SCRIPTURE READING   Matthew 13:45-46  “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.

MESSAGE      “What Have You Found?”             Rev. James R. Renfrew

So if you look at the cover of the bulletin, if you look at all of the printed words in the order of worship, if you look at what’s held in your hand, it looks like the message for today is all about a pearl.

I have to warn you, though, that this pearl in your hand is probably made from plastic. I bought them at a craft store in Batavia.

But a parable is all about imagination, so as you look at this pearl, imagine a real pearl, found nestled inside of an oyster.  Imagine! In Jesus’ time pearls were only found by diving into deep water holding your breath, for two, three, four, even five minutes.  You might have to go through a thousand oysters, a thousand deep dives, before you found even one pearl, lumpy and imperfect, but the pearl in your hand today is even rarer than that, because it is a perfect pearl, an amazing gem of great beauty, so beautiful that as you gaze into the pearl’s heart it becomes your window into the mind of God.

Such a small thing, you can hold it in your hand, but out of small things Jesus is able to draw you into an amazing new reality.  So many of these parables and teachings of Jesus begin in the small, a pearl, a lost coin, a mustard seed, a sip of water, a few loaves and fishes, and we are encouraged, renewed, transformed, and healed.

So it may be enough this morning for you to hold the pearl in your hand, gaze into it, and to find the courage to imagine what God intends for you to become with the help of Jesus.  Courage is not reaching that ideal goal, it is simply the act of imagination that begins the journey.   And I love the idea that a courageous church is just the mighty deeds we do in the face of difficult odds, courage is simply the act of imagination, and daring to let our imagination intersect with the imagination of God.  When our children sought your contributions for UNICEF none of us thought that the money we raise today will solve hunger, but we still do it, because our imagination of a world without hungry children is where it all begins.

And, let me tell you, God has a great imagination.  Out of God’s imagination the whole world was created and in the most recent chapter of that story you were created.  God did not imagine just long ago at the beginning of things. God continues to imagine and re-imagine every single moment.  Take a moment and realize that you are surrounded on every side by Good’s imagination about you.

At the Bible study we had on Tuesday evening we spent 90 minutes talking about these two verses that compose Jesus’ parable of the pearl.  What I love about Bible Study is that our imaginations are unleashed.   That happened on Tuesday.  I really thought that this parable was all about the pearl, but then I paid closer attention.  Jesus does not say that “the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl”. Instead he says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant”, a merchant searching for fine pearls”.  Do you see the difference, not the thing found, but the person who is searching. Maybe this parable should be renamed as the “Parable of the Merchant Looking”?

So you can take a deep look at the pearl in your hand, and discover many things about yourself, and about God.  But now I see that for me the key to understanding is not the pearl, it’s the merchant, the merchant who is searching, the merchant who is looking.

     A pastor in the Disciples of Christ, Robert Cornwall, wrote this comment about the parable of the pearl.  “These parables are brief in scope.  They are short on details.  But they are rich in their message – the realm of God is not easily discerned.  You have to be looking.  You have to be aware that God is on the move.” 

I like that idea, “you have to be looking”.  The blessings of God rarely drop into our laps out of the sky. Imagining the kingdom of heaven is never passive, it comes through engagement, through courageous faith in action.  And I also like the idea that “God is on the move”.  God is not sitting in one place, God is on the move, not just telling us about the way things used to be but looking ahead to what we will become.  The merchant is looking, and so can you!

Where have you been looking?  Everyone here would have a different answer to that question.  We are looking in all of the places we find ourselves.  The places where I have found the pearls that really matter are never where I would have expected to find them.  In a jail, on a camping trip, while staying in a farmhouse in the mountains of Puerto Rico, while riding the subway in New York, while walking through stones placed by people four thousand years ago, hearing a new song. while participating in a Bible Study thirty years ago.  Fortunately, I didn’t miss seeing the pearl, because I was looking.

What have you been looking for?  Truth, honesty, love, peace, happiness, healing.  It depends upon who you are and what you need.  Hold on to the pearl you received today.  May it remind you that this is not casual looking, or looking without purpose.  We are looking for what matters.

This is what I love about a church family, we’re looking, we’re finding, and we are sharing what we’ve discovered.  This is the heart of stewardship, sharing with each other the beautiful gems that we have found.  Looking and finding, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.  In a selfish world, this kind of sharing I s as beautiful as a pearl.