SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON JULY 27th, 2008
Matthew 13:45-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
The parable of the pearl of great price.
For the third week in a row, we have had parables from Matthew 13. Jesus tells us that these are the parables of the kingdom of heaven. Two weeks ago we had the parable of the sower and the seed; last week it was the wheat and tares; and today we begin with the parable of the mustard seed – the smallest seed which grows into a great tree.
But then we move on from agricultural images to three well-known parables: the leaven in the lump; the treasure in the field; and the pearl of great price, and I would like us to think for a moment about the parable of the pearl of great price.
This particular parable emphasizes that we should seize God’s kingdom with as much enthusiasm as possible – nothing should deter us from being drawn to the kingdom of God.
But we are already members of God’s kingdom through our Baptism, so as with other parables, there is another – more subtle meaning to this. And the first reading gives us a clue. Solomon had everything, he succeeded his father and was king with riches and power of the chosen people, but he knew he needed something more. He wanted wisdom and discernment; he wanted to see through all the things before him, to the heart of the matter.
His prayer was heard of course, and he went on to become wise and a great ruler, and the builder of the Temple. He discovered the pearl of great price. That is our experience too – there comes a time when we discover a deeper meaning and beauty to something we are used to. Perhaps if you are a parent it is when your child grows and blossoms and stands before you as an adult, or perhaps as a young person you get to an age when you see your parents for who they really are. Or maybe its your partner whom you have known for a while, and suddenly you see what a treasure they are – a pearl of great price.
At another level it could be your prayer life or worship – suddenly a new light shines in, we discover a pearl of wisdom. Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price – a jewel!
There is a similar reference to jewels in Malachi – it’s an unusual translation. Malachi 3:17 “And they shall be mine, says the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels”.
“That day when I make up my jewels”. Here the prophet Malachi is referring to the final judgment – just as Jesus was. The jewels are the people of God, the members of his kingdom.
My dear brothers and sisters, we are God’s jewels, and the Church is the pearl of great price – if we but knew it! The Church is a pearl in much need of washing and shining, but God’s pearl of great price it is.
It is significant that we find a reference to God’s people as his jewels in Malachi. Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament and points to the coming of Christ. in just four chapters we find passages with which we are very familiar.
Malachi concludes with the prophecy of John the Baptist as the second Elijah who “Will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers”.
Another familiar passage in chapter 3:1 “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple”. Also in chapter 4:2 “The sun of the righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings”. And then there is Malachi 1:11 – much loved by Anglo-Catholics: “From the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name”. At the heart of Malachi – we are God’s jewels.
The Anglo-Catholic revival in Anglican Church in the 19th Century was a pearl of great price. Two weeks ago, when we commemorated the 175th Anniversary of the Oxford Movement, I gave an account of its history and rationale. Let me take that one step further.
For in fact the Oxford Movement was more than a revival or renewal, they found a pearl of great price in the words: “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”. What happened was that people like us discovered with in the Church a pearl, a jewel, literally a hidden treasure.
Like when we see something familiar with new eyes and discover a hidden beauty. So they looked at the Church and saw something hidden that was beautiful.
Now we can understand that because when we come to All Saints’ we experience a beauty of love in our worship that others do not experience. But that’s not ultimately what it is about. The beauty they discovered was the beauty of truth and in that phrase from the Creed: “One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”.
Because the Creed says the Church is “One”, they looked beyond the Church of England to the great Catholic Church of the East and West – which was undivided before the 11th century before that great schism between Rome and Constantinople.
Because the Creed says the Church is “Holy”, the priests went into the slums of London and spent their lives as a sacrifice and our religious communities were revived.
Because the Creed says the Church is “Catholic”, they acted as if they were catholics, creating beauty in both buildings and in worship, and offering the seven Sacraments the Church had always celebrated.
Because the Creed says the Church is “Apostolic”, they looked back to the beginnings of the Church for their authority and taught the unbroken teaching of the Church.
Yes the Church is the pearl of great price and we, the members of the Church are the jewels of God.