It was reported this week that a nine-year old boy called Dylan has written a fan letter to President Donald Trump. How do we know this – well, I don’t know how many fan letters he gets but his press secretary read out Dylan’s letter at a press briefing. I won’t read it all out – you can look it up online – but here’s a bit of what Dylan said:
You’re my favourite president he wrote. I like you so much I had a birthday about you. My cake was the shape of your hat. How old are you? How big is the White House? How much money do you have?
At which point the press secretary laughed and said: “Dylan, I’m not sure but I know it’s a lot.”
President Trump is not, of course, alone in having a great deal of money. People with a lot of money have been in the news a lot recently. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, became the world’s richest man last Wednesday – worth over $90 billion and overtaking Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. Didn’t last – Bill Gates got back into first place later the same day!
Then there was Alice Cooper – who recently discovered in a cupboard an art canvas he had been given 40 years ago and had forgotten about. Turns out it’s by Andy Warhol and worth up to $20 million. He’ll be able to buy a lot with that!
I won’t go on to mention top BBC salaries!
What does it feel like to be able to buy absolutely anything you want, no matter the cost, and not to have to worry about whether you can afford it.
Well, we all know the old saying: Money can’t buy everything. Money, of course, won’t buy everything, and often the things we really want in life aren’t things we can just go and buy however rich we might be. And people want all kinds of things. There are internet sites that are specifically designed to let people ask questions about anything, and then others can answer the questions. And one very common question that people ask is “What do you want more than anything else in the world?” It has led to some interesting answers as well as answers you’d expect. Here are some I’ve come across:
- A big fat savings account said one person
- To not ever have to worry about money again, which means that I could shop and buy to my heart’s content
As you’d expect, lots of variations along the lines of lots of money. But they weren’t all about money. Take these desires …
- A limitless supply of moist chocolate cupcakes that all disappear after they enter my stomach and for my son to give peas a chance because he really needs more veggies in his diet.
- Get a boyfriend who’s hot and nice – there’s not many of them out there that are both
- Happy and healthy family and friends
- A dog. Always wanted one as a kid, parents never let me have one. Still don’t have my own place and still don’t have one. I just like dogs so much.
- And one as a child I’d have had some sympathy with: Inner peace. And for my piano lesson tomorrow to be cancelled.
And then somewhere among all the answers was one that really stood out because it was so different from all the rest. Someone had answered the question “What do you want more than anything else in the world?” with just one word … salvation.
Salvation, of course, is something that you can’t buy however much money you may have. And while it is completely priceless it is also completely free. I wonder how many people want salvation more than anything else? More than money? More than a dog? More than family and friends, more than a boyfriend or a girlfriend? More than absolutely anything?
Today’s gospel reading is about salvation – or as Jesus puts it, about the kingdom of heaven – and about what lengths you would go to, to get it.
How valuable to you is your salvation? How much do you want the kingdom of heaven? For the question that Jesus poses this morning isn’t just – do you want salvation more than anything else. It is this – would you give up absolutely everything you have to possess it? Would you give everything you had in exchange for it? Your home? Your money? Your job?
In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives a series of parables that describe the kingdom of heaven. And each of these parables has much to say to us, and is worthy of its own sermon. But this morning I want us to think about the two parables in the middle of the reading – the one about the treasure hidden in the field and the one about the pearl of great price. And they both make much the same point. They have been called the parables of joy, because both tell us about joyful people – people who have found something wonderful and are thrilled at the prospect of possessing it. They are about people who found something that they really, really wanted!
In the first – the parable of the hidden treasure – a man finds a treasure hidden in a field. That would not have been particularly unusual in those days. They had no secure banks, and people could not lock their doors securely while working in the fields. The best way to safeguard things like gold and jewels was to bury them in the ground – being very careful to remember where, of course. But things happened. Someone might die without ever revealing where she had hidden her money. A man might be called suddenly to fight in a war and never return. Nobody would know where to look for the valuables. And then, sometime later, someone might stumble across the hidden treasure.
So a man found treasure hidden in a field. Suddenly he was rich! But the person who owned the land might make a fuss – he might think that any treasure found on his land was his to keep – and so the man who found the treasure wanted to safeguard it. Jesus says that this man – “in his joy” – those are the words of the parable – “in his joy” – sold everything that he had to get the money to buy the field. He didn’t ask, “Well, what should I do now?” He didn’t grumble about the inconvenience of selling his possessions. He didn’t hesitate. “In his joy,” Jesus says – “in his joy” he sold everything so that he could buy the field.
In the second parable, Jesus says that a merchant, searching for fine pearls, located one pearl of especially great value. Like the first man, he went and sold everything he had to get money to buy the great pearl. This merchant wanted the pearl so much that he willingly put himself out of business just so that he could possess it.
In these stories Jesus was saying that the kingdom of heaven is – like the buried treasure or the pearl – something worth any sacrifice. That if you’ve got your priorities right the kingdom of heaven is something that you will really, really want over and above everything else. He is telling us that a relationship with God is so precious that it is worth sacrificing everything to attain it. Except that he doesn’t use the word sacrifice! He uses the word “joy”! He says of the man who finds the treasure in the field that “in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Which brings us back to that question that I found on the internet: “What do you want more than anything else in the world?” and the person who answered “salvation.”
For that is what Jesus offers each and every one of us – that pearl of great price that the merchant bought, that treasure hidden in the field that the man digging discovered, the kingdom – is available freely. But how much do we want it? Do we want it so much that we are prepared to give all we have so that we can truly possess it? For the message of Jesus is that the kingdom must come before all else, but that when we put it before all else we shall know true joy in our lives, whatever life may bring us. We may not, like the man who found the treasure or the merchant who found the pearl, have to sell all our possessions – but if we were faced with the choice of one or the other which would win out? Would it be the treasure of eternal life in the kingdom of God, or the transient treasures of money and possessions?
How will you answer? The next time you’re tempted, on a Sunday morning, to lie in or have a day out or pop to the shops instead of coming to worship, see what you decide and you’ll have your answer.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found; then in his joy – in his JOY – he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Jesus wants us to know that joy – to treasure in our own lives and hearts the life of the kingdom of heaven before all else. How much are we willing to give up in exchange for the kingdom of heaven? For Jesus says that true joy can only be found if we are prepared to sacrifice everything and embrace his kingdom.
The good news is that, while we should treasure the kingdom before all else, because of Jesus it costs us not a penny!