Treasure of God, Deuteronomy 7:6–9; Romans 8:28-39 Matthew 13:44–52
Eight Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12), July 26, 2020
Does it appear to you, as it does to me, that our world is careening toward a cliff? The old foe wants us to lose hope and is bringing to bear an onslaught of troubles, laying over everything, an invisible virus which threatens us with suffocating and isolated death.
We really need the readings for this day. Really! We don’t just need to read them we need to actually hear what they are telling us. We need to let Moses’ words, Paul’s words, and even Jesus’ parables speak to us. We really need what this week’s readings have to offer us.
The Old Testament reading tells us that God has set His love on us. It was not because we were special or great. He just does it. He promised, but even that promise is located in the simple fact of God’s nature. He loves. God’s love for us is not found in our loveable character, it is not found in our righteous deeds, or even some anticipated response on our part. God just loves us. It is as simple as that. He does not need a reason. It is who He is.
Today God lifts the burden from our shoulders. Our worries about the church, our worries about the state of affairs in the world, these are bad enough. When it gets to be personal, it’s even worse. He has taken those from us, now we remember the greatest gift of all: Himself for us.
This day’s readings, however, don’t just leave us basking in the glow of God’s mercy and grace. The words of Moses are transcribed on the plains of Moab, after the forty years of wandering as the people of Israel. Since Egypt’s plagues and the Exodus through the Red Sea, God has been purifying His people and getting them ready for this time.
Moses is simply telling them that the time has arrived. They are the holy people of God. Paul will say in 1st Corinthians 10 that these people had been baptized in the water and the cloud. Honestly, we are perfectly scriptural to think of the whole exodus event as a very slow-motion baptism and to draw some conclusions about our own baptism.
Moses puts all this into context for them, and us. They should not think that this is because they are just so special. They were not numerous nor great. They were in fact, if anything, chosen because they were nobodies. Their status does not bring glory and praise to them, but to God. His love is shown in their condition. He is the promise keeping God who has followed through on what He spoke to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
That promise to the patriarchs was made in love. God has set His love on these people without any regard to their value, number, or even their potential to respond to Him. He just loves them. It is God’s very nature to be like that. Too often we assume that God’s holiness and His purity are the only two of His divine nature’s governing elements. It is a normal human way to think about God. But this passage is important because it tells us about the most important thing about God. He is love.
This is indeed marvelous stuff, but we also want to consider the material which surrounds this morning’s Old Testament text, lest we be accused of taking it out of context. Immediately before this, God charges the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, destroy their altars, and slay them all. God is holy, after all, and so are His people. The one who loves God does indeed have His favor, but the one who hates Him also has His wrath to contend with. God will not be slack with them.
But there is a difference. God keeps His love to a thousand generations, but the rebuke of God is of the one who hates Him. The wrath of God, the rebuke of God is directed at the man or woman who hates Him. The love of God is for a thousand generations. It knows no bounds.
Moses ends his address with an exhortation to do all the commands, yes, I suppose, even the elimination of all the Canaanites command, which starts the chapter. But surely all these commandments, statutes, rules and the whole sacrificial system was designed to restore the sinful Israelite people to the good graces and favor of God. The rules which God instituted were not only a moral code but a system by which sinners, those who broke the moral code, were restored to right relationship with God.
However, the dominant theme we keep coming back to in today’s readings is that we are the holy people of God. We are treasure in which God delights because He does love us, not because we are so great. We should keep that in mind.
God looks at us and rejoices today. While our enemy and our own sinful self would quickly condemn us and have us despair over our condition. God comes to us today with marvelous contrary news. He really does love us. He loves us so much that He has given up all, even suffered death upon a cross for us, just so we can be His precious people. So intense was His desire to be our God, and we His people, that He even went to a cross. That is always true, no matter what we have done or how we have failed or what the world looks like. And that truth now inspires us and moves us to His service.
I don’t know how you have heard the parable of the treasure in the field taught and preached before, but many might have been taught that it meant that the kingdom of Heaven was so important that we should be willing to give up everything for it. This is true, but is it really what Jesus was trying to say?
If you consider that these parables are about God and the fact that it was Jesus, for the joy set before Him, did indeed give up everything, including death on a cross, to gain you and me, then these three parables might look a little different. God loving you and me is a purposeful loving.
Let’s simply walk through the three parables quickly that Jesus tells again, keeping in mind that in the parable of the treasure buried – you are the treasure.
In the parable of the merchant and the pearl – God’s love is completely irrational.
In the parable of the net – God’s beloved and precious people are now cast as a net into the sea of our community to serve, as the gathering instrument for more lost treasures and precious pearls whom God has already loved with us.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)
Jesus again is giving us rest. He is not calling us to some willing loss of all we own or have, but He is describing His own actions on our behalf. He already owned us by rights, but willingly went to the cross to redeem us from slavery to sin, death, and devil. We are the treasure of God, the jewel He holds in His hand and considers more precious than anything else. There is nothing else you have to be in order to gain His favor. You don’t have to sing well, dance, think, say, or do anything. He loves who you are.
God has not done as we deserved. He has sent His son, the one who speaks these parables to us, that He might redeem us. He has paid the price of our sin, undertaken the great work of redemption. We no longer must bear it.
He has gone to a tomb and emptied it, not only of His Son’s crucified corpse, but also of all our bodies as well. So let the bad guys do what they will. We cannot really stop them, but they cannot achieve their goals either. His solution, though it looks frightening, is also gracious, good, and wise. The power and glory solutions we seek don’t work to bring about faith. They only frighten and confuse people. It is all about relationships.
God would remind you today that the greatest asset you have is His Son, the son who has taken up residence in you and who speaks through you, acts through you, suffers with you, rejoices in you and loves just spending time with you. When you have God that close, what challenge can overwhelm you? What foe can defeat you? The world of sinners is our mission field and though the task looks terribly daunting to us, it does not for God. Amen.