Henry Mora saw an opportunity and seized the day.
A gold detector tested positive near the patio in the front yard of his Montclair, California, home and he figured this might be something big. So he grabbed a shovel and started digging. While he only intended to go down three or four feet, ten days and sixty feet later the Montclair Fire Department showed up, sidestepped the hole and shut down the whole operation. The hole was as deep as it was going to get and no significant amount of gold had been discovered. The city officials commented that the homeowner had gotten carried away and they were lucky that no one had gotten hurt in the process. The hole has been fenced off and Mora is required to work with a civil engineer to correct the situation. Interesting that a hole could cause such a stir.
I've wondered a time or two if Jesus based his parable about the kingdom of heaven being like treasure buried in a field on a real-life event, or if he discovered the image buried in his own imagination. The Gospel stories of the Biblical-era Henry Mora are simple and to the point. "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13:44)." Apparently the main character in the parable was a little more adventuresome, or a little crazier than Mr. Mora. At least our modern-day treasure hunter already owned the land on which he was digging and didn't risk everything on an expedition that turned out to give him nothing back. And therein lays the question. When are we supposed to take risks with our lives and when are we supposed to stop digging, fill up the hole and go home?
Questions are a good place to start regarding Jesus parables. He taught using these compact, seemingly-obvious lessons to draw people in and then encourage them to really think about how the stories spoke to their faith and informed their lives. The people with whom Jesus conducted his ministry were from a variety of backgrounds. Some were farmers, others were shepherds or trades people. Those differences didn't matter because everyone living in the Roman Empire in the first century understood who was in charge. Rome's kingdom stretched far and wide, fully beyond most people's comprehension.
But when Jesus spoke of a kingdom of heaven, people wanted to know what that meant. Would God’s kingdom be like Rome's? That couldn't possibly be, so they asked Jesus, and themselves, what a kingdom with God as ruler would be like. Establishing that God's kingdom would be based in justice, mercy and love, all good things, the hunt to find the kingdom of heaven, wherever it may be, was on. Where should they look? Where should they start? Eventually these questions would bring them to Jesus' simple affirmation that the kingdom of heaven was already among them. But how could something so glorious be here on earth, especially an earth they mostly knew to be harsh, painful and oppressive?
Jesus gives them several examples, one of which is to see that the kingdom of heaven is so precious and rare that someone's joy in discovering it makes them act in ways that the world would describe as crazy. The kingdom of heaven is a treasure, hidden away on a piece of property that this person discovers by chance. But they recognize what it is, hide it again, and come back with every asset they have laid on the table to buy the land that holds the treasure. We don't know what happened after that, but we do know the original owner wasn't aware of the wealth their land held. Some people seem to be able to see the kingdom of heaven, know its true worth and be willing to put everything they have into making it their own. Seeing it and not realizing what it is would do the person no good. Neither would seeing it and recognizing its worth without being willing to stake everything on buying it. Awareness, recognition and investment, risking it all, is the way to discovering the kingdom of heaven. Faith is the answer if you have asked the right questions, and works embody that faith fully and deeply.
Henry Mora hasn't mentioned whether he was seeking more than gold in digging his front yard hole. If he was he is honoring the Biblical tradition of inner joy and outer silence. Seeking the kingdom of heaven is to be first on our list, and we are told that everything else will follow. Henry Mora's story is a modern reminder, a parable for today that tells us to pay attention, recognize God's kingdom and its priceless value when we see it and to be willing to give everything we have to claim it as our own. It doesn't matter how high the risk is of our friends and neighbors thinking we are crazy. Chances are they owned the land in the first place.
Every morning I honor three familiar Moravian traditions: Reading the Moravian Daily Texts, writing in my personal journal and drinking coffee.
I love that these traditions, devotional study, personal reflection on God’s activity and fellowship with a favorite beverage, have been part of our community for generations. Each one offers a steadfast reminder of God’s love over the course of time. More so, they are avenues of grace, vital practices that cultivate my faith. They assist me in knowing, loving and serving God in the life I am living now.
As I sip my coffee, I often think of God as Great Mystery, which requires me to pay attention and listen as a disciple. A wonderful Roald Dahl quote hanging on my refrigerator helps point me along this path of deeper awareness: “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in the magic will never find it.”
Compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit and forgiveness, these are all first nurtured by observing the way Jesus interacted with people, then seeing how people responded to Him. That is God’s grace in action. It’s fluidity and beauty isn’t magic, but it surely feels like that when we trust ourselves, God and the very human examples we are privy to in so many of our daily readings, that are also still so relevant in our own relationships.
God’s wisdom is unconventional, and it takes intention and practice to experience the full power of its richness in this unfolding plan. Even within a basic routine, I don’t know what the day will bring. But Great Mystery teaches me to see everything as being done for me, not to me, and always in ways that make sense to me.
These daily verses you and I share, and the reflections I write in response to them, have taught me several important life lessons.
