sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 11/07/2010
[audio link not yet available]
Invitation to turn to Matthew 13v44.
We just wrapped up twin sermon series - Nudge and Seeds & Soil - about evangelism and spiritual growth. What we have been talking about is central to who we are as a community following Jesus.
Remember our mission statement: Together we follow the way of Jesus and create breathing room. Breathing room for the disfavored to find favor, for the discounted to count, and for the disconnected to connect. Starting here.
The parable about the sower taught us that following the way of Jesus together is a process. That it takes patience. Patience with ourselves and one another, because spiritual growth is often slow & uncomfortable. That we need to make room for mixed results in our lives, and in one another's lives, because Jesus does. But not to give up, because the seed will take root, and it will produce an overwhelming crop - our rescuer, Jesus will prevail over the accuser, his Love will displace fear, and his Truth will subvert all the lies on which the broken systems of this world depend.
And the stories about the resurrected Jesus awakening people to his living presence taught us that loving nudges are the way to create breathing room for people to receive the good news. They taught us that no one and nowhere is off limits to his resurrected presence. That we are to be a church always learning to pay attention, to keep our eyes open for what the Father is doing around us, in every situation and relationship. To be keeping our senses sensitive to the needs and hurts and fears and confusions and dreams and longings of others around us, because it is there we can expect the resurrected Jesus to be making his presence known. That we are always to be looking for opportunities to join in with what we notice the resurrected Jesus doing through his Holy Spirit. Especially by inviting people to come and have breakfast with us - because it is at the family meal where the richest favor is poured out, where everyone at the table counts, and where the deepest connection and love happens.
That's the kind of church we want to be. A church where two love affairs are in process. A love affair between us and the God who is love. And a love affair between us and the other image-bearers of the God who is love.
Love affairs happen here.
My hope is to do two things today. First, to look at twin parables about the love affairs that happen here. And secondly, to give you two things you can draw on napkins that might be a conversation catalyst, that might be seeds, that might help open the door to a nudge when someone asks you the question: "What kind of a church do you go to?" You know, in the event simply saying, "I go to a church where love affairs happen" isn't answer enough.
44“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again, and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls. 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Newton's 3rd Law: Actioni contrariam semper et æqualem esse reactionem (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). This parable highlights the response to finding the treasure, which tells us a lot about the treasure buried in the field. Look at the response the kingdom of God produces in people when they find it.
To this guy, it's a find. It stops him in his tracks. Perhaps he wasn't even looking for it. Perhaps he was working as a laborer in the field. Planting. Harvesting. No matter, now that he's found it, he realizes he's been looking for it his whole life. And he realizes everyone else has been too. There's a suggestion of scandal here. He hides it again. Not sure how it got here, or why, or who hid it here. Who cares! This guy has got to make it his.
This is a love affair story, isn't it? Stopped in our tracks. Maybe we weren't even looking for her. But I've been looking for her my whole life. And if anyone else could see what I see, they'd be feeling the same way. Not sure how she got here, or why, or who came before me and abandoned her here. But who cares! Heaven help me if I don't make her mine.
The kingdom of God is like this. We - the vineyard church of Milan - are meant to be like that field. A place where love affairs start. Where people come across treasures buried, hidden in our everyday lives and love and service and worship, and think to themselves, I've been looking for that my whole life. I've got to make that mine.
And joy. Joy! From joy over it he goes. He goes and sells all that he has. Everything valuable, everything mundane. Things useful, things sentimental. All of it. To buy the field and have rights to the treasure. (Couldn't he have just walked off with it? Sure, but it wouldn't have been his. It would have still belonged to the landowner.)
Notice what the point of the parable is not. It's not that the man, or the merchant, should sell everything he has. As if it's primarily some moral imperative. As if the man found the treasure, and thought to himself: Uh, oh, now that I've found this, it's my duty to buy it. Oh, man, what are people going to say when they see me selling all my stuff. And darn, I really like some of my stuff - I wish I could keep a few of my things and have this treasure too, but I guess I'm stuck selling everything now. I wouldn't want to be caught coming up just a little short of the selling price of the land because I held on to a few things. And then the man consulted with his accountant, who told him: you'll get a 243% return on investment if you sell everything and buy this land, even after capital gains taxes. I see no reason not to do it. And the man fretted and worried, and slept on it for a week, and then finally decided: ok, I only live once. Here goes. And then he sold all that he had and bought the field, with his fingers crossed.
[play song clip, "What Happiness Means To Me" by Amy Macdonald in background, from 2:44-4:50...]
