Here's a tale worth re-telling.
And here's the setting for the tale: Three years ago I was selling my house after a disturbing marriage and divorce from a deeply troubled man. I was emptying out our home and moving to a smaller home, the one where I live now. And I was holding a tag sale.
This is what I wrote then:
I am writing this sermon on a Saturday night, midway through the tag sale that I hope will culminate on Sunday in a mad rush with people buying up all my extra furniture, books, dishes, linens, beds and sofas that I will no longer need in my smaller house.
But as I write this, I am very tired. My ankles hurt from running all over the house moving things from Point A to Point B to make them look more salable and attractive. My back hurts from lifting. My heart hurts a bit because leaving this house is not without pain. It was supposed to have been, in some ways, a dream house. And it is sad when dreams die. And though I have moved a lot in my life and I do the moving thing pretty well, it takes a toll and it makes for some sadness.
So the question front-and-center for me is what can you learn about the word of God from a tag sale?
And the answer is simple: A lot. Quite a lot.
You can learn, for example, that though many houses of worship want to invite a diverse world into our walls, we often end up having folks with us who look just like us, both in terms of skin color, economic bracket, educational bracket and age.
But open up your house for a tag sale and the world comes in.
At a tag sale when the world can come into your house, you may have the superintendent of a local school district come in and browse through our stuff, the daughter buying an earring tree in the shape of the Eiffel Tour; it had belonged to my daughter.
“Have you ever been to Paris?” she asks me.
“Yes,” I say, “I have. And you will, too, one day.”
Her dad smiles at me. And her mother says, “I like it that you said that.”
At a tag sale where the world can come into your house, you may have the man from the Ellis Hospital organ transport team just off his shift, his English a work in progress, who buys a scale. And he buys some teacups and some wine glasses.
“This,” he points to the scale, “for me. The rest I buy for my mother.”
“You’re a good son,” I tell him.
At a tag sale where the world comes into your house, you may have someone like my very dear friend, Karen-the-oboist, whom I’ve known since 1993. Karen looks over the dishes and the shoes I’m trying to sell. She admits she’s a little sad to see one set of dishes I’m getting rid of because over the years she and her husband have eaten countless dinners at my house and they have eaten off these plates. But then she says, pointing to a pair of high heels “But of course, I’ve received holy communion from those shoes.” For a moment, I don't know what she means. And I think about adoring men drinking champagne from ballarinas' pointe shoes.
But then I remember that lovely line from Isaiah and from Romans—and from Handel’s Messiah--“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace!”
What Karen says touches me both oddly and beautifully. And I rethink selling the shoes--though not the dishes—and decide to wear them to church this Sunday.
At a tag sale when the world can come into your house, you may have the woman who gets to talking about her synagogue and her rabbi, Rabbi Matt C.
“Oh, Matt!” I say.
“You know Matt?” she says
“Of course I know Matt! For years!” I say, “We just took part together in that rally in support of Charlottesville. And a few years ago Matt and I worked with other local clergy to promote sexual inclusivity in our synagogues and churches.”
And we talk some more. And then she buys a painting, a watercolor done by a local woman, and she buys my book, even though she’s Jewish and this is a memoir written by a Lutheran pastor. But it isn’t about boundaries and differences between us, is it? It’s about mutual understanding.
And this goes on for hours. At a tag sale where the world comes into your house, an Asian family comes through; the elderly parents have no English, but they pick and choose and buy a bunch of housewares and the adult children speak English well and are gentle with their parents. Then a man comes through and buys my daughter’s red-and-white-striped saucepan (where did she get that? I wonder) and a big red purse and he walks out jauntily carrying it over his shoulder.
My sister has arrived by this time and she’s talking with another woman about the community needs assessment my sister is doing at her church so that they can be more connected to the diversity in their surrounding community. Meanwhile, I am helping a man about my age, probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, as we discuss what books I have on World War II as well as science fiction and fantasy.
