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Pearl of Great Price – Br. Curtis Almquist

Matthew 13:45-52

‘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.  ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

As a teacher, Jesus taught by telling stories from everyday life.  I would say there are three principles we can draw from Jesus’ story telling.  First, learn to read your life.  The meaning of your life is to be found under the ground of your being.  Therefore don’t live your life endlessly surfing.  Don’t live your life flitting, but presume there is deeper meaning in each passing moment.  Jesus promises to be with us always.  For that to work, if we are to know the promise of Jesus’ presence (always), we need to live in the now.  Or to put it differently: to know Jesus’ real presence we need to be really present to life.  Now.  I think that’s probably the most important word: now.  And that can be quite countercultural.  There’s a real shadow side to our cultural norm of multi-tasking, the ability to be “virtually present” in more places than one.  The risk is never to present in one place at all, to be dislocated from life unfolding in your midst.  I would say there’s a real “heads up” for those of us who are in a time of training – if you’re a student, let’s say – or if you’re in a time of transition, anticipating some of kind life change that is coming.  The real risk is to be living with your sights focused on the future instead of being grounded in the present while peering into the future.  If you get ahead of yourself in life it’s like cutting in line.  Now matters.  We need the present to prepare us for the prospect of the future.  We actually need now.  If we don’t find life now, life will always elude us.  You could live your life as if the real deal is always in the future, just up ahead, when whatever it is now is done.  And that’s a delusion.  Life is now.

For us to take in the promise of Jesus’ presence, we need to be really present to life.  Now.  If you’ve been living your life at such a pace that you’ve forgotten what now even looks like, be really present to something.  Try doing one thing at a time.  Start small; start now. Try this.  Try just drinking a cup of coffee.  Don’t be on the phone; no Ipod; no Blackberry; no newspaper; no conversation; no crossword puzzle.  Just drink coffee…   Take in something in life but be really present to that one thing.  This has less to do with time than with intention.  Or you might try being attentive to your breathing.  Take two or three quiet minutes and fully notice your breathing.  Or if you’re walking up the steps, take one step at a time.  If you’re petting the dog, pet the dog.  Do one thing at a time at least one time a day… and you may discover that your soul will catch on to being present to life, the pervasive present, which is where life and the meaning of life is to be found.  Jesus promises to be really presence to us.  In the present.  Now.  Don’t miss a moment of it.

Secondly, Jesus speaks an authentic word to his listeners.  To the farmers, he tells the story of a sower who goes out to sow seed on the farmland.  In the vineyards he draws the analogy between the vine and the branches: “I am the vine,” he says, “and you are the branches.”  To those in the fishing trade, he uses the metaphor of casting a wide net.  To the poor widows he speaks of desperately searching for a lost coin.  To parents he speaks of two wayward children –  one son lost in lust; one lost in envy – and how these sons are found.  He draws an analogy about faithfulness from blooming flowers –  “Consider the lilies of the field” – and from watching the free flight of the birds in the air, he reminds us not to be anxious.  Jesus tells so many stories from real life to impress his point.  Now on the one hand we could see Jesus like an astute politician on the campaign trail speaking to the audience at hand.  Whether a politician is speaking to the Teamsters, or to the NAACP, or to Green Peace, an astute politician will know the vocabulary, values, and needs of the crowd.  And so with Jesus.  But I think there’s something deeper going on here, also.  I think these are Jesus’ stories.  I mean, I don’t think the stories he tells simply come out of the lives of his listeners.  I think they are his own stories – about his discovering his own identity, and vocation, and the real presence of the God whom he calls “Father.”  The stories Jesus tells come out of his own life which he shares with those who have ears to listen.

