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July 24, 2005 (Sunday 17 · Time after Pentecost)—“Chasing the Fake Rabbit”

Pastor David Barber

I Kings 3:5-12; Romans 8:18-25; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Fred Craddock, a New Testament professor and preacher, once told about visiting with a family who also owned a dog. It was a large, long, narrow sort of dog.

"That's a full-blooded greyhound," said the father. "We got him after his racing days were finished. He's great with children."

The children rolled on his back, their head between his paws. He licked them affectionately, but eventually it was time for the children to go to bed. The parents gathered them up and went to the bedroom leaving him alone with the dog.

Craddock asked the dog, "What's it like to be a greyhound and race professionally? I've never been to a greyhound race myself."

"It's not a bad life," said the greyhound. "They treat you like a king. They feed you well. I had it made down there in Florida, racing."

"Well why did you leave? Did you just age out? You don't look that old to me."

"No, I'm not old enough for retirement. I quit," said the greyhound. "Perhaps you're wondering why."

The dog continued, "If you had ever been to a greyhound race, you might understand. In every race, all the dogs line up. We're released, and then we follow a little white rabbit, around the track. We all chase it.

One day, after a race, I got a close look at the rabbit. To my shock, I found out that the rabbit wasn't real! That meant the race wasn't real. So I quit. I was almost ashamed to have spent so much of my life chasing a fake rabbit."

A number of years ago there was a popular game board called "Trivial Pursuit." Unfortunately, it's not just the name of a board game; it could also be used to describe our lives when we devote much time, energy, and resources simply chasing a fake rabbit.

In so much of life, it's easy to get distracted--to be in pursuit of minutia and all that stuff that doesn't really matter. We plow our fields. We become preoccupied with our plans and our projects. We can become so preoccupied that the trivia of life can choke out the purpose for which we've been created and redeemed.

How is it possible to avoid being trapped and seduced by trivia? How do we keep from becoming a racing greyhound in pursuit of a fake rabbit?

Today Jesus says, "The dominion of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again the dominion 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."

Besides talking about treasure in a field and a merchant in search of fine pearls, Jesus also tells us that the dominion of heaven is like a mustard seed, or like yeast, or like a net thrown into the sea.

All of these brief parables show us situations in which folks in daily life engage in common practices that are not extraordinary in any way. What all of these ordinary practices share in common is the surprise of the unexpected in the midst of daily tasks.

What we discover is not just the surprising nature of the reign of God, but also its power to turn our lives around and to fill our lives with joy. Chasing a fake rabbit around a track is now replaced by a treasure hidden in a field and doing everything within our power to buy this field.

We just have to have it! It's the key to life and nothing will stop us from buying this field or purchasing this pearl. And this response is done with great joy.

Joy is the response that occurs quite naturally when a discovery of this nature is made. The reign of God that breaks in upon us with great surprise invokes within us a decisive, joyful and active response.

Jesus is telling us that there's only one treasure that's worth this kind of effort. There's only one treasure that deals with the heart and the guts of life. That's the treasure given to us by God when God calls us as sons and daughters and as children and heirs in the kingdom of God. And this treasure is God's gift to us.

This treasure is so valuable that we can't help ourselves. It beckons us to be involved in new, joyful, and risky behavior in order to obtain it. It calls us to decisive and uncalculated action.

It goes against the careful and prudent kind of living most of us have been taught to practice. It takes hold of us and persuades us to leave practicality and reason behind in exchange for a wholehearted embrace of the kingdom of God.

In reality then this treasure is not so much something we possess but something that possesses us. Because we are caught in its grasp, we associate with sinners and outcasts and all those on the margins of life. We give our lives in pursuit of justice for those who are poor and hungry.

Because we are possessed by this treasure, we graciously and generously give of our resources to bring hope and healing to our world. We're involved in acts of forgiveness and compassion wherever the world cries out with hatred and revenge. We fulfill our daily responsibilities in the name of Jesus with faithfulness, integrity, and joy.

In other words as this treasure possesses and takes hold of us we also become transformed as we give our lives to this treasure.

In the book Helping People Forgive we're told about a young woman leaving the church of St. Francis of Assisi. She is watched by a man who has lived a life of deceit, violence, and wickedness. He is totally captivated by her beauty and forsakes his busy life of crime to follow her and to shadow her for days.

His inquiries reveal her name, her virtue, her devotion to St. Francis, and her life of service to the poor given in charity and simplicity. His attempts to meet her all fail because she gives him less than a glance.

Over coffee with a priest, he learns that she has sworn to love only a man with the calling, the devotion, and the innocent face of St. Francis.

So this man devotes himself to the study of St. Francis. He lives for a while with a community of Franciscans, and slowly comes to share this passion of service for others. Unfortunately, nothing can change the deep lines of depravity that mark his face from an ill-spent youth.

But then he hears of a maskmaker who is a woman of great magic and skill. She creates new faces from the skin of unborn lambs and magically glues them to the face so they can never be removed. She creates for him the face of St. Francis, and it costs him everything he owns.

At last he meets the person of his love. Soon she returns his devotion. They marry and commit their lives to serving the poor. Years of work and sacrifice and obedience follow.

One day, as they were giving aid to a group of gypsies, a woman who had been his partner in evil recognized his rich voice as he preached.

Jealous of his new life and suspicious of his sincerity, she sprang forward in front of the audience and scratched his neck with long fingernails. She pierced his skin and tore the mask from his face.

"Hypocrite, deceiver, liar!" she shouted. "See who this is, people. See his true face."

The man stood exposed, knowing all was lost. He was dying in humiliation, yet knowing that "it is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

But all who saw him showed no surprise, for in doing the works of St, Francis in loving obedience, his face had been transformed. It was even lovelier than the mask.

This is how it is with the treasure of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. He possesses and takes hold of us, and we are transformed as we give ourselves to the living of this treasure in our daily lives.

This morning we celebrate the Rite of Confirmation for two of our young people--Kyra Ann Takamiya and Karyn Castro. Because both of them have grown up in this congregation and have been nurtured and sustained in this place, this is truly a community or a family celebration for all of us.

The Rite of Confirmation is also known as Affirmation of Baptism. What you are doing here this morning, Kyra and Karyn, is affirming the treasure and the promise of your baptism--a baptism that possesses you and takes hold of you.

In your lives you will hear a multitude of voices offering you popularity, vitality, success, and even great financial gain. Some of these voices maybe perfectly healthy and legitimate and offer you ways to live out the calling of your baptism.

But some of these voices will put you on a racetrack where you're simply chasing a fake and counterfeit rabbit, which isn't real--which also means that the race and your life isn't real.

Sometimes to your aggravation and frustration, those of us who are adults want to protect you from such voices because we know well what harm and damage these voices can do to your lives. But unfortunately, we don't always have this kind of power and control.

Besides, sometimes it seems that we at least have to walk in the direction of such voices and even flirt with them before we realize the vastness and the magnitude of the treasure that holds us come what may.

St. Paul tries to capture the magnificence and the splendor of this treasure when he boldly proclaims, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, not things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This is the treasure that claims and possesses you, Kyra and Karyn. May this treasure claim all of your energy and the totality of your being, and may you find joy as you give your lives to the living of this treasure wherever the journey of life takes you.


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