And then Rosa--I learn her name later--and her boyfriend come in. They are trying to figure out if the TV I’m selling works and since I only watch stuff on my laptop I haven’t a clue and I’ve lost the remote. So I can’t be helpful in any way at all and I knock twenty bucks off the price.
“Will you be willing to hold it for me? I think we need to buy--,” she pauses.
“A universal remote,” her boyfriend says.
“And then we can come back and buy it if it works,” she says.
“Sure,” I say, “No problem. Sorry I’m so lame about electronics.”
And we all laugh.
But meanwhile my sister is giving me the side-eye. A young, shirtless white guy has been prowling round the house for a half-hour. He’s picked out a few things—a Revere Ware sauté pan, a book written by a sex therapist and a basket. He’s seated on a sofa I’m not selling, reading through a pile of other books. The sign on the sofa says, “Not for sale.”
Something feels off. Unsafe. My sister calls her son to just stop by, just check up. Nobody is left in this big house except Rosa and her boyfriend and my sister and me. And Rosa and her boyfriend are ready to leave.
Rosa’s boyfriend looks at me and says quietly, “I thought, since he was shirtless and sitting on your sofa, that he was family.” I shake my head.
And then he says, “So you know, we’re gonna stick around for a while.”
After a bit, my nephew shows up. And the shirtless guy buys a secondhand dresser and says he’ll come back for it later and C., my nephew, says, “No, buddy, you can’t carry that. It’s too heavy. I’ll put it in my truck and drop it off for you. Let's go.”
And C. leaves with the guy’s dresser and the guy.
And Rosa and her boyfriend talk to my sister and me about going to a largely white and wealthy community gathering and how out-of-place they felt as people looked at them as if they did not belong. And my sister talks about how her grandkids are bi-racial. And what it means to live in a country where it seems we have to confront racial and sexual prejudice yet again. It pains my sister. It pains me. It pains us as Christians and as people of all faiths.
And finally Rosa and her boyfriend leave and my sister leave. It’s just the big dog, Jack, and me in the big house now. But it’s all okay. Everybody has looked out for each other. We’re a human mess, but we’re all trying to care for each other with open minds even when we find we must exercise caution when strange and shirtless men sit on our sofas and act entitled.
And I’m sitting and writing this sermon to you thinking about how God showed me more in a tag sale than I was expecting. And how a tag sale may be a way to show more of God’s love than you’d think. And as I’m writing this for you, the doorbell rings.
And Jack sets up his fiercesome barking. And I see, not the scary shirtless white kid I dreaded to see, but Rosa and her boyfriend. They’ve got the universal remote. I pen Jack in the kitchen because he has scared the bejeepers out of them. And they go into the den to see if the remote and the TV work. And they do. And then they go through some unsold DVDs.
“Do you have ‘The Sound of Music”?” she asks.
“No,” I said, “But I have ‘Singing in the Rain.’ Do you know ‘Singing in the Rain”?”
“No,” she says.
And I go into the other room and get my copy of “Singing in the Rain” because you can stream anything these days and I don’t have a DVD player anyway.
And she says to me, “Do you have any books in Spanish?”
And I say, “No. I’ve got books in French books, but not books in Spanish.”
And she says, “I work for a surgeon. And I’m starting a program, a volunteer program to read to people when they come out of surgery. Not just Spanish people. All people. I just think, you know, we come into the world and our families look out for us. But as we get older and we leave the world, we have to look out for each other. And I think reading to people will help make connections between people.”
I nod. I tell her that after the tag sale is over on Sunday, she can come back and take whatever books that are left that she might like. And I think about the words from Romans, “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes from the word of God.”
And I think about how many people I have heard in the last two days—and how sometimes the scripture really does come alive in our midst. And we must be awake and alert to it.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep....the night is far gone, the day is near.”
Be awake and alert. Be alive for the grace we live for and find in one another. And that’s what I learned from my tag sale.