I have a confession to make and I hope you don’t think less of me after I’m done; That’s right I love country music. I love listening to the new artists like Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Dean Brody and I love listening to the outlaws from the seventies like Willie and Waylon and Merle Haggard and I even love listening to people like Mel Tillis and Buck Owens, George Jones and Dolly Parton. And my parents are to blame, it’s the only think I blame them for, and that’s because I grew up on Country music. My folks listened to Country and Western and until I received a portable record player as a gift when I was eleven or twelve I listened to what they listened to, bizarre concept isn’t it? There were no iPods, no mp3 players, no diskmans, no walkmans, no boom boxes. But at least we didn’t have to crank them. And so for my formative years if there was a record on the hi-fi, we had hi-fi back then and they were furniture. So if there was a record on the hi-fi there was a pretty good chance that it was Johnny Cash or Farron Young, Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves
Now when I became a teenager my listening became a little more colourful, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. Did the Kiss thing and Alice Cooper, Trooper and BTO, but deep down hidden in the secret place of my heart was this love for country music. When I was in high school the radio station in Saint John CHSJ played country for two hours in the afternoon between 2 and 4 and my best friend hated driving home with me because you know the rule, my car, my radio.
Now all that being said a few years ago I was watching a biography on Jim Reeves. Reeves was a major player in country music scene in the 1960s until he was killed in a plane crash in July of 1964. My folks had a couple of his record so he is what I would call classic country. And in the biography I was watching the comment was made about the problems he had being accepted into the country music scene because he used horns and violins. Violins, not fiddles but violins in his music. And that just wasn’t country.
The funny thing is that some of the country music celebrities who were remembering Reeves as such an innovator and saying what an impact he had had on the genre were some of the old guys that I have heard dumping all over new country. And that isn’t unique in Country music, listen to the old rockers talk about the new music, listen to the old actors talk about the new breed of actors, or for that matter listen to older Christians talk about what they think of the church today, of the music, the way people don’t dress up today to come to church and after they get there they drink coffee in the sanctuary.
This is the tenth and last week of my Summer Preaching series, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like. . .” and since the middle of June my preaching has focused on the eight parables that Jesus began with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is like. . .” And we’ve travelled the roads of Palestine together as Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven to those who followed him using every day events to illustrate these eternal truths. A farmers spreading seed in a field, men picking grapes in a vineyard, a woman kneading bread in the kitchen, a fishing net being thrown into the sea. And through it all we have watched the Kingdom as it was planted, was cared for and flourished having an impact locally and globally.
And we started the series with an Inukshuk. Anyone want to buy a used Inukshuk? My first message was “The Kingdom of Heaven is like an Inukshuk” and it was based on a couple of premises. The first being that the Inukshuk would have been just the type of thing Christ would have used as an illustration had he been teaching in the Far North instead of the Middle East. Not many wheat fields, mustard plants or vineyards in Nunavut. But the primary reason for the Inukshuk would have been that it would be very easy to see how the characteristics of the Inukshuk are characteristics that we should see exhibited in Christ followers as they live out the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.
And in case this is the first time you’ve been out, or if like me your memory is getting shorter and shorter we’ve talked about how the Inukshuk provided landmarks in an environment where there were very few natural landmarks. In the same way the church is to provide landmarks in a culture where there seems to be very few moral landmarks. By the way, that is not necessarily unique to our time and culture almost three thousand years ago this was written, Judges 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
The second thing the Inuit relied on the Inukshuk for was to point them in the right direction, and we in the church are to point the way to God and heaven. And the third function the inukshuk served was to warn people of danger and the church still needs to be telling the world that there is a heaven to be gained but also there is a hell to be shunned.
So here we are at the end of the trail, and this parable does not reveal more clues about the Kingdom of Heaven, instead this tells us about the person who has embraced what Jesus has already taught about the Kingdom of Heaven.
Six of the eight parables that begin with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven is like. . .’ are contained in Matthew 13, and at the end of the chapter Jesus ties the entire package together with a bow when he says in Matthew 13:51 Do you understand all these things?” “Yes,” they said, “we do.”
And we have to assume they had caught what he had taught. Jesus’ intent was to make the things of God clear, Christianity was not one of the mystery cults shrouded in questions and hidden behind riddles. And Jesus seemed to make that assumption that they did indeed understand because he moves ahead saying, Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”
It is easy to dismiss this as simply referring to teachers and preachers. The various translations “Teachers of religious law” or “Teachers of the Law” or “Scribes” And that is always part of the issue of understanding the exact meaning of something written to a different culture in a different time.