No! He finds the treasure, and joy floods him, and joy is the stream from which everything else flows. (Perhaps if there were no joy, it would be a sign that the treasure you think you'd found wasn't the kingdom of God, but something less.) Joy never runs out of steam. Oh, it can be forgotten. It can be stolen. But it never runs out of energizing capacity. [jumping rope, survivor...]
The kingdom of God is like this. It produces joy when it's discovered, the kind of joy from which everything else flows. We - the vineyard church of Milan - want to be a church who dig to find the kingdom until a geyser of joy starts flowing up. And then let the selling begin.
We don't want to be a church dictating the responses of the treasure seekers. We want to be a church helping one another find the treasure, and let the treasure produce the response the treasure produces. Joy, joy, joy. [Chara = Joy; at the center of the good news (which is the field in which the treasure is buried) is Grace = Charis, that which affords joy...]
Love affairs happen here. Not employment contracts. Not even prenuptial agreements.
There is another way to understand this parable. A way that would surely have eluded Jesus' original hearers at first, but by the time Matthew's good news story was written, would have been hard to miss.
Remember, in true love affairs, love flows in both directions. The treasure of the kingdom produces joy in people, joy that causes them to sell everything to have it. This response isn't only our response to God, though. It's also God's response to us.
Jesus paints a picture of God as someone for whom people are the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great value. Jesus is the man, and the merchant. And upon finding us, buried in a field, for sale on the open market, from joy he goes. From joy! He goes and sells everything. He cashes in his very life. From joy! To buy us, to make the whole field his. (Hebrews 12: For the joy set before him, he endured the cross...)
Love affairs happen here. We - the vineyard church of Milan - want to be a church where we embody and reflect and communicate the joy with which God responds to finding the treasure in the field, the pearl of great value that is the disfavored person, the discounted person, the disconnected person.
Regardless of how buried they might be. Regardless of the field in which they are hidden. Regardless of the market in which they have been offered for sale. It is with joy that he goes. May it always be with joy that we go to sell all that we have - whether it be useful, or sentimental - in order to buy that field, in order to bring that pearl home where it's value is no longer exchanged for money, but treasured in love.
Ok, so how about the napkins? You might be inviting someone to come serve with you. Or you might be inviting someone to come to a weekend celebration or small group get-together. Or you might just be talking about life. And the question comes up: what kind of church is your church?
So you grab a napkin. Or a piece of paper. Or your iPad. Or whatever. And you start to draw. Because drawing draws people in. Drawing sparks the imagination in an image based world. Because drawing gives you something to talk about. Because drawing is shoulder to shoulder, a common object of your attention. Because your drawing might be bad, and that's good for humility, which is always good for love. Because drawing opens the door to questions. Because it slows things down. Helps you pay attention, notice if God might be there doing something.
So what do you draw? Let me suggest this one first, especially for someone with limited or negative experiences with "church":
Sometimes people experience Christianity like a bounded set .
A bounded set church is experienced in terms of "in" or "out." Because there is an invisible but well defined boundary drawn by the beliefs and practices of a group of people. If you don't toe the line on all the beliefs and practices, you're out. If you do, you're in. But all of the attention is given to the boundary markers.
What do you claim is true about God, about the bible, about creation and evolution, about the end times, about what is sin and what isn't sin, about the virgin birth, about speaking in tongues, about pre-destination or free will, about the communion meal, about baptism, about what it means to be saved? And on and on.
And also, what behaviors and practices mark you as "in" or "out?" Do you go to R-rated movies? Do you listen to this music or that music? Do you pray in this way or that way? Do you dress this way or that way? Do you use these words or those words? Do you smoke? Or have tattoos? Or wear earrings? Or have any other piercings? Do you date? Or only court? Are you divorced? Or was your marriage annulled? Do you vote this way or that way? Do you use contraception? Or natural family planning? Do you watch this network or that network? Or never watch TV at all? Do you play cards? Do you go to bars? And on and on.
And so all of the attention is on the boundaries. Both when we look at ourselves: how are we doing with this or that boundary marker? And when we look at others: have they made the switch to our side about this or that issue or behavior yet?
And not enough of the attention is on the pearl of great price or the treasure hidden in the field that brought us together in the first place. And none of the attention is on our hearts, which is where joy and love flow from - and truth be told - is the place that ultimately shapes how we live, after all.
