Help From the Crowd
Aug 2, 2020
Trinity Mennonite Church
“Money is not a Four-Letter Word!”
When NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter crash last January, chances are that most people heard about it when a “breaking news” ticker scrolled across the bottom of their laptops or TV screens.
I found out while visiting my aunt at the care center and it appeared as an alert on my cousin’s cell phone. She read it aloud to us.
Some programming might have been interrupted with a “breaking news” bulletin — the words “Breaking News” always in red.
When we see these words, we know that something amazing, terrible, interesting, incredible, troubling or heart-breaking has occurred. We also know that we’re about to learn more.
Think back to the events of the morning of September 11, 2001. Where were you at the time? What were you doing when the news broke about the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan and the one that crashed into the Pentagon?
This news, like all “breaking news,” broke into our consciousness. It broke into history. It ripped through our communities, shredding conventional ideas, traditional assumptions and long-held beliefs. It was news that altered, modified, shattered and forever changed — something.
This is the meaning conveyed by our gospel reading for today, although certainly not in the negative sense of 9/11. Rather, the news that Jesus breaks is astonishing and incredibly good news. In fact, this is the way the announcement is framed in the gospels. Breaking news: Good news! The kingdom of God is upon us! The kingdom of God is within you! Or, as John the Baptist would thunder, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2).
Jesus himself, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, began his ministry by announcing the same exciting, incredible and utterly novel news: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added).
It’s fair to say that most people — after hearing breaking news — want details. Many have an insatiable thirst for more details, more information, more background or more understanding. If we’re like this, we will stay tuned to our TV, or consult online sites regularly. We want to know more.
This is what Jesus does in our text. He provides context. He tries to give the disciples understanding and insight. The kingdom of God has broken into history. It shatters everything! What does this incredible, amazing and daring action mean?
Jesus explains with parables and metaphors.
Okay, he says, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
Or, try this: It’s like yeast.
Or, here’s another way of looking at it: It like treasure in a field.
It’s also like an expensive pearl.
Finally, it’s like a fishing net.
The treasure in a field and an expensive pearl. It was not uncommon in the first century A.D. for someone who had something quite valuable to bury the precious item in his backyard or field. The object was thereby protected from marauders and thieves.
Jesus’ parable in our text supposes that someone has found a treasure in a field accidentally. What is he going to do? He buys the field so he can legally claim the treasure in the field.
The purchase of a priceless pearl is a different matter. In this case, the pearl is not discovered accidentally. The pearl is discovered by someone who is shopping for precious gems, or something similar. He finds this incredible pearl, and knowing its value, sells off everything he owns to purchase it.
Breaking news! The kingdom of God is more precious than anything in this world. Give up everything to possess the kingdom!
This, in fact, is Jesus’ message time and again. Here, you might refer to the story of the rich young ruler (see Mark 10:17-27), or recall that when the followers of Jesus joined him, they left everything behind, and those who could not do so were left behind. Remember Jesus’ comments about self-denial and picking up one’s cross.
Jesus also seems to imply a sort of “hidden” quality to the kingdom of God. The treasure is buried; the pearl is sequestered within the shell. Still, some people stumble upon the kingdom of God anyway, albeit accidentally. Some are searching for it and find it. But in any case, once discovered, you divest yourself of anything that would deny complete possession of this incredible “pearl of great price.”
I wonder if Jesus would love eBay. You know, the online garage sale where you can bid on and buy virtually anything you can think of? Jesus might love eBay because Jesus loves a good deal. He's all about the joy that comes from discovering something valuable - possibly priceless - while perusing piles of seemingly ordinary items.
It's the joy that Morace Park, a British antiques dealer, felt after paying $5 for an old film container. Inside he found a never-released seven-minute movie featuring Charlie Chaplin. It was later valued at $60,000.
How do we know that Jesus loves such surprises? Well, Matthew chapter 13, with its parables about hidden treasures and pearls of great price, tells us so. A man stumbles across a pile of treasure buried in a field. He's so taken with his discovery, so overwhelmed at its value, that he sells off every other item in his possession to purchase the land and make the treasure his own. You might call it overkill, but Jesus says, "Nope. Quite a deal."
A merchant who makes his living pushing pearls spends his days scouring the markets for the best of the best. Upon finally finding it, the man mortgages his home and sells his cars all to purchase a single, sparkling pearl. You might think it a waste, but not at all in the eyes of Jesus. For him, such sacrifice, for such treasure, is well worth the investment.
