By David Ausburger
It’s a great privilege to be here and give message of Joy. If you heard accurately in the reading of the two parables, they are the parables of supreme overwhelming incandescent flaming Joy. The Joy of discovery by accident; the joy of discovery at the end of long quest – the treasure, the pearl.
I want to share with you a story: I grew up on a farm in western Ohio, my parents bought this farm when they were poor young people with no money. He was an orphan son, his father left him virtually nothing; and she was a minister’s daughter, and then the ministers got paid so little. When they were married, all they had was love，and you can’t buy a farm with love. One day when my father was working for a rich farmer who owned many farms, his task was to mow the grass along the roadside. He was swinging and cutting the grass down along the road on a backstreet where a few cars passed. As he was cutting, he saw a clump of green paper that looked strangely familiar, he recognized it and he scooped it up without looking at it, stocked it into his pocket and goes on mowing, wondering as he mows what I have found.
At lunch time, he returned, sat at a table where a young bride sat across from him, he said, "now I have a surprise for both of us", he reached his pocket, and pulled out the big wad of paper. Both of them forgot all about the lunch she had lovingly prepared as they counted the money: twenty-dollars, fifty-dollar bills, hundred dollar bills, a giant clump of money. That night, they went to the farmer who owned the little house that they had dreamed of buying and they said we have the down payment for your house, the farmer sold them the house. The next morning, the farmer came to their door and he said, " I couldn’t sleep all night, I’m so sorry that I sold you the little house, you see, I must have it back for my mother and I will gladly buy it back and give you an extra thousand dollars if you sell it back to me." So they sold the house back to him. And now they had the down payment and the extra one thousand dollars, and with those two, they went and bought the farm that I grew up on. That was of course the down payment and we’ve spent our lives paying for that farm.
So they’ve had their farm where they could raise their family, whenever my dad would tell that story, he was fun, big sturdy man, with tears run down his face, not tears of sorrow, but tears of Joy, he would tell that story like it was a gift of God’s Grace fell out of Heaven, landed in the ditch by the road where he was mowing grass at a place where you could never find who had lost it.
Joy, those two parables in the Bible we shared are parables of Joy: the parable before is a parable of sorrow, is a parable of sadness, it’s a parable of grief, it’s a parable of weeds in the wheat, being separated because some chosen, some not; and the second one is about a great net, and some fish are valuable and some fish are not, they are both sad stories and in the midst, Jesus put these two sparkling powerful beautiful little parables tell us the kingdom - the reign of God. When we seek we see it. We sacrifice and give up everything in its pursuit. Now what particularly fascinating about these parables is they parallel the teaching of Jesus that we call the “AS SO” teachings as we pray the Lord’s prayer we say: May your kingdom come on earth AS it is in Heaven and Jesus’s teaching use that metaphor frequently. He talked about AS your father is compassionate, SO you are to be compassionate; AS your father forgives, SO you are to forgive; AS how we pray forgive our debts, SO we have forgiven others. “AS SO” is often the center of Jesus’ teachings and in some of his last words he said, “AS the Father has sent me, SO I send you.”
The same parable style of Jesus’ “AS SO”, that’s where we see the kingdom of heaven like a treasure hidden in a field. What is the AS? AS is clearly God perceived you as God’s treasure, God perceived you AS pearls pride over the others. The reign of God is God came in Jesus to this world to claim the treasure that is found in the sacrifice God own self. God risked his own life in Jesus, God risked his own son and he was willing to do it, he welcomes us with Joy. It’s said in the book of Hebrews: “Look for the Joy that set before him endured the cross" .Jesus caught that vision of Joy, that’s the heart of the discipleship calls us to live it out. What is the reign of God - this reign of God is here for us to see and discover. When Jesus was asked what is the pearl at the center of the reign? What’s the treasure in the heart of it, He used these texts from the Torah, the law of the Old Testament, to give Jesus own view of what the Torah is, and what the law is. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and the other side is you love your neighbors as yourselves.”
Just as God, Christ loved us with all strength, claimed us as neighbors, as friends, that’s the nature of reign of God, the kingdom of God comes where we discover what it is the prize, the great creator God who is the redeemer and Savior, and live that out in loving relationships with all those about us, so that I not only love you in a way that is positive for building our community because you are significant, important, and precious and prize in the eyes of God. And you not only are significant, important and precious in my eyes, but I discover that in loving you I come to know God, if I do not see God in all, do I see God at all?
For in that it’s much, said Jesus, as you reach out to serve the least of sisters and brothers, you are doing it to me. SO, it’s SO we live our lives embodying that love of Jesus as we do that we walk in the reign of God, God’s reign that is among us, between us, in us, around us! That calls us to live that life of loving relationship toward our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, whoever it may be because we know God is there in that moment, our lives are in God’s hands.
SO therefore it’s the end of the “SO”. The “SO” is – live out that life of love, look for the face of Jesus in the people you meet, AS how this person embody Jesus Christ to me, how can not I be Jesus to them in arrogant way? But how can I see Jesus in them? Do you feel the difference in that? When I see Jesus in the other then I’m open to hear them, open to listen to them, open to care for and be careful, open to love, open to seek, to build that loving community that’s God’s reign here and now in our midst.
