Sunday’s sermon: Treasure Stolen, Treasure Shared

heart treasure

Texts used – Genesis 25:19-34 and Luke 12:22-34

  • There’s nothing like a good treasure hunt, is there? → treasure hunts = the stuff that epic tales are made of
    • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island[1] → tale of young Jim Hawkins, Captain Long John Silver, and their ill-fated adventure on Treasure Island, hunting for the gold and the jewels Silver had buried there long ago
    • R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit[2] → classic tale of Bilbo Baggins and the band of dwarves led by King Thorin Oakenshield and accompanied by the wizard, Gandalf – seeking the long-forgotten gold of the dwarves in the Misty Mountain guarded by the horrible dragon, Smaug
    • And I’m sure that in about a month’s time, as the population of Oronoco explodes over Gold Rush weekend, there are plenty of people who have come back year after year with their own treasure hunt stories – stories of pieces they’ve been searching for; stories of that one time when they found the perfect piece for the perfect price; stories of just how much fun they’ve had in the midst of the hunt itself.
    • Plenty of things that make a treasure hunt entertaining
      • Uncertainty of it – Will treasure be found? Where? How? What will you have to do along the way?
      • Thrill of the hunt – moment when the treasure is finally found (because it cannot truly be a good treasure hunt story unless the treasure is indeed found at the end … A treasure hunt story without an actual treasure is like a bad fish story. “It was this big!” Yeah. Sure it was.)
      • All the adventures you have along the way
        • People you meet
        • Near misses
        • Twists and turns of the journey
        • And maybe, if you’re lucky, a lesson or two that you learn about yourself along the way.
    • Treasure hunts are for more than the pages of fiction and the cluttered tables of flea markets
      • Treasure hunt in your own attic/basement/storage space: hunting for that one, special item that you just know you didn’t throw away … but you also can’t quite put your finger on
      • Treasure hunt in your favorite store: perfect piece (article of clothing, electronic gadget, book, etc.) → I know a few people who have had very productive and meaningful treasure hunts in the aisles of Menard’s. 🙂
      • Virtual treasure hunt within the files of your computer or tablet: hunting for that file that you so desperately need (document, picture, video, song, etc.)
      • Wherever there is treasure to be had, there is the promise of a hunt for that treasure, a legendary undertaking to find that which is precious … that which is revered … that which holds deep value and meaning for us. Ahh … treasure.
  • But what happens when there is no treasure? What happens when the treasure is gone? What happens when, for some reason, we find that cherished and beloved abundance out of our reach? Or worse yet, when that treasure has been taken from us?
    • Feel outraged
    • Feel entitled
    • Feel cheated
    • Probably feel a lot like Esau in today’s OT story → I’ve always found this a really interesting story. You see, throughout the Bible, Jacob is revered. Jacob is the one who wrestles with God and is renamed “Israel.” The whole people of faith in the Old Testament – God’s chosen people – come from this one man, Jacob … Israel. A people are named for this man. A nation – way back then and now – is named after this man. God specifically chose this man to do carry on that special covenant relationship for generation and generations to come, down through the millennia. So he must be a great man, right? A man among men? Jacob must be wonderful and just and humble and wise and kind and all of those things that we expect a “man of God” in Scripture to be, right? Well … not so much. At least, he certainly didn’t start out that way.
      • Today’s story = birth of Jacob and his twin brother, Esau
        • Abraham’s son, Isaac, married Rebecca BUT no children → prayed to God for a child → BAM! – text: Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, since she was unable to have children. The Lord was moved by his prayer, and his wife Rebecca became pregnant. But the boys pushed against each other inside of her, and she said, “If this is what it’s life, why did it happen to me?” (( [PAUSE] Hmm … gee. I wonder what that’s like.)) So she went to ask the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; two different peoples will emerge from your body. One people will be stronger than the other; the older will serve the younger.” When she finally reached the end of her pregnancy, she discovered she had twins.[3]
        • So these twins are born: first Esau, then Jacob.
          • Different as night and day
            • Esau = hair, Jacob = smooth skin
            • Esau = big and strong, Jacob = small and weak
            • Esau = hunter, Jacob = “quiet man who stayed at home”[4]
            • Most interesting/challenging difference – text: Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.[5] → I don’t care what story you’re reading or who you’re talking about … that, my friends, is a recipe for trouble.