I don’t think Jesus’ identity was handed to him any more than ours has been handed to us.  It takes a lot of work to find your way in life, don’t we know.  And so when Jesus finally finds his voice and claims his calling, when he says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he hasn’t come onto this easily or automatically.  A recurring theme in his stories is about being lost – lost coins, lost sheep, lost children, lost treasures – because I think Jesus’ own identity was something lost on him for a good share of his life.  He knew what it was to be lost at times in his own life – even up until his last moments, crying out on the cross – and I think in this there is a real word of hope for us.  The moral of Jesus’ stories about being lost is always that you don’t have to find yourself.  God seeks you out and finds you.  Which is what I think Jesus found out (personally) and which he promises to us.  A fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-389/390), said of Jesus, “He cannot save what he did not assume.”i He cannot save in your own life what he did not assume in his own life.  Jesus cannot save that part of your life, your humanity, your identity, your past, your present, your temptations, your hopes, your fears … he cannot save in you what he himself did not know in his own life.  Jesus cannot save what he did not assume.  And I assume that Jesus had a life as real a life, and as complicated a life, and as blessed a life as you do or he cannot be your Savior.   Jesus says he has come “to seek and to save the lost,” so he will have to know where to come looking for us. ii And the reason, I would say, that he can find us, lost as we are prone to be, is because he knows where to look… because he’s been there.  He knows the way in and out, well familiar with that kind of suffering to find your identity.iii

Lastly, in the Gospel lesson appointed for this evening, we hear Jesus tell quite a poignant story about a pearl: “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.”  This is one of Jesus’ stories which he shares with us, thinking this may also be our story, your story.  And so, here is the question: what is the lost pearl that is searched for by the merchant?  Or, who is the pearl?               You are that pearl!  Do you know about pearls, where a pearls come from?  A pearl comes from the most unsus­pecting of creatures: a mollusk.  A pearl comes from an irritation, a sandy wound in an inner membrane of a mollusk, hidden in darkness on the bottom of the sea.  A pearl forms around that wound.  I suspect the beauty of a pearl is lost on the mollusk.  A pearl’s beauty is only discovered when it is found.  This, I think, was Jesus’ discovery in his own life, in finding his own identity.  He shares the story about the pearl with us, thinking it is our story, also.  Your story: how Jesus finds you; what Jesus sees in you; why Jesus loves you so dearly.  You and Jesus: both of you have so much in common.  A thousand years ago, Saint Symeon, a great Russian saint, spoke of the miracle of being found and being found out by Jesus.  Symeon writes: “…[Jesus] makes us utterly real, and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light…”iv

There are two things so very important to remember in Jesus’ promise to be with us, that is, the promise of his real presence.  For one, that he is with us always and, perhaps most importantly, that he is with us, with you, now, really present in your presence, now.  And secondly, that Jesus is real, and that he has come to find you, and to love you into being real, into being who you were created to be.  Beautiful you.

____________________________

i Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-389 or 390).

ii Luke 19:10.

iii Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16.

iv Saint Symeon (c. 949-1022), the New Theologian, writes: “We awaken in Christ’s body as Christ awakens our bodies, and my poor hand is Christ, He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.  I move my hand, and wonderfully my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him (for God is indivisibly whole, seamless in His Godhood).  I move my foot, and at once He appears like a flash of lightning.  Do my words seem blasphemous?   — Then open your heart to Him and let yourself receive the one who is opening to you so deeply.  For if we genuinely love Him, we wake up inside Christ’s body where all our body, all over, every most hidden part of it, is realized in joy as Him, and He makes us, utterly, real, and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in Him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light.  We awaken as the Beloved in every last part of our body.”

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15 Comments

  1. Rhode on September 30, 2017 at 10:37

    Today is Yom Kippur 2017 or 5778. I am a believer in Jesus. While my in-laws lived and up to our sons BarMitzvah we would go to temple together for Yom Kippur. The holiest day…a day of repentance…I would say Yom Kippur is a pearl day where the onservant willingly “afflicted” their bodies for 26 hrs by fasting and other meaningful abstinances. It is a day meant to be uncomfortable in the stillness of the reflection of loss, of sins, of not working, not cooking, not eating and (for me a believer in Christ) honoring who forgives our sins and bears our sorrows….another layer of the pearl within. Our parents have passed and both our grown son and my husband do not feel temple or church is for them….so, today, with your message in mind, I also ponder Yom Kippur ..the fast, the repentance, the holy wholeness of God, the Messiah, who gave everything to find me (and for me to find myself in him), and to praise God for this sacred Pearl of great price. It is a holy day, indeed. Thank you.

  2. Charles Groves on September 8, 2016 at 11:04

    Wow!!

  3. Pam on September 1, 2016 at 19:35

    My husband and I left Brooklyn 14 years ago and retired to a river town in Maine of 3,000 people. The quiet pace of life was amazingly healing. And one of the most important things I discovered was doing one thing at a time. No more multitasking–no children, job, and house to maintain all at the same time. Every task became enjoyable once again, and the secret was being present to whatever I was doing. There are no cell phones in my life. When I garden or cook or hike or
    whatever I’m doing, I am present to that task. The change was amazing. And now I often hear God’s voice and am aware of his presence.

  4. NA on August 29, 2016 at 19:07

    I so needed to read this today. You faithful souls at SSJE always seem to say exactly what I need when I need it. Thank you for being Jesus’ conduit and sharing your hearts with us.

  5. Suzan on August 29, 2016 at 15:12

    Thank you, Brother Almquist, for sharing your insights, for your presence. Interesting how “now” works: Although your piece was posted on 9/25/07, I did not discover it until 8/29/16 ~ the perfect moment for me to hear that particular message. I’ve always considered the word “Love” as a synonym for the word “God” ~ Today I’m wondering whether the word “Now” might be another possibility. And the 1970’s expression “Be here now” might be expressed, “Be here God.”

  6. Elizabeth Hardy on August 29, 2016 at 10:06

    Perfect reflection for me today as I continue in transition in my life and ministry- just be present in this time and this day – or even this task. I was going to get up half way through reading this and get a cup of tea – but I followed your advice and stayed and kept the thread of reflection.
    I was at a birthday party for a 100 year old man that I help with his gardening and he was talking about what we were going to do with his lawn next year! I don’t know anyone who has lived and continues to live more fully into his life. And in his speech he credited his faith in God for his longevity. Now I’m going to have my cup of tea! Thanx Curtis.

  7. Eleanor Stevenson on August 29, 2016 at 08:53

    Thank you for the daily’ definition ‘ it centres me for the day. Plus, the opportunity to expand through the readings. A little snack or a bigger Bite of the wonderful meal of our Lord Jesus

  8. Michael on August 29, 2016 at 08:42

    To advocate hope and love promotes joy and understanding. Regardless of you belief, these are qualities that benefit us all

  9. Voice | The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana on August 29, 2016 at 00:05

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  10. Celia Iannelli on August 6, 2013 at 21:16

    This is so true….I cannot thank you, and the brothers enough for these wonderful messages…..We can, in fact, live only one day at a time. I am taking baby steps and learning…one moment at a time…

    Bless you all..

  11. Michael Mullen on August 4, 2013 at 11:10

    The analogy of the pearl…and how a pearl develops, is a revelation here. I thank God for the way that Jesus taught..using familiar analogies to the fisherman, the farmer, etc., this was a blessed meditation and sermon. Thank you again1

  12. Michael Mullen on August 4, 2013 at 10:16

    Thank you Curtis,…for this transcendental message…of Christ Jesus being in the now.this very moment. I believe this…Amen.

  13. DLa Rue on August 4, 2013 at 10:08

    And beautiful you (all of you, that is, the SSJE writers and homilicists who begin my day with me, more intentionally), as well.

    Pax in terra.

  14. Jennifer Phillips on July 24, 2011 at 10:47

    Thank you Curtis. As I prepare to move from RI to ABQ, NM, people keep asking me “Aren’t you excited? What will your new church be like?” But the truth is right now I am in the thick of loss and goodbyes to people and a church I love deeply and will be leaving for a place with which I am hardly even acquainted yet. I have a last sermon to preach, a last 2 weddings to celebrate, a last few boxes to pack. I am not ready to be eager for the next thing. Likely it will be wonderful in its own way when I get there. But the pearl is in the present moment of God’s reign. So your words resonated for me. I am praying my thanksgivings for all my life on the East Coast, all my friends and touchstones here. I will miss you. I will remember you. I will be glad when our paths cross again. I pray God’s blessing upon you.
    Jennifer

  15. elizabeth d hoffman on July 24, 2011 at 07:30

    Dear Br Curtis,
    We are reading G.K. Chesterton in adult formation class today (7/24/11; the day you sent out a quotation from this sermon). He wrote: “The Universe is a Priceless Jewel… I felt economical about the stars as if they were sapphires (they are called so in Milton’s Eden): I hoarded the hills. For the universe is a single jewel, and while it is a natural cant to talk of a jewel as peerless and priceless, of this jewel it is literally true. This cosmos is indeed without peer and without price: for there cannot be another one.”
    best wishes & peace, e

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