MATTHEW 13:231-33, 44-52
ST. AUGUSTINE’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
THE REVEREND BARRY GRIFFIN, RECTOR
Tis the season for parables. Last Sunday we heard a parable about the wheat and the weeds. Today we heard five parables. We heard about a tiny mustard seed that grows into a big tree. We heard about yeast that leavens and causes flour to expand. We heard about treasure hidden in a field, discovered by accident, and acquired. We heard about a pearl sought out intentionally and purchased at great price. Finally we heard about a net cast into the sea. Fish of every kind were captured. The good ones were kept. The bad ones were thrown out.
That’s a lot of parables. In the assigned Sunday readings of our lectionary, ‘tis the season for parables.
And today is our Annual Parish Meeting. In this sermon I will focus on one of the parables that seems apropos for our Parish Meeting. Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, the merchant went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
This merchant was intentional. He knew what he wanted. He searched for fine pearls. When he found a very special pearl, he went after it. He didn’t hesitate. He sold all he had and bought it outright. He didn’t bargain for a better price. He didn’t negotiate with the seller. As soon as he got his money together, he bought it. Because, who knows, someone else might get there in the meantime and snatch it away.
Have you ever wanted something so badly that you did something like that?
I have, just a few times. When I’ve seen something I’ve been looking for for years and I’ve been short of cash, I’ve made a run to the nearest ATM, gotten the necessary cash, and paid the price.
I’m not talking about impulse buying. I’m not talking about irresponsible spending habits. I’m talking about that pearl of great value that you’ve been looking for for years, perhaps for your whole lifetime.
Actually, I’m not talking about buying stuff. I’m not talking about possessions at all. I’m talking about values. That’s what this parable is about: values. It’s about valuing the right things. It’s about valuing things that matter the most.
Today is our annual parish meeting. Today we step back and value something that means very much to each of us: St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church.
Here’s a true story. Several weeks ago I heard it on C-SPAN when I woke up in the middle of the night. Author Christian Picciolini was the interview guest.
When he was fourteen years old Christian Picciolini stood on a Chicago street corner smoking a joint. A car stopped, and a man got out. The man was a recruiter for the American Neo-Nazi movement. He figured Christian was an easy target, and he was right. Within two years, Christian was a Neo-Nazi leader. He formed a punk rock group to spread the Neo-Nazi message, and he gained international notoriety. He preached violence and he participated in violent acts.
That was a long time ago. In his book Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead, Christian Picciolini chronicles his experience as a Neo-Nazi, his departure from that way of life, and his present day status as a “reformed extremist” who seeks to atone for his past deeds of hatred and violence.
He explains how he was recruited at the age of fourteen. Christian was the son of Italian immigrants. His mom and dad worked night and day. They worked hard to establish their business, and they had little time for family matters or for their son. Christian and his parents were estranged.
Christian was also estranged from his peers. He was not a good student. He was bullied. He felt alone and powerless. He wanted acceptance. He wanted power.
Many years later Christian Picciolini realized why he was attracted to the Neo-Nazi movement. He lacked three things they offered. He lacked identity. He lacked community. He lacked purpose.
These are basic human needs that everyone shares. If we don’t get these needs met in a positive environment we will get them met elsewhere.
I share this story with you today because I am convinced that Saint Augustine’s Church offers each of these three things.
We offer identity. We help people understand that they are children of God, that they are loved and cherished by God, that they are accepted and embraced by God, that each person is God’s beloved child.
We offer community. Saint Augustine’s is a place where everybody knows your name. You are celebrated and welcomed just as you are. There is no judgment here. But there is accountability. You are expected to do your part. We support each other. That’s what it means to be part of a family. That’s what it means to be part of a community.
We offer purpose. Our purpose is reconciliation. Our mission statement states our purpose clearly: to reconcile all people to unity with God and each other in Christ by providing a safe, loving and inclusive environment, celebrating community diversity, and sharing God’s gifts with all people.
Today is our annual parish meeting. Today we step back and take a look at our parish and why we love it and support it.
I see St. Augustine’s as a pearl. Like the pearl in today’s gospel, I see it as a pearl of great value. Many of us have been intentional in seeking out such a pearl, and we have found it here. In my experience, there’s nowhere else in this world quite like this place. It’s not a perfect pearl. But it’s the pearl of greatest value that I have ever known.
I thank you for that, because you are that pearl. You are St. Augustine’s, a pearl of great value.
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