You Shall Be a Peculiar Treasure

3B5BC7A2-5E58-4D79-8D37-9322235F23C1

 

Imagine yourself in a big city in a crowd of people.  What it would be like to see all the people in the crowd like Jesus does — an anonymous crowd with old ones and young one, fat ones and thin ones, attractive ones and ugly ones—think what it would be like to love them.  If our faith is true, if there is a God, and if God loves, he loves each one of those.  Try to see them as loved.  And then try to see them, these faces, as loved by you.  What would it be like to love these people, to love these faces — the lovable faces, the kind faces, gentle compassionate faces?  That’s not so hard.  But there are lots of other faces — disagreeable faces, frightening faces, frightened faces, cruel faces, closed faces. …they are all peculiar treasures.  In Exodus, God said to Israel, “You shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.”  God meant it for all of us.
~Frederick Buechner from The Remarkable Ordinary

 

12D508F1-7975-4753-9C06-0C545E012C84

 

E852F198-4188-4A20-8CDC-9CE3C15DEEC4

 

It doesn’t take long for us to be overwhelmed by humanity when we visit our family in Tokyo.  The airport is a shock of weaving lines of weary people and crying children, the trains are packed with people standing like sardines for an hour or more on their commute, the stations are a sea of bobbing heads flowing out onto the streets where the cross walks become a mass hive of activity whenever the light changes.

Yet we’ve been struck by the effort some locals make to help us foreigners who look lost, or who simply look different.  There is outreach at times that is spontaneous, genuine and completely unexpected.  Those are easy faces to love and we do.  What is much much harder to is love those hundreds of thousands who pass by us on their way to work, to shop, to return home.  How can I even begin to have the capacity?

What greeted Jesus as he entered the city in that final week was not friendly faces.  He loved them all any way, every single one of them peculiar treasures to him, forgiven and redeemed.

I realize I’m not very friendly too much of the time.  Yet he still loves me too, flaws and all, as his redeeming grace is meant for one such as me.  Because of his love, I can become the real thing, not just a reflection of what I think I should be.

 

96FA8FEE-F5A7-4DFF-8064-73211591068A

 

F18EC6DB-F629-4B0D-80A2-DDA6451DD95B

Preparing Through Parable: To Change Your Mind

FAD0C2CA-89E5-486D-A5DB-DBF7CE983F1C

 

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Matthew 21:28-32

 

165AEEF2-2954-42A9-A1EA-CC2F9CF19C7C

 

changedpriorities

 

We are given a chance to change the direction we are heading.  When we are going head-long into the biggest potholes of life, especially those we have created ourselves, then time has come to turn around.  If we ignore all the signs that make clear the dangers ahead, we’ll end up bruised and bashed instead of blooming.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

2A438796-D08C-4940-9471-F6FCFB275425

 

92C4CC4D-E9E7-4A68-B357-130ABB3C228B

 

Preparing Through Parable: Commending the Prudent

morning315184

 

sunrise313189


“There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.
Luke 16:1-8

 

sunrise313185

 

sunrise313184

 

I don’t easily understand how this parable is teaching better Christian living.  It describes a calculating and opportunistic manager who, being booted out the door when his dishonest practices are discovered, nevertheless manipulates his rich employer to ensure his future security.  Prudent?  apparently.  Shrewd? yes.  Unethical?  absolutely.

Yet the employer commends his former manager for his forward-thinking actions, as self-serving as they are.  And no, he doesn’t get his job back.  He is part of the world and its darkness.

But “people of the light” should be even more plan-full and prudent with the resources we are given so richly.  As we are illuminated by the Spirit, so shall we illuminate.

The Light is turned on.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

sunset113187

 

IMG_2257

Preparing Through Parable: Go Out to the Country Lanes

 

 

 

 

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
Luke 14: 16-24

 

 

 

 

 

We all have our excuses.   I have plenty to spare.

Too tired, too busy, too stressed, too committed, can’t be bothered.

I’m not paying attention to the generosity of the offer — all that is asked of me is to say “YES!” to the invitation.  I may not be asked again if I turn it down the first time, so no more excuses.

Then I too will search those city streets, alley ways,  roads and country lanes for there is still room.  There is still room for all without excuse.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

Preparing Through Parable: Be Patient With Me

 

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Matthew 18: 23-34

 

 

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32

 

 

How can we not forgive in the same way we have been forgiven?

How can we not gift in the same way we have been gifted?

How can we not show compassion and mercy in the same way we have been granted mercy?

We will be judged; this parable leaves no doubt.

We are debtors forgiven.  In return we are transformed from the inside out, our dim light shining in the darkness.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

Preparing for Parable: New Treasures as Well as Old

cellardoor

 

Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.
Matthew 13:52

 

rootcellarwinter

 

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath. 
~Theodore Roethke “Root Cellar”

 

rootcellarsteps

 

 

 

rootcellarjars2

 

On our farm there is an underground storehouse in the form of a root cellar. I tug on the handle of the heavy cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator.  At the bottom of the stairs, I open the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place.  A rush of cool earthen air blows back at me as if displaced by the light that has rushed in.  Until I snap on the lights, it is as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo.  This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light.  Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.

