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702 North St, Sun Prairie, WI 53590 Phone: 608.837.5554

Trash to Treasures

Someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus said to him, “Man, who appointed me as judge or referee between you and your brother?”
Then Jesus said to them, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest!
Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.” – Luke 12:13-21

Depending on where you are from the name may be different, but the idea or the concept is the same. It is the ‘garage sale’ and the idea is to sell unwanted stuff.
Other names for a garage sale are yard sale, rummage sale, thrift sale, tag sale, lawn sale, estate sale, or moving sale (if you’re moving of course). Even by another name, the garage sale is an informal event where people sell their used goods. Garage sales can also be fun, social events that put us in contact with lots of people.
For centuries in almost every corner of the world, it has been common practice for people to set out a few items on a table or blanket in front of their homes to be sold or traded. As our amount of possessions increased, the need for modern garage sales was born, and really took off in the 1970’s.
In our part of the country, garage sales typically start sometime in April or May and go into September. It used to be a Saturday tradition, but now savvy garage sale operators may start on Thursday, and definitely Friday and Saturday. One estimate I read said that today garage sales account for $2 billion in annual sales revenue.
And in the garage sale business, bigger is better, so we often see sales advertised as a ‘Multi-Family’ sale, or ‘Block Sale,’ or ‘All-City’ garage sale. Or many people coming together in a central location and purchasing a space to sell their stuff is often called a ‘Flea Market.’ It seems that more stuff attracts more people to buy more stuff.

This year was my first experience with our Sun Prairie United Methodist Church garage sale…and what an experience! The entire week leading up to the garage sale was filled with days of sorting and organizing people’s stuff. Think if we had to build barns to hold all that stuff.
Then there is the experience of one person’s stuff becoming another person’s treasure. I still treasure the things I found at this year’s sale. I talked to two people just this last week who were proudly displaying treasures they found at the garage sale and with excitement said they paid a quarter for each item!

So, how many of you have found a treasure at our church garage sale or any garage sale? How many of you have had your own garage sale this year or donated items to our church garage sale?

But of course before we sell our stuff in a garage sale or after we purchase stuff at a garage sale, we have to have a place to keep our stuff. So we buy or build bigger homes or have three-car garages that barely have room for one car. We rent self-storage units to hold our stuff until we want to look at it, or need it or sell it or throw it away.
The late comedian George Carlin famously did an entire monologue on “stuff;” proclaiming that the “meaning of life is trying to find a place to put your stuff.”

And that is the place the rich man finds himself in our story from the Gospel of Luke. In this gospel parable Jesus makes it all too clear how “life” and “stuff” are not one and the same.
This is the only parable in Luke’s gospel in which God directly addresses a character in the story. And what God says to the man is, “Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?”

There is no indication in this story that the rich man was an unethical man in any sense. His land produced well and he no doubt worked hard to make it happen. His riches are not gained unjustly. He is perhaps highly respected in his community and there is no mention that anyone thinks badly of him.
Even his greed seems harmless. He is simply a person who loves more. This is what he lived for and what gave meaning to his life. The overriding concern is how to build bigger barns in which to store his abundance.
His mistake does not have to do with the wealth; but rather, he goes astray by believing that his wealth can secure his future.
The temptation of money is that it creates the perception of independence. It promises us that we can rise above the everyday needs and interactions that remind us that we are created beings, who are connected and dependent on others and most especially on God.

The background of our story is an incident that occurred as Jesus was teaching to a large crowd.
A man called out from the crowd and said, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Now, Jewish law was clear that at the death of a father, the elder son received a double portion of the family inheritance and elder brothers were known to take more than their share—sometimes the entire inheritance.
This is obviously a younger son who is complaining about the unfairness of it all. It reminds us of the interaction from our Gospel story a couple of weeks ago, when Martha demands that Jesus tell her sister Mary to help her in the kitchen. Yet again in this story, Jesus refuses to get involved in a petty family squabble, and instead issues a warning to the crowd to be on guard against greediness.
Jesus said, “Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.”
Then Jesus illustrated his point by telling a story. There was once a man whose fields produced a bumper crop. So prosperous did he become that his barns could not hold all of his harvest. His solution was to tear down these barns and build bigger and better barns. Then he could sit back and truly enjoy life. His philosophy was, eat, drink, and be merry.

When confronted with more than he can use, the rich man focuses on himself, taking no thought for others.
He is rich only toward himself, not toward God and God’s kingdom. He lives and acts only for the benefit of himself; thinking that he is securing his life through his possessions and for this, God calls the man a “fool.”

When we think of the amount of stuff that we possess or the number of things we discard or throw away, it gives new meaning to Jesus’ warning to guard ourselves against all kinds of greed.

There is the old saying that one person’s trash becomes another person’s treasure. This is vividly true for a small impoverished South American town literally built on top of a garbage landfill in the country of Paraguay. This community has learned how garbage and discarded stuff can make beautiful music and transform lives. In this town, a music director and a music teacher began a program for children and youth. They soon had more students than they had musical instruments, and that’s when they started using garbage scraps of discarded items to create instruments.

Today, there is an entire orchestra of instruments made from garbage, called The Landfill Harmonic or the Recycled Orchestra. One student has a cello made out of an oil can and discarded wood. The pegs of the cello are made out of a tool used to tenderize beef. Another student has a saxophone made out of spoons and buttons; another a flute made out of old piping; and others have violins made out of aluminum cans. The music teacher says that in this community, a musical instrument like a violin made out of trash is worth more than a house. A young girl says that her life would be worthless without the music she is able to make from her recycled instrument. I invite you to watch a clip of a film that shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments. Watch how this recycled trash brings witness to hope, the uplifting of the human spirit and the transformation of precious human beings. (film clip “Landfill Harmonic”; 3:30 min.)

In our Gospel story, the rich fool is not a fool because he’s rich. He’s a fool because he doesn’t seem to have an understanding of community or of reaching out beyond himself.
As we could sense from the recycled orchestra, having an understanding of community means, we understand all people as God’s people; we understand that having a sense of worth and belonging are basic human needs; and we understand that together we can share what we have and what we discard…even trash. And at its most basic level, we understand that we are bound to one another in the human family.

We aren’t fools because we have abundance. We are fools when we build bigger barns and put our grain, our goods, our toys, our riches, and our stuff into them. We are fools when we keep our surplus for ourselves rather than letting it pass through our hands to bless others. We are fools when we think our surplus is what will protect and save us.

In our story, Jesus isn’t talking to a powerful group of economists or politicians about the state of the economy. He’s talking to disciples and would-be disciples, and people like you and me. And he’s helping them and us see what discipleship and stewardship looks like, which in turn will have an effect on the economy in God’s world.
In essence, Jesus says, “If you’re a believer then you must be less concerned about what you store up for yourself here on earth; and more concerned about what you give away to bless others. It’s part of what identifies us as God’s people.”

Our Gospel story does not call for a radical change in the way we live, but in the way we look at our living.
So, as we take stock of our possessions and wonder how we will store them all, or how we will throw things away; may we pause to consider both the God from whom the bounty and blessing comes and the neighbor in need or without access to that bounty or blessing.

We are a blessed people and the responsibility that goes along with our blessings is that we bless others.

May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God.