        • And trouble, indeed, is what they find. One day, Esau comes in from the field and is starving. He’s been working hard out in the fields all day long, and he hasn’t had anything to eat all day long. So when he sees that his twin brother, Jacob, is cooking stew, he cannot focus on anything else. He begs Jacob for food.
          • Does Jacob act like the wonderful, just, humble, wise, kind, Godly man that we expect? Nope! Jacob begins scheming – text: Esau came in from the field hungry and said to Jacob, “I’m starving! Let me devour some of this red stuff.” … Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright today.” Esau said, “Since I’m going to die anything, what good is my birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Give me your word today.” And he did. He sold his birthright to Jacob.[6] → Jacob takes advantage of the situation in all the wrong ways, demanding an inexorably high price for a few mouthfuls of food.
            • What’s the deal with the whole “birthright” thing? – scholar: The birthright – namely, the conferral of rights and privileges on the eldest son (normally) – entails a leadership position in the family and establishes claims regarding inheritance, indeed a double share of it.[7] → So it’s not just some sheep and a hut that Jacob extorted out of Esau. It was a double share of inheritance and it was a position of prestige and power within the family. Basically, it was an entire way of life. For a bowl of stew.
        • Not the only time Jacob steals such a treasure from Esau (seriously … at least in the beginning of his own story, Jacob is not such a fine, upstanding citizen!)
          • As Isaac is lying on his deathbed, Jacob disguises himself as Esau and also steals a blessing meant for Esau → doesn’t really sound like a big deal BUT – scholar: The blessing centers on fertility and dominion … over other nations/peoples, including his “brothers/mother’s son.” … Then, Isaac links his blessing with God’s promise: Whether people are cursed or blessed depends on their treatment of Jacob/Israel.[8]
          • This last theft is too much for Esau to bear. Jacob has stolen everything from him – his physical inheritance, his position of leadership within the family, and now a powerful blessing that cannot be replicated. Within that culture and within that family, what Jacob has stolen is priceless. And Esau feels it → flies into a rage at Jacob → Jacob fears for his life and flees
  • Certainly plenty of parallels between the treasure in this OT story and many of the things that people treasure today
    • Wealth – money, possessions, property
    • Power over others
    • Prestige/notoriety
    • And yet as Christians, we have the words of Jesus weighing heavily on the other side of the scale. – today’s text: Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. … Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to those in need. … Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, too.[9] → These two texts together pose such a real and present struggle in today’s world.
      • Age-old struggle of “haves” vs. “have nots”
      • Struggle of wanting bigger, better, nicer, fancier, shinier … more
      • Shines light on the difficult and sometimes daunting threads connecting what we own with our own identities à begs the question: What if all of that were stripped away? Who would you be? How would you define yourself? What would you still have?
        • Gospel text: Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses the grass in the fields so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you?[10]
  • I have to tell you that this is not the kind of sermon in which I give you all sorts of information and flowery impressions and walk with you down a specific path. It’s not, as they taught us in seminary, a neat and tidy 3-point sermon with an introduction, three meticulously-crafted points, and a conclusion all wrapped up in a nice, shiny package. Today, I have no answers. I have no solutions. I have only questions. This is a sermon to leave you pondering today – to leave you assessing and evaluating: evaluating your own life, the desires of your heart, and even our goals and wants and future as a church.
    • From today’s centering prayer at the top of your bulletin:
      • What is your dearest treasure?
      • How do you know what you treasure?
      • Is your treasure a blessing, or is it something that holds you back?
      • How do you share your treasure? How do we, as a congregation, share our treasure?

[1] Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. (London, England: Cassell and Company), 1883.

[2] J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit. (London, England: George Allen & Unwin), 1937.

[3] Gen 25:21-24.

[4] Gen 25:27.

[5] Gen 25:28.

[6] Gen 25:29-33.

[7] Terence E. Fretheim. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 522.

[8] Fretheim, 536.

[9] Lk 12:22-23, 29-33a, 34.

[10] Lk 12:24-28.

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