This is the old, waiting for me to partake and be nurtured. The old covenant.

It has been awhile since my last visit.  As the lights blink on, I blink too in unbelief.  There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer stands still as it had through the winter.  Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness.   In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and have set out on a mission to get there.  The naked shoots are so entangled one with the other, it feels voyeuristic, as if I were witnessing something private and personal.

I gather them up,  apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny.  A trench must be dug, so they are placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that is more commencement than coda.

And so the eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.  Through a glass darkly, we try to understand – no more dust, cobwebs, murkiness.

This is the new, reaching out to us, never to leave us the same ever again.  The new covenant, a new life.

…even the dirt kept breathing a small breath…

Was blind, but now can see.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

rootcellarjars

 

IMG_1113

Preparing Through Parable: In His Joy

goldenoctmorn6

 

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Matthew 13:44

 

octevening2912

 

morning1110174

 

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
~e.e. cummings from Complete Poems 1904-1962

 

goldenmornoct3

 

Many of us are just going about our lives, not expecting much from each day that passes by.  Each moment is like the last and will be like the next and the next.

Imagine in the midst of the mundane and banal there is the discovery of a once in a lifetime treasure, a gift out of the blue that changes everything and changes you. You can’t bear to leave it behind, so in joy and celebration you sell everything you have, give away everything that previously mattered to you, knowing that the treasure you have found is the source of all joy and fulfillment.

This is what happens when people find the Word, sometimes in the most unexpected place, open it up and are embraced by it.  You hide it in your heart to keep it safe.  You want to know it is yours forever.

And it is.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

morning113162

 

eveningfields

Preparing Through Parable: A Yeasty Mix

toastedbread

 

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.
Matthew 13:33

 

snowybranch

 

An infant is a pucker of the earth’s thin skin; so are we. 
We arise like budding yeasts and break off; 
we forget our beginnings. 
A mammal swells and circles and lays him down. 
You and I have finished swelling; 
our circling periods are playing out, 
but we can still leave footprints in a trail whose end we do know.
~Annie Dillard from For the Time Being

 

drizzleplumbuds

 

…be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it.
Paul Harding in Tinkers

 

silverthawbud

 

We are all mixed together within the Word, created to bud and swell and yield and rise and transform the dough around us, even when we are hurting and frozen and drenched and dry.

Like yeast, we can make a difference to all that is flat and unyielding.  May it be so.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

febsprout

Preparing Through Parable: Like a Mustard Seed

mustardseed

 

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32

Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
Matthew 17:20

 

bayleaf

 

When I was eight years old, I spent my hard-earned chores allowance on a little round glass ball necklace containing a mustard seed at the front and a scripture verse on the back.  At that tender age, I considered my faith very tiny indeed, so the necklace gave me courage and confidence that it (and I ) could somehow grow and flourish.

As was true of most things I said or did in grade school, I was teased about wearing the necklace, so I decided to hide it under my blouses and sweaters, tucked safely away over my heart, right where it belonged.  It was simply enough for me to know it was there, even if no one else did.

My faith became tinier as it became hidden away, eventually to end up in my little jewelry box along with my banished necklace, locked away with a little key and nearly forgotten over the years.

No seed grows without nurture and care.  No faith grows when invisible to others.  Yet the Kingdom of God thrives in such inauspicious places as our shriveling hearts, growing large and protective for those of us with the tiniest of faiths.

Nothing is impossible in the Lord, only because of the Lord.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

backmustardseed

 

brancharm

Preparing Through Parable: The Seed Sprouts and Grows, He Knows Not How

steptoe7

 

butte4

 

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4:26-29

 

rows

 

This parable “supplies an admirable antidote to overcarefulness and despondency. Our principle work is to sow the seed. That done, we may wait with faith and patience for the result.”
~J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) Bishop of Liverpool

 

evening612163

 

In Galatians, Paul refers to God sending forth His Son “in the fullness of time.” It is one of my favorite expressions to remind myself that God’s timing is not linear so much as it is spherical – we find ourselves in the midst of His plans, surrounded by time rather than journeying from point A to point B.

The sowing of the seed,
its hidden growth underground,
its taking root and sprouting,
its dependency on the soil and water and sun to rise above the earth,
its development and maturation and fruition,
its harvest and completion
to feed and seed yet again.

It is a circle, not a line.

Such fullness we cannot understand when we are in the midst of it; such assurance we can feel surround us as we wait patiently for the harvest.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

396747_496652663682556_1002398142_n
Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

 

314753_496651617015994_783180103_n
photo by Tayler Rae