"Why Our Treasure Is Hidden"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - April 6, 2003

Psalm 51:1-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34

     As we approach the time commonly referred to as "Holy Week," please pay close attention to the steadiness of Jesus as the drama swirling around him unfolds.  During the final days of his life, Jesus realized that he was powerless to change the mind of one of his disciples.  He experienced the abandonment of his closest friends. He witnessed injustice in its worst form.  He watched how shrewd the Jewish leaders were in manipulating Pontius Pilate to agree to a crucifixion. The list of life-reversals for Jesus goes on and on.  With the patience of Job, however, Jesus never wavered in his trust that his life was unfolding as it should.  As many of us know, this is very hard for us to do.

     This morning, we are going to examine the source of Jesus' control over his life even during the moments when his support systems were collapsing.  Was this source of control unique to Jesus because he was the Son of God, or is it available to all of us?  Jesus not only taught about this source but he did so from living in the midst of it.

     One of the curious qualities about this invisible world was that Jesus could list the qualities that would result from living in it, but he could not help anyone find it for themselves. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus described what the source does to and for people, but its existence was something he could not prove.  He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world."  For many of us, this too, is very hard to understand.

     Our text for this morning is one of the most well-known passages written by the prophet Jeremiah.  His words are the only reference in the Hebrew Bible dealing with a new covenant, i.e., a new relationship between God and humanity.  The prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah wrote about a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 11:19-20, 18:31; Isaiah 42:9, 43:19), but only Jeremiah captured the essence of what God intended to do at some future time.  Suggesting that the words were coming from God, Jeremiah wrote the following:         

The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this:  I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the Lord, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the Lord, have spoken.

     Jeremiah wrote these words approximately 580 years before Jesus was born.  Try to imagine a day when no one will have to teach what God had in mind for the human race.  If we take Jeremiah's words at face value, we will be bar-coded or imprinted with God's will so that all of us will be conscious of it.               

     But this interpretation of the Jeremiah passage may present a problem.  At some future time, is God going to add a new ingredient to the mix of  body, mind, emotions and spirit that we associate with being human beings? During creation, did God fail at putting all the necessary qualities within the human seed?  If so, then we are the only life form on earth that was created only partially. 

     Can we interpret Jeremiah another way?  Suppose this mysterious, invisible source of vast power over life has been part of us from the beginning of human history?  Further, could it be that Jesus was the messenger that pointed to Jeremiah's truth while proving its existence by living it? 

     We need to be reminded again and again that Jesus said, "Follow me."  In addition, he could have easily said, "I cannot give you this trove of life-treasures because you already have them. God gave them to you when you were born.  My hope is to awaken you to their infinite possibilities." 

     Why would Jesus hold such a carrot in front of us if living in the Kingdom of God was impossible to achieve?  We celebrate the joy of discipleship and yet, in the next breath, we claim that we are sinners, incapable of doing anything well.  Which is the truth? 

     Most of us cannot escape the tug-of-war within our spirits that results from all kinds of haphazard experiences.  We are flooded with information.  We are saturated with sensory overload.  We are bombarded with choices.  We process life-experiences at a pace that would have killed our ancestors.  We absorb all this while assuming our sponge is large enough. 

     Coming into our living rooms we have images of smoldering vehicles of war that were once operated by sons, daughters, dads or moms.  We rush around getting our kids ready for day care and preschool while we head into traffic patterns that are frequently gridlocked.  Increasingly we are eating in restaurants rather than preparing something more nourishing in our homes.  Fewer children are exercising.  As a result, many diseases generally associated with middle-age are outcropping at their age-levels. Teenagers settle for sexual intimacy rather than learning how to communicate with the person living in that body they can hardly wait to touch.  Medications that change our mood and anxiety levels are a 15 to 20 billion dollar industry.  What is happening to us? 

     Have you ever wondered what Jesus would say about such experiences? More than likely, he would have very little to say. That may sound surprising, particularly in light of that bumper sticker which says, "Jesus is coming soon and boy is he mad!"  The symptoms of the human condition have been around for centuries. Jesus did not specifically address these during his ministry, and it is highly likely that he would not do so today. Consequences were always meant as guides for future choices.

     He would simply teach what he taught before, "Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God's righteousness, and all the things that you need will be given to you." (Matthew 6:33)  Why would he address stress and anxiety when their cause is our inability to recognize what God has already written in our minds and hearts?

     We run to the external world as though it holds the keys to the Kingdom.  It does not, nor has it ever held the answers to anything about life. This is why historic themes like war, greed, strife and hatred continue to recycle in every generation.

     Jesus stood in the midst of such expressions, whether they came in the form of Roman occupation forces or the exploitative powers of the Sanhedrin, and radiated, "Love your neighbor.  Love your enemy."  We hear this message from him constantly but it is a struggle to communicate such love during our circumstances.  We always have a better way.  So did Judas.    

     Jesus pointed to the source of creative living with his life and teachings.  He demonstrated the existence of what cannot be proven through our senses.  When we quiet ourselves and trust what God has written in our minds and hearts, we will see with great clarity what will defeat the demons of our physical world. 

     Our task is to share the treasure of our talents, insights and abilities through the prism of love.  Jesus demonstrated that he could do so even from a cross.  When he did, a seed was sown that started the process of changing the consciousness of the entire human race. 

     One day, Jeremiah's words will come to pass. All of us will remember our identity as being one of God's infinite children.  It is the dawning of this day that fuels our hope.  The Kingdom of God is here and we can live in it any time we wish.  It is and has always been one choice away for all of us.


    Loving God, we long for the vision that would keep you ever before us.  Yet we confess that we cannot separate the wheat from the chaff.  We cannot recognize you in the experiences that challenge us, nor do we see you as we are being blessed by the unexpected.  Only in hindsight do we see your footprints in events where we were sure we stood alone.  As we continue to follow your Son, inspire us to trust as he did.  Enable us to desire faith over fear.  Guide us to remember that we do not need to understand why life's events happen as they do.  May we remember that when humanity created the darkest of days, you took a cross and turned it into an empty tomb.  Amen.


    Merciful God, how wonderful it is to have our church family surround us as it does now.  We do not all believe the same way.  We each have our personal reversals that surprise us with the unexpected.  We know that life moves us through moments that are profoundly sad and yet we live in such an abundant, beautiful world, that our blessings overwhelm us when we bring them into our minds. 

    Thank you for creating us both to give and receive love, for the wonderful sense of fellowship and for how accessible you are to us through prayer.  We have been over stimulated of late with images of war, with arguments that defend a particular point of view over another and with  our compassion for the families whose children or parents on either side of our current conflict will not be coming home. Quiet and comfort every soul who has come home to you. 

    We pray for our President, for members of the Congress, for all those whose decisions impact the lives of so many others.  Being a world leader is a challenge few of us would ever want, and so we cling to our corner of the world.  As we pray for peace, help us not to expect it from others before we seek to display it from within ourselves.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .