Of Treasure, Cottages, Pens and Palaces
Yesterday morning was our second Sunday back to church after lockdown and things are very different compared to the way we were at the beginning of March! Because we are limited to 50 people meeting indoors we now have two services of an hour each with an hour between so that the chairs can be cleaned. We have to queue 2m apart to enter and our attendance is recorded for Covid tracing purposes. We have to use hand gel on arrival and we don’t greet one another with a hug or a handshake.
There is a table just inside the entrance with a box of masks, a collection jar, tissues and a bin. We have no communion, no singing in the first service and only sing a couple of songs in the second service, right at the end.
There is no Sunday School, the kids stay in and listen to a special talk and then they stay with us during the sermon while they complete a workbook of activities. We don’t serve teas and coffees afterwards.
The sermon and introduction are recorded and posted online so that those who are unable to return to church still have the option to listen to the Word being preached at home during the following week.
Afterwards we stand around outside in the playground of the school where we meet and chat for a while in stringed out clusters of threes and fours, trying hard not stand too close or hug one another. It all feels very strange, not what we are used to at all. Very regulated and stiff, very pared back.
Meeting for fellowship and worship, like everything else, is different now. We are slowly emerging from our enforced time of seclusion into an unfamiliar environment and I feel at each step I am testing the ground as one does when walking across a marsh, or through a tumbled down cottage. Before you put your weight down fully, you want to gingerly test that the ground is stable first, will hold your weight. That nothing will come crashing down on your head.
Yesterday Jonathan, our pastor, began a new sermon series in the parables, starting in Matthew 13:44-46 with the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl. Here is the text if you are not familiar with it:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Often on a Sunday morning when I am listening to a sermon I will be struck by a thought or an idea and say to myself that I have to write about this tomorrow in a blog post. But then usually by the time Monday comes a little voice in my head tells me that nobody would want to read what I was thinking about if it’s something to do with church or the Gospel. That little voice may be my own doubt or something spiritually sinister so I have chosen to ignore it today.
I never know who reads my posts unless they specifically tell me, but I do know that the internet reaches around the world and maybe someone out there in a far away corner would find this helpful today. God’s word never goes out in vain.
Jonathan used an analogy to describe how much you think something is worth compared to how much you are willing to pay for it. He said, for example, that you would probably not pay €500 for an ordinary pen, that would be way too expensive, however, if you were offered a villa in France for €500, you would absolutely be willing to scrape together €500 by whatever means possible. (Even though getting to France at the moment would prove to be a challenge!) A villa would still seem like a ginormous reward for a minor cost by comparison.
(Side note but this popped into my head! Have you heard that fascinating and bizarre account of, how Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald, over the course of a year, traded a red paperclip for a pen and ended up with a house?)
Jonathan’s value comparisons got me to thinking of the reason some people give why they are unwilling to take the step to becoming a committed Christian. People have said to me that the cost would be too great, they would have to sacrifice too much in order to walk a life of faith. They would be unwilling to let go of certain lifestyle choices.
It suddenly became clear to me that if you are unwilling to sacrifice all you have in service to God, then it must be because you haven’t grasped the depths of the riches of the reward! If your life is the €500 then you see the life of a Christian as being that ball point pen when it is more like the villa in France, and more, waaay more. Yes, listen to me now, way, so much way more than that.
Jonathan went on to quote C.S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity:
There are many things that are so extraordinarily valuable that we would never be able to buy them. Life for example. And all the good things in it.
What would you be willing to give for peace that passes all understanding or contentment in all circumstances? How much would it be worth to you for fear to be replaced by love? The gift of the kingdom of heaven is so enormous, so eternally valuable, so much larger than what we can possibly conceive or imagine, our own lives and our own meager good deeds filled with petty self interest pale in comparison.
We are more like that pen, kind of more like a pen that doesn’t even have much ink left it it! And what we are trading it for is much better than that villa. We don’t need to try and trade up like that blogger did because we are offered that gift for free – it’s called Grace, and Jesus is the currency.