The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 12
July 30, 2017
The Rev. Shannon Preston
(Church of the Good Shepherd, Austin, TX)
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
In the name of our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who shows us the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
My name is Shannon Preston, and like the Reverends Morgan Allen and Christine Mendoza, I am from the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin, Texas. However, unlike them, I grew up in Minnesota, in the middle, northern part of the United States and my father used to sell farm tractors. It was for a small company, now no longer in business. He would travel across the United States and Canada selling big and small, red and yellow, old and new makes of Versatile tractors. He has told me, for years, stories of these times in the tractor business. It was fulfilling and exciting work and he was on the road a lot, back and forth to different locations. But the surprise, always, is that it was while selling farm tractors, that he met the woman who would become his wife and my mother. He quit the tractor business to start a family, be closer to home and ended up spending most of his time raising two daughters.
He was a merchant like so many others with a trade that served him well for a time but it was not the area to which he could give all his heart, soul and mind.
The merchant Jesus speaks about in his sequence of parables is one of a different kind. This merchant is devoted to his search, to the goods he trades. This merchant has given himself to this search for fine pearls and when he finds one, he sells everything for this one pearl of Great Value. We are not told what he does after, presumably, as a merchant, he finds a caring, appreciative buyer or perhaps he holds on to it himself. The story is incomplete but the illustration, this parable, shows us, what we need to know is how much he would give for what he looks for—and he gives everything.
There are many things we can spend our days looking for. While in Rome, if you are visiting, perhaps it is the colosseum, a certain church, the best pizza or that special pair of shoes. It is in our human nature to look for things, hunters and gathers from the beginning, we search, we hunt, we look for what it is we desire. And so often we move from desire to desire, from this moments search to the next. Always wanting something more, something new, something different.
It is good to be reminded that, as Christians, what we look for, what we long for more than anything—our deepest desire– points towards and ends in God. Our search is to be with God, to dwell with this most perfect Being, to follow the will of the One who loves us unconditionally.
I have been struck since arriving by the sheer numbers of churches all over this city–churches of different looks, ages, denominations, different flavors, one could say, but no church is created without the desire for something more, for God. And we, as individuals are not Christians, without the holy unrest that comes from seeking more of God’s kingdom, in us and around us, and without the recognition, in some way, that the kingdom of God is immeasurably valuable, that that is what we give ourselves for. Yet this is no longer a given, as it once was, that the Kingdom of heaven is the pearl of great value, that what Christ promises us, comes to show us more, is worth everything we have and all that we are.
I invite you in these next minutes of prayer, confession and peace, as we move into receiving the Eucharist and praying our Father, who art in heaven, to step out from your day to day goings on and remember what the kingdom of heaven looks like for you right now. How God may be calling you to manifest this more in your life—right now around you and going out from this place. As a gathered body of Christians, regardless of background, denomination, political orientation, when we as Christians gather together we are meant to manifest the Kingdom of heaven for the world we live in. It can be helpful for us all to remember how valuable the Kingdom of heaven is—that place, that condition—as Frederick Buechner describes, whose peace, hope, love and joy passes all the world’s understanding. That we are called to help bring to life this kingdom, that is as valuable as the pearl a merchant would sell everything he must to gain.
My father did not give everything he had for the tractors he sold but he did give up his work, his way of life, to stay closer to home, for his family—in short, I would say, for a way he found that was more in line with God’s call for him. And it is never too late to live for the Kingdom. It is not easy, it will cause us some pain, loss, even humiliation from some—because it is a way different from what so much of the world gives to us– requires all we have, all we are. But our pursuit, our longing, our desire for the kingdom of heaven will also satisfy us and those around us more deeply than anything we can search for.