Sermon
April 23, 2000 (Easter Sunday, 11:00AM Service)
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
Write to Rev. Moran

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Scripture Readings

Matthew 13:44-46     "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

    45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (NRSV)

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Sermon

All right, everybody who wants to be a millionaire, get ready to play.  You know the rules, whoever answers this first question correctly in the fastest time gets a chance to win the big bucks.  Are you ready:  Put these women in order of their appearance in that all time best seller The Bible from earliest to latest:

 

Abigail
Anna
Deborah
Dorcas
Elizabeth
Esther
Eve
Hannah
Lydia
Magdalene
Martha
Mary
Miriam
Phoebe
Priscilla
Rahab
Rebecca
Ruth
Sarah

Sorry, time is up!  Guess if you want to be a millionaire, today is not your day.

 

This Quiz show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  is quite a hit.  Out of nowhere it’s become a cultural icon - you can tell that something is an icon when it makes the covers of Time, Newsweek, and now, the creme de la creme, Mad Magazine. 

 

We’re Already Sick of Who Wants to be a Millionaire and That’s our Final Answer screams the headline.

 

The text says: In the summer of 1999, ABC introduced a new concept in television.  It was fresh, it was innovative, it was 42 years old!

 

Well, I remember 42 years ago, and as I recall no one was giving away a million dollars in those days.  $64,000 was the number that seemed to say it all, but times have changed.

 

In fact, in those days, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” was not the title of a quiz show, but of a song from a hit musical. Do you remember hearing this one?

 

Play song: Who wants to be a millionaire?  I don’t.

 

That was from the movie High Society, made in 1956.  I don’t know if you recognize the voices in that song.  The female singer is Celeste Holm and the male is Frank Sinatra.  The characters they play are a couple of newspaper reporters assigned to cover the biggest society wedding of the year.  On the one hand they are very impressed with the wealthy household they’re visiting, but on the other hand they know that there is more to life than money, and who really want’s to be a millionaire and have uranium to spare - I don’t, cause all I want is you.

 

Love triumphs over money, devotion over dollars.  In the movie everyone ends up happy and married to the right person.  But, of course, that was in the movies.

 

In real life people often have a very difficult time sorting out these issues.  The lure of material goods competes with the attractions of love.   The apparent power and security of wealth often seem easier to trust than the spiritual path of meekness, humility, and faith.

 

Every religion acknowledges and addresses this conflict between materialism and spirituality.  And although we live in a time where spirituality is given a good deal of press and lip service, in reality materialism has carried the day.  

 

We live in a culture that worships money, that goes crazy over lotteries, and that is addicted to a weekly dose of frenzy over the question Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

 

Now saying that the culture is this way doesn’t mean that you’re this way, or that I’m this way - all it says is that the battles that Jesus fought, or Buddha fought, or Confucius, or Gandhi or King or Billy Graham fought on this issue, are as alive today as they were two, three, four thousand years ago. 

 

It is the struggle between devotion to the treasure that you can hold in your hand and devotion to the treasure than can be held only in the heart. It’s a question of where you put your trust, of where you put your faith, of what values you and I choose to serve with our lives.

 

Now it may be possible for some to go through life and never really confront this question.  They may be able to glide along from situation to situation and just naturally make good decisions.  But if you look at the teaching of any great religious figure, you’ll see they feel that most of us need a push - sometimes a little push, and sometimes a big push - a push to keep ourselves mindful of the spiritual treasures which are life’s greater gifts and blessings.

 

With Jesus you can certainly see all kinds of strategies employed to raise this question for the disciples.  He can be very blunt: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

 

In other places he takes a more sympathetic tact: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 

Think back also to the two short parables we read earlier:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, 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.

 

The word that Christ preached, and the word he paid for with his life, is that God offers each of his children a treasure, an abundance of life that is not determined, bound, contained, or measured by wealth, health, position, power, race, creed, etc., etc., etc. 

 

Jesus taught by word and by deed that the lines we draw in life, lines between the wealthy and the poor, between the healthy and the sick, between nations and races and classes of people - he taught that these lines are not important in the eyes of God - that God dares to cross them; that these lines do not rule some people in and some people out of the blessing, the treasure, that God seeks to bestow.  He taught that we should not regard people from a human point of view, but see them as God sees them.

 

Some people were very threatened by this message.  Religious leaders saw it as undermining their position and authority; political leaders saw it as subverting the hierarchy of their social order.  And although they could not agree on much else, on this they did agree - the preacher of this word, the one who gave hope and dignity to the poor and wretched of society - this man had to die, had to be crucified, had to be mocked and scorned and made into a public spectacle, a discredit to his message and proof positive that God had no such plan, no such treasure, no such blessing to freely distribute to the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who mourn.

 

Of course, their plot failed.  What they thought would be the end of Jesus proved to be just the beginning, as our presence here today attests.   When they killed him, they simply gave him the opportunity to prove that there is one more line that God does not respect, one more line that God is not afraid to cross, one more line that will never rule out someone from the blessing of God, and that is the line between life and death.

 

God, in Christ, even crosses the line of life and death to empower, encourage, and send forth disciples to be messengers of this abundant life - a life which is lived in friendship with God and in compassion with our neighbor.

 

The Bible uses lots of words to speak of this abundance of life, of this treasure that God wants us to have as a blessing.  It speaks of love, forgiveness, grace, peace, reconciliation, salvation, life in the Spirit, eternal life, a heavenly kingdom, a new heaven and a new earth. It all points to the same gift.  Even the Bible runs out of words to describe this treasure and admits its own inadequacy:

(For) no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the human heart conceived,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

 

At the beginning of this sermon I said that if you want to be a millionaire, today is not your day.  Well, I think I should amend that.  If you want to be much more than a millionaire, if you want, as the parables said, to find the treasure hidden in the field and take hold of the pearl of great price, there is no day that is better than today.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

We are ambassadors for Christ; God is making his appeal through us; For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,

and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, today is the day of salvation!

 

My hope is that we leave here today with something more than a pleasant experience.  Yes the church looked lovely, the flowers were glorious, the choir wonderful, the sermon shorter than some - I hope all these things are true, but behind them we sense a greater gift, a Living Splendor, woven of Love by Wisdom with Power.  It is the gift of God with us in Christ, a treasure that no circumstance of wealth or health, of love or loss, of life or death will have the power to destroy.   It is the gift that will make our joy complete and our peace unshakable, our life rich and our death rewarding.  For the sake of him who suffered, receive this gift, cherish this gift, and give thanks to God. Amen

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