So glad I found the pearl of great price

As I reflected on Sunday’s worship I felt blessed and glad that I was able to encourage my congregations to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him. As I walked along the river in the late afternoon I regretted that I hadn’t done a prayer journal painting for a few weeks. So I started to imagine what I might have done, had I had the time. The image gradually formed as I considered that many years ago I invited Jesus into my life. If he is the Pearl of Great Price (as he describes the kingdom of God in one of his parables) then that pearl has taken its place in my life. Taken root and grown so that the fruit of the spirit has also grown within me. That evening I started the painting, that I finished off in odd moments of prayer today. It’s not the best piece I’ve done, but nevertheless I was able to pray whilst doing it.

The Pearl of Great Price lodged in my heart

This morning I wrote this poem to reflect what I wanted the painting to convey.

The pearl of great price
has lodged in my heart.
Taken root
it began to grow
the Kingdom of God
in my life.

Many years have passed
since I first said ‘Yes’.
No regrets
have I
I’m His
and He’s mine.

Holy Spirit fruit
continues to grow
as I come to know
more of His power
in my life.

And this is the sermon that sparked it all.

Romans 8:26-39 and Matthew 13:24-30 & 36-43

I’ve had a rest from preaching for 3 weeks.  I needed it.  Like many people, I’ve been very tired.  This strange time we’re living through is taking its toll on many.  What’s the new normal?  How do we move towards it safely?  Some things will return just as before whilst other, new things will become normal. 

But… one thing that never changes is God’s love.  And the good news of just how much he loves each and every one of us shown by Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Let’s pray before I preach.

Heavenly Father, reveal to us the hidden mystery of these parables to us today.   Speak clearly into each one of our hearts and minds that we may know your love more fully in our lives.  Amen.

So – we’ve had parables over the last couple of weeks…. The other preachers just had one each, I’ve got 6!!!    Quick re-cap because they are all connected.  They are all about God’s kingdom – his rule in our lives.

soil – parable of the sower – how receptive are you to God’s word?  How good is your soil? any weed choking your growth?

weeds – there’s good and evil in the world.  Sometimes you can’t tell the difference till it’s too late.  God wants everyone to have the opportunity to hear of his love and to turn to him and away from the evil and what’s wrong in their lives. 

Today’s gospel reading is the end of Matthew’s section of parables.  Jesus asks the disciples if they understand them.  They say they do.  Do YOU understand them?     yes/no   I hope your understanding is growing and deepening.   Mine is.

The teachers of the religion didn’t understand Jesus’ but the less learned disciples did.  The disciples could see that the Old Testament teaching about God’s dealings in the world were being fulfilled in Jesus.   God was doing a radical new thing.  The old wasn’t being done away with.  There was continuity between the old teaching and the new.

And those who did understand, like Matthew when writing his gospel, were taking out of their storeroom, new treasures.  Vs 52 .  What am I bringing out of the store today?  Anything new from these familiar parables?

Sometimes we ARE surprised by God.  His kingdom is here but overlooked, unrecognised.  Like the treasure and the yeast.  Jesus’ true identity was hidden from the learned and yet recognised by others.

Sometimes something is under your nose and yet you still don’t see it.  Every morning I open a cupboard door to get the sweetener out for my porridge.  And Wednesday morning, was no different, but I got a surprise.  Something was in there that I’d forgotten we had because it had been put in the wrong cupboard.  I wasn’t looking for it, so I hadn’t seen it.

I was temporarily confused as to why it was there. 

God can take us by surprise, and sometimes it is in our confusion that he manages to bring clarity.

I remember when I was in my late 20’s, I had Steph as a toddler and Fran at school.  Fran kept coming home singing a strange song:  zinga zanga…..  ????

But when I started to go to church and attend the toddlers’ sessions I learnt that it wasn’t zinga zanga but Sing Hosanna.  And the strange thing was that the adults sang it like they meant it.  They looked joyful, and they had a certain peace about them and a happiness that I didn’t.   And I wanted it.   Long story short….  I learnt that it was the peace you get when you give your life to Jesus.  So that’s what I did.

