“God Holds a Rummage Sale”
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 ~ Rev. Gabrielle Seudfeld ~ Northwood United ~ July 26, 2020
I had a neighbour who liked to go to rummage sales, garage sales, basement bargain days, and church events. She would comb the paper on Thursdays, when all the neighbourhood sales were listed, and plan her weekend to take in as many as possible. She always came home with some treasures. She also drove around back alleys in Vancouver, looking for things that people were throwing away. One day she came home with twelve sickly geranium plants that she nursed to health and which became the envy of everyone around. Another time she found someone discarding old bricks, and built a beautiful walk around her garden. It took several trips to load them all in her little Mazda, but it was worth it. Her home was filled with things she had gotten for next-to-nothing, or for free. And it all looked good together.
I think it was because she was a composed, centred person, and it created a harmony in her environment. Twice a year, she would discover that she had accumulated too much “stuff”, so she would send out announcements for “Jan’s Boutique”, and invite all the neighbours to come and buy the things she no longer needed. Then she would give most of the proceeds to the housing co-op in which we lived. Her living room would be filled with clothing, colourful scarves, costume jewelry, and other feminine accessories. And we would all get together and try things on and have herbal tea and make a great afternoon of it. Her husband managed to absent himself from these proceedings, mumbling and shaking his head. But then he would hold book sales for the same reason.
We can probably come up with stories about things we have that are recycled, “found” in alleyways, brought in second hand shops, saved from childhood for no reason we can remember. One thing we may not want to deal with is the Junk Drawer. Confess it now. We all have a junk drawer. You know - the one in the kitchen with bits of strings, broken elastic bands, parts from the appliance that you gave away three years ago…(that’s what I found in my kitchen drawer) or in the garage - a box with broken tool parts, rusty nails and nuts without bolts to fit. Saving tiny bits of fabric for quilting never counts as junk! But all that other stuff - that’s junk we understand.
Some of us are better at resisting than others. Some of us are able to throw things out. Some of us are able to make junk look elegant, like my friend Jan. And some of us can see value in just about everything. As we hear this collection of parables from the Gospel today, we may want to consider the value of the things in our lives. We can understand the pearl of great price story. It’s a tangible thing, a jewel. If we knew its size and colour, we could get an estimate of its worth. What about the treasure in the field? Matthew doesn’t tell us what it is, so that’s a bit more difficult, but we might imagine that its money, or coins, or something of value made of metal. Certainly not junk!
And then we come to the net. Its contents are a real mixture. The original Greek doesn’t really say fish; it says “of every kind gathered together.” (genos – generation, kind) We might imagine some fish, of different sizes, but also shells, old boots, tin cans, rocks, anything. The net which draws this lot onto the beach does not discriminate, it’s very inclusive. And in the end, it is not the people doing the fishing who separate the good from the bad, the useful from the useless, the right from the wrong, the saved from the damned: it is God’s angels. Then Jesus asks the disciples if they really understand what he has said, and they reply “Oh, sure.” Do you understand? I wouldn’t be so ready to answer yes, if I were asked whether or not I really understood what the Kingdom is all about.
Because these are not passages about some minor cleanup; they are about the Kingdom of Heaven. What if God held a rummage sale, and offered all kinds of things? Pearls and gold, mountains and lakes, birds and fish and animals and land and seas. And power and justice and wisdom and honour. And death and eternal life. It would be the greatest rummage sale of all time. My friend Jan would have gone crazy, if she had been there. Well, maybe she was. In my neighbourhood, people sometimes put things out on the front lawn, and hope someone will take it away. Furniture, broken appliances, kids’ stuff, boxes of mystery items.
And usually, no matter what it is, it’s gone by the end of the day. You don’t have to call the township and ask them to remove those four large items a year. You don’t have to haul too much to the dump and pay a fee. Do we really understand what God has offered us? Not a sale, but a give-away. No price tag attached. For free? Whether we stumbled on this display by happy accident on some sidestreet, or went looking for it with a sense of purpose, the result is still the same. We are asked to make choices about what we value and what we will discard from our lives. For the moment, let’s not look at this parable from Matthew’s point of view; that of judgement and the selection of a few for the Kingdom.
