Summary: The man in the parable of the Pearl of Great Price knew that it was a treasure beyond all treasures; that it had value beyond all earthly values.

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The Great Treasure Hunt

Matthew 13:45-46

July 31, 2005

The September 6, 1999 issue of TIME Magazine contained an article about Extreme Sports. According to the TIME editors, members of Generation X have fewer real risks to face and therefore some feel the need to live out challenges through risky behavior. Extreme sports include things such as: caving, base jumping, bungee-jumping, mountain biking, and street luge.

In case you are wondering what you might do for vacation this summer, maybe I could suggest the Tahoe Xtreme Sports Camp at Lake Tahoe, California. According to their website, “This ain’t your mommy’s summer camp.” Campers can choose from many options: paintball, rock-climbing, go-carting, white-water rafting, parasailing, jet skiing, flying trapeze, skateboarding and more.

The website explains it this way. “We don’t do sing-alongs. We don’t do marshmallows. If you want to do arts and crafts – go to another camp.”

Many people in Gen X seem to be on a quest for the next challenge, for the next thrill, for the next activity to test their physical and emotional limits. They seem to be looking for that one thing that will provide them with fulfillment or a sense of achievement, and are willing to go to extreme lengths to find it. Adventure is the most important thing in their lives as they search for the pearl of great price.

In the early 90’s I was appointed to a suburban church just east of Crown Point. The church was just across the road from a gated community. The parsonage was in fact, in that community and we had to drive through a gate attended 24 hours a day by a security guard to get to our house.

This community was a direct result of white flight out of Gary in the sixties and was marketed as a place to get away from all of the racial strife and poverty that engulfed that city. I always thought that the flight from Gary was unfortunate, but was certainly understandable. Rural Crown Point was a much better and safer place to raise a family than Gary or Hammond or East Chicago.

By the nineties, a new phenomenon had arisen in Northwest Indiana: gambling boats. I remember seeing the demographic statistics for Lake and Porter Counties. Our housing addition straddled the Lake/Porter County line and at that time, the average family income for our area was around $32,000 per year. It was just a stone’s throw for our folks from this middle class enclave, to drive up to the boats for a day of recreation.

Most of us were very comfortably middle class, but there was this drive to get more…and some of us thought that we had a chance to hit it rich on the boats. All it takes, after all, is one lucky pull on the slots, or one lucky hand at the poker table, one lucky spin of the roulette wheel, or one lucky throw of the dice at the craps table.

The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church state that, “Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government.” We believe that gambling fosters greed and is exploitative of society’s weakest citizens. I was pretty clear to my folks up there that I didn’t believe they should be gambling, but I’m not sure that it stopped anyone from going. One time, one of the charities in the area was having a duck race to raise funds for their work. One of our members wanted the church to buy a duck. I pointed out that this was gambling and we wouldn’t be doing it.

To be very honest with you, I understand the allure and the promises of easy money. When we moved in, we needed to find a new dentist. After our first appointments, we discovered that this particular dentist sent each of his new patients, five lottery tickets as a thank-you.

So Toni and I got these ten lottery tickets in the mail and didn’t know what to do with them. We were facing a very real existential problem. We are sincerely opposed to gambling in all its forms. At the same time, here were these lottery tickets. They might be worth real money.

We debated and debated between ourselves. Should we scratch them off? Should we send them back? Should we just throw them away? I must confess that in the end, personal integrity lost. We scratched off the tickets…and didn’t win a cent. We thought the pearl of great price might be hidden in a lottery ticket, but were disappointed.

I’ve told you stories before of the work team I led to Russia back in 1994. We traveled to the city of Mozhaysk, about 100 miles southwest of Moscow. We helped renovate a thirteenth century monastery. The clutter and trash had built up so much over the centuries that the ground inside the walls was about four feet higher than it had been when the monastery was built.

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