For example, if I was telling you about a person who worked on a ship and referred to him as a stoker, you might know what I meant, that they were part of the engine room crew. But would you actually know what a stoker did? The term is still used sometime but it is totally irrelevant. Because the term originally referred to the crew member who shovelled coal into the coal fired steam engines of ships from a 150 years ago.
And so if we go back to the original language, do I bore you when I do this? The word that Jesus actually used in the Greek is γραμματεύς Grammateus, gram-mat-yooce and it meant either Scribe or Town Clerk, now we can probably safely assume that Jesus didn’t say Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every town clerk who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”
So that leaves us with the definition of Scribe, but what was a scribe? Well originally the scribes were the people who copied the texts of the Old Testament. When you stop and think of it that makes sense, there were no printing presses so everything was written out by hand, it was very time consuming and very exacting, and it was checked and double checked to make sure that nothing was altered.
Eventually when people had questions about the scriptures they went to the “Scribes” for their answers. By the time of the New Testament the word scribe had kind of morphed into meaning: learned teachers and authoritative leaders. They were primarily drawn from the priests and Levites, but there were also common people who were called scribes. Remember in the Christmas story when the wise men appeared before King Herod and he wanted to know where the Christ Child would be born we read this account Matthew 2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So that being said, Jesus was simply preparing his followers for a role that they would assume, and each one of us as a Christ follower fills this role, people are learning about Jesus from our words and from our actions, that’s kind of scary isn’t it? And so before you can instruct you have to be instructed, before your lips can speak knowledge your head must contain knowledge.
I remember a conversation I had with a barber who led a church in his home, and I have no problem with people that do that. However in our discussion we happened upon the topic of the length of hair that was appropriate on a man, don’t know why the topic came up but it did. And he told me, “Well Jesus had long hair” And I was intrigued because I tried to use that with my father when I was a teen to no avail. The closest I got to success with that was when I reminded Dad, “Jesus had long hair” to which he responded “Yes and he walked everywhere he went.”
So I asked the barber, “How do you know Jesus had long hair?” to which the man, who taught people the bible in his home responded “Because he was a Nazarite and they weren’t allowed to cut their hair.” Now the man was half right, Nazarites weren’t allowed to cut their hair, Numbers 6:2 & 5 “If any of the people, either men or women, take the special vow of a Nazirite, setting themselves apart to the LORD in a special way, “They must never cut their hair throughout the time of their vow, for they are holy and set apart to the LORD. Until the time of their vow has been fulfilled, they must let their hair grow long.
The problem is that as far as we know Jesus wasn’t a Nazarite, he was a Nazarene and the reason he was a Nazarene had nothing to do with a vow he took he was because he came from the town of Nazareth. And this man was teaching people about Jesus.
So let’s go back to our scripture, Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” The message is a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson, and I love the way Peterson writes this Matthew 13:52 (the Message) He said, “Then you see how every student well-trained in God’s kingdom is like the owner of a general store who can put his hands on anything you need, old or new, exactly when you need it.”
So what can we learn from this parable?
There is Junk and there are Gems Each one of us is a mixture of our past and our present. We all come to where we are via different routes and through that process we collect stuff. Stuff that is a result of what we have done and what people have done to us, but inevitably it has been the result of choices we made.
We’ve been through this before but before we can take control of our future we need to accept responsibility for our past. Notice that I didn’t say take the blame simply the responsibility. Every choice we make and have made in our life has shaped and will shape who we are. The choice you made when you were a child to pay attention in school or slack off, to hang out with good kids or bad kids, the decision of which university to go to, what job you would accept, who you would date and who you would marry, whether you would be a spender or a saver. We are who we are because of choices we have made.
Teens this is one of the most important things you will hear me say so listen up, the choices you make in your life right now will dictate who you will be in the future, so choose carefully.
And as a result of our choices our life is like the junk drawer in your kitchen. How many of you have a junk drawer? Sure it’s the place where you put stuff that you aren’t sure where to put it. And once in while you go through the drawer and discover stuff that has value and stuff that is junk.
So each of us today has junk in our lives and gems in our lives.
We Need to Ditch the Junk. Jesus doesn’t say this but it is certainly implied. If it is the gems that are brought out and used than implicitly what aren’t gems aren’t used. Not everything in your past are gems. Each one of us has in our life junk, hurts, habits and hang-ups. The result of what others have done to us and what we have done to others.
