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"Repurposed Joy and Junk"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 24, 2024
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2024 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Mark 14:1-11

When you walk down the stone steps through the metal double doors into the 100-year-old repurposed basement dining hall, one of the first things you hear, along with the din of a dozen children chattering, is Ms. Carly on the microphone. She tells us, after we've gotten our tray with a plateful of salad and dressing and two or three slices of free pizza, she tells us to try to sit with someone you don't know yet. At last week's dinner, I didn't know anyone I sat with. But Ms. Carly's got a remedy for that, so she walks us through the program. After everyone at the table says their name, each person can share their joy and their junk for the week. The African-American woman sitting across the circular table asks me my name. I tell her Mike. She tells me hers is Crystal and that this is her daughter, Danyla. Danyla is a kindergartner at the school across the street.

Crystal, Danyla's mom, who knows the program well, asked me, "Mike, what's your joy for the week?" I said that it was that I had gotten to go on a run in the park that afternoon. It's been a while since I've been on a run. But my son, who's on his cross-country team at his high school, he's gotten me back into it. He and I ran together this afternoon and he was kind enough to go slow for his old man.

"What's your joy, Crystal?" I asked. She said that it was helping her daughter, Danyla, learn her words with her flashcards. I asked Danyla, "Are those flashcards from your school, or did your mom make them?" Danyla says, "From school." Crystal says, "Girl, those cards aren't from school. I made them." Danyla says, "You did?" And seeing the appreciation dawning on Danyla's face, I get why Crystal's daughter brings her joy.

Seated at the table between me and Crystal is a 37-year-old African-American man named Josh. The reason I know Josh is 37 is because earlier Ms. Carly told us to line up for pizza from oldest to youngest. So Josh and I compared ages. And discovering that I was the old man, relatively speaking, he let me go first. Josh also has kids who are students at the school across the street. Josh is wearing coveralls and a sweatshirt splattered in what looks like paint or maybe drywall mud. "Are you a painter, Josh?" He tells me that he's not, but that he does work in construction, and concrete is his favorite. I ask Josh about his joy. He says that it's that he was able to pay off a debt and he's getting his finances in order.

Then we share our junk. Josh says that it feels like he doesn't have enough hours in the day and it's wearing on him, leaving the house when it's dark and getting home after dark. And this cold weather doesn't help. Crystal and I can relate to that. Crystal says that hers is dealing with her ex-husband who's trying to start a legal battle over child support. I say, "Mine isn't really mine, but someone's I care for, a close friend of our family—her husband died from cancer and now she's packing up her house and trying to sell it and move. And it's really hard on her. We're trying to help."

Ms. Carly's voice comes over the microphone again. She tells us that if we want to, we can take our joys and our junk and give them to Jesus. That is, we can pray about them, we can talk to Jesus about them.

It goes like this. Every Wednesday evening during the school year, my church in urban St. Louis hosts a dinner for the families of their charter school across the street. We get together and have a meal in the church basement. The church building is 100 years old and enormous. Back in the day, it was packed with congregants. Now, with fewer members, they've been looking for ways to repurpose the space. Someone came up with the idea of a free pizza dinner for the school's families and for any church members who wish to participate. The program is designed to help folks in the church get to know some of the school's families and students, many of whom are not members of our church, or of any church.

But I don't get the sense that any of the people who come feel like the church is pushing religion on them. In fact, the whole thing has somewhat of an unreligious feel to it. If by religious you mean stuffy or formal or disconnected from daily life. No, it's just followers of Jesus doing what they've always done: meeting people, eating with them, sharing their joys and junk, and giving it all to Jesus. Because we believe that Jesus is the kind of guy who can take it and repurpose it.

Jesus is sort of like the City Museum in that. The St. Louis City Museum sits about four miles north of our church. Along with the Gateway Arch, millions of St. Louis visitors have stopped by to see it. Maybe you've been to the City Museum in St. Louis. If not, I'll warn you. It's not a typical museum.

