Yesterday’s message, which launched the ThanksLiving series, had a couple of goals:
- To ground the OBJECT of our gratitude not in the “God of the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR” but instead very specifically in the God & Father of our Lord Jesus Christ;
- To move us away from lists of “what” we’re thankful for and into a mindset where we are thankful for a WHO;
- To contrast a wheelbarrow full of salt — our mountain of mercy — with the grain of salt with which we usually regard God’s grace.
- Borrowing some language from John Piper, to invite us to “see and savor” the glory of Christ crucified, resurrected, coronated, and returning;
- Pave the way for an open mic time;
- Land at this bottom line: May we never become careless with what is priceless.
Maybe you remember hearing about the Heist of the Century a couple of years ago in Great Britain. Because befuddled British police were shocked to find that a supposedly secure vault in a place called Hatton Garden (interesting: I live on Hatton Cross!) had been emptied of $20M in diamonds, jewelry, and cash. Apparently security got a bit careless and a team of thieves were able to disguise themselves as workmen, climb down an elevator shaft and spend two nights breaking into the vault. They left behind some power tools but very little other forensic evidence. Lax security led to an incredible loss.
And then the thieves themselves got a bit careless. See, they had hatched the plan while in a British pub and within weeks after the successful heist they returned to their huddling place. And boasted about it! You can imagine the rest. They were nabbed and most Brits were astonished to discover they looked like this: AV. Ranging from 49 – 76! The ring leader rode to the crime scene using his Sr. Citizens Bus Pass which gives him free travel throughout Britain! Crime travel at taxpayer expense! Well, at the end of it all, 2/3 of the loot is still hidden, missing. When you are careless with what is priceless, you lose more than you had …
So that whole deal of protecting what is beyond measure is on my mind as we start ThanksLiving. Because this is the time of year, is it not, when many of us spend time tallying up what we are thankful FOR. That’s fine, that’s great, that’s good. I even made a list of some things that if you all are on your best behavior I may share with you in a few minutes. But of course, it’s important to me that the thanking is not directed towards karma, not to some invisible force, not to the God of the LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR. Nope. Here we are very specific; anti-vague: our thanks, our praise, our obedience is all directed to the God of our risen Lord and returning King, Jesus.
But there’s more, because do you know the worst – THE WORST – sermon you can give at this time of year? (And do NOT say, “Yeah, the one you’re giving now, Talbot!”) One that says Be more thankful! Do it! Eat your vegetables and like it! It’s so shrill. Because you can’t guilt people into being more thankful. It doesn’t work as parents and it doesn’t work as preachers. I know one time when Julie’s was a teenager her mother told her she should “thank her lucky stars” for something – three meals a day? – and as you might imagine that did not work. No one enters thanksliving by being ordered to do so.
Which is probably why Jesus has a couple of interesting little stories to tell about this intersection of treasure and gratitude. Look at Matthew 13:44-46, two ONE VERSE stories told side by side and back to back:
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.
The kingdom of heaven is like … meaning, my invasion into world history and your life and what happens when you surrender to me as King. No Kingdom without me as King. Just sayin’ And what is it like? A guy who finds a buried treasure, RE-BURIES it in a field and then totally sacrifices everything he has to go have enough to buy the field that contains the treasure. The stuff he sold HAD A PRICE; the treasure he found DID NOT. It was, of course, PRICELESS. Within that field is something of much greater value than all that he sold. That’s what I’m like, Jesus says.
When you see and savor him, you throw caution to the wind. You respond to the greatest value with the most abandon, not because someone orders you to, but because you can’t help yourself. And the second little vignette is similar: the guy in the story’s center sells all that stuff that in comparison to the ONE PEARL is of no value at all. The stuff has a price. The pearl is priceLESS. Huh. Two stories; same essential truth.
And then, as so often happens in the biblical library, Paul comes along and says in essay form what Jesus has told in story form. Paul repeats and recasts Jesus. Look at Colossians 2:3:
3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Ah, there’s that notion of treasure again. What is the treasure? Church? Nope. Nation? Nope. Family? Nope. Christ. Christ alone. Now skip down to 2:8 where it gets REALLY interesting:
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.
Really, Paul (brilliantly as usual) is saying this: the Gospel, what Jesus accomplished in you and for you through his invasion of earth, his crucifixion on GF and his resurrection on ES, is something you could NEVER NEVER NEVER figure out on your own. You would never think this up. So God sent it down. His revelation always surpasses your intuition.