If we have been hurt by someone we need to forgive them and get on with life, and remember forgiveness is not an emotion it is an action, it is not something you feel it is something you do. And there is nothing in the bible that would indicate that someone has to ask for your forgiveness in order for you to forgive them. And in a lot of cases they don’t even know they hurt you, and you grumble and stew about it. Remember how Jesus taught us to pray Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And at the end of the Lord’s prayer Jesus adds this warning, Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
And if you are the one to blame then you need to go to the other person and make it right. Matthew 5:23-24 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
And maybe the junk in your life has nothing to do with other people, maybe it is habits that you have that you can’t seem to get control over or mistakes and choices from your past that you can’t seem to forgive yourself for. Understand that as a Christ follower when you asked Christ to forgive you he forgave you. King David had that figured out when he prayed in Psalm 51:7 Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. And if God, the creator of the Universe, master of all things, holy and spotless and pure can forgive you, what makes you think you are so special you can’t forgive yourself?
And it’s not just the past you need to examine; if you are a Christ follower the one you are following has certain expectations about how you behave and how you speak today. Jesus reminds us in John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.” That’s one of those verses that shouldn’t need a whole lot of explanation, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room there. John 14:15 “If you love me, obey my commandments.” If we take time to examine our lives today, are there behaviours that you know don’t belong in the life of a Christ follower? Habits and attitudes that you need to ditch if you are truly going to be obedient to Christ?
And it is the same in the church, just because it worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work today. And some things that were gems yesterday are junk today. The bus ministry that churches used incredibly well in the 1970’s would never work today. Imagine if you will going door to door in Kingswood to let people know that on Sunday a used school bus driven by a stranger would be by to pick up their children to take them to a church they had never attended. But it worked back then. Churches used to hold special meetings twice a year and fill their churches every night for a week. Of course there was little or no tv, kids weren’t involved in a dozen different things through the week and the special meetings were the biggest show in town.
A number of years ago I heard a Baptist preacher by the name of Ed Stetzer say “We sacrifice our children for our traditions.” Let’s be careful that the things that we value from the church of yesterday don’t become idols that we are worshipping today instead of Christ.
But that being said let’s go back to the original scripture again Matthew 13:52 Then he added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”
So along with the junk that we need to ditch We Need to Save the Gems Some times we are like the old time Country singers who thought Jim Reeves had no place in country music because he used horns and violins. And those folks need to be reminded of the truth of Philippians 3:13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. We can’t live in yesterday and we can’t saw sawdust, yesterday has been here and it is gone.
But there is another temptation and that is to think that only the new is worth anything and anything older than last week has no value. While there are things that we need to move past when we become Christ followers that is not to say that there is a line that is drawn in the sand and everything on the new side is good and everything on the old side is bad.
The apostles were all Jews, raised and steeped in the Jewish faith and Jesus was telling them to remember the things they had been taught about God and his commandments and to incorporate them into their new lives.
Jesus never commanded us to forget all we knew before we met him, instead we are to see that knowledge and experience in a new light and use it to serve him. Everyone one of us brings something to the table when we choose to follow Jesus. Our gifts, our talents and our experiences, and they are incredibly valuable if they are used right.
Again be wary of those who counsel people in their church to cut all ties with their past. There are gems to be saved.
And there are Gems from the church’s past that need to be saved and used. Just because it was used yesterday doesn’t mean it can’t be used today. And the church has 2000 years of history and knowledge to draw on. How many people either read the Da Vinci Code or saw the movie? Sure, it was touted as being this new discovery that would threaten the church and why hadn’t we been told anything about these things before? You ever watch or read legal thrillers when a lawyer objects to a line of questioning and says “That question has already been asked and answered.” Well, all of the questions raised in the Da Vinci code have been asked and answered over the past two thousand years.
The one thing I remember from my grade ten history class was the statement the my teacher made on our first day when he said “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.” I thought it was original with Mr. Seeley but he was referring to what is sometimes known as “Santayana’s Law of Repeating Consequences.” Which came from Spanish Poet George Santayana’s statement “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Later I came to understand the truth of Friedrich Hegel’s statement “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
So my challenge to you this week is to look for the gems in your life, the gems from yesterday and the gems from today and gather them together to be used for the Kingdom today and tomorrow, it was Hubert Humphrey who said “Our greatest songs are still unsung, our greatest days are ahead of us.”