Matthew 13: 44-46
The Reverend Phillip Blackburn
March 26, 2017
Have you ever wanted to do one of those DNA tests that tells you where you are from? They advertise for those things all the time now and they are certainly interesting. I got one for Christmas, although I don’t think it was very good because they haven’t really told me anything, but anyway it’s a fascinating thing they present. They tell you that they will show you your ancestry; specifically they will break down your DNA by region. Thus you can look at a printout and you can see that you are 64% Scottish, 13% English, 8% Native American and so on. It really is a fascinating thing for those of us too lazy to put together our genealogy and go rummaging through old cemeteries and public records.
But have you ever thought about this? If I gave each of you a DNA test and then I showed you the results, as I described them above, each and every one of those results would be a real story. The Scottish heritage you might have isn’t just about land, it’s about real people who, somehow, someway, got together to create your ancestor. Maybe they lived in a small village in Scotland and were from rival clans. Perhaps they had an illicit relationship. Perhaps they fell in love as teenagers and married quickly, spending their whole lives together. Maybe they got on a ship and sailed for America together with a few bucks in their pockets. And what about the smaller amounts, how did those get in there. I know, for example, that I am Cherokee. Did my ancestors walk the Trail of Tears from North Carolina to Oklahoma? And if they did, was my direct ancestor conceived before or after that walk? Did somebody have to survive that journey so that I could live today? What choices did they make and what hardships did they endure that I might have a life? I will never know, but that little part of me asks the question, just like all the little parts of you ask the same question. What had to happen over the course of history to bring you to the earth?
When we talk about life being a miracle, it really is, but the fact that each of us are here, with all those hundreds of stories scattered throughout history embodied within us, truly reminds us of the miracle of our existence. One thing Jesus liked to talk about, and Paul reinforced, is that we don’t just have a genetic family. We have a spiritual family. And, so, if you think about it, we can ask the same questions about our spiritual family, the people who passed on to us the faith and community which we share today. We have a couple histories of First Presbyterian, so some of you may know the answers to this, but what were the stories that went into setting the cornerstone of the sanctuary in 1892? What compelled the people to do that? What sacrifices did they have to make? What was their vision for Presbyterianism and, more importantly, the Gospel, in the nascent community of Fort Smith? And who was instrumental in the decision but left out of our history books? We will never know. But hundreds of stories went into the construction of this sanctuary and we will never know them all but each of those stories shaped us. Each one of those stories laid the foundation for the church and faith we share today.
And we can imagine that at least some of the key people who made that decision to start a church here and spend quite a bit of their money, even if it may have been ill gained, had bought the field. You know the field I mean. Not the field that was the vacant lot upon which this church was built, not that one. You know the one I mean. The field with the treasure buried in it. Somewhere along the way, those people had found that treasure in the world; the treasure Jesus spoke about, the treasure that was the Kingdom of Heaven. Somewhere along the way they’d had an experience, an encounter, that had brought them unimaginable joy. Maybe one day they’d heard the Gospel in a way they never had, or maybe they’d had a physical experience of God’s grace, or they understood, for the first time in their lives the miracle of God’s grace and forgiveness. I don’t know. We will never know, but they bought the field. They bought the field and, at least as far as we can tell or will ever know, they sold all they had to buy it.
That’s what Jesus was trying to say back then. The crowds had gathered and he was teaching them and he told them these parables. He told them about a man who found a treasure in a field and sold everything to buy it. And he told him about a merchant who found the greatest pearl in the world and, again, sold everything to buy it. It would be too cheap to reduce Jesus’ teachings to merely our material wealth and its relationship to the Kingdom. That’s important but it misses the point. Most of the people Jesus was talking to were likely not wealthy. More likely they were hardworking farmers or fishermen, subsistence workers who had very little. Divesting of their wealth was not the point. Here is the point. Could they buy the field? Could they make the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, could they make that their everything. Could it be greater to them than all that they had? Could they do that?
Clearly some of them did. We know they did because we know the story and we know the early church grew like wildfire. But we also know that, throughout history, people have bought the field. We know that because they have built cathedrals and translated the Bible and hidden illegal priests and spent decades in prayer and study, all so that they could have that field which they had found so long ago. They bought the field, and now we can still hear of it. Now we can experience pieces of it they found which are reflected in the Bibles we hold, the sanctuary in which we worship, the music we sing and the traditions we hold dear. All those people bought the field.
But don’t kid yourself. It’s a big purchase. The field doesn’t come cheaply. It can’t become everything if it doesn’t cost everything. And that brings us to today. All those stories, all those decisions, all those hopes and dreams and people, all of them culminate in us. We are, at this moment, the apex of their history and we know that many of them found the field, and we know some of them bought the field and now it sits before us. Some of us have seen it, and if we are honest we know that some of us have only heard of it, but it is here, right here, in our midst. And it falls to us. Will we buy it. Will we buy the field. It’s here, right here in our midst, it’s everything we could ever need but it will cost us everything we have. If we’ve known the joy which can be found here, then we will gladly trade everything, but we still understand that we are selling everything for a promise, for a hope, for a dream. And we also understand that if we buy the field we don’t just buy it for ourselves but also for the people who will sit in these seats 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, 500 years from now. We buy it for them. Not all of us can do it. It is hard, but it is the decision which Jesus laid before us, the decision implicit in the story.
There was a man who found a treasure in a field, and then, in his joy, he goes and sells all he has to buy the field. Everything. Jesus is asking us if we can make the same decision. I don’t know if we can or not, but I know it’s the decision of your life if you know about the field. Can you buy it? Can you really make the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of Heaven, everything for you? So many stories have culminated in you, here, today. So many lives are present here, lives which have come before us and lives which will come after us. Can you buy the field? Can you do it? Don’t ever think it’s just about your stuff, don’t ever think it’s just about you. The decision is about more than that. It’s about the past and it’s about the future. Can you buy it? It won’t come cheaply, but it will be the decision of your and so many other lives. Amen.