Listen to what Matthew Henry says about the text we just read:
The gospel is the field in which this treasure is hid...It is hid as the milk in the breast, the marrow in the bone, the manna in the dew, the water in the well, the honey in the honey comb. It is hid, not in a garden enclosed, or a spring shut up, but in a field, an open field; whoever will, let him come, and search the scriptures; let him dig in this field; and whatever royal mines we find, they are all our own, if we take the right course. - Matthew Henry's Commentary
It is hid, not in a garden enclosed, or a spring shut up, but in a field, an open field; whoever will, let him come...
[Draw fish in the center, with arrows facing different directions...] We are trying to be a church that functions as a centered set.
We think of church not in terms of inside or outside the boundaries, but in terms of the direction our hearts are pointed. What matters to us is the God we've fallen in love with, the pearl of great value, the treasure hidden in the field that is the kingdom of God. We might be in all sorts of places in our lives with regard to different beliefs and behaviors and practices - but the one thing we've got in common is the direction our heart is pointed. [Draw blob shape around inward pointed arrows...] We want to draw closer to Jesus. We want more and more of the rule and reign of God to be present in our lives.
And it doesn't matter to us how long it takes, as long as we keep our hearts pointed towards him, and keep trying to take one step closer from wherever we happen to be right now. It doesn't matter if you feel like you've got all the right beliefs and behaviors - if you're heart isn't pointed towards the center (for us, that's Jesus), then you're turning away from the life God has for you, and you're missing all of the joy, and the love affair is growing cold. It doesn't matter if you feel like you don't have hardly any of the right beliefs and behaviors - if you're heart is pointed toward Jesus, then his life is rushing towards you, and joy can overtake you even though it doesn't make sense to you, and the love affair is in full swing. And your next step will be in a direction that leads to more life.
And we can love and embrace one another, even though we may be in different places on our journey. Because we are all on a pilgrimage to the same place. And we all have a long way to go. And we can all learn from one another about the one to whom we are heading, because we are all seeing the treasure from unique perspectives and angles. Love affairs happening all over the place.
Think back to the parable. We tend to see doing business with God as a one-time thing...but here it is a process. One transaction after another. Selling this. and this. And this. Oh and this. and this. and this. Every transaction giving more to apply to the purchase. Perhaps even the purchase a process. Perhaps some now, and more later, like down payments and installments. And so we're all nudging one another, because it takes all of us together to buy this pearl of great value. Because all of our payments together - the crosses we pick up and carry daily in the name of Jesus - are a participation in the payment that has already been made by Jesus in our name. Love affairs happen here - Love affairs that just keep getting steamier and steamier.
Or maybe you draw this one, especially for someone with experiences with churches, but not with our church.
[Draw 2 intersecting lines., forming a grid...] Churches often fall in one of 4 quadrants.
Liturgical: Some see church as something where the life of God comes to us through the proper and faith filled celebration of liturgy - rituals, symbols, robes, candles, memorized prayers, sacraments and scripture readings, great feasts and holy days. Roman Catholics, Episcopals, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, some Lutherans.
Social Justice: Some see church as something where the life of God comes to us through the things we do together to set the world right - to alleviate poverty and suffering and inequality and oppression and other forms of injustice. United Methodists, some Presbyterians, many African American churches and Menonites and Quakers, especially.
Renewalist: Some see church as something where the life of God comes to us through our experiences of God in full-bodied worship, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit like prophecy and tongues, and healing. Especially many Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, Church of God in Christ and Assemblies of God, for example.
Evangelical: Some see church as something where the life of God comes to us through the transformation of lives (often called being born-again) that happens as a result of conversion, when we turn away from sin and entrust our lives to the Lordship of Jesus. The Bible and preaching the gospel are big deals in Evangelical churches. Especially Baptist churches, Nazarenes, and Free Methodists, as well as various fundamentalist churches, like Plymouth Brethren Churches for example.
[Draw swirl at the center...] We want to be a church caught up in the swirl of border blending that is happening at the center of all these quadrants, because we believe the Kingdom of God is the treasure and it gives birth to all of the things all of these churches treasure. We don't think the life of God comes to us in the corners, where we try to defend and protect any particular treasure, but that it comes to us as we seek the full expression of God's kingdom hidden in the middle of the field. And so we want to love and incorporate and learn from and benefit from the treasures all of these pilgrims bring along the journey as we follow Jesus together, leaving only those behind that do not find their home in the city of God towards which we are journeying. The city in which the great wedding of Jesus and the followers of his way will be consummated. [note about next week's join service with Agape...]
further resources: for a more in-depth discussion of the 4 quadrants, see my dad's book: Jesus Brand Spirituality