A fisherman casts his net in a wide arc upon the service of the water. As it begins to sink below the surface the boat slowly moves to trawl the net under the surface of the sea. It creates a large pocket like the mouth of a whale as it scoops up everything in its path. Eventually, when it seems weighted and full, or at least the set time has passed, they begin to haul in their load. Like treasure hunters on the water, they may have an idea of what they are going to find, what sort of fish and sea life might be entangled in the mesh of the net, but they cannot know for sure, not until they pull it on deck and spill its contents out. And there, with expert eyes and little hesitation, they begin to sort through their catch. They separate out the good from the bad, the prized catch from the worthless junk caught alongside it. It is dirty work, hard work, but a good catch is a time of celebration and joy. A celebration that echoes through the highest heights of Heaven itself. For our Lord says this is a description of the Kingdom of Heaven: A great net catching everything in its path both the good and the bad.
Or, think of a merchant who deals in fine pearls. Not the farmed pears we are used to seeing these days but natural ones, ones prone to imperfections and slight flaws. But occasionally, she would find one that was close to perfect. This was one she knew people would flock to see, one that would be the envy of all the other merchants seeking the same prized possession. One day as she inspects the latest harvest, she sees it, she sees a pearl that is so extraordinary, so beautiful she just had to have it. It is expensive to be sure, but it is worth it. To her, it is worth every penny. So, she sells everything she has, everything she can liquidate she unloads so she might possess this pearl. Now, according to our Lord, this action, this passionate and reckless action is also a description of the Kingdom of Heaven.
But He is not done giving us glimpses of His Kingdom. Like a father trying to describe something simply too complex, too big for his children to understand, Jesus gives us small windows to look into the reality of His Kingdom. So, He speaks about a man who finds buried treasure in a field. Perhaps you might think of one who is walking through the field with a metal detector when suddenly the alarm goes off telling him there is something buried there beneath the soil. He sets his spade to the earth and digs in earnest. What he discovers is beyond belief, a treasure that will change his life, a treasure he must have. But he has no rights to it, no claim to make it his own. So, he buries it again, he hides it away and then goes and sells everything he has. Like the pearl merchant, he goes all-in to possess this field and declare without a doubt the treasure is his.
A net, a pearl merchant, a man digging in a field, these are Jesus’ descriptions of the Kingdom of Heaven. They are stories dealing with treasure, with celebration, and with great catches that bear good fruit. Many will see this as those who find the truth of our Lord, those who discover the gifts of Christ. Somehow, someway they get caught up in the net of the good news and discover the great value of what they now have. They discover something of such great value that it is worth selling everything to possess. How far will you go to get ahold of this kingdom? Will you sell everything? Will you at least sell something? Will you adapt and change your life? Will you give up your selfish desires? How far will you go to possess salvation? In these parables, our Lord describes people that will not allow anything to separate them from the blessings of the Kingdom. They leave no doubt, no hint that they could end up being cast out of the catch of fish.
Yet, there is a part of these images of the Kingdom of Heaven which ought to be somewhat troubling to us. For while they depict great treasure and an earnest desire to possess it, they also describe a kingdom that works completely outside of our control and predictive abilities. If we get caught up in the net it is not us who direct the net or determine when and where the net will do its work. While the pearl merchant may have been seeking the pearl there was no telling if she would find it. She stumbles upon it by luck or fate or some sort of divine intervention that she did not determine. Of course, this goes for the man in the field as well. Sure, he was hoping to find a treasure. Sure, he was out there looking like a nerd with his metal detector, earphones, and foldable spade but there was no recipe for discovery, no step by step plan to ensure he would discover the Kingdom.
This is where the Christian Church comes into play. This is why we gather together, is it not? It is to be a place of high probability that we will continue to discover the treasure. Churches are the places where the treasure can be found, where the directions are given so you might find the Kingdom. If you think about it, various churches have different techniques to home in on the treasure. Some focus on the experience of worship, in the emotions and feelings brought forth from singing His praises, creating a passion to keep seeking the pearl. Others focus more on the ancient practices, the old tried and true rituals that tap into a deeper understanding of who we are and how we get to where we want to go. Still, others might focus on your reaction to the Kingdom, on how much you should sell to possess it. So, we move from one place to another seeking the best recipe for success.
We try to focus the efforts of our fellowship to earn the treasure to secure for ourselves the great richness of the blessings of the Kingdom of Heaven. And then, in the middle of it all, something completely surprising happens. A word is spoken, a promise is made, an action is taken which has nothing to do with our effort. It shows how small and frail our illusion of control really is. This morning little Hailey was brought to the waters of holy baptism. Here, in a moment that had nothing to do with her ability, her searching, or her reaction to a powerful experience, here the Kingdom of Heaven claimed her as its own. In a simple moment, something spectacularly new and wonderful happened. She was declared to be a child of God and promised to be an heir with Christ Himself of all His blessings. There she died with Him and now lives in His gifts, in His mercy, and in His kingdom.
In that moment, we realized something you need to never forget. It is that reality that you were never the man digging in the field, you were never the merchant searching and scouring the earth for the prized pearl, and you were never the one who had to sell it all to possess the treasure. No, you are the treasure in the field, you are the pearl of great price. It is and always has been our Lord who sells everything to possess you. He comes down from Heaven, walks the narrow way, bears your sin while doing it, and He alone dies for it all. He gives His precious body and blood for you; to keep and protect you.
We celebrate the continual bringing out of the old and the new. The old tried and true faith, the gifts we have been given, and the promises we hold on to. They continue to come to us. Your faith is rooted in the ancient Word that spoke the world into existence. A Word that speaks of reconciliation with God, reconciliation through blood and sacrifice. As we struggle to live in this faith, as we battle those old temptations and doubts and fears, something new happens. New faith, new hope, new birth by water, and the Spirit happens to us. The net has captured another. The celebration can now begin.
A net, a pearl, and a man digging in a field. They paint a picture of the old and the new, of an ancient kingdom that comes, even now, for you. He will not abandon you or forsake you. For Jesus has sold everything to call you His own.