When it opened 27 years ago, the creators, a then-husband-and-wife team named Bob and Gail Cassilly, plus around 50 other artists and welders and visionaries, they wanted to make a monument of repurposed junk and joys, wherever they found it, whether it was at public auctions or estate sales or just scavenging through a dingy basement. The building that houses the City Museum is a 100-year-old shoe factory once entombed in a crime-ridden neighborhood, a building whose doors 27 years ago had been rusted shut from excessive public urination.

Today, the neighborhood is repurposed, reborn, revitalizing, helped in large part by the City Museum, which hosts over 600,000 visitors each year. From the museum parking lot, you can see a broke-down yellow school bus perched on the top of the 10-story building. Up there on the roof there's also a 24-foot-tall statue of a giant insect, a green Praying Mantis salvaged from the Missouri Botanical Garden. And there's a working Ferris wheel from the 1940s that had been used in a traveling carnival, but then discarded in a barn in Southern Illinois where the museum's creators found it.

Inside the museum there's an eclectic mix of reimagined industrial waste and forgotten architectural gems: stone steps from St. Louis's old City Hospital, a building facade from Chicago's now-demolished Strand Theater, and a fully functioning 1923 Wurlitzer pipe organ that once made New York City's Rivoli Theater foxtrot and box-step the night away. It's all there: scores of joy and junk accumulated from the last two centuries: 2,000 stainless-steel mouse cages from Washington University Med School, remnants of a 19th-century farmhouse razed to make way for a Quick Trip, military parachutes from a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the kind that made airplanes slow down when they land. It's all there as a testament to the truth that in the right hands, our old stuff, our trash and treasure, joy, and junk can be made into something beautiful.

Two thousand years ago, a man named Mark wrote a biography about Jesus of Nazareth. It's called the Gospel according to Mark. It's become one of the four original biographies of Jesus found in the New Testament. Compared to modern-day biographies, it's short. You could listen to the whole thing in about two hours. And if you've never done that, listen to it, not just read it, but listen to it, from start to finish. I invite you to give it a try this week. This week, when Christians all over the world, at least those who follow the Western calendar, pause to remember the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, Holy Week as it's called.

This week would be an ideal time to do it, to listen to all of Mark's Gospel in one go. As you listen, notice how people bring both their joy and their junk. Whatever they have, they bring it to Jesus. Toward the end of the narrative, Mark puts the two together in stark relief, the mountaintop of joy and the scuzzy basement of junk. Mark's narrative frames joy in the middle of junk to show how Jesus can repurpose all of it.

At the beginning of chapter 14, he tells it like this: It was now two days before Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread. And the religious leaders, the chief priests and scribes, were seeking some underhanded scuzzy way to arrest Jesus and kill Him. They were saying, "Not during the feast, otherwise the people will riot." Now Jesus, when He was in the village of Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, while he was reclining at the table, a woman came, carrying an alabaster flask of perfumed oil, pure spikenard, very costly. And she broke the bottle and poured it over His head.

Now some of those who were standing there were murmuring to themselves saying, "Why was this oil wasted like that? This oil could have been sold for a year's wages and given to the poor." And they scolded her. But Jesus said, "Leave her be. Why do you give her grief? She has done a beautiful work for Me. The poor you will always have with you. And whenever you truly desire, you can do good for them. But Me, you are not always going to have Me. What she has come to understand she did. She went ahead and anointed My body for burial. And I'm telling you the truth, that wherever this Gospel is proclaimed in all the world, what she has done will be talked about publicly in memory of her."

Now Judas Iscariot, one of the 12, went out to the chief priests to hand Jesus over to them. And they, when they heard it, were delighted and they offered to give him money. So Judas went out and began looking for an opportunity to hand Jesus over.

Right there in the middle of so much junk, Mark shows this woman's joy. In ancient Jewish culture, it was common to honor a special guest by pouring oil on his head. But what was uncommon about this instance was the kind of oil. It wasn't your standard local olive or canola. It was the expensive stuff, imported from somewhere far off, maybe India or Africa. This flask of perfumed oil may have been this woman's life savings, a treasured wedding gift, or an inheritance passed down from her deceased parents. Wherever it came from, it was worth tens of thousands of dollars in our terms. It was a potent symbol of blessing and honor and joy, and she pours it all out on Jesus.

