Our text for this morning’s message is our Gospel reading.  I’d to re-read these two parables: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.   Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Like I do in many of my sermons, I’m going to start with a question.  Be forewarned: this is going to be one of those challenging question.  (But given the challenging content of this series of parables from Jesus, it really has to be challenging, doesn’t it?)

So, here’s the question: How radically has the Kingdom of God impacted you and your life?  How big of a difference does your relationship with God actually make in your day-to-day life?

In order for us to think this through, I’d like to use an image.  Has anyone here hiked across this trail in the Flat Tops Wilderness over near Steamboat?  It’s called The Devil’s Causeway.  Isn’t that an interesting name?  I haven’t hiked it yet, but I hear it is rather breath-taking.

I would like you to imagine that there is a narrow path like that down this center aisle.  At the far end of trail is heaven.  Below is a deep and fiery abyss… you know, that place that Jesus’ describes as “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 

You and I are somewhere along the path.  Some of us may be a bit further down the path than others… but none of us knows for sure how much further we have to travel before we will reach our heavenly home.  Only God knows.

As we travel along the path, we encounter some prevalent winds of teaching. Some would seem to suggest that how we walk is a matter of utmost importance, with a lot of focus on what we do and don’t do.  These teachers would point to the deep abyss and suggest that we had better walk the straight and narrow or risk falling into eternal peril.  The hot air of the legalists threatens to blow us away into our doom.

But sometimes we encounter a different wind, perhaps as strong and certainly as dangerous.  These teachers would lead us to believe that how we walk down the path doesn’t really matter.  After all, God’s grace has forgiven our sins and our eternal well-being has already been secured.  So, eat, drink, and be merry… and if tomorrow we die, then all’s well that ends well.  The hot air of the teachers of cheap grace threatens to blow us off the other side.

This is tricky stuff.  Who do we listen to?  How are we to walk down the path of life? 

To answer those questions we need to consider just what is the “treasure hidden in a field” and the “pearl of great value” that caused such a radical response of the two individuals in Jesus’ stories.  Anyone want to guess what I believe the treasure and pearl of great value to be?  Yes, of course, my answer is grace.  The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of grace.

But how can grace strike us as holding such tremendous value that it causes us to be willing to give up everything we have in order to obtain it?  And if we have to do something in order to obtain it, doesn’t it fail to truly be grace?

What we’re getting at here is the truly transformative nature of grace.  I realize I preach about this a lot, but I feel that I must because to come at this from any other direction is dangerous.  We must try to avoid both legalism and cheap grace, and that is not an easy thing to do.  And we must at the same time be aware of merely practicing religion, of just doing our various rites and fulfilling our duties.  That is all on the surface.  It would be good for us to go much deeper.

This is the reason we must all come to realize that it really isn’t so much about preaching and teaching, nor about gaining more and more of the correct theological information.  When we speak of the transformative nature of grace, we are speaking about a mind-blowing and life-changing encounter with the Creator of the universe, with our heavenly Abba and His Son, Jesus the Messiah Christ, all of which is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit.

The first step for experiencing the transforming power of grace is, of course, gaining a better understanding of how much we need it.  You see, that’s one of the problems with too much emphasis on obedience and trying to clean up our act.  We can be led to see ourselves as being pretty good people, with only superficial flaws, people who occasionally stumble and maybe once in a while fall.  We especially feel good by comparison to all of the truly bad people out there… the real sinners.

It is only when we are led by the Spirit to become increasingly aware of the total depravity of all humanity—ourselves included—that we can begin to experience a profound grace that has the power to transform us from the inside out.   The good and religious people have seldom had any real use or need for Jesus and His grace.

When we can come to church and honestly confess our sins-- and not only the evil we have done (which honestly may not really be that awful), but also be honest to God, others, and ourselves that we have sinned in thoughts and words, as well as all of the good that we’ve failed to do-- then the infinite and powerful healing of grace can go to work... and keep on working.

Never ever forget these words of Jesus: “The one who has been forgive little, loves little; the one who has been forgiven much, loves much.”  Since loving much is truly the greatest fruit of our faith, we need to be forgiven much.  So it is both good and necessary that we see ourselves as deeply broken sinners who have been saved not by virtue of our successful battles with sin, or by our fulfillment of religious duties, or even by the strength of our faith.  We are saved by grace, and by grace alone.

As we walk the path of our lives, we come to recognize that any focus on what we do must be based on the foundational grasp of what God has done, continues to do, and has promised to continue to do for us… and that is to love us no matter what.  That is the treasure and pearl of great value, so profoundly important that we are willing to lose everything else in order to obtain it.  What we need to lose most is our idea that we can somehow save ourselves.  In a way, we need to lose our religion and gain a greater understanding of our relationship with God.

As we heard in our reading from Romans, we come to believe that there is absolutely nothing that can happen to us that will be able to separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  That must always be our focus as we travel the pathway of our life, until we reach our eternal destination in heaven.

   November 2018   
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