Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The find

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
July 30, 2017

Jesus Mafa, Hidden Treasure (Cameroon, 1973)

          About ten years ago, a man from Vancouver named Kyle MacDonald traded a red paper clip, hence the red paper clip on your bulletin. He wondered what would happen if he tried to trade it for something bigger and better. Bigger and Better is an icebreaker game in which teams of people are sent off into a public space with plenty of strangers, say like Main St. in Newark, and they try to trade something small, like a paper clip or a pen, for something bigger and better. And then to keep trading until the game is over, always for something bigger and better than the previous trade. So Kyle posted an ad on Craigslist and, lo and behold, two women responded that they would trade a pen shaped and painted like a fish for his red paper clip. It was a pretty cool pen.

          A year and fourteen trades later, Kyle had a house, free and clear, in Kipling, Saskatchewan. He’s written a book about his experiences and given a TedTalk. On his blog he says he’s really into projects, especially ones that have an obsessive quality to them. Like trading a red paper clip.

          Jesus was obsessive about his project, the kingdom of heaven. If Jesus had a red paper clip, he might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who traded a red paper clip with other things that seemed small and not worth all that much until, over the span of a year, they traded for a house.” But then you might say, “Yeah, in Saskatchewan. And it’s only worth about $50K Canadian. For a year’s effort? So what?”

          We can’t help ourselves but to assign worth, conduct a cost/benefit analysis.
How much is this thing worth, how much does it cost, what do I get out of it? How much is my time worth? How much trouble is another person worth? Five hundred years ago Martin Luther protested the selling of indulgences, of buying one’s way into heaven. Five hundred years later and we’ve monetized human beings—through human trafficking, debt slavery, systemic poverty, outsourcing jobs, the minimum wage debate, education costs, and of course, health care.

          Remember Master Card’s “Priceless” campaign? It was on the air and then online for a total of 17 years. Sure, there were some touching moments (mind you, this one was in 1997): two baseball tickets, $28; two hot dogs, two popcorns, two sodas, $18; one autographed baseball, $45; real conversation with an 11 year old son: priceless. And then the tag line: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s Master Card.” What’s it worth to you, this priceless experience? What’s your happy thought? How much can we buy you for?

Poet Wendell Berry puts it this way:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. 
Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

          What would you trade for peace of mind? What would you give in order to realize your joy? How much would you pay for a sense of belonging that nothing could disturb or destroy? What would you endure in order to truly come alive?

          How’s this for an ad campaign? Transgender transition-related care in the U.S military: $5.6 million annually. Prescriptions and care related to erectile dysfunction due to PTSD: $84 million annually. Pre-existing condition of rape culture in the military: too high at any price. Inclusion, acceptance, safety and care of all military personnel: not priceless but what they are owed for the sacrifices they have vowed to make on our behalf.

          How much is a human being worth? What are you worth? These parables about the kingdom of heaven aren’t about finding purpose or wisdom or esoteric treasure or our happy thought or even our joy.
Turned out trading the paper clip wasn’t really about the bigger and better. It was about the people and the friendships, the connections that were formed along the way. The kingdom of heaven is about us being found. Like that one who in their joy sells all they have so they can buy a field with hidden treasure, God’s joy, our joy comes from us being found. Like that old song about grace, we once were lost but now we are found; we were blind but now we see. Wake. Up. We are the treasure, the pearl of great price, fish of every kind, the agitating yeast that sparks a chain reaction, the weedy mustard seed that can become a home for the wild thing and the vulnerable.

          Having been found and accepted as we are,
knowing that there is nothing than can disturb or destroy our belonging, our connection to everything and everyone, we are then set free to find others, to help them realize their worth.  The kingdom of heaven, the kin-dom, is hiding in all of us, in our extraordinary ordinary lives, like a seed planted in the ground, seeds of heaven in all of us.

          Our last place we’d look for the kingdom of heaven is God’s first place to look. Like in our hard-seed heart that has trouble forgiving or accepting or loving sometimes.
Fish of every kind
Or in something as seemingly worthless like trading a red paper clip with a stranger. So I invite you to embark on an adventure. Try trading that red paper clip and see what happens. You could also clip it in a place where you can see it every day, to remind you that you are the treasure, the pearl, the find. But if you’re up for it, see who you can find, what chain reaction you might start. And when you’ve got a story to tell, share it during concerns and celebrations. Imagine a church obsessed with the kingdom of heaven. We just might find even more than our own worth.

          One red paper clip: about 6/10 of a cent. Every human being: worthy.  Period. 


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