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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

“The Problem With Finding The Kingdom”

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Matthew 13:44-52

When you read or hear the parables of the Kingdom of Heaven that make up today’s Gospel lesson, are you sure you really want to find the Kingdom? That might sound like an odd question but think about it. I know we’re told to find it. Even Jesus said, “Seek first His Kingdom… and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33) That’s what Christians are supposed to do: go around seeking the Kingdom of God. Right? But have you ever thought of the problems that come with finding His Kingdom? There are lots of them, and they’re right here in our Gospel lesson.

First of all, the Kingdom is something that can happen when you’re not even looking for it. That’s the way it was for C.S. Lewis. One day he just stumbled onto the Kingdom. In fact, instead of seeking the Kingdom, he was doing his best to avoid it. Here’s how he told it: “You must picture me alone in that room… night after night, feeling… the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. Finally, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed; perhaps, that night, I was the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Not all of us are all that happy that we’ve been caught by God. But here we are in church anyway, still trying like Lewis to figure out how we got here in the first place: Did my baptism really do something? Was I converted during confirmation classes? Maybe it was my grandma’s prayers? Maybe we just stumbled into the Kingdom as Lewis did long ago, holding God off as long as we could and then finally giving in.

It's not that it’s wrong to search for the Kingdom. That’s what the merchant in the second parable was doing, and what he found was so spectacular that he sold everything he had to buy it. Searching for something of great value is not bad in and of itself.

In Jesus’ day merchants would travel to the Persian Gulf or as far as India to find fine pearls. And in a way, we’re all searching for that special something, or someone, or someplace that will answer all our questions and solve all our problems, aren’t we? And for each one of us, it’s different. We’re all searching for something more, for something greater in our lives.

According to Jesus, the greatest of all is the Kingdom. And it’s not wrong to search for it. But the man in the first parable stumbled onto the Kingdom when he wasn’t even looking for it. He found it plowing one day, one poor farmer working another man’s field. While he was out there, he hit the treasure box with his plow and probably at first didn’t even know what he’d hit. In those days there were no banks or really safe places to keep the family jewels and treasures, so when foreign armies came through, people would quickly hide their fortune in a place that only they would know about, in the hopes that someday they would return and find it.

It was a buried treasure like this that the man in the parable probably found. He wasn’t out searching for it. The last thing on his mind as he went out to work that day was discovering enough to retire on while plowing a field. You can be sure that his life was never the same again!

That’s the trouble with coming into the Kingdom of God: it changes your life forever. It makes you do things you don’t really want to do, like be really joyful, which isn’t that easy for all of us. Some of us are permanent grumps – we wouldn’t be happy if we were hung with a new rope! 😉And if you’re not a grump yourself, God forbid you have to live with one – or listen to one who complains about everything under the sun. You know what I’m talking about: people who always see the dark side of everything and take away everyone’s joy. Did you see the cartoon with the two bureaucrats at the Federal Drug Administration? One is saying to the other, “Say, if laughter is the best medicine, shouldn’t we be regulating it? 😊There’s always someone throwing cold water on things.

Of course, being joyful doesn’t mean not taking anything serious. And it doesn’t mean being happy all the time, either. Life isn’t that good! But the kind of joy Jesus is talking about in this parable is real joy, deep joy, the kind that’s always close to tears – like when a loved one dies, and since she was suffering so much, we’re glad that her suffering is over, and she’s now in the arms of God, and we say to everyone who comes to the funeral, “It’s a blessing” – and we really mean it! But all the time we’re fighting back the tears. This is real joy, deep joy, when we feel life to the fullest.

The trouble is, we’re not all sure we’re really ready for this kind of joy, and that’s part of the problem with finding the Kingdom: it asks too much of us. We see this in the third parable where God separates the wicked from the righteous. The image Jesus uses is one that the disciples would have identified with immediately, so many of them having been fishermen. The image of the Kingdom here isn’t one of treasures in fields, or pearls of great price, but a Gospel net that catches all of us, fish of every kind, red and yellow, black and white, whether we like it or not. And the ones who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin are gathered together into the boat, even though we don’t like some of them. But the ones who don’t believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin – which no doubt includes some people we love very much – are thrown away!

Now do you see the problem with finding, or being found by, the Kingdom? Whether you stumble across it like the poor man in the field, or search for it until you find it like the rich merchant in the marketplace or are caught by it like the fish of the sea, if you’re normal, you’re not really sure you’re ready for either its joy or its judgement.

But that’s not the main problem with finding the Kingdom. The main problem with finding the Kingdom is that in the end, it costs too much!

Did you notice in both of the first two parables, each man gave up everything he had to purchase what was the Kingdom to him? Getting in on Kingdom action costs you everything you have, Jesus says. That’s how precious it is!

That’s why you’d better think twice before you buy into it. Why? Because buying into the Kingdom means giving up everything, especially old habits, and ways of doing things that hurt us and others. It means giving up the kind of stinginess that finds us holding back from God. That’s what got Cain in trouble way back in the beginning of Genesis. He held back; he only gave God the dregs instead of the first fruits.

Do you see now the problem with the Kingdom? It costs too much! How much does the Kingdom cost? It costs your whole life! And for most people, that’s just a little too expensive.

Of course, it wasn’t for the man in the field, or the merchant in the marketplace. It wasn’t for Martin Luther, or Mother Theresa, or Peter, or Paul. They gave up everything. Sold everything to have this one treasure in their hands. They saw in the Kingdom the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ and realized that nothing they owned or had was worth losing out on that! Not even their lives!

And suddenly, finding the Kingdom was no problem at all. Not a sacrifice at all. Just sheer joy. Here’s how Paul put it in his letter to the Philippians: “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” (Phil. 3:7-9a)

These are the words of someone who’s found a great treasure, the greatest treasure of all. These are the words of someone who knows that in finding God’s Kingdom, he’s found a glimpse of God’s will for his life. That’s why we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.” And finding God’s will for our lives is worth more than all the gold in the world!

However you may find the Kingdom in your life – if you haven’t found it already – whether you stumble across it coincidentally in an everyday task, discover it finally after a lifelong search, or are caught up in it before you know what God’s done to you – however you find the Kingdom, I hope you don’t pass up the chance to buy into it. All it will cost is your life! But it’ll be the greatest investment you’ve ever made and the greatest adventure you’ve ever had!

The problem with finding the Kingdom? With Jesus Christ it’s no problem at all!!


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