He said to them, “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

Early last week, I made one of the silliest mistakes that preachers make.

I was in Kroger, absent-mindedly running through my grocery list. It was short: apples, broccoli, parmesan, cereal, walnuts, yogurt, deodorant. My mind wasn’t on the task at hand.

I was thinking about Wanda Hodge’s memorial service, about the Open House we had yesterday, about my dad’s upcoming hip surgery, about taking our dog in for a check-up, about the massive mystery plants growing in our front bed, and dinner plans and emails to return and all the rest.

And, in the back of my mind, I was thinking about this sermon. This is where I made my mistake: in the quietness of my heart, for a brief moment, I prayed for a good anecdote to open a sermon.

This is an instantaneous way to wreck a day, to be honest.

With seven items in my cart, I headed toward the checkout lanes. The lines of shoppers were tangled and confusing, but the express lane looked nearly empty. Giddy at my good luck, I made my way to the 15 items or fewer sign.

There, I saw one of the most horrifying things you can witness in a Kroger without actually working there: someone trying to purchase two full carts of groceries. Two full carts. In the express lane.

Yesterday, at the Open House, Gary Huffenberger asked me about the Quaker testimonies. We started with integrity, and I talked to him about the Light. Both early and contemporary Friends have understood this Light as a description of the presence of God.

A light can bring comfort, like a nightlight. Or it can bring guidance, like lamps along a lighted path. It can bring warmth, like the sun, or joy, like a strand of Christmas lights.

But it can also be like a flashlight, or a searchlight, and earlier Friends emphasized this more than we tend to today. It can seek out things that are kept secret. This process of bringing hidden motivations and desires into the light is always healing, in the end, but it isn’t always pleasant in the moment.

There is nothing quite like someone with two carts of groceries in the express lane, to expose the unmerciful layers of my heart. I mean, it was fairly obvious what had happened. She was busy and flustered, and the space in front of the checkout lanes was full of preoccupied people like her and like myself, and she had just ducked into the first lane she could find.

She didn’t have red horns, or a pointed tail, or the guilty look of someone who was cheating on purpose. She was just oblivious. It wasn’t intentional.

She didn’t set out to wreck my day, and even if she had, it wasn’t as though spending an extra five minutes in Kroger was going to be the death of me.

Did this awareness and knowledge stop me from acting like my entire life was being destroyed by each and every packaged scanned? I’d say the results were mixed, maybe somewhere in the B-minus zone if you were going to grade it.

There was some flouncing involved, but I think it flew under the radar. More importantly, when the frazzled shopper turned to me and said that she didn’t understand why there wasn’t someone helping with bagging, I could explain the problem kindly while helping her empty her second cart onto the conveyor belt.

Not perfect, but better than I’ve been. I can see where I’m growing. The Light shows me parts of myself that still aren’t surrendered to love, and bit by bit I peel my fingers back and let them go, moving toward sympathy and wholeness.

This is an old Quaker image of growing in holiness by letting oneself be seen in the Light. George Fox wrote about this transformative power of being seen. He said, “stand still in that which is pure, after ye see yourselves; and then mercy comes in… Stand still in that which shows and discovers; and then doth strength immediately come.”

Stand still, when the Spirit shows you yourself for who you are. Don’t run away. Stand still.

That’s so hard. It feels like judgment at first, but then comes mercy and strength and compassion- because you’re being seen by the God who loves even the brokenness you can’t yet see.

In this image all our flaws are seen, but they’re seen by love- so the more we can let go, the more we are surrounded only by love. It’s the things we hide behind, the false sense of safety that we create by avoiding the light, that holds us back.

It’s an old Quaker image, or at least my version of it. I didn’t grow up Quaker, though, so it’s relatively new to me. I have this image because someone ran into their storeroom, as Jesus puts it in the verse Duane read, and brought it out for me.

Someone looked at me and said, you know what you need? A better understanding of holiness. Hang on, I’ve got something for you, and then they pulled this image out of their storeroom and I’ve been using it ever since.

Someone shared it. That’s how we learn.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells parable after parable, offering image after image. You’ve got nets, hidden treasure, pearls. You’ve got weeds, and mustard seeds, and a farmer throwing seeds on hard rocks and beaten paths and briar patches and good soil.

Each of these things – the sower, or the pearl, or the net – illustrate some aspect of the kingdom of God: the lives and communities and work in which love reigns.

Having given all these confusing, multi-layered stories, Jesus asks, “Have you understood all these things?”

“Yes,” they replied, because that’s the nice thing to say even though we never fully understand, even when there’s always more to know.

He said to them, “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.”

