Sermon for December 27th, 2020
I was ordained priest at a church on the upper east side of Manhattan, and we had a delightful parishioner in that parish, who despite living in one of the country’s richest zip codes, was not particularly wealthy. She always referred to her home decor as “trouvé” the French word for “found” meaning that her home was furnished and decorated with stuff that she found on the side of the road.
Now I have since discovered that this is quite a thing, especially in NYC, because the difficulty and expense of moving things often leads people to abandon some very fine furniture pieces to the garbage collector. If you keep your eyes peeled and actually pay attention to what others are discarding, you can find some real treasures mixed in with the trash. That was this parishioner’s firm conviction, so her house was filled with “trouvés.”
I was thinking of her this past week as I was setting the table for Christmas dinner. If you know the character Hyacinth Bucket from the British sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, you will recall how famous she was for her candlelight suppers. Well, I must admit, I channel Hyacinth sometimes. I too want people to stagger back in admiration when they enter my dining room. But as I was polishing silver and setting out china, I realized that quite a lot of my treasured, beautiful things are trouvés, things I found. Sure, I have a number of lovely gifts that have been given to me by friends and family and parishioners, and there are some quality items that I have purchased myself, but a great number of my treasures, were at some point, in someone else’s eyes, trash…not worth keeping.
Growing up, I used to spend hours and hours scouring thrift stores with my Grandmother, maybe that is where my own love for trouvés started, but I have since discovered that there is more to this than just collecting milk glass and used furniture. It is a way of looking at the world. It is a realization that we humans have this tendency to cast aside things that are really of great beauty and value. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. And we all had our reasons.
Maybe we thought the leg on that chair couldn’t be fixed. Silver has to be polished. Fine china can’t go in the dishwasher. As things get older, they frequently require a bit of work and maintenance, and let’s face it, a lot of the time we just can’t be bothered. And then there are other times when we no longer see the beauty in something because we are bored with it, disinterested or distracted. We don’t just do this with furniture and Nic-nacs, we do it with houses and buildings, whole neighborhoods and cities; the church has at times done it with her prayers and rituals, casting aside things of great beauty in favor of that which is simply new or convenient. We throw treasures away; we do it with things, we do it with thoughts and ideas, and we do it with cities and we do it with people.
In the Book of Isaiah this morning we hear the prophet proclaiming “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God.” Why all this rejoicing? Why the exultation? Because he can see Jerusalem and the glorious temple of God being rebuilt. The temple had been destroyed and the entire city laid waste by the Babylonians. After Babylon had taken what they wanted out of the city, it and its inhabitants were rubbish as far as they were concerned. Jerusalem, the treasure of the Jewish people and the place where God dwelled, had been trashed and cast aside. Thrown away. And now, it was being redeemed. God was taking her and picking her up, dusting her off, and putting a new garment on her, a garment of salvation. God was fixing that which was broken; God was polishing that which was tarnished. In God’s hands, that which was cast aside as worthless and of no value, was now shining like a jewel: a crown, a royal diadem. But it isn’t just the walls of Jerusalem that are being redeemed; it is her people. God was saving people that the world had thrown away.
If God behaved like we do, this world would have been consigned to the dust bin long ago. The moment we humans lost our ability to shine, the moment we became broken or a little old, God could have just tossed us all out and started over. But that is not the story of our faith and that is not the God we believe in. God does not behave like us. God is in the business of redemption. The Christian story is a redemption story. From the beginning of time, God has always been looking for trouvés, treasure among the trash. God’s mission is to find the broken and the forgotten and the obsolete and to make it shine and sparkle again. That is what the mission of Christ was all about: redemption. In this world, that by human standards should have been thrown away, God still sees great beauty; enough at least to jump down into this dumpster with us, confident that there are still treasures here that with a bit of love and polish, just might be fit for his heavenly banquet.