The Hidin Tretr

We are telling stories around the fire here in our Lenten wilderness. So far we have established that we need to build on the rock of Jesus’ teachings instead of sand. We have learned how far the term neighbor goes… it goes even to our enemies. Now we get a treasure in the field.

We religious folk always seem to be majoring in the minors. We focus on all the unimportant stuff. Can God, being all powerful, create a rock God couldn’t lift? How many angels can dance on the head of a needle? Is salvation a choice, predestined, or double predestined? Christians are often fixated on getting people to heaven. The owner of Hobby Lobby said, “If I die without food or without eternal salvation, I want to die without food.”[1] That’s easy to say if you’re a billionaire. It’s not an either/or, either food or salvation, it’s both/and. We show our eternal salvation by making sure people are fed. Jesus literally said he was the bread of life. See how quickly we miss it? Christians can get fixated on getting people to heaven, but Jesus seemed focused on unleashing heaven here on earth. His first words are “Repent and believe the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

But what is the kingdom of heaven like? Jesus hurls three parables at us. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field. It’s like a merchant in search of a pearl. It’s like a net with a lot of fish in it. Trust me… these seem simple… but as I sat with them, the less I liked these stories.

Let’s tackle the two that are alike: the field and the merchant. Both involve seeking and finding. Yet they are different. The kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found… the person stumbles upon it. Rejoices! Sells all he has and buys the field. Yet the merchant was actively searching. The merchant had an idea what he was looking for, sells everything, and buys the pearl. What the merchant does is legal, but questionable business.

The merchant buys and sells stuff. One would think he’d need a large inventory. I managed a construction store for a few years. I knew which tools and fasteners I needed to always have in stock. The hot sellers. This merchant sells all of that and now just has one thing. AJ Levine points out, “by selling everything he has, the merchant will still be a person, but he might have lost his job. He goes from a merchant in search of a pearl, to a man with a pearl.” You can’t eat the pearl, or wear it to keep you warm, nor can it shelter you. The pearl has no real value other than the beauty seen in it by the merchant. He loses his business and his identity as a merchant and is now a man with a pearl.

Yet in the other parable, the legality of buying the field is questionable. The issue of buried treasure found on someone else’s property is widely discussed in Roman legal discourse.[2] What are the ethics of cheating the owner of the field out of the treasure on the property, even if it’s legally permissible? This buyer would lose their standing in the community. They would have lost their reputation.

Both parables feature loss as well as gain. Finding the kingdom whether sought for or not, brings about a reversal of values. There’s immediate action to obtain this new thing, completely doing away with the old. The action is puzzling and out of step with those who live by the old values.

We see this different value system with the Good Samaritan from last week. Old values would be knowing who you are by knowing who you aren’t. We are Irish because we hate the British. We’re Cleveland Fans because we’re not Pittsburgh or Baltimore. We’re Republican because we’re not Democrat. You get the idea. We are THIS because we’re not THAT. Yet Jesus invites us to see our enemies as people too, worthy of the same rights and responsibilities as we enjoy.

We see this different value system from building on the rock of Jesus’ teaching and not sand. Rock like peacemaking and not war. Inclusion and not exclusion. It’s not apparent. It takes wisdom and community to discern rock from sand. The way isn’t always easy to tell for the gate is small and only a few find it. There are false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Outwardly they look great, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Which brings us to the fish parable. Some will be kept and some won’t. Some are good fish and some are bad fish. The angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous. We’re getting a preview of the sheep and the goats. Not everyone that says to Jesus “Lord, Lord!” is in this group.[3] There are those who are caught up in it, but don’t really get it.

How can we tell? Well, by the fruits. Once upon a time, goes the story from Jacob the Baker, there was a man who had a vision and started following it. Two others saw the first man and started following him. In time, the children of those who followed asked their parents what they saw. But what their parents described were only the coattails of those in front of them. When they heard this, they turned from their parents’ vision, saying it was not worthy of pursuit.[4] This is the church in the 21st century. The people didn’t know the vision. They didn’t find the treasure, just inherited it not knowing where it came from or its real value and purpose.

Sometimes church can be a club. Sometimes we come here to be seen because that’s what it means to be a good citizen and well respected. That’s not a good reason to be here. My generation and following are leaving churches like that. I hope what brings you here is that you’re seeking something. Or that you stumbled across something. That you’re looking for something deeper and not just the coattails of the person in front of you.