Ok, that’s only one verse, but it’s the kind of writing that makes the ghost of Hemingway arrive to chuck your typewriter out a window. Maybe it works in Greek, but not so much in English. Let me try that again:

Imagine a scribe, someone in charge of teaching the Torah to the people. If this scribe becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven – the kingdom that Jesus is telling stories about – then he can be compared to the owner of a house. From his storage, he’ll bring out all sorts of treasures: both new and old.

The scribes were in charge of teaching the tradition. It wasn’t an unchanging tradition – no tradition ever is. Just the same, though, the teachers of the law weren’t given the authority to change the law, any more than law school professors today get to write and sign legislation.

An author writes as they are led. A scribe writes as they are told. I don’t say that as a way of putting scribes down. It’s hard and faithful work to retell a story well. Accuracy is a high goal.

These scribes have been working hard to conserve their tradition. In response, Jesus doesn’t tell the scribes that the Gospel means that everything already in their house is worthless. The old treasures they’ve been keeping really are treasures.

Rather, he says that if they become disciples of the new kingdom that he’s talking about, they’ll have old treasures and new treasures. Jesus doesn’t denigrate what they have already. He simply offers them more.

Maybe they didn’t know their own storerooms as well as they thought they did. Maybe their definition of treasures will expand. Maybe new people will come to visit, bearing treasures that they haven’t seen.

We can be stunned by beauty when we find images that we’ve never seen before. And we can be just as stunned when we hear words we’ve heard our whole life, but suddenly a new layer of meaning opens up.

We need people who remind us of old stories, and people who tell new stories. We need both historians and prophets, both people who tell us how God has been with us in the past, and people who give us glimpses into how God is calling us into the future.

Maybe you’re the miner. You could spend your whole life plumbing the depth and the riches of common Biblical images of God. God is a rock. God is a shepherd. At Christmas, God is a child.

The more you make use of that language, the richer it can become. Each time you use it layers build, one by one, until you have a beautiful pearl in your hands.

Or, maybe you’re the explorer. You can reach into the Christian tradition and bring out the rare gems, the ones we forget about. Diamonds are a dime a dozen compared to these. God is a wild dog, perhaps, or a fire, or a woman in labor- those are all Biblical.

Alexandrite is a gem that changes color, when the light changes. You don’t quite know what you’re holding. Maybe it’s worth exploring. Grab a friend and a cup of coffee and get to work.

Maybe you’re the poet. You’re called to envision the kingdom in new ways. Here’s an image for you, one that I ran across yesterday. Play with it and see if it works:

Zebra finches have a special song that they sing to their eggs, if the weather is warming too much. When the embryo hears the song, they start to develop faster. They hatch sooner than normal, and smaller, and their smaller size keeps them cooler in the nest.

While that’s a very particular interaction, lots of birds speak to their eggs, such that the chicks recognize their parents’ voices when they hatch. I think there’s something beautiful about this image of singing to that which is still in the shell, still waiting to make a first appearance. Singing to give it direction and encourage it to grow and help it to recognize the voice of the singer.

Maybe that’s a treasure, and maybe it isn’t. I only thought of it yesterday, so I don’t really know. Maybe it’s a rough gem needing to be cut and shaped.

My point is that the miners remind us of the beauty of the images we know and trust: the shepherd with the sheep, the wise king, the potter with the clay. We need that beauty. We need that depth.

And the explorers and the poets offer us the beauty of the unfamiliar. Lesser known things from within our tradition. Things from other traditions. Things that are still coming into being.

We need that beauty. We need those new openings.

Of course, all of this is relative. All of us have a storehouse of images that have mattered to us. Your old tradition might be someone else’s breakthrough.

That’s exactly what happened to me, with the image of being examined by the Light. For someone else, it was part of the old tradition. For me, it was a new thing- one that I have because someone was generous and courageous enough to share a new understanding of the Gospel with me.

I’ll leave you with one more image, then with a question. The image is that of a rock tumbler. It’s an image we used in seminary, but I think it works in lots of places to describe the experience of community.

You load up a tumbler full of rocks and turn it on. They start banging and crashing into each other. It sounds unpleasant. If you were one of the rocks, you might say that it felt unpleasant.

Sometimes being in a community doesn’t feel great. But then you open the tumbler, and what comes out? Beautifully polished stones. It turns out that the blows you thought were breaking you were transforming you instead.

That’s not a Biblical image. There’s a proverb, though, that on the surface seems the opposite of the rock tumblr metaphor, but at root means much the same thing: as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

New light is searching for you, Friends. It’s coming from the religious experiences that you’ve had, from the tradition you hold, from the storehouse you know. And it’s coming, too, from the mysterious beyond, from the kingdom of love that surrounds you, from teachers you can’t even guess at.

So. As our Queries put it, to be asked by each one of us in our hearts: Am I open to new Light and Truth from wherever it may come?