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Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Genesis 29:15-28 AND Psalm 105:1-11, 45b OR Psalm 128:1-6 OR I Kings 3:5-12 AND Psalm 119:129-136, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This week’s Gospel reading continues the series of parables from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew. There are five parables in all, some quite brief. Two liken the kingdom of heaven to a “treasure,” something of such great value, whether it is buried in a field or seen in a fine pearl, that one is willing to sell everything to obtain it. (Matthew 13:44-46)

Those two parables and the other readings for this week encourage us, I believe, to reflect on the things we treasure. What are the things of true and lasting value in our lives? What do we value above all other things? What treasures motivate us to commit our very lives to their pursuit?

In the Gospel reading, the treasure/value above all others is “the kingdom of heaven.” At its simplist (although not simplistic) it is life in the presence of God, in the presence of the kind of love represented in Jesus. It is the Good News of Jesus Christ. However we interpret his life, teaching, and work, these are some of things we are promised, and invited to experience, in him: hope, love, justice, peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, grace, fullness.

These words point to the highest value of all, life with purpose and meaning. Some philosophers have seen human life as an effort to ward off “meaninglessness.” However stark or laden with possibility we may see the starting point, at the deepest level we want to know that our lives count for something. Those of us (like myself) who are in the “senior” years of our lives find ourselves wondering what has been the impact of our lives.

What are the things that give purpose and meaning to our lives? Let us think upon, treasure, and commit ourselves to such things.

It’s difficult to know whether to count the final verse of the Gospel reading as another (sixth) parable or as a commentary on all of them. It speaks of bringing “out of the treasure what is new and what is old.” (vs. 52) In the context of this week’s discussion it can challenge us, in examining what we treasure, to look at things both old and new. What have we carried with us across the years? What new things have come into our lives, surprised and nurtured us? What treasure do we still anticipate and await ahead of us?

The reading from Genesis continues the family story that is the unfolding of the promise to Abraham. It tells of Jacob falling in love with Rachel, the daughter of Laban, and agreeing to work for seven years so he can have her as his wife. (Genesis 29:15-22) After completing the seven years and spending the night with his new wife, he awakes to find it is her older sister, Leah. (vss. 23-24) Doesn’t say much for his alertness, does it? Laban says that that’s the way it is, the older daughter must marry first. (vs. 25) So Jacob has to work another seven years before he gets Rachel.

Again, the customs seem strange to us. What does not seem strange is the way Jacob is stricken by this beautiful woman. “Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful.” (vs.17) Love stories are about people we treasure. “Jacob loved Rachel,” it says. Relationships are among the things we treasure. They are part of the way love becomes embodied in human experience. Jacob values this relationship with Rachel so much that he is willing to work 14 years to bring it to fruition.

What are the relationships in our lives that are treasures beyond measure, representing costly commitments we are prepared to make?

The readings from the Psalms refer to a variety of things that might make our list of “treasures.” Psalm 105 speaks of God’s “wonderful works.” (vss. 2 & 5) In the Psalms, God’s work is often seen in the beauty and sustenance of creation. In what ways do we experience nature as part of our “treasure”? In this Psalm, God’s faithfulness to God’s covenant is another thing to treasure. (vss. 8-10) To know that God is faithful is to have a sense of security about life. Where have we experienced security as one of the treasures of our lives?

Psalm 128 speaks of “the fruit of the labor of your hands” (vs. 2), another reference to both the abundance of nature and finding purpose and meaning and productivity in our labor. It also continues the emphasis of the Genesis family stories on children (vss. 3-6), reminding us that part of our “treasure” stretches into the future, coming to fruition in our “children’s children.”

In Psalm 119, a great hymn to the blessing received from God’s guidance, declares again, “Your decrees are wonderful . . . The unfolding of your words gives light.” (vss. 129-130) While our “progressive” style of Christianity rejects as rigid literalism, the “truths” and teachings of the ages that have guided us and shaped us are part of our “treasure.” What are the truths that have blessed and guided us? Who have been the teachers that have led and encouraged us and shaped our lives, been partners in our growth and learning?

Finally, the reading from Romans is an ecstatic and lyrical burst of confidence. One of our treasures is that we are treasured by God. Romans 8:26-27 encourages us when we struggle to express ourselves in prayer. We can be confident that the Spirit does it for us, “with sighs too deep for words,” and that “God knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” We sometimes struggle with the idea that “all things work together for good”(vs. 28) words that are sometimes misused—even abused, although, in general, we’re okay with the idea that we are often strengthened as a result of our struggles.

The treasure, though, is the declaration that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (vss. 31-39) The list is interesting (vss. 38-39), often used at funerals because “death” is mentioned as one of the things that cannot separate us. I’ve always been interested that “life” is in the list also. Sometimes the things we go through in life seem like we’ve been separated—or tempt us to abandon our faith—but Paul says there is nothing in life that can separate us. Paul is fond of making lists. In this case, he doesn’t want to miss something so he adds, “nor anything in all creation.” (vs. 39)

Let’s join Paul in making a list—a list of the things we treasure in life. Let’s be sure that we have on that list things that are of lasting value, worth pursuing—things that are part of an eternal connection and eternal meaning.

Although I’ve moved on, there are still hymns from my “Gospel” roots that emotionally nourish my spirit. Two have been going through my mind while writing this blog entry. I share the words with you.

“Count your many blessing, name them one by one; count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

In the spirit of the reading from Romans: “I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me, Jesus loves me; I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves even me.”

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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