Written by Pastor Ed
From Trash to Treasure
March 29, 2015 – Palm Sunday
Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29
Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Mark 11: 1-11
I still recall the first response I got in my home congregation when I told them one Sunday morning that I had decided to attend seminary. The then current pastor said, “The line that comes to mind is ‘can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’” It wasn’t the most enthusiastic of endorsements, although I guess you could say that having the same question asked about yourself as was asked about Jesus isn’t all bad.
And it wasn’t the first or only time I had experienced such comments. You see, I grew up in York Township, one of the poorest townships in the county, and not much was expected of kids from York. We went to a township elementary school in the country and then transferred to the high school in town, in the next township over, and were classified as country hicks and all placed in the less advanced sections of classes. In later years a teacher expressed surprise that there were 3 college graduates in the same family who had all come from York Twp.
Now, I guess you’ll have to decide how I turned out, I won’t make any claims for myself, but I had to think of this as I read the passages for today. The Psalmist speaks of the stone rejected by the builders that has become the chief cornerstone. Now, as Henry Bergen could probably tell us, having the right stone to start out with is fairly important. Not beginning good can mean lots more work, and perhaps even a building that isn’t quite stable. I know from my own experience building stone walls how important those first stones are.
Yet the Psalmist suggests that God can take even the rejects and make them into something great; can turn trash into treasure. I found it interesting that when I went looking for images and typed in trash to treasure, I discovered there is a whole movement by that name, taking old pieces or junk, like can tabs, and either redoing them or repurposing them into something else. Of course, Red Green has been doing that for years! From art objects made of old vinyl records, to wine glass holders made from old rakes, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
If some of you are like me, you know that keeping all that old stuff is important because you never know when you might need it or when something you’ve kept might be just the thing you’re looking for. (Others of you, of course, may disagree with that viewpoint – but that’s ok, we still love you even though you make us throw things away.)
But the Psalmist is not talking about actual building blocks, more likely referring to the king, and when the New Testament authors quotes these verses, they apply them to Jesus. And how fitting to read them on Palm Sunday for while we tend to think and label Palm Sunday and Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem as a triumphant entry, in reality it is the prelude to confusion and apparent tragedy.
The incongruences are great. A mighty king riding on a donkey and not a great white steed. The crowds and even the disciples not knowing for sure what was happening. The religious leaders seemingly both fascinated and afraid. It is only because we stand on this side of Easter that we can look back and declare, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Or as one translation puts it, “This is the day the Lord acted, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Common English Bible)
And I like that translation because it puts a bit of a different spin on that verse that we say so glibly some times. Because, quite frankly, it is hard to figure out how things happen the way they do, how trash can become treasure. It is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. (Ps. 118: 23) How is it that a Moses or a David, a Miriam or a Ruth become examples of faith? How is it that a Paul can become an evangelist for the church? And how is it that the tragedy of the crucifixion can become the cornerstone of our faith?
Isaiah speaks of the servant of God, one who is misunderstood and sometimes treated unfairly. Again looking back the NT writers saw a portrayal of Jesus in those words. It is a theme echoed in Philippians 2 which is another of the texts for today.
5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
How does one accomplish that? It is the Lord’s doing. I’m not sure any of us can do it on our own.
Probably every leader at some time struggles with these issues. On the one hand there is the tendency to think we have to do it all ourselves or we see ourselves as the only one who can make certain things happen. Somehow we get the idea that we are irreplaceable. It was fascinating to hear all the discussion at this year’s Brier when Team Canada was struggling and skip John Morris decided to step aside and trade places with Pat Simmons, the third – which turned out to be a wise move. It’s maybe a small example, but certainly many leaders would have simply presumed they were the only one who could successfully carry out the mission. Being humble enough to admit we can’t do it all is a sign of good leadership. And in a small way exemplifies the kind of laying down of one’s life modeled for us by that prime example of Jesus.
On the other side of the coin are those who feel that they really have no leadership abilities as all or who have been told that. Feeling of self-doubt and insecurity are part of many of our psyches. How could God ever call me to do something? Yet the scriptures and history have shown us that God can do amazing things, even with people we might consider “trash.”
And, unfortunately we often make those judgements about people as well. How often do we sit in meetings or talk with other and determine that, obviously so and so couldn’t do that? Or perhaps we judge a person based on their race or economic status and don’t even consider them as potential leaders. There are some humourous stories asking whether you would select this person as your pastor – a guy with no fixed address who wanders the country side as an itinerant preacher , whose only skills as a carpenter, etc. all referring of course to Jesus!
If God can deliver the children of Israel from Egypt, can free the exiles from captivity, and above all turn the seeming defeat of the cross into the joy of the resurrection, then just think what God can do in the lives of ordinary people like you and I who believe that it is not by our doing, but God’s, that most anything happens in this world.
It is a gift from God, and thus we can proclaim, “This is the day the Lord acted, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”