in a certain spiritual stuck-ness. We love little. We will hold back and hold on. We will run our fingers over the cross but fail to shoulder it. We stand divided and never desperate to do the things of God. We go through the motions with a muted hope and a buried treasure.
A life that fails to discover Jesus has only rules. It will not love much. It will be half- hearted, luke-warm, obliged. The non-discovered life or church will never understand that woman making the spectacle at the altar residing at the feet of Jesus,
What is life like apart from the Great Discovery? How do we live when we do not realize that Jesus is The Treasurer that redefines all lesser treasures? Let us remember that great churchman Simon, who held a diner party for Jesus. Simon looked down on the woman who crashed his Jesus party. Simon knew that sinners did not belong with his church friends. Simon did not rejoice when the wayward found hope, the broken discovered wholeness, the dead encountered new life, the blind began to see and sinners discovered forgiveness. Why did Simon not rejoice that a broken person found forgiveness? If the woman had come in physically bleeding, surely Simon would have welcomed her more and judged Jesus less? Why did Simon not welcome the broken to God’s grace? Why did Simon only want to enjoy God with comfortable friends? A life without discovery never risks a spectacle, never discovers its sinfulness, and perhaps never understands Jesus. A non-Discovered Life does not know the Spiritual rebirth that brings new life. Simon is stuck with an undiscovered spiritual life. Simon is stuck with unforgiveness and little love.
The tragedy is that we who think we need little forgiveness- love little. Therefore, we have little impetus to change. We have not made the Discovery, so we dwell in less than love and little forgiveness. We dwell in a certain spiritual stuck-ness.
We get stuck maybe not in slanderer, but with words that give less than grace
We get stuck not in mockery, but in less than an encouragement.
We get stuck maybe not as rough brutes, but with lives that are less than gentle.
We get stuck maybe not in rage, but with less than patience.
We get stuck maybe not in cruelty, but in less than loving-kindness
We get stuck maybe not in hate, but we never really find love.
We get stuck maybe not in in callous inhumanity, but in less than compassion.
We get stuck in maybe not war but we never discover peace.
We stuck maybe not as openly greedy but never know generosity.
We get stuck maybe not in full on despair but we do not discover lasting joy.
We get stuck in unforgiveness and never discover the freedom that is forgiving.
We get stuck maybe not as unfaithful but we hone a level of non-faithfulness.
We get stuck maybe not in judgmental-ism, but we never unlock acceptance.
We get stuck maybe not in evil, but well short of goodness
We get stuck maybe not in wretchedness but in less than holiness.
We get stuck maybe not as intentional oppressors but as people with a muted sense of justice.
We get stuck maybe not in inner vulgarity but with less than purity.
We get stuck maybe not as the worst sinner but sort of Christ-like-ness
We get stuck maybe not as wicked but less than righteous
We get stuck maybe not as eternally lost…but as people off God’s path
We get stuck maybe not godless, but we do not discover godliness!
- Oh Friend, oh church, oh soul, are we those who love little?
- Have we discovered the treasure? Or are we stuck in something short of Christ?
- Are we those who love, forgive and live freely?
“Come, sinners, to the gospel feast;
Let every soul be Jesus’ guest.
You need not be left behind,
For God welcomes all humankind.
Come, all you souls by sin oppressed,
You restless wanderers after rest;
You poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind,
In Christ a hearty welcome find.
This is the time, no more delay!
This is the Lord’s accepted day.
Come thou, this moment, at Christ’s call,
And live for him who died for all.”
(“Sinners to the Gospel Feast” by Charles Wesley)
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone finds then goes and sells all that they have and buys that field.”
Friends, there is a great treasure in this world, whose name is Jesus.
Friends, there is a great treasure of faith, hope and Love.
Let us make the Grand Discovery that frees us to forgive, to be forgiven, to love, to do justice, to love mercy, to walk with God, to take up our cross, to find our lives by losing them, to know the boundless riches of Christ, to see God do more than we can ever ask or imagine, to experience the love of God spread abroad in our hearts.
Lord, stir in us a striving to discover, to dwell in, to follow, and to serve with Christ so that we might discover life. Amen.