It’s committed to carrying on Jesus work and building that loving relationship with people that I meet, people that I struggle with, people I disagree with, people I love, people I find annoying, people irritating, people who are for me, or people are against me, we reach out to all those about us when we encounter them. Ask how can I see Jesus’ presence in them? Because the heart of that Gospel is we love others as ourselves, SO we truly loving God, the New Testament just embarrassingly clear, even though in our theology we often split these two parts off, we split them - The level of love from God is wonderful; the love of neighbor is a nice consequence but not necessary, but it’s very clear that in the New Testament the teaching of Jesus and particularly in the apostle of John:” if you do not love the neighbor whom you’ve seen that’s the primary evidence that you haven’t discovered it yet the love of God, you could not have seen it all; if you do not prize your brother, then you clearly do not love your father. SO those two are not separate things they are the same important you can’t separate that in reality. Because in loving others you I love God, In knowing you I come to know God more deeply, and in prizing you I encounter the face of Jesus, central to his teaching of AS SO, the center of what God's love is about.
Now I want to tell you an old old story and a more new story to illustrate what I’m speaking of, the old old story: this is the one that comes from the Jewish book of commentary on the Old Testament, … they ask: ”why was it?” that God chose the mountain in the center of Jerusalem what today we call the dome of the rock, then was called Mount Maraya. Why did God chose Mount Maraya？ That one rocky mountain there God said, “That’s where my temple will stand.” There is a story, the story is originally the rocky top of the mountain. It was a great rocky plateau that was used as threshing floor where people brought their wheat from the field and thresh it out and swept up the grain to take it home. It was owned by two brothers, everyday they thresh their neighbor’s wheat, and carry it back out to the neighbor and they kept small part of it as their payment, so when night time came the two brothers had acquired piles of wheat that was there for their day’s work, and they swept all together and they divided exactly in half of the grain. And one brother would take his half of the wheat put it in a great sack and he would carry it back across the threshing floor to his house and there he would pour it into his granary where kept his wheat and then he would go into the house where he would sit and eat dinner with his wife and his twelve children. Obviously now the other brother would carry his wheat across the threshing floor and pour it into his granary and then he would go into the house and eat his dinner alone,because he had no wife, no children, one mouth feeds all. Now this brother had a sleeping problem, late at night he couldn’t sleep at night because he would lie there and say it’s not right, it’s not fair, my brother has fourteen mouths to feed, I have only one, and he insists that I take half of the grain that’s wrong, before he could sleep he would have to get out of bed, and go out to the granary scoop out a gray sack of wheat, and then in the darkness of the night, he would carry it over to the elder brother’s granary and quietly pour it into his brother’s granary.
Now the other brother had sleeping difficulty too, early in the morning, he would wake up and lie there, and say it’s not right, not fair, when I grow old, I would have 12 children to care of me, and my brother has none. And he insists that I take half the grain that’s wrong. He needs to build up wealth, to take care of himself, he has no children.
He would get out of bed in the darkness and he said he would fill grey sack of wheat in his granary and carry it back across the threshing floor and poor it into his brother’s granary. Now the rabbi in this 2000-year old story, one night there must have been an eclipse, because the brothers' timing were all wrong, and they met in the darkness, in the middle of the night, in the midst of the threshing floor, with their giant sacks of wheat on their backs, and they dropped the sacks of grain to the ground, fell into each other’s arms. When they heard each other’s voice, they understood what had been happening all this time. And God said, “That’s where my temple will stand where the two brothers cared for each other’s needs equally as their own.” It’s clear in the reign of God the focus is we let God’s love reach out to include those about us fully and genuinely.
A second story: I have a very good friend, her name is Merio, she is a nurse. One evening she came home from her work, where he lives is not far from me in southern California. And as she was about to turn her car into the driveway, she saw a truck parking her driveway, a man carrying the television out of her house. So she parked, walked in and said: “ Excuse me, but what are you doing?” He said: “ I’m the repairman I’m here to pick up appliances to repair.” She said, “No, there must be some mistakes, this is my house, those are my appliances and I didn’t call for repair. Now tell me, what are you really doing?” He thought for a moment, and said, “I’ve been without work for months, my family is hungry, I borrowed this truck, and I decided to go and find some things that I could sell.” And she said, “I’m so sad that you’ve made that choice, why don’t you put those things back in the house and I have about a-hundred dollar here, I’ll give you a hundred dollars, a couple of sacks of grocery and you can go home and not have this on your conscience.”
He looked at her for a moment and said, “all right”, so he carried all of the things back into the house. When he came back in and sat down, “you just wait here don’t worry, I will not call the police, I’m simply going to get the grocery for you, and get the money that I’ve promised”, so she went into the house, she filled the big sacks of the grocery that she had, she carried them out to him and she gave him all of the 20- dollar bills, she gave him 200 dollars. And she sat down, “I hope that help you family eat, go and God bless you!” Just then two men started off her driveway and the man said, “oh, you did call the police, didn't you?” “No”, she said, “I don’t know why they've come, you go ahead, I’ll take care of them.” So he left and drove off. It turned out the men from the gas company came to do some repairs.
She told her husband about that at night, he said, “I can’t believe you did that”, she said, “well, he looked so sad, he has no job and I thought maybe I could just turn that thing around like I would want it to be turned around for anyone I knew is loved”. A couple of weeks later, there was a knock on the door, and Merio’s husband Lu went to door. The man said: “Good evening, you don’t know who I am”, he was well dressed with tie and clean-up. He said, “I’m the man that came by your house that a couple of weeks ago, I have a gift that I want to give to your wife”. And he handed the envelop through, and said “I want you to tell her that what she did changed my life. Because I went home and fed my family, and I went away to the mountains, I prayed and read the Bible, and I found my soul again. Now I’ve got a job, and I’m back working, I want her to know that she changed my life with that simple act of loving kindness! ”
Jesus is right, “AS the Father has loved us, SO we are to love one another.” Whether it works out positively or not, we do it. That’s where we see the signs of the reign of God. It’s a treasure worth finding; it’s a pearl worth discovering. Amen.