Pentecost 7 (Proper 12), July 27, 2014
Text: Matthew 13:44–52
Are you familiar with the term “Comfort Food”? It is what people eat when they are sick, sad, feeling down. I can tell you that when Erica is not feeling well, the ONE thing she wants to eat is: KFC mashed potatoes and gravy. For me, food I want to eat when I am not well, or am tired or sad, I will eat poached eggs, or a cheeseburger, or deep dish pizza, or a cinnamon roll, or doughnuts, or chocolate chip cookies, or….But now there are books that offer words of comfort, tv and radio shows, even dogs that offer comfort. Sometimes, you just need a word of encouragement. Sometimes, you just need to be built up. Sometimes, you just need some comfort.
The disciples needed that comfort and encouragement. At the time of our text, things were starting to change, and not for the better. For a while, Jesus’ popularity had grown and grown. He did miracles. He taught with authority. He healed people. He cast out demons. The crowds got bigger.
I believe many of you are aware that on the social media site Facebook, someone can post a picture or say what’s going on that day. You can learn when someone’s had a baby or show off a pet doing something funny. If you enjoyed the post on Facebook, you can click on the word “Like” to show you approve, and Facebook will keep track of how many people have “Liked” what you said or liked your picture or liked what happened that day to you. If Facebook had been around in the early days of Jesus’ ministry, He would have been getting lots of “Likes.” Hundreds and thousands of people would have heard about a miracle and clicked on Like. They would have heard Him teach—more Likes. They would have been healed of some awful disease—bunches and bunches of Likes. You get the idea?
Then Jesus’ teaching began to get more challenging. He was calling for change, and that makes people say, “Uh, what?” Jesus wanted commitment and a change in people’s worship. The religious leaders were turning against Him. Jesus challenged the way they did church back then and the ways the leaders had used their positions for power and money. You can imagine what reaction that brought.
Going back to our Facebook analogy, on Facebook, you can also “Unlike” someone or something. The counter can go down instead of up. By the time Jesus preached His series of parables in Matthew 13, the Likes would have slowed to a stop. The number of Likes would have been going down—slowly at first, but then picking up speed. Can you picture the counter just spinning backward?
Things were getting downright hostile. The crowds were getting smaller. Resistance to Jesus was growing. People in charge were threatening Him. Can you imagine the disciples’ reaction? “Hey, what’s going on here? This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. The crowds are supposed to get bigger.”
But that wasn’t happening. The disciples were feeling vulnerable. Some might have been wondering, Did we sign up for this? They were getting discouraged, confused, afraid. The disciples needed some encouragement, some comfort, some reassurance.
Do you ever feel this way? That this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be with those who follow Jesus?
We have discussed here and in Bible class that Christianity is the most persecuted faith in the world. In the Middle East, especially in Muslim countries, Christians are second-class citizens with few rights and protections. Churches are burned down. Pastors and priests are beaten or imprisoned. ISIS is really going after Christians in Iraq, for example. That’s frightening.
It’s not that bad in the United States, but you can feel the shift that’s been going on. In many parts of our culture and society these days, people openly attack what we believe. Jesus’ name is systematically being removed from everyday life. That’s discouraging.
Each year, many churches have Life Sunday during which we affirm God’s gift of life for all ages and conditions. However, the sanctity of life as God created it has been taking a beating. The abortion statistics continue to be alarming. You can see this disrespect for life in how those who are approaching the end of life are treated. All that is disturbing.
Perhaps you’re embarrassed by what’s going on in the Church itself. That small family that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church pickets funerals of soldiers and others. What a bad name those folks give the Church. Then there’s the scandals with embezzlement or sexual misconduct involving Church leaders that hit the news. All that makes you hang your head.
Or it could be the churches that have closed for lack of members. Or the empty chairs you see in a service. The crowds are getting smaller and smaller, while those who say they have no religious affiliation are growing in number in our country. That’s hard to take.
We can certainly feel just like the disciples did back then. We are confused. We get discouraged. It’s not supposed to be this way. We need a word of encouragement. We need some comfort. We need to be reassured.
So Jesus tells the disciples—and us—two parables. They’re very short parables. A man finds a treasure in the field and gives up everything to buy the field. A man finds a pearl. He gives up everything to buy the pearl.
Now who is the man and who or what is the treasure? Well, we certainly couldn’t buy our way into God’s presence. Heaven isn’t something that we could get by giving up everything. So the man is Jesus. He gave up everything. He gave up His place in glory. He gave up His power and prestige to be born in this world. He gave up His popularity and safety to complete His mission. He gave up His life. He gave up everything for the precious pearl, for the treasure.
Do you know what that means? The disciples are the treasure in Jesus’ eyes. They are the pearl He wants so much that He’ll give everything. And not just the disciples; we, too, are the treasure in Jesus’ eyes. He gave up everything for you, and me.
Jesus tells these parables to give a word of encouragement. He wants to reassure us that what’s going on is not the way things really are. He treats us with that special dignity that comes from being God’s creation. Jesus treats every person like each life is important. He will sort things out at the end of time. Those who have persecuted the Church will find out who is Lord of all. Those who’ve done evil in His name will learn that their works did not please Him. And those who are faithful to the end will rejoice in His glory as He comes back for us.
But until that Last Day, we need encouragement. We need some comfort.
We started today talking about “comfort food.” I told you what works for the Erlers, what about you? Maybe it’s mac and cheese. Or hot buttered popcorn. Or chocolate. Or “two all beef patties special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.” But for us in the Church, Jesus gives us the ultimate comfort food. We go up here to the Lord’s Table and receive everything He gave for us. His body. His blood. Given and shed for us. We are welcomed to eat this comfort food and know that Jesus is truly present in our lives just as He was with the disciples so long ago. Risen from the dead. Alive. Now that’s a comfort.
Some people like to use water to feel better. A hot bath. A hot tub. A vacation on the beach. We have water, too. In the baptismal water, Jesus came to us and said, “You are mine. I gave everything, paid it all, so that you will always be treasure in my sight.” In the baptismal liturgy we welcome the newly baptized with these words: “In Holy Baptism God the Father has made you a member of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and an heir with us of all the treasures of heaven in the one holy Christian and apostolic Church” (LSB, p 271). Now that’s encouraging, comforting.
And there are times we just need a word of encouragement, something to reassure us that despite what we see happening in the world, in the country, in the Church, Jesus still sees us as His treasure. Listen to these passages:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Pet 2:9)
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, . . . .“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Is 43:1)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Col 3:12)
Sometimes, you just need a word of encouragement. Sometimes, you just need to be built up. Sometimes, you just need some comfort. Today you’ve got it. We are Jesus’ treasure! He gave up everything for us, and now Jesus Provides the Encouragement We Need with Comfort Food, Water and Words.