Jesus is all about the joy that comes from discovering something priceless while perusing the ordinary. In fact, for Jesus, the greatest of such joys, the most magnificent of flea market finds, and unexpected eBay treasures, is none other than the kingdom of heaven. In the parables of Matthew 13, Jesus tells us that the very reign and rule of God, the loving and life-changing activity of God in heaven, has broken into our world and is available now. It's here to be discovered and embraced. Yet, like a Honus Wagner baseball card sitting in a shoebox at some grandmother's garage sale, the kingdom of heaven is found in unassuming places and encountered in unlikely ways. And whatever it costs you to "get" it is well worth it.
In these two very short parables, each beginning with the words “the kingdom of heaven is like.” It’s like someone who finds a treasure in a field, then sells all he owns to purchase that field, or like a merchant who finds pearl of great value and sells all he owns to purchase it. In each case, the person who finds the item of value sells everything to possess the thing most valuable of all, the kingdom of heaven.
Are we to sell all we own for the kingdom of heaven? Probably not. So what is Jesus trying to tell us? Here, as in many other teachings, Jesus is using a figure of speech to make an important point. The purpose of many forms of figurative language is to suggest a resemblance or link between two otherwise distinct objects and thus convey a larger and more complex idea.
Some figures of speech are so overused they become clichés, but we still understand their meaning. For example, we say things such as “I’m as hungry as a bear” or “Better late than never.” These figures of speech have been used and reused, but at some point, they were brand new.
In these verses, Jesus created new figures of speech to teach the concept of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus explains to the disciples that he speaks to the crowds in parables or stories because “seeing they do not perceive and hearing they do not listen nor do they understand.” Jesus was indeed a master storyteller.
What are some phrases or stories about faith and money that you heard growing up?
I can remember phrases like: “Money doesn’t grow on trees” “A penny saved is a penny earned.” “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
What are some phrases or stories about faith and money that you heard growing up?
We are shaped by our past, and consciously or unconsciously, we bring these recordings from the past into the present. Some of these messages are good, and others would benefit from revising. Maybe you remember the line from Fiddler on the Roof, when the milkman, Tevye, says to God, “If money is a curse, may I be smitten with it…and may I never recover.”
Studies show that many parents today are more prepared to talk to their kids about drugs, alcohol, sex, and dating than they are in to bring up an even more sensitive topic: money. A study of parent across the United States found that 32% of parents were prepared to talk about drugs and alcohol, 28% were able to talk about sex and dating, but only 26% were ready for the “money talk”. Nearly all the parents surveyed believed they were primarily accountable for their kids’ financial education, yet only 29% described themselves as “excellent financial role models.
This may be your story as well. Maybe your parents never brought up the subject of money with you, and maybe that in part is why you haven’t had these conversations with your children. Money is such a common tool. Yet for many parents it’s a very difficult topic to address. Yet money is not a four-letter word. Why do we shy away from talking about it? We don’t share how much we earn. We don’t discuss why we chose the car we bought. We don’t discuss how much it cost to remodel the house.
And yet, the prophets of old and Jesus himself spent so much time talking about it. Jesus brought up the subject in story and in everyday conversation. Jesus didn’t seem to be at all uncomfortable talking about money. What can we learn from Jesus’ use of storytelling that can help us talk about this difficult subject?
For the month of August we will be looking at these stories of money: stories of wealth, stories of greed and stories of generosity.
Sharing our own stories is one way we can unpack life experiences and convictions. In hearing other’s stories—whether about successes or disappointments—we can also better understand our own stories and struggles.
Think about it this week. Answer the questions that are listed in the Worship Focus at the top of the bulletin. What is your first memory of money? What was your first major purchase? How was money talked about in your home growing up? Did your parents tend to be savers, spenders, or givers? When and how did you learn about money management?
We call the answers to these questions your stewardship autobiography. Thinking through these questions is designed to help us see the ways that our views around faith and finances emerge from our formative years and continue right through our current life experiences.
Our views around faith and finances help us to understand that “The kingdom of God is like… finding something special and then in joy selling all that you have and buying it. Our Lord loves a steal of a deal and the joy that comes from discovering something valuable - possibly priceless - while perusing piles of ordinary items. Why? Because he's offering the most incredible item around: himself. Free of charge.
May this be a place where the treasure of a Christ is easily encountered. May the treasure of Christ be accessible for the world, in you. May you, wanderer and seeker, find this treasure. Use what you've learned. It's not to be found in expected places; and no matter what the price tag seems to be, it is definitely, undeniably worth the cost. Amen.