What if everything that God has to offer is of equal value? What if it’s all for free? How are we going to handle that? What will we take from the jumble sale table at the end of the day, when everything leftover is given away so nobody has to take it home again? And where does God get all this stuff? Jesus was the greatest collector of junk there ever was. As a child, he probably brought home broken toys from the garbage heap for Joseph to fix up, and stray cats for Mary to care for. As an adult, he was much worse! Just think of all the useless stuff he accumulated: sinners and prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers, Samaritans and foreign women, even little kids! And then then imagine him saying to God: “Father, just look at all this wonderful stuff. I’m sure we can use it sometime.” And God would answer: “Of course, my child, it just needs a bit of polishing up, and everything here will be a real treasure in my Kingdom.” So here we are at God’s great rummage sale: dusty, broken, discarded things all around us. And it’s up to us to see how we can polish things up so that they can become the real treasures that they are. We need to see our experiences in life, and our contacts with other people, in terms of God’s promise of redemption, not in terms of what is useful at a given moment, and what should be thrown out.
These little parables, and the ones on the mustard seed and the yeast that precede them, come at the end of chapter 13 in Matthew’s gospel. They may seem to be unconnected to one another, but I think they are put there, in that order, for a reason. They begin with ordinary household things, and go on to involve treasures that we understand. Jesus lures us into listening to the rest of the story with these little anecdotes. And then he gets down to the real business of the day: collecting junk. That’s the story of the net. It can be seen in a number of ways; first, as a story about fish, which anyone can relate to who has ever used a seining net. Some fish are good to eat, and others aren’t, so you throw back the ones that can’t be sold.
Or, you carefully separate the dolphins from the tuna, and save the things that are rare by returning them to the sea which is their home. We might want to look at it as a story about how God gathers in people. By now, many of us are familiar with the command to the disciples: “Be fishers of people”. So here are these fisher folk dragging people, or souls, if you wish, onto the beach, and then letting some divine agent separate them, presumably to consign them to Heaven or Hell, depending on their value. I think that’s Matthew’s idea.
But wait: what kind of value does God put on human beings? Jesus collected riffraff, street people, underdogs, and the diseased dregs of society. He loved them, and transformed them and expected his disciples to do the same. What kind of value do we put on the life and behaviour and status of another human being? This is the challenge of the collection of parables we have before us today. And when Jesus asks if we understand what the Kingdom is about, we may not be able to answer “Oh, sure”, so readily. Because the Kingdom may not make sense to us, if God is going to let just anyone in, and we can’t be sure that’s not what will happen. If Jesus worked so hard to include everybody, and died for it, then who are we to decide who’s in and who’s out? We simply can’t know how God chooses, and I for one would like to live my life assuming that God is merciful, just, and sees the possibilities for salvation in every soul - rather than assuring myself that those who work against me or my values are going to end up someplace other than my version of Heaven, so I don’t have to bother with them anymore.
Sometimes, it may be good just to enjoy the diversity that is revealed in the parable of the net. You just never know what might come up. The challenge of our lives, and of God’s call to faithful discipleship, is to realize that we may not always be the ones to recognize the value of things, or be able to make them elegant. The Good News is that God sees the worth of all life and experience, and offers redemption to all of creation. What I would like to leave you with, for the moment, are some of my ideas about the parables we have heard over the last few weeks: The Kingdom of God is here – all around you. God’s call is challenging, sometimes scary, but always points in the right direction. Listen for it. We are all of equal importance in the eyes of God; your theology is just as valid as anyone else’s. We do make a difference. God’s plan for us is not punishment, but redemption, and we need to look at the world through the lens of acceptance and grace. In the coming week, it might be fun to look at each of these little parable statements, and think about how the events of our community, our nation and our world are reflected in these little sayings.
Take one issue – immigration or the refugee situation, first nations problems, the environment, child development and education, health concerns, political behavior, gender bias, or something else of your choice, and read one section each day - the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the net, and prayerfully think about what God is saying to you, what God is calling you to do about that issue. Keep seeking out the treasures of the Kingdom, confident in God’s grace, and our growing love for all God’s people.