When was the last time you found the kingdom and when was the last time the kingdom found you?
I have two short stories to share with you – both have impacted my understanding of today’s gospel.
As many of you know, I had the leisure to be on vacation in Colorado this month with two of my classmates. It was a golfing vacation, and we played a lot of golf. There was a moment that occurred during our second day out. I was waiting on the tee box for my turn, looking over this beautiful hole – with a lake on the right side of the fairway, protected out of bounds grasslands on the left, and sand bunkers guarding the dogleg. I had not been hitting the ball particularly well that back nine, so I was pretty intimidated by the tee shot before me. When suddenly, my eye was drawn to movement. There, flying amidst the cirrus clouds was a red tailed hawk – soaring with great freedom. And I was transfixed. I forgot about the golf, I forgot about the water hazards and sand traps. I forgot about everything, but the soaring flight of the bird, so free in front of me… In this moment that seemed like an eternity, but couldn’t have lasted more than a minute, the kingdom found me. The kingdom found me. And in that brief moment, I knew the joy of finding treasure, not buried in the ground, but soaring in the sky. A joy that made the first man in the gospel risk all his possessions to buy the field.
The second story also happened around a golf course. When my dad died, our family sold some property we had and bought into one of these resort-development places – called Raintree in Hillsboro, Mo. Sitting right off the 5th green, I would often walk the woods along the fairways in search of golf balls. One morning, after a torrential rain the night before, I was doing my thing, looking for those glimpses of white amidst the foliage. Suddenly, across the fairway, in the far side of a ditch, I caught a glimpse of white. So I headed over. As I picked that one up, I saw another bit of white was further down the ditch. And another past that, and another past that. It seems the rain had washed all these golf balls out of the tall grass that had hidden them from their owners’ sight. And there they all were, lined up for me to pick up. 21 in all. I felt like I was on an Easter egg hunt and I was the only one who was invited. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant’s SEARCH for fine pearls… When he finds a really valuable pearl, he goes and sells all he has and buys it.
Because I was looking, I was able to find the golf balls. Because I was receptive to the moment and the flight of the hawk, the kingdom found me. Both attitudes are crucial to the kingdom stories that Jesus tells us today. An openness to the ‘near occasions of grace’ that present themselves to us in the midst of our busy lives, and a searching heart that longs for the kingdom and beats the bushes to find it wherever it presents itself. Both are crucial attitudes to cultivate in the kingdom of God.
Let me suggest 2 ways to dig into this message.
1) Begin each day with some sort of morning offering. (As a kid, we had it glued onto our bathroom mirror) One that sets the tone of you actively seeking the Kingdom: God, let me seek you today. Let me find you in the lives of the people whom I work with, my family whom I live with, and all the people whom I come in contact with today. Let me treat them as you. Let me love them as I love you… Cultivate a searching heart that looks for the pearls of God’s love in the everyday.
2) In an era so driven by calendars and our smart phones, it is difficult to simply stop the madness and be. An aid is to become fully present to whatever is before your senses. It is why the hawk so caught me – because I had nowhere else I needed to be, nothing else I needed to do – but to be present to the present moment. Each day, let one of your senses be your entry to the present. Maybe it is the feel of the sheets across your skin as you roll out of bed. Pay attention to the smells of cooking in the house. Hear a song on the radio with new ears. See the face of your children or neighbor or spouse in a way you haven’t in a while. Let your senses lead you into the presence of the kingdom which is right before you.
I’ll never forget that moment, watching that hawk fly with the wind. Nor will I forget that morning finding the golf balls. But they both pale in comparison to moments when you experience the kingdom, searched for or unbidden – where God’s justice and wisdom and peace reign. For that, I am willing to give my life. For that, Jesus gave his life – and gives it to us again today – in His Body which we eat, and His Blood which we drink. Like the farmer and the merchant, may we be willing to sell all we have, give all we are to possess the treasure that Jesus holds before us…