Luke 24:13-32 and Matthew 13:44-53
Reflection by Anne Stewart.
Following the shadow and finding hidden treasures …
One of things that I love about gardening is discovering something I didn’t know I had. Sounds odd but sometimes things make their way into my garden and I truly don’t think I’ve ever planted them. This often happens in Spring and it’s either because some bulb I have either planted and forgotten, pops up, or maybe it was hidden in a pot alongside a plant that has been given to me and planted in Winter when the bulb was still hidden. The pleasure of the discovery is always wonderful. Especially if it something that you see for the first time, even though it may have been there for ages but suddenly you see it. A couple of years ago a very kind person gave me a bag of daffodil bulbs that had come originally from a man who bred them – I think they were part of his rejects. Well, I can tell you, they are not rejects in my garden. There are some wonderful treasures in there but because I don’t see them all the time, each Spring I am again delighted by what appears. Hidden treasures indeed! As I was writing this I was also treated to the sight of something in my garden that is neither hidden nor a treasure, a blossoming crop of convolvulus that just seems to get bigger and stronger each year, despite my attempts to rid the garden of it. I think of it as the serpent in my garden!
Hidden treasures, as we heard this morning, can be difficult for us to see. The disciples were walking down the road when they met a stranger. An annoying chap who seemed to know nothing of the things that concerned them. All they saw was a stranger. They couldn’t see who he was, for looking. They couldn’t see the extraordinary in the ordinary. The problem was that they weren’t looking. They had no expectation that it would, or even could, be Jesus. They couldn’t see the hidden treasure in their midst. How often do we miss such things? How often can we just not see the answer to a problem or the right way to move forward when the solution is right in front of us – we just couldn’t see it? Maybe that’s because the solution didn’t look like what we thought it would, or we just couldn’t see for looking. Have you found that often you need to start the journey, make a move forward before the answer can reveal itself? Sometimes too, the hidden treasure reveals itself slowly but your perception of it happens is a flash, suddenly you realise you have a treasure in your midst. Lesley and I have had the pleasure of watching Gene (our children’s worker) emerge as one such treasure. Watching her at work with the children at The Gathering and Kids Club is a real joy, as she discovers her own giftedness and grows in confidence.
Perhaps your own faith is a hidden treasure; something you know is there deep inside of you, maybe evident for those with eyes to see but otherwise tucked away. Maybe it is tucked away because it is so difficult to talk about. The limits of language can make it difficult to express what it means to have God in your life. It breaks out of some people in music, art or poetry; in acts of service, or in the way they show compassion or kindness to others. But to actually speak of faith and how it is for us, is not so easy. So we tend to stumble about with pictures and ideas. Even Jesus seemed to have the same problem, I notice he used the word like a lot. We heard that today, the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, or a fine pearl, or a net thrown into the sea. In the verses before we got to hidden treasures, pearls and nets, Jesus has used a series of quick-fire images to liken the kingdom of God to ordinary and quite insignificant things. These are worth picking up on I think. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed or a handful of yeast – nothing much at all to look at. Simple things that in and of themselves, are or do, very little. Things that are not flashy or even particularly interesting, at least not at first. But as soon as any of these things has something to work on then that’s a different story. Mix the yeast with flour and water and watch what happens, toss the seed in the dirt and water it and see what happens. The songs we sing at Music-Moments or pre-school music are just little songs until they are mixed with little people and the whole show comes alive. A bowling ball is just a little round lump of wood(?) until someone picks it up and rolls it down a piece of carpet toward a target. Paint is just wet colour until someone dips a brush in and runs it over a piece of paper and an image emerges. A piano is a piece of furniture until someone lifts the lid and runs their fingers over the keys and something sweet and melodious fills the air. It’s what we do with these things that helps us express our faith with others. It’s the food that’s put aside and placed in the food basket that becomes a hand-up when it’s placed in the hands of a family from Burnside Primary. When we do something with the simple ordinary things the extraordinary appears. Relationships are formed and the magic happens.
Even with the help of the word like, the kingdom of God is not easily described – there is mystery waiting to be experienced, if not explained. The kingdom of God is not meant to be something that requires the great minds of the times to work it out. It’s not something we need a scientist for, or a philosopher, or a lawyer, or an accountant because it’s as hidden to them as it is to the rest of us. What we need to give us glimpses of it, is something we all have – an openness to mystery. We need the ability to believe in order to see, rather than to see to believe. This is how we open ourselves to the mystery; a mystery so great that it is worth selling everything you have, in order to have it.
The finder of the treasure we note didn’t just buy the patch where he knew he had hidden the treasure – he bought the whole field. The kingdom of God is not found just beside the treasure, no the whole field is rich with the possibility of treasure. The good, the bad, the bits we like and the bits we don’t, those like us those not like us. The church itself is not the kingdom of God – it’s a witness to its existence but it isn’t the whole deal. The farmer bought the whole field in which to hide the treasure. The hidden treasure of the kingdom of God is hidden both within and without the church. The light of the world has already come and the world is fully lit. The church is a sign to the world of this mystery of light. It’s not the authority on good and evil, or even the last word on morality. To quote theologian Robert Capon, the church “Is not a club of insiders who, because of their theology, race, colour, or sex – or their good behaviour, intelligence, or income bracket – are the only channels through which the Word conveys himself to the world.” It’s much bigger than that, much bigger than us. Therefore any anxiety we might feel about friends or family members who haven’t found their way with church is misplaced. Yes, we might be happier knowing they are cared for by a community of faith, but God can and does still make Godself known in ways beyond our walls.
These stories of the disciples meeting the stranger on the road to Emmaus and Jesus speaking of hidden treasures, pearls and nets, are rich pickings for us thinking about how to be and do church. The first thing we learn is that we need open eyes, eyes that are open to seeing beyond our experiences, or beyond the boundaries we have erected to keep ourselves safe. We need to be open to the stranger who is amongst us, who meets us on the road. We need to be open to those we break bread with and open to breaking bread with anyone we meet. What if we were to sit down to eat with a stranger and discover a hidden treasure? We need to stop thinking of ourselves as an enclave of righteousness and remember that the walls of our churches do not contain God; that God works in every corner of our world and our challenge is to find where he is working and get in there to lend a hand. Our call is to walk with the stranger, not to tell them how to ‘better’ their lives. To accompany them on their roads, not to tell them that ours is better.
How does the church do these things? Maybe we have to start with rethinking again and again how we are, what we are and why we are. Here the limits of language again don’t always help us. Have you noticed that we call the times such as this, when we gather, worship rather than ‘church’. We don’t go to church we are church. And we are church every hour of every day not just at 10am on Sunday. We are people who have heard God call and have responded by gathering together, in play groups, in foot clinics, in creative groups, to eat together, to play bowls and badminton, to visit one another, to dance and stretch, to talk and laugh together. That’s being church not playing church. By gathering us together, God has created a witness to what he has actually offered his whole creation – an unconditional love, and salvation from all that limits us from living fully and freely. So keep your eyes open, for those unexpected treasures that are only hidden because you can’t see them – yet