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The Price is Right

I am sure many will remember the show ‘The Price is Right’. It is an American game show which has had various British ITV runs with hosts including Leslie Crowther and Bruce Forsyth. If you were hooked back in the eighties and nineties, I gather you won’t have to wait too long for a chance to watch again. Channel four are commissioning a pilot with Alan Carr as the presenter to be screened later this year.
The show comprises of games in which contestants are invited to ‘come on down’ and price various consumer goods, holidays and luxuries. If they get it right, they win the items on display. It is an exercise in which both viewer and contestant are encouraged to place a value on what is displayed on the screen.
Lord Darlington, a character in Oscar Wild’s play ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ when asked what a cynic was responded: ‘a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ We can all be tempted to be like that, to put a price tag on everything failing to consider the wider value and importance it might have to our own lives let alone those of others. That is just as true for people who are rich businessmen as for those trying to eke out limited incomes.
A recent report on the BBC news website has suggested that the British are particularly wedded to the idea that only money spent on things bought in the shops and online, retail therapy, will make them happy. We apparently fail to see that paying someone else do something for us such as to clean or do the garden may be money better spent and bring us greater rewards. Evidenced showed that those who spent money in this way were happier than those who had indulged themselves with luxury items. Money spent like this ends up in the local economy, less goes to large multinational companies and less junk ends up in landfill!
Our bible readings today challenge us in different ways to reflect on what we value most in life. In the Old Testament lesson from 1 Kings, Solomon, newly made king, has an encounter with God in a dream at Gibeon. God said to Solomon, ‘Ask what I should give you.’ (1Kings 3.5) After a considerable preamble, Solomon replies, ‘Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.’ (1Kings 3.9) God commends Solomon for his choice. God is pleased that Solomon has not asked for long life or riches but for wisdom instead and promises to give him what he has asked for. In the verse which follows, he assures Solomon that he will give him a long reign and much wealth as well. From all that we know of Solomon, he did reign for a long time and enjoyed much wealth and splendour. We might be tempted to think that he only valued these things yet, while he like us all was far from perfect, he clearly placed great store on God’s wisdom to enable his reign to be effective.
Turning to the reading from the gospel according to Matthew, we have in just a few verses no less than six parables, six things which tell us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. As we listen to the words of Jesus in the first three gospels, the kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God forms an important part of Jesus’ teaching. This kingdom is not of this world. It is not like the UK, the United Kingdom. It is not like Solomon’s kingdom either, full of pomp and circumstance. Indeed, Jesus refers to himself as being ‘greater than Solomon.’ (Luke 11.31) The kingdom of which Jesus speaks is one of justice and mercy, wholeness and healing. Its citizens are those who are meek, poor in spirit even. (Matthew 5.1-12) These are those who recognise that they will not get it right in their own strength, but seeking the love forgiveness healing and wisdom of God, now manifested in the life of Jesus will find life all its fullness. (John 10.10) When Jesus speaks of this kingdom to his disciples, he says that it has already among them, (Luke 17.21) because he is modelling it in his own life, yet he still teaches us all to pray: ‘Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.’
Most people will say that they want to see a better world. They want to see justice and fairness of opportunity for all. They don’t want to see people continue to sufferer in entirely preventable disasters like that overtaking the Yemen just now. When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, he is speaking of the world most of us would like to see. Yet, he does not speak of it as a crazy impossible dream. His own life shows that it is possible, even in our fractured and broken world to live in such a way that life becomes affirming and enriching. He teaches his disciples to pray and to work for this kingdom and that includes you and me.
But the message of today’s parables is one of value. How much do we believe this kingdom of which Jesus speaks is worth? What are we prepared to give for it? Jesus says that it is like treasure found in a field. There have been some pretty amazing things found in fields by people with metal detectors. In Jesus’ scenario, the treasure seeker does not simply do a deal with the man in whose field he finds the treasure. He goes off to buy it. Or consider the merchant in fine pearls. Pearls come in all shapes and sizes. They are measured in carats. The more carats, the more valuable. The dealer in Jesus story discovers a pearl of immense size and beauty. In order to buy it, he must sell all he has. This he does, such is his desire to possess it. The kingdom is of huge value. It is the most precious thing we could imagine which could bring so much good to the world…if only we would seek it? How much do you think it is worth? How much are you prepared to give up in order to see God’s kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven established on earth. It is something we pray for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer.
Then there is the mustard seed and the yeast. In worldly terms, neither are especially valuable. They are small items which could easily be lost in the rest of your shopping. Jesus compares them to the kingdom, because the kingdom is not brash, noisy or entertaining. Like the love it embodies, the kingdom is not boastful, arrogant or rude. (1 Corinthians 13.4-5) It does not enjoy celebrity status. It is about ordinary people and their relationship with a loving God made possible through the sacrifice of his son and enriched by the presence of his spirit. Its true value is to be seen in its transforming effects in people’s lives. With little fuss or publicity, the kingdom makes a huge impact.
Finally, Jesus remarks on the scribes trained for the kingdom, those who understand its ways will bring out of his treasure both what is new and what is old. (Matthew 13.52) Sometimes we only value what is new, the latest technology or we will give credence only to the old, tried and tested and familiar. The kingdom is both. It transcends human innovation and invention. Its heart is in the ways of God both old and new testament.
The price is right. For Jesus to bring the kingdom to you and me, he had to lay down his life. The kingdom is costly, it is valuable beyond measure. Do you recognise the value of the kingdom and are you giving up your life to see it come? The other parable is the one about the net. Dragged through the water, it caught all kinds of flotsam and jetsam, but only the valuable part of the catch, the good fish, was kept by the fishermen. Will your life share the value, the eternal worth of the kingdom which will endure for ever?
Trinity 7 30.07.2017

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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