One lesson is that how I talk to myself matters. Harsh criticism rarely helps and often hinders. The prophet Jeremiah, sharing God’s message with those experiencing the Babylonian exile, wrote, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). My internal fluency is improving.
Another lesson is to hear other people’s words without attaching how I feel to what I am hearing. Taking a deep breath, asking a question when I don’t understand or need more information are helpful in discerning what someone meant, or didn’t mean, in how they used their words.
This lesson’s close cousin is to remember that each of us thinks in our own way, and usually not the way that I think. It is here that I am called to claim the full truth of God’s equal and abundant love for each of us. To stay in this stride is to always do my best to pay attention for and respond to God’s activity in my life.
As I continue to sip my coffee, copying the weekly watchword, daily verses and my own watchword for the year, I also write about the intricate weaving of conversations and events that reveal God as Incomprehensible Orchestration all around me. I love catching onto what God has done, how I have welcomed my own participation, and, sometimes, how my fears may have kept me on the edge of a great step forward.
Incomprehensible Orchestration is about faith as a verb.
Faith is risk and with risk comes fear. But making the effort to understand how God has worked makes seeing God in action much easier. And with that ease comes greater trust the next time the chance comes to act. This is the greatest lesson my morning devotional time has taught me: Perseverance proves out in the end when I trust what I know to be God in action.
Although my devotional time is private, I’m pleased to spend time with people you know too.
Remember Lydia? We visited earlier this summer. She was a purple cloth dealer from Thyatira and a worshipper of God. She listened intently, eagerly, to what Paul had to say, having allowed God to open her heart. Fellowship is something that we Moravians hold dear. Lydia is someone I want to have coffee with again soon.
Reading the Daily Text, keeping journals and drinking coffee in fellowship with one another are beautiful Moravian traditions. They remain fresh as powerfully rich transformational resources. They are custom tools by which we shape ourselves, grow our community, by God’s grace in action among us.
*Author's Note: I wrote My Back to School Prayer in the fall of 2005, but felt it was still timely today.
Our neighborhood school bus just deposited its cargo at the corner down the block from my house.
It's taken me awhile to settle back into the routine of not nearing playful screams and giggles outside, seeing bicycles dart up and down the street and waiting to have the winner declared for the twilight street hockey games.
Children bring vitality and a lively rhythm to the neighborhood, and I missed that most when the first bus comes, collecting and containing all that energy and exuberance on its journey to be educated and shaped for the future.
I suppose it is timely then, that I am beginning to receive requests to add my name to others that support formalized prayer as part of the school day, petitions that ask me to tell President Bush to reinstate school prayer.
Although I appreciate and respect the expression of faith represented in these requests, I do not believe that this gift from God can or should be placed in the hands of our political leaders or our educators for distribution to our children.
Implied in petitions of this sort is that prayer can only happen in school if President Bush signs a law into being, and then tells us is a requirement. Do we really believe that our elected officials hold such power, and if we do, is that power greater than the relational capacity of God's grace to work through us and among us?
Over coffee a few days ago, my friend claimed her right and responsibility as a parent and a person of faith to teach her children about prayer. That includes when they can pray, where they can pray, and helping them develop their relationship with the God to whom they pray.
I respected her passionate commitment to give her children a firm foundation from which to launch themselves into the world, and her recognition that when we choose legalized prayer in schools we are one step closer to a state-sponsored religion that excludes many other religions.
00That crossed a line for both of us into the waters of unconstitutionality.
While we both believe we must live our faith as a consistently integrated part of our lives, we do not believe that dictating a specific religious agenda, especially as basic as communicating with one's Creator, is what a living faith exemplifies.
For myself, I am at a loss as to why some people believe that not having a school prayer law keeps people from praying at school. How can a law determine anyone's words from their heart and soul to their God or from their God to them?
Implicit in all discussion raised in the debate for school prayer laws is the belief that an exterior social structure can limit or deny human access to God, and that God has no say in the matter at all. Prayer being a communicative act between human beings and God, my understanding is that God has a full voice in the matter.
The Bible is clear that nothing separates us from God or God's love for us. I would add that nothing can keep us from communicating with God, talking and listening, except our own free will.
As much as our citizenship in the United States informs our lives, it does not exist to abdicate to our government our personal authority in our children's lives or to limit someone else's faith by seemingly expanding and making us feel more comfortable with our own.
Prayer already exists in schools. How else do some teachers make it through the day and return to their jobs the next?
What can increase prayer in schools on the part of the students is not a government-mandated rule to pray, but parents teaching their children about prayer, and how they can use available time at school to pray in a way that makes sense for them.
Prayer is a gift from God to steward wisely as an instrument of faith, not a weapon of politics or a theology of control. My back-to-school prayer is that those who choose to pray will have been taught how, and will know that it is their choice, as people of faith, to pray whenever they can, wherever they can.