But there's more, because it seems this woman has grasped something about Jesus that the 12 men, Jesus' closest followers, have missed. Maybe she was among the many women who had come up with them on the 100-mile walk from Galilee to Jerusalem. During the journey maybe she heard Jesus say three times that when they got to Jerusalem during the Passover Festival, framed by the joyous celebration of how God had freed their people from slavery, during the feast, Jesus would be betrayed. Falsely accused, mocked, spit on, scourged, killed. Insecure religious and political authorities would dump their garbage on Jesus, and He would take it willingly and die with it. And three days later, He would rise from the dead. Three times, Jesus had told them what was going to happen.

And apparently this woman believed Him. She knew that if she wanted to honor Him, now was the time. There wouldn't be time to honor Him by anointing Him with oil as in a proper Jewish burial because He wouldn't be dead long enough to do it. So she went ahead and did it now, joyfully. She brought her joy to Jesus even as others brought their junk, the religious leaders engrossed in guarding their status, plotting to kill Jesus—and Judas, we don't know what motivated him.

Maybe he also was paying attention to Jesus' predictions and thought it sounded like a really bad plan and tries to force a different outcome because he knows better than Jesus. Or maybe he figures that if Jesus' messianic prospects are leading Him toward public humiliation and death, maybe Judas can make a quick buck in the process.

And then there are the other disciples. This no-name woman has upstaged them with her extravagant devotion, so they trash her. They put a pious front on it about helping the poor. Whatever their real motives might be—jealousy, greed, or maybe just the gnawing feeling that something bad was coming and they couldn't do anything to stop it. Whatever it was, they missed what she saw, and what we get to see through her, that Jesus was doing something unique, unrepeatable, to revitalize, restore, repurpose everything. These were world-changing events, and she had to do something extravagant to honor Him.

And Jesus—He isn't letting anything be wasted. He's taking all they have to offer Him and all we have, our trash and our treasure, has-beens and might-have-beens, schemes, and dreams—He's using our joy and our junk to make a new creation.

Some people when they look at the world, all they see is junk or worse: torture, tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal. They say that the world would've been better off not existing. Other people look at the world and see joy: free pizza on a school night, a concrete job well done, a jog in the park, the light in Danyla's eyes when she realizes her mom makes those flashcards. Some see a little of both. But they believe that no matter what we do or feel or think, none of it really matters because none of us really matter. Like the poem, "The Indispensable Man," by Saxon Kessinger says, "Take a bucket and fill it with water. Put your hand in it up to the wrist, pull it out, and the hole that's remaining is a measure of how you'll be missed." We all get discarded, decommissioned, forgotten eventually.

But followers of Jesus are learning to see things differently, not because we believe that we're indispensable in and of ourselves, not because we trash the world's joys or hide our faces from its junk. No, it's only because when we look in the water, we don't see the mark we fail to make on the world. We see the water of Baptism that's joined us to Jesus, to His death and resurrection, to remake the world. And so it matters because it matters to Jesus. God, His Father, sent Him here to salvage what He'd created, to repurpose it. And when He returns to raise the dead and make all things new, all things will be beautiful in His time.

All of it matters because Jesus remembers. He remembers this no-name woman who gave her all. He remembers the rest of us who gave Him our joy and our junk. He remembers because God wants nothing to be wasted and none to be lost. So believe it. Take Him at his Word. Bring Him all you have. He will salvage, forgive, restore, repurpose everything.

I noticed that while we were sharing life over free pizza and salad on that cold winter night in a slightly dingy 100-year-old church fellowship hall, Josh, the construction worker, was writing down our answers on a scrap of paper, saving them so that we wouldn't forget when it came time to pray. And when Ms. Carly's voice came over the microphone saying it was time, we reviewed Josh's list. And we brought our joys and junk to Jesus. Amen.

Reflections for March 24, 2024
Title: Repurposed Joy and Junk

No Reflection Segment this week.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"In the Cross of Christ I Glory" by John Bowring & Ithamar Conkey (public domain). Recording courtesy of the Hymnal Project of the Michigan District, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Used by permission.

"Hosanna, Loud Hosanna" From O Lord, Open My Lips by the Children's Choirs of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana (© 1995 St. Paul's Lutheran Church)

"All Glory, Laud, and Honor" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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