I am writing this 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, many books, many dishes, linens, beds and sofas that I will not need as I move from an unquestionably huge house into a much smaller dwelling—though not quite tiny, as the tiny house my daughter has built.
At the moment, I am bone-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 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. All that said, I’m okay, in the main. And kind of curious about what lies ahead for me.
But since this is a sermon, here’s the big question: what can you learn about God from a tag sale?
As it turns out, you can learn quite a lot.
You can learn, for example, that though many churches--and especially progressive and inclusive churches such as St.-John’s-on-Sand-Creek where I serve—want to invite a diverse world into their 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—though we At St. John’s are blessed with more diversity in age, at least.
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 local school superintendent—and my neighbor—arrive with his wife and daughter. They 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 when she was younger.
“Have you been to Paris?” she asks me.
“Yes,” I say, “I have. And you will, too, one day.”
Larry, her dad, smiles at me. Her mother says, “I like it that you said that.”
You my have the much older woman tottering with a cane coming in and buying up a bunch of books. She tells me she loves to read and will I give her a discount because she is buying so many of them?
“It’s important to keep learning,” she says, “I love to learn.”
“Me, too,” I say.
You may have the man from the local hospital transport team just off his shift, his English not great, who buys a scale. It was my daughter’s scale. I’m too scared to find out what I weigh, so I don’t own one! 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 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. But then she says, pointing to a pair of high heels “But of course, I’ve received holy communion from those shoes.
What she says touches me both oddly and beautifully. And I rethink selling the shoes--though not the dishes—and decide to wear them leading the church service today.
At a tag sale, you may have the woman who comes in and we get to talking about her synagogue and her rabbi, Rabbi Matt Cutler.
“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 with the Schenectady Clergy Against Hate group. And a few years ago Matt and I worked with other local clergy to promote sexual inclusivity in our synagogues and churches.”
And so 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.
This goes on for hours. An Asian family comes through; the 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, a woman from her church, and they are talking about the community needs assessment my sister is doing so that her churc can be more connected to the 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 a dark-skinned couple come in. They are trying to figure out if the TV I’m selling works and since I only watch stuff from Netflix on my laptop I haven’t a clue. Since I’ve lost the remote, I can’t be helpful in any way at all and I knock five bucks off the price.
“Will you be willing to hold it for me? My name is Rosa. 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 saute pan, a book written by a sex therapist, a science fiction novel and a basket. He’s seated on a sofa I’m not selling, reading through a pile of other books. The sofa has a sign on it that says, “Not for sale.”
Something feels off. Something feels unsafe. My sister has called her son to just stop by, just check up. Nobody is left in this big house except Rosa and her boyfriend and her sister and me. And Rosa and her boyfriend are ready to leave.
Rosa’s boyfriend looks at me and says, “I thought, since he was shirtless and sitting on your sofa, that he was family.”
And he says, “So you know, we’re gonna stay for a while.”
And eventually my nephew shows up. And the shirtless guy buys a secondhand dresser and says he’ll come back for it later and Chris, my nephew, says, “No, buddy, you can’t carry that. It’s too heavy. I’ll put it in my car and drop it off for you.”
And Chris leaves with the guy’s dresser.
And Rosa and her boyfriend talk to my sister about going up to Sacandaga 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. It’s just 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 my noisy dog, Jack, sets up his fiercesome barking. And I see, not the scary shirtless white kid to whom my nephew delivered a dresser. I see 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 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 own copy of “Singing in the Rain” because you can stream anything these days and I don’t really need the DVD and I give it to her.
And she says to me, “Do you have any Spanish books?”
And I say, “No. I’ve got French books, but no Spanish books.”
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 the book of 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 many I will hear when I am at my sale today. Sometimes it seems the spirit of God really does come alive in our midst. And we must be awake and alert to it.
Be awake and alert. Because we are alive by God’s grace and we live for and with one another. And that’s what I am learning from my tag sale.