W.H. Auden wrote, We would rather be ruined than changed.
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

What are you willing to sell everything for: your possessions, your reputation, your career, your identity, and buy?

I like how author David Brooks describes this field with the treasure and pearl of great price. He talks of two mountains that we will climb in our lives. The first mountain is a life lived for self. It is a mountain where we keep our options open, it’s mobile and lightly attached.

The first mountain for me was my career as a construction sales rep. I had a great salary and commission with a company truck and clearly defined goals. I thought I would climb that mountain. Yet I found my life lacking meaning. It might have looked good on paper, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in the work. I needed the second mountain.

The second mountain is a committed life, a life deeply rooted. People on the second mountain have made a strong commitment to one or all four of these things: A vocation, a spouse and family, philosophy or faith, and a community.[6]

For some folks, you can find the second mountain while still in your current career. Same mountain but a higher peak, I guess. Say you went to be an accountant, but you find your vocation in helping people understand their finances and helping them attain their goals. Maybe you were a nurse, but you found your real vocation is sharing the human touch and compassion in a soulless, profit-driven health care system. Maybe you sell fabric, but your real vocation is bringing beauty to ugly places. Maybe you’re a teacher, but your real calling is to take that C and D student and show them their potential and watch them thrive and develop into life-long learners. Maybe you got into coaching because you loved a sport, that’d be the first mountain. Yet your second mountain is helping teens head toward a life of compassion, thoughtfulness, patience, and kindness.

For me, my second mountain involved a career change. We picked up and moved to a new city, started seminary, and followed God’s call.  I found my identity that “Part Theologian, Part Dinosaur: on a mission to re-humanize the church.” I love thinking and living as I am able, like Christ. That’s the theologian part. I also like history and old things… plus I’m drawn to the absurd. That’s the dinosaur part. And my mission is to re-humanize the church because I have found treasure here.

You are my treasure in a field, church. I’m willing to lose my reputation for the kingdom of heaven I have found in you. You, the people. God’s people, following Christ through the Holy Spirit. You are the church, not your programs, processes, and property. The church has been and always will be the people. Have you considered who is here?! Treasures galore sitting right in front of me!

Lots of people tell me, well I don’t need to go to church. I can walk in a forest and find God. Yeah, sure anyone can do that. That’s playing the game on easy mode. But can you find God in your neighbor? Your neighbor that votes the wrong way, likes the wrong sports team, who doesn’t take in their trash cans on your timeline, and who is generally an inconvenience at any given time? Can you find God in them? Because that’s the hard part. That’s what church challenges us to do. That’s playing the game on God mode.

Everything we do should help us love God and love our neighbor. We want to make our faith difficult and complex and doctrinally based, but that’s just dirt covering the real treasure. You don’t need to know any bible verses, doctrine, or even the name of one patron saint of anything. That’s building on sand. Jesus gave us a bedrock faith: Love God and your neighbor as yourself. Upon that hang all the law and prophets.

Just to prove that I’m not making this up and because I like old things… Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.” That’s 3rd Century.

Augustine was writing a meditation on 1 John 4: 19-21. “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” It’s all about love. Love of God, love of neighbor. That’s what this whole enterprise is about, it is our sole product. We have an inventory of two things that are really one thing: love of God, love of neighbor. And it’s gotta be both/and not either/or. We love God, we give our neighbor bread. We love Christ’s healing ways, we look after our neighbor’s healthcare. We follow the Holy Spirit, that leads us to our enemy who has been our neighbor all along. We follow a Trinity, that’s actually one God who leads us to our neighbor.

What is your treasure? What is your pearl? What words would you use to describe what you’ve found? Or are you like Bono, and you still haven’t found what you’re looking for.[7] Are you here because of an inner drive to find God in your neighbor and to expand that love even to those you consider an enemy? That’s why I’m here. And having spent time with you, having seen what you do, having experienced the ministries we create in God’s name and on behalf of God’s people… I think you’re here for the same reason. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Works Cited


[2] New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, page 313.

[3] Matthew 7:21-23

[4] Noah ben Shea, Jacob the Baker; Gentle wisdom for a complicated world

[5] David Brooks, The Second Mountain, page 36.

[6] David Brooks, The Second Mountain, page xviii.


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