I became a Christian…. a disciple of Jesus.  I wasn’t really looking for God – I only went to church for the girls sake – I wasn’t even sure I believed in God, never mind Jesus.   But I stumbled across the buried treasure or the pearl.   And I gave all I had – myself…. to gain it.

I hope you have too.  Or are you still looking?

So – after all that pre-amble, let’s have a quick look at these parables.  And it will be quick – can’t say all there is to say about them.

Mustard seed – God’s kingdom started small – 12 disciples and is now a worldwide following of billions of disciples.  The tree would remind Matthews’s readers of Old Testament imagery of all the kingdoms of the world sheltering under God.  We may feel small – but let’s be encouraged.  God can take the little we have and grow it.

Yeast – Jesus’ came to start a revolution that was unimpressive beginnings yet pervasive, powerful process that will be completed one day – just like a loaf is baked and finished.  One day there will be reconciliation in all the world and renewal of all creation.

Treasure in field – a poor man has an unexpected find.  How exciting? How joyful.  There is joy in God’s kingdom that Jesus often likened to a wedding feast.  But the treasure was hidden and some people fail to recognise Jesus.  But not those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.  Spiritual insight is needed to recognise Jesus.  As the song goes:  Open our eyes Lord we want to see Jesus.  All are invited to accept the challenge of true discipleship.   But not everyone can see it, recognise it or indeed respond to it.

But when you do recognise and if you do respond, then it is well worth it.  Being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, isn’t easy – it comes with a cost of a change of lifestyle. The gift of grace requires a radical response.   But I have never regretted it.

Pearl – common and familiar to us but back then more valued than gold.  The merchant had been searching, looking for that elusive best ever pearl and his perseverance was rewarded when he found it.  Stumbled upon it by chance.???? 

Many people are searching for fulfilment or happiness in life, or for inner peace and healing, wholeness.   Jesus can give it.  He is the pearl. 

The treasure and pearl parables both have a sense of God being found unexpectedly or by chance.  And there is a sense that we are found by God. 

You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.  Has God found you?  Is he calling you to follow him?  And if you have responded and are following him then how fruitful are you?

There’s a warning for those of us who have become part of the church in the final parable in this section.

The net of fish – If the weeds sown in the corn are a parable of the good and bad in the world then the net of fish is very similar but to do with good and bad in the church.   This revolution that Jesus started is in a big part a battle between good and evil.  The war has already been won, by the way.  Jesus won the victory over evil on the cross, but the devil still has a go and undermining it.

Jesus called fishermen among his disciples and told them they would be fishers of people.  And the method of fishing was a big net that caught all sorts of fish.  They would then need to be sorted once ashore and the bad ones thrown back in the water.  In the church’s fishing for people, all sorts of people respond and become part of the church.

It’s a mix of good and not so good and downright bad.  Jesus warned us to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.  His opponents often complained of the company he kept.  He didn’t differentiate between good or bad in his invitation.  All are invited to join his church.  And so we need patience with each other.

Some of us fish have a long way to go before perfection is reached.  But unlike a leopard, we can change.  We have moments of growth as disciples where we suddenly ‘get it’ – the penny drops.  And we grow deeper in faith and trust, we let go of old habits as we are gradually changed by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

The Holy Spirit changes the soil of our hearts.  Where we may have been unfruitful, shallow roots we can become like the corn in the good soil and sprout up.

But if someone joins the church – is caught up in the net – and doesn’t actually become changed in their hearts.  If they don’t actually have Jesus as their Lord and Master – the boss in their lives, No.1 priority, then…… there will be judgement at The End…. and teeth will be provided! (We had a video clip of a Dave Allen joke last week with that as the punchline).

Do you want to know what it was in the cupboard?   A bottle of Cointreau.

Someone hadn’t put it away where it should live…. I’m not saying who but it wasn’t me and there are only 2 people living in our house.

What parable can we make of this bottle?  Cointreau is an orange flavoured sweet spirit.

Ps 119 v 103 …. how sweet are God’s words to me….. v 105 Your word is a lamp…. enlightening me.

Don’t be filled with wine/spirits…. don’t get drunk, but get drunk on the Holy Spirit…..

Be filled with Holy Spirit and your soil will be improved and you will bear much fruit.

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