“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges–
“Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!” ~ Rudyard Kipling
My uncle is a man of many interests and talents. One of his interests is collecting memorabilia and one of his talents is finding profit in doing so. A few months ago, he bought a collector’s set of GI Joe figurines for $700. These soldiers were still in their original boxes and hadn’t seen much combat duty in the battlefield of little children’s hands. A few days after purchasing the set, the seller contacted him and asked if he’d be willing to sell two of the fifteen he had just purchased. She said she knew someone else who was interested, and needed just two pieces in order to complete a set. As you would expect, my uncle was hesitant to turn around and sell what he had just purchased, saying, “I hate to break up the set but give me the person’s contact information and I’ll consider it.” He contacted the prospective buyer and the man said he was willing to buy two GI Joe collectibles for $4,200 in order to complete his own set. My uncle thought that made good business sense and, wisely, he agreed to it. While awaiting the cashier’s check, he admitted he was a little skeptical about the offer. But the check arrived. The following day, a FedEx envelope came to the house with an unlikely return address: One Steinbrenner Drive, Tampa, Florida. It turns out, the prospective buyer was Hal Steinbrenner, one of the co-owners of the New York Yankees. After the transaction was completed, my uncle received a picture from Steinbrenner with the G.I. Joe figurines proudly displayed in his training camp office.
That’s a great story. My uncle has better business acumen and decency as I probably would have held out for more. I would have required field level World Series tickets or tried to get Steinbrenner in a bidding war with the owner of the Boston Red Sox.“Yes sir, I will consider selling them to you but I must tell you, I have another prospective buyer interested in the two toy soldiers. Some guy named John Henry from Beantown. He really wants them and he’s offered a lot. How much are you willing to pay?”
I don’t think we ever outgrow our fascination with stories of hidden treasure and fortuitous discovery. We love the accounts of adventurous hunts and unexpected finds. I reflected on that this week while preparing for a sermon I gave yesterday morning.
A few days ago while at the tire shop, I watched a PBS special on the “lost cities of the Amazon”. It was a television version of the story told in a spellbinding book, The Lost City of Z, about Colonel Percy Fawcett who disappeared deep in the interior of the Amazon while searching for a lost civilization that he was certain existed. Then, the Sunday paper told of the growing popularity of geocaching, a modern scavenger hunt where people use GPS devices to find objects hidden somewhere nearby. Later in the day, I read how the Antiques Roadshow just had their highest appraised find ever, a collection of Chinese cups in Tulsa, Oklahoma that are valued at over $1 million. Still later in the day, I watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams which tells of the Chauvet Cave in southern France and the oldest collection of paintings known to exist. Back in 1994, three guys were looking for cavernous openings when they felt a draft, removed some rocks and repelled deep into the hollow of an unknown cave. What they discovered upon entering the cave was a Paleolithic art gallery displaying many different primitive animals. And then there’s Teri Horton. Who can forget that story? A seventy-three year old truck driver from Missouri, Teri goes into a thrift store and buys a painting for $5 as a gift to her discouraged friend. Turns out, that $5 painting might be a Jackson Pollack piece and worth $50 million. In the 2006 documentary film, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock, Horton is offered $9 million from a Saudi Arabian art collector but she holds out, wanting the art establishment to validate that the painting she has, is, in fact, a Jackson Pollock piece (it’s the principle of the thing, you see). And this morning, while on my way to the office, I noticed how many people slowly drive through neighborhoods looking in other people’s trash to find some valuable throwaways.
Taken together, these are stories of treasure. Stories of hidden treasure. Stories of treasures hidden in plain sight. Jesus used to tell stories describing the presence of God this way – the kingdom of God is not something a long time ago in a land far, far away, but right now, right here; at this time, in this place. The kingdom is “in your midst”, the kingdom is “at hand”, the kingdom is “within”. The gifts of God are somewhere on your property, in the grass underneath your feet and in the spice rack of your kitchen cabinet, in the particularities of your own personal history (the good, the bad, the ugly), in all that makes you, “you”. Like clues in the game of letter-boxing, like an easter egg hunt in tall grass, like a child’s game of hide-and-seek, “grace is everywhere”, (George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest).
Barbara Brown Taylor makes note of this when she writes in An Altar in the World:
“People seem willing to look all over the place for this treasure. They will spend hours launching prayers into the heavens. They will travel halfway around the world to visit a monastery in India or to take part in a mission trip to Belize. The last place most people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives. What possible spiritual significance could a trip to the grocery store have? How something as common as a toothache be a door to a greater life?
….the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.”