Sunday, September 15, 2013
This little essay was born out of my experience in church this Sunday.
Thank you for letting me share it with you.
Blessings, Jo Anne Swartz
They say a profound sermon affects people in unusual ways. The preacher’s words send the listener on a proverbial rabbit hunt – thoughts pop around the corners of the heart and lead the mind down a bunch of side trails, maybe even down a rabbit hole or two. To the naked eye, it might look like you’re daydreaming, not paying close attention.
This describes my experience at KHUMC this Sunday, listening to Pastor Alan’s sermon on the kingdom of heaven parables from Matthew 13. I sorta’ have an edge on the rest of the church, since I bunk with the preacher and get to hear conversations about how the sermon is progressing and developing. We even talked about the scripture lesson at the Thursday Night discipleship supper and worship held at the parsonage each week. I remember the heart-felt searching of one of our group members, a precocious 10-year-old, as she asked Pastor Alan, “What does it mean? What is Jesus saying?”
I read the passage from Matthew 13 several times over the week. It holds lots of memories from my childhood and the sermons I heard in First Baptist Church in Shelby (my hometown). My Sunday School teacher even gave us a mustard seed necklace when I was in the fourth grade (inscribed with the verse “If you have faith, even as small as the mustard seed, Ask, and it shall be given to you”). The mustard seed was in a little glass bubble filled with water so you could shake it around. I was fascinated by hearing about something so small being capable of turning into a tree. A tree! Sheesh.
Today in church I was trying to wrap my head around the part about the kingdom of heaven being like a merchant who saw a fabulous, extremely valuable, rare pearl. The merchant HAD to have that pearl. He gladly sold everything he had to purchase that pearl. Everything!
Rabbit Hunt #1: I visualized a bunch of shoppers at the Macy’s After-Thanksgiving 50% Off Sale. The doors opened at 6 am – but the really determined shoppers began lining up at 4:30 am, parkas zipped up, large Starbucks French Roast coffees in hand. Their debit cards were tingling in their side pockets as the clerk put the key in the lock at 5:57 am, fumbled with the automatic door mechanism, and finally stepped back so the doors could slide open and the shopping frenzy could begin.
We’ve all been there (well … we women have anyway!) – but wait. These people are digging tooth and fingernail for bargains. The pearl in Jesus’ story was no mark-down. It was full price, extravagant, expensive – like the jewels in the back room at Tiffany’s in New York City which are shown only by appointment. The merchant had the same zeal, but he was paying through the nose – paying everything he had.
OK, I’m back now. Pastor Alan is really impassioned as he talks about the merchant. My mind flashes to the merchant explaining his decision to buy the pearl to his wife (if he was married) – she says in total frustration, “You sold our cooking pot? You sold our goats? Even our camel?! Have you lost it??!!” Now my thinking jumps to the familiar line, “I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.” All things. That’s a total commitment to be sure.
There’s an awful lot of “all” in Jesus’ discussion of the kingdom of God in these parables. (Maybe it was “shock and all” in those days...) We 21st century types are not so much into “all” – we practice our faith “within reason,” being careful to appear sane, in control, and not fanatical. Many of our relationships are at arm’s length (even a lot of our marriages). It’s just safer that way. We sit near the exit in case we have to bail out.
Because I was so intrigued by these parables, I read the verses surrounding the actual scripture lesson (the before and after parts). It seems that Jesus delivered some of these short parables from a boat, so that he could see the crowd and be seen and heard by them. I can imagine him shouting across the water, over the ambient sounds of the outdoors and all those people. We modern types miss some of the humor, but the people in Jesus’ day probably sounded like the audience at Saturday Night Live – they were probably howling at some of the humor, ROFL. Jesus knew how to turn a phrase to catch the listeners, to engage them, to get belly laughs, and then – to get them to scratch their heads.
Now, as for me, I really identify with the people who were standing around, scratching their heads, asking the age-old middle school question of the day: “Huh?” (Remember who I bunk with?) I’ve heard these parables for years and YEARS, multiple times each Sunday, and I still wonder WHAT Jesus was trying to say. I remember as a child thinking that it was dishonest to re-bury the treasure in the field and then go down to Century 21 and buy the field for $25. I remember shaking the mustard seed in my necklace as a kid and wondering how faith and seeds were related.
Now my rabbit ran down the Wright Brothers Monument into an OBX Boot Camp drill. I have several close friends who are Boot Camp enthusiasts – they’ve been transformed by the experience. They’ve cornered the market on determination. They throw around phrases like, “Own It.” If one of them is injured and has to stay out for their injury to heal, they are chomping at the bit until they can get back into the program. They give everything they have in every session. Interesting...
Now Pastor Alan is practically jumping up and down, saying “You are the pearl! You are the most expensive, rare, amazing treasure – and God is willing to give everything He has to claim you as His own. Even to the point of giving His only Son to be tortured, beaten, and crucified – that’s how much He wants you as His own child.”
Wow. The lyrics, “And I’m – I’m desperate for You. And I’m – I’m lost without You. This is the air I breathe...” work their way into my heart. For a moment, I stop scratching my head. For a moment, I begin to get it. The rabbit has run all the way through KDH by now as I am still, as I pray for that holy desperation to take hold of me.
Posted by Jo Anne Swartz at 5:31 PM