Treasure In Unexpected Places - Matthew 13
What’s your favorite museum? What treasures are there?
One of my favorites is the New Britain Museum of Art.
I love their Hudson River Collection, the story book illustrations, the featured artists.
Last year they had an amazing Georgia O’Keefe exhibit, paired with artists inspired by her work.
I think of Jesus as a curator of a museum filled with treasures in our Gospel lesson today.
He says, “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.”
Jesus the master brings out all kinds of gems—parables that shine like the crown jewels
And point us to the infinite value of the kingdom.
Except that the glow of the parables was put there by us shining them up.
In their original context, these parables weren’t so attractive.
Mustard isn’t a magnificent tree—it is a weed!
Yeast wasn’t in neat packets, but taken from a moldy piece of bread.
An abandoned lot yields a treasure
And an ugly oyster, gnarly white on the outside, gooey mucusy on the inside yields a pearl.
If the kingdom is a treasure, then you expect you’d find it in a museum with well maintained grounds
Climate control and security guards.
Jesus’ parables bring you up short.
Matthew’s community expected something a bit more impressive, too.
They were Jewish, but their newfound faith in Jesus had caused them hardship.
Families split, the community divided, and these Jewish Christians were kicked out of the synagogue.
Jesus’ kingdom was supposed to be about peace, right?
A treasure of healing, life conquering death, the forgiveness of sins.
All they seemed to be getting was more conflict, dwindling numbers, and faltering faith.
And so Matthew tells Jesus’ parables about the kingdom.
It IS a treasure, He seems to be saying, but you need to look beyond what the eye can see.
Look in the places no one else wants to look,
The lonely places, the scandalous places
That’s where you’ll find the treasure of the kingdom.
It is found in unexpected places.
I met Larry in my first church.
He was a former Roman Catholic who loved rock and roll and his wife Anna.
He was also a paranoid schizophrenic.
Everyone in the church knew him; most kept a polite distance.
I met with Larry once a week to talk through his troubles and pray.
It wasn’t always easy.
Larry got in my personal space,
His worries ate up a lot of my time.
He often had extremely poor personal hygiene.
He told me too much information and he smoked like chimney.
Sometimes I saw Larry more of a problem than a person.
One day Larry came into the church office and proudly showed me his new necklace.
It was a medallion of St. Lawrence, his namesake.
Being a Lutheran uneducated in the saints, I asked Larry who St. Lawrence was.
He said he didn’t know, but that St. Lawrence would protect him.
I thought that sounded a bit superstitious, so that night I looked up St. Lawrence.
I learned that St. Lawrence was a Spanish deacon from the 3rd century.
He was charged with the administration of the church goods and caring for the poor.
St. Lawrence lived during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Valerian.
Valerian exiled wealthy and educated Christians, and systematically killed deacons and priests.
Even the pope, Sixtus II, was executed.
Now Lawrence was Sixtus’ right hand man, so he was summoned before the Roman prefect.
The prefect demanded that Lawrence turn over the treasures of the church.
Lawrence negotiated three days to gather them together,
And used that time to give away as much as possible to the poor.
Then Lawrence returned before the prefect with a small delegation.
When ordered to hand over the riches of the church, Lawrence turned to his little crowd
Of beggars, the sick, the blind and the suffering and said:
“Here is the treasure of the church!”
Of course, Lawrence was immediately marched off to his martyrdom.
As I read about St. Lawrence, I had a sudden understanding:
Larry was a treasure of the kingdom.
And I had experienced him as someone to treasure
When we knelt at communion together
When I saw his childlike trust in Jesus
When he sang his heart out with the oldies radio station.
Larry was more honest than most of us--He needed Jesus all the time, and he knew it.
When we prayed, he trusted that God heard our prayers and would act.
Larry humbled me, because in his illness, Larry managed to muster more faith than I could in my health.
Larry was a treasure of the kingdom, a treasure that showed up in the most unlikely place.
So where is the treasure in your life?
I don’t know about you, but it can be hard to find these days.
Between the monotony of semi-quarantine, the messiness of family relationships,
And the upheaval and animosity in our society,
Hardly anything glitters like gold.
It all seems tarnished and worn out, completely broken, or sometimes, stolen from us.
Jesus’ parables today point us beyond expectations of outward beauty or superficial ease
The direct our attention to the overlooked places, the abandoned people,
And the seemingly impossible situations of our lives, and say, “Look, God is at work here!”
They teach us to reexamine our priorities in light of God’s intentions
for the welfare of all people and the earth on which we depend.
And in this renewal of sight, we find the treasure of God’s kingdom right underneath our noses,
Even in the midst of division, violence, anxiety, and disease.
We see grace in our lives, goodness in our neighbors, the yeoman’s work of public servants
and teachers and health care workers and first responders to put our society back together again.
It is as St Paul puts it in our lesson from Romans:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nothings present, nor things to come,
Nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation
Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As soon as I read about St Lawrence, I couldn’t wait to share it with Larry.
So the next time I saw Larry, I told him the story and said, “Larry, you are a treasure of the kingdom!”
He looked at me blankly, as if this were the most basic thing in the world.
“You’re right, Pastor Julie,” he said finally, ”and so are you.”
I guess he didn’t need the reminder.
But I do.
The reminder to treasure the things that God treasures
And to look in unexpected places.