January 15, 2023
 “(Un)Hidden Treasure” — Rev. Brent Gundlah

I don’t think I’ve ever told you this, but I grew up in the antiques trade; my mom’s been in that business for most of my life. When I was very young, many of my weekends and school vacations consisted of me being dragged (against my will) to garage sales and auctions looking for needles in a haystacks or, as Mom used to say, diamonds in piles of… well, you get the picture.

I complained constantly back then about having to do this but I’ve since grown to love searching in dusty spaces and out-of-the-way places for hidden treasures.

But people in that business can be really competitive and territorial; once they’ve found a place with quality goods at cheap prices that only they know about, they tend to keep it a secret. Even my own mother has sources that she not disclose to me.

I totally get where Mom is coming from, though; sometimes it’s awful when you finally find that thing you’ve been looking for and realize that others have found it too.

I went to an auction once — it was a fancy one that had printed catalogs with color pictures and descriptions of all the items they were going to sell, along with high and low estimates of what the price would be. I was just there to watch because the stuff was way out of my league, but auctions make for good theater — and if you don’t actually buy anything, it’s also free theater — which is nice.

Now, I managed to pick-up a few insights about auctions after sitting through so many of them over the years. One is that they don’t tend to sell the best stuff at the beginning. Another is that you really have to focus on the room to understand what’s going on.

There was a painting for sale in the first ten lots that day; it didn’t look like much to me and had a pretty low estimate in the catalog — like I said, the best things don’t generally come up that early. But after the first couple of items sold and this painting was about to go on the block, you could sense that the energy in the place was changing. A bunch of people who had just been talking and milling about suddenly became really quiet and focused. Their indifference up to that point had been an act. Each of them thought they knew something about this painting that no one else knew.

The bidding opened low but then it took off like a rocket. The piece ended up selling for well over a hundred thousand dollars — as it turned out, it was actually a rather desirable work of art. It was really fun to watch this drama unfold; but for the actual bidders, it probably wasn’t all that much fun. You could see the dejection their faces when all those other hands started going up — and the price along with them; it was, for them, as though the air had been let out of a balloon. Sure, each of them had found what they’d been looking for, but a bunch of people had found it too. The power of the knowledge that each of them had was diminished the instant they realized that others also had it, and the treasure quickly slipped out of their reach.

In today’s reading from John’s Gospel we discover, among other things, that John the Baptist would have made a lousy art dealer. He finally finds what he’s been searching for — namely, Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God — and he simply cannot keep this discovery a secret, not even for a second.

Put yourself in John’s shoes (which were probably sandals, if he even wore shoes). You know the Messiah is coming and you know that you’re the one who’s been sent to pave his way because God has told you so — in fact, God has told only you so.

You’re out there day after day in the desert eating locusts and honey, waist-deep in the Jordan River, baptizing everyone who wants to be baptized. And as each person comes up out of the water, you look at their faces hoping that the Spirit will descend upon them — like the one who sent you told you it would — to make clear that this person standing there in front of you is the one you’ve been waiting for.

And then it happens. On a day that seems as though it’s going to be like all the rest, you see Jesus coming toward you and suddenly you just sense that it’s him; you know what nobody else knows at this point: he’s the one.

And you’re so completely dumbstruck that you can hardly breathe and yet you somehow muster up the wherewithal to shout out the words: “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” because you just have to tell everyone about this treasure you’ve found.

This is pretty incredible because it’s really not in John’s best interest to stand there yelling these things at the top of his lungs. Think about it: John’s managed to gather a substantial and devoted following of his own out there in the wilderness — a whole lot of people believe that he’s a prophet on the level of Moses and Elijah; and some of them are even convinced that he’s the Messiah. The lousy food and the waterlogged feet notwithstanding, this is a decent gig that John’s got going for himself; why on earth would he do anything to mess it up? But none of these thoughts even seem to enter John’s mind. And John’s proclamation of Jesus’s exalted status is hardly an impulsive, one-time thing; in fact, he talks about it with everyone he meets.

Now, if John’s inability to keep his newfound treasure a secret would have made him a really lousy art dealer, then he probably wouldn’t have made great a parish minister either. For starters, a lot of people would have found his constant screaming about the need to repent a little off-putting. And now he’s actually encouraging people to stop following him and to start following Jesus.

It’s as if John were saying, “Look, I’m glad you want to be a member of this congregation, but you really need to go join that one instead.” What minister in their right mind would ever do that? I mean, if John had a Church Council to answer to, they’d be reconvening the Search Committee at this point. But John doesn’t care about such things.

Yet John seems to understand something about the Gospel that other people often don’t — in fact, he senses it at the very core of his being: the good news is not a treasure to be hoarded; it’s one to be shared — with everyone.

You see, the gospel is not the privileged possession of any one person or any one people, in any one place, at any one time; it’s for all people, everywhere and for all time. It’s not an artifact whose value is maintained when it is held in secrecy and darkness; it’s true worth can only be realized when it is openly shared with others in the bright light of day. The more we actually live the gospel in community, the more precious it becomes and the better off we all are.

After John encourages his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?” They respond with a question of their own; they ask where Jesus is staying. His answer, as usual, isn’t very clear; “Come and see,” is all that he says. The two new disciples follow Jesus and discover the place in which he’s staying, but I don’t think that this is what Jesus meant when he extended the invitation to follow him, to “come and see.”

After all, where does Jesus really stay? Where does Jesus actually abide?
The answer, of course, is in all of the places where he brings hope and healing;
in all of the places where love of God and neighbor is real;
in all of the places where justice is done and kindness prevails;
in all of the places where the poor and the oppressed are valued and cared for; in all of the places where the good news is proclaimed and lived.

So, how are we — as people who profess to be followers of Jesus and his gospel — proclaiming the good news in all that we say and all that we do? How are we inviting all God’s people to “Come and see” where Jesus abides?

Because sometimes it’s pretty awesome when you find what you’ve been looking for and can help other people find it too.