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The Pearl Of Great Price

Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43


July 26, 2020 – 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Everyone has a God. For some it is money. For others it is fame. For others it is power over others.

Jesus points us today to the one true God. And that God is a pearl so magnificent that our prenatal instinct for doing the right thing will make us set aside all other priorities to serve that one.

Sooner or later all things merge into one and a river runs through it.

In lifting up this pearl beyond price, Jesus does not seek to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them. This is, after all, the First Commandment Moses handed down from God to Israel…the people of God.

“I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other Gods before me.”

It is the Shema…the mission statement of Israel: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

America’s mission statement is a corollary to this all-important, unifying belief: All people are created equal. At America’s core we, too, hold firm to the belief that an understanding of God as truth is at the heart of who we are, too, because this God has given us certain human rights that we cannot sell…we cannot bargain away…we cannot surrender…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is the light of life that our country, since its founding, has held up to all the people of the world. If you are an American, you have these rights and they cannot be taken from you.

Israel is founded on a belief in that, too. That is the second great commandment that Jesus expressed as love your neighbor as you love yourself. These are two pearls on a string of pearls…These are the two pearls that has given all other pearls a vision to grow into…and the foundation to grow upon.

So what is the pearl of great price you would sell all you have to buy? To put it another way…if you could ask for one thing right now, what would it be?

We have already made some important suggestions, but if it came down to one thing above all the others, what one thing would it be …for you? What would you be willing…even glad…to spend your life and your liberty doing as you pursued your happiness?

We know what Jacob’s one thing is in our reading today. It is Rachel. We know that because it is the one thing he asks of his Uncle Laban, to whom he has come because his brother Esau wants to kill him.

We have additional proof that this is his heart’s desire because he is willing to work for Laban for seven years to marry her. There is still more proof because he is willing to work for Laban for another seven years after Laban has tricked him into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah.

We will get even more proof as Jacob’s story unfolds because it is Leah that gives birth to sons…the greatest of gifts to a man in Jacob’s day…and he still loves Rachel.

There will be still more proof as time goes by. It is his son Joseph who is the favored son. He is not the oldest son…but neither was he, Jacob. He is Jacob’s favored son because he is the son Rachel gave him after so many sons from Leah.

He will robe him in a many-colored coat. He will dote on him…which will make his other sons jealous enough to want to kill this favored child. This love will have severe consequences for Joseph…and Jacob…in time…but we are not there yet.

But that is Jacob…those are his great desires…and I was asking about you. You may not have an uncle named Laban or a wife named Rachel…but maybe seeing what is important to Jacob is enough to get you thinking about what is important to you.

I ask it another way: Looking back, what one moment in your life would you not be willing to give up? Looking at your life now, what one thing in your life would you be unwilling to surrender in order to keep everything else?

Garrison Keillor had a schtick he used to use on Prairie Home Companion. He would run into a guy and ask him how his job was. The job was fine. “So how’s your wife?” he would ask. She’s fine. How are the kids? They’re fine, too.

So then he would ask, “How’s your car?” and the guy would go off on a long monologue about the paint, the engine, the tires and the last oil change.

The most important thing in that guy’s life, it turned, out was his car. It was a spoof, of course, and it poked fun at people who had their priorities all wrong.

But I used this little bit of irony when I used to stop by to visit Mike Mansfield at Goldman Sachs. I had worked for him when I was in law school. I kept in touch with him with Christmas cards and I visited him at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

I saw him in his last job at Goldman Sachs because I was state party chair then. It gave me a reason to pay my respects when I was in Washington, D.C., and it was an important learning time for me to stop in and talk about whatever came up.

The trouble with visiting with him was he didn’t say much…and who am I to want to dominate a conversation with him? They were precious minutes and why waste them by talking?

So I learned a little trick. I would read through the Washington Post that morning and I would look for a story about Japan or China or anywhere in the Far East.

I could ask him about his wife, Maureen and all he would say is that cigarettes had been a bad thing for her. Not good. Those darned cigarettes had ruined her health.

I could ask him about the next election and he would say, “Too much money. Too much money.”

But when I asked him about something that had happened in China that week, he would sit back and talk for five or ten minutes about the story that had been in the paper than morning.

He was hooked on Asia and he could not have shaken it if he had wanted to. It was a fascinating subject that had commanded his attention all his life…and still did.

One more thing had a high priority with him, too. He loved Montana, and if you were from Montana you could get in to see him with a telephone call. I wasn’t special because I was who I was. I was special because I was from Montana.

He was famous for keeping four-star generals waiting to see him while he visited with a couple from Great Falls. When I called the Embassy in Tokyo from Yakota Air Base in Japan and told his assistant that I was from Montana, she interrupted me and said, “You have to come in.”

I asked if he had time on his calendar for a visit and she said, “You are from Montana and now you have called and told us that you are here. You have to come in.”

It wasn’t because he wanted to impress anyone from Montana. It was because he got a charge out of a visit from someone from Montana.

It recharged his batteries…until the next time someone from Montana called. He was getting in touch with the Treasure State, Big Sky Country, the Last Best Place. He was home again in a land that had passed into memory before I was born. But I was Montana, too, and he was glad to be back in touch.

When I finished a visit with him at Goldman Sachs he would always walk me out to the front office and as often as not, there would be someone from Japan waiting to see him.

They were important people. Let me just put it this way: the clothes they were wearing probably cost more than my car. And he would always say to them, “This is my friend, Mr. Addy.” Hello, they would say enthusiastically. Then he would say, “He’s from Montana.”

Every time he did that, the Japanese visitor who had been waiting to see him would really become emphatic with an “Ah! Montana!”

The Far East and Montana were all-important touchstones for him, and he became genuinely excited when he had a chance to talk about one or visit with the other…and when he could talk about the Far East with someone from Montana, he was having a good day.

So what does that for you? What quickens your pulse…gets your attention…gets your mind moving at Warp speed?

Let me ask it just one more way: If you had all the money you needed and your health permitted you to do anything in the world for the next six months…and then you would die…what would you do?

That’s what you should be doing now. No matter what your health is, there is a way you can be getting at it even if you can’t get back to Go all the time.

No matter your financial circumstances, you can be getting at it in some way, too. Maybe you can’t turn things around, but you can nudge them this way or that.

It is the thing that puts a bounce in your step and makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. What is it? Answer that question and that is how you can see the face of God in what is going on around you now.

And that is what God wants you to do more than anything else to make the world a more meaningful place filled with interesting problems to understand and solve…a brighter place filled with more light…a better place filled with more goodness…more joy…and more love.

That is why you have the gifts you have…the graces you have…and what you don’t have is unimportant to your purpose in this life…and the next.

So…who is your God? What is it that your God asking you to do?

Just one last question: When can we start?

O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.