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2023-07-30 Pentecost 9

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Geocaching. Have you ever heard of it? It’s a really fun family game that I have been involved with for a few years now. The basic concept is that people hide little treasure boxes called geocaches outside someplace and then, using a GPS, they record the exact coordinates of where it is hidden. Then other people go out and search for the hidden geocaches to see if they can find them. They have all kinds of fun little trinkets inside and the rule is that if you want something inside of it, you have to trade it for something of equal or greater value. The geocache containers range from old metal ammunition boxes to match containers to lock n’ lock plastic containers. Hence the slogan that “geocaching uses billion dollar government satellites to find tupperware in the woods!” It’s a whole lot of fun~ The kids love finding the treasures that await them inside the geocaches.

Today, our Lord Jesus speaks about geocaching in the ancient world, long before GPS units and computers and satellites. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (MT 13:44). Parables last week, parables again this week. This parable, as well as the Pearl of Great Price, (45-46) show us two things: 1) The treasure in the field and the pearl are so incredibly valuable that 2) the people finding them sell everything they have to acquire them for themselves.

A little background info is in order. In the ancient world, common folks didn’t have access to banks. Banks were only for the rich. So how was the common man to protect his treasures and possessions from hoodlums, thieves and looters? Well, you dug a hole in the ground and buried it. You put a shiny rock on top of it to remember where you hid it and that was that. If you remember the parable of the talents that Jesus taught in Matthew 25, you remember that the last servant took the money and buried it in the ground, lest he lose it. So it was a common practice of safeguarding your stuff some 2000 years ago. And, it wasn’t uncommon to stumble across some hidden treasures either. If people died or had to leave the area, their hidden treasures remained and the land became a treasure trove of hidden goodness!

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” We hear this and don’t think too much of it. After all, we say that diamonds are forever, but not pearls. But, there is something extra with pearls. Pearl hunting, in an age that didn’t have scuba gear like we do today, was a very risky business. You jumped off your boat with a rope and rock, hoping not to get eaten by sharks or bitten by eels, all the while holding your breath as you searched. It was dangerous and often lethal to the hunters. Oysters tended to hang out about 40 feet deep in the water, so pearls were not simply stumbled upon or found laying on the beach. Only 1 in a thousand oysters had pearl in it so you can see just why they were considered such a precious thing. The seller in the parable finds one that is better than anything he has ever seen and he must have it. So he sells everything to get it.

Both of these parables teach us about the priceless value of God’s Kingdom. The pearl is especially appropriate because it’s the only precious gem that cannot be improved by man. Think about diamonds or gold or rubies. All of those precious gems and metals have to be mined from the ground and then cut and polished or refined before they have value. But the pearl is perfect just as it is. If you cut or gouge a pearl, it becomes worthless. This alone attests to the beauty and divine nature of God’s Kingdom and the perfection of the forgiveness, life and salvation that Jesus gives to His followers by faith.

20 years ago, a movie came out called “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.” It is a wonderful story of high seas adventure starring the one and only Captain Jack Sparrow. He is the unlikely pirate hero who is in search of a Ghost Ship, called the Black Pearl. This ship is a tattered, ramshackle boat that looks like the last remaining survivor of the Boer War! It is nearly completely destroyed – it’s sails are torn, there are holes in the side and it is just overall run down, seemingly not worth much at all! The catch with the movie is that even though this ship was a run down and shabby mess, Captain Jack Sparrow loved that ship because it was his ship.

It’s something like Jesus’ parable of the pearl of great price. Most interpretations of this text see our Lord Jesus as the pearl and the pearl merchant as the disciple going after Him, finding Him and giving up everything in life in order to possess Him, a precious pearl indeed! But it makes even more sense if we understand that Jesus is the merchant in the parable. This merchant goes out, earnestly seeking to find the pearl – the black pearl – tattered and destroyed by sin, seemingly not worth much at all. Jesus the merchant “sold everything” - that is, He “gave everything” by dying on the cross, shedding His precious blood to pay for and acquire that pearl. Even though it seems like it isn’t worth all that much, as it is tattered and torn so much by sin, He loves that pearl because it is His pearl. And do you know what is even more exciting? You are that pearl! Once you were lost and hidden in a field of sin, but now you have been found by Jesus and paid for by His bloody cross and triumphant resurrection from the dead!

It is a constant reminder for us to be ever mindful of who we are before our Lord. We are the black pearl, shabby and shredded in our sins. It is good to remember this and confess this so that we can also know and remember that we are in need of a Saviour. A Saviour who stopped at nothing, not even death on a cross to make us His own possession. We are a people who readily trade the treasures of God for the treasures of this world, we are people who dishonour our parents, who lie, who cheat, who steal, who murder, and the list of unholiness goes on for 17 nautical miles! Yet in the midst of our sinfulness, Christ Jesus came to find us. He came to buy us back from a life of sin and death and we are embraced by His overwhelming abundance of forgiveness.

The great treasure of the forgiveness of sins in the cross of Christ, the wonderful freedom that comes from believing that our salvation is ours by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus, the proclamation of God’s love and healing for our wounded souls, the water and the word of our Holy Baptism, the true Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion freely given to undeserving sinners like us. This is the heart of God and the heart of the church. Our Lord assures us that our Baptism has rinsed away our sins and that God’s grace and salvation are true for each and everyone of us. We die with Christ our Lord and we are raised with Him to a life of service and honour, all the while focussing on the cross and the great sacrifice that makes it possible.

And herein lies the lesson. Never forget that you are God’s most treasured possession, His most precious pearl. A black pearl who has been made radiant white in the blood of the Lamb. Never forget the sacrifice that Christ our Lord made to win you from death. Never forget that not even death itself could separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And never forget our Lord’s promise, for He promised to come and He will come again! The greatest treasure still awaits for all who believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal Savior from sin. May you never forget the pearl of great value that you are. Amen.

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