Yep. On your own, left to your own intelligence & your own devices – I don’t know, like on the campuses of so many of our universities today? – you’d never diagnose your predicament: SIN. You’d never suspect his provision: CROSS. And you’d never believe his promise: the fact that the resurrection that happenED to Jesus is happenING now and will happen in the future to us. Never in a million years would we think it up. So God sent it down. It’s a treasure and it’s priceless. And the two guys in Matt 13 – field buyer guy and pearl diver guy – were anything but careless w/ it.
So as I was thinking about what I’m thankful for this year, I didn’t get too far beyond this one fact before I stopped, just sort of stunned by the magnitude of it: I am saved by the invasion of God. He didn’t ask for my permission before he ensured my salvation. I don’t name God. I don’t create truth. I don’t invent faith. God names me, God makes me, God is my inheritance & not my invention. I could never conceive it; I can always receive it. And that stopped and stunned me because I realize what I am typically guilty of – and I bet you are too.
It’s this. I have been given a MOUNTAIN OF MERCY (wheelbarrow, salt, plastic covering). And I treat it like a grain of salt (hold up one grain). That’s it, that’s me, that’s how I am lax with my treasure. Been given – not earned, not devised, given – a mountain of mercy and so often I respond with a yawn or a sigh or even sometimes, sometimes with half a peace sign.
Because ThanksLiving is rooted in the conviction that I get to savor the fact that I’m not going to get what I do deserve (hell) and I’m going to get what I don’t (heaven). And we treat that treasure as if it is a trifle. God help us. Here’s where we are and here’s what I want: My we never become careless with what is priceless. When we understand that what we have been given is the highest value, Lord help us respond with the greatest abandon!
It’s so much like that family in Australia who for years, because their house had some imperfections and tilted a bit when the shrimp was on the barby, used a black stone as a door stop. Got to prop that door, keep the wallabies and the dingoes out, use that black stone. Except for that time they just HAPPENED to have a geologist friend over who saw the black rock doorstop, picked it up, looked it over, inspected it, and told them it had sapphire in it and that that family had themselves a $10M doorstop. Oh, we regard what we have as a ritual, a place, an obligation, a thing, a doorstop when it is a treasure beyond measure. .May we never become careless with what is priceless.
Or it’s like the incredible gratitude on the face of Indian Xns in the state of Orissa when they get the bible in their Oriya language. Faces melt with joy. And us? We’ve got family bibles, study bibles, coffee table bibles, bible study aids, YouVersion … and even with all that stuff, we can’t be bothered to open it up. May we never become careless with what is priceless.
Or really, what I’m talking about is like the difference between eating a Salisbury steak (AV) – face it, you chow it down, wash it down, just hoping the calories fill you up – and eating a Morton’s steak (AV) – where you chew, you enjoy, you SAVOR. That’s what I’m talking about. We’ve got the Morton’s. And we treat it like Salisbury. When’s the last time you just paused, pondered, gloried, savored in the fact that you are so messed up the cross is what you needed and so loved the cross is what you got? That you’re rescued not by philosophy or wisdom or performance but by invasion? When have you responded to your mountain of mercy with an avalanche of praise & thanks?!?! When have you treasured the treasure? May we never become careless with what is priceless.
See, I believe without at least attempting to savor we become hollow, vacant, and worst of all, entitled. I heard recently that ingratitude is really pride in disguise, this conviction that you deserve more than you’re getting. Really? Seriously? My level of blessing so far outweighs my level of obedience and I bet it’s no different with anyone else in this room. May we never become careless with what is priceless.
So this savoring which is the opposite of carelessness takes expression. Because gratitude – ThanksLiving – is never silent, never secret, never hidden. We express it in singing, in speaking, in giving. Yep your gratitude gets made tangible with your generosity. Like the little boy whose granddad handed him a package. The boy ripped it open, was delighted to discover a box of chocolates and just as he was about to dive in & devour, remembered the source. Here, granddad, you take the first one. That’s what we do. That’s why the series culminates on Dec. 3 with your worshipping generosity. REFRAIN and it’s all rooted in the conviction that you did not make the Gospel; it is making you.
It’s so interesting. One more stop in the library, I Timothy 1:3-4: READ. Look: guard. It’s a treasure, prevent a heist. And see that word pattern? That means Timothy was free to pass the Gospel on to others … but he was not free to modify it. Nope. Excavate its riches without editing its content. Oh, we try to do that here. It’s why one of our values is we speak the old through the new. It may strike you as odd with this venue, this band, this tech, but we are an Old Time Religion church. Because we are not free to modify the treasure we have been given. Not free to modify the story, but compelled to testify to its impact. Anyone here ready to start thanksliving by giving a word about the saving invasion of Jesus in your life? Because we treasure what we proclaim and the enemy can never steal it from us. OPEN MIKE