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Edward F. Markquart

Series C
The Junk Man

Lent 5     Isaiah 43:16-21

The Lord God said, “Look, behold, I make all things new.”

That phrase is found throughout the whole Bible, including the Old Testament lesson for today in Isaiah, chapter 43. In Isaiah 43, we hear that phrase again that God makes all things new. … Isaiah 43 is read often in our church. That is, it is read every year on New Year’s Eve. The following is the translation of the New English Bible of Isaiah 43 and this translation is always read on New Year’s Eve. “Don’t brood over past history. Don’t brood over the mistakes of the years gone by. I the Lord God am doing a new thing in your life. Can’t you see it? Can’t you perceive it? It is like a bud springing forth from the ground. It is like a small crocus poking its head through the dirt. I the Lord God am doing a new thing in your life. Don’t you see it? Don’t brood over past history or things gone by.”

That same theme is found in the book of Revelation, chapter 21. I need to set the scene. I need to tell you the story. In the fourth chapter of Revelation, we find God described for the first time. In the fourth chapter of the book of Revelation, God is sitting on a throne. It is a beautiful throne made out of carnelian, jasper, and emerald. Over that throne are thousands upon thousands of magnificent rainbows. God is sitting silently on that throne. Surrounding God are the twenty-four elders, the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament. Surrounding the faithful leaders of the Old and New Testament, are the cherubim and seraphim. Around them are the millions upon millions of angels. Still outside of them are the billions and billions of martyrs. All of them are raising their hands and wings in praise, all singing together, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

It is a magnificent scene. And God? God doesn’t say a thing. God is silent, as silent as a stone sphinx. Then come all the plagues of the world and God? God is still silent. God does not say a word. Finally, at the end of the book, the devil, Satan, is thrown into the abyss, into hell, and God still does not say a word. All the way through the book of Revelation God does not open his mouth. God sits silently on that throne until you come to chapter twenty-one. You come to the end of the book and God gets ready to speak. God draws in a breath and everything goes silent. Everything is quiet. God draws in a deep breath, and God says, … “Behold,  I   make  all   things   new.”

That theme that is found in the book of Revelation; that theme that is found in the book of Isaiah. That theme is woven throughout the whole Bible. God says, “I will make a new covenant with you. I will place in you a new heart. I will give you a new spirit. I will give you a new name. You will sing a new song. I will give you new wine.” The Apostle Paul says the same thing when he writes, “If anyone is in Christ Jesus, they are a new creation. The old has passed away; the new has come.”

Paul Tillich is a famous American theologian, and when we go to the seminary, we are required to read his philosophical works. He is a very good author. One of his most famous books is entitled, “The New Being.” In it, there are a series of sermons, and one sermon is entitled, “The New Creation.” I feel it is the best sermon in the book. He says in that sermon, “If you want to summarize the message of the Christian faith, you can summarize it in two words. It is the message of the…new creation. God who sat upon the throne said, “I make all things new.”

But, what does that mean? How do we translate that word? How do we understand that phrase? “I make all things new.”

I telephoned an antique dealer the other day. Their business specializes in restoring old furniture. I asked that person, “What goes into being an excellent restorer of old furniture?” He answered me immediately, “Imagination. Creative imagination. You have to see past all the layers of paint, chips, past the mars and scars. You have to look past all the faults in the wood and the broken pieces. You need to be able to see the piece of furniture in its original beauty. Your eye and mind has to have imagination, and you actually get kind of excited about the possibilities that you see beneath the surface. Then, you have to have time and energy. Not a little bit of time and energy and a lot of time and energy. These things don’t just happen overnight. It takes time. It takes disciplined energy. The miracle doesn’t happen just at the snap of a finger and immediately. It takes the necessary time and energy. Third, he says, “Love is more important than skill.” You need to love the piece of furniture and its possibilities. The skills aren’t that hard to learn, the skills of using the right solutions to strip it. The skill of choosing the right sandpaper. The skill of fixing a broken hinge.  These skills are important but not as important as loving the possibilities you can see in the furniture.” I said, “Thank you very much.”  He seemed to be a wise man.

I have applied the lessons I learned from the antique dealer to this piece of furniture standing before you today.  Today I need to talk with you about refinishing old furniture. Now, standing before you here in the sanctuary today, is an old desk. I refinished this desk years ago. Let me tell you the story. Nancy Welliver found this desk years ago down in a flophouse in one of the downtown Seattle hotels. She had little children and she needed cheap furniture. She bought this desk for absolutely nothing. It was all scarred up. There were cigarette butt scars burned into the wood. She did not have time to refinish it, so she just painted it green, to match the green of her children’s bedrooms. The Welliver children used this furniture through the years, and then it came time for the Wellivers to move to Witchata, Kansas. They said, “Edward, would you like a couple of old green desks?” I said, “We have some young children. Yes, we could use them.” Nancy gave them to us. I went to work on the desks. I saw the possibilities. I stripped the desks down. I stripped off the paint. I stripped off the varnish. Then there were those cigarette butt burns in the wood. Those burns were deep into the wood. I got into those burns with my sander, and I sanded and sanded and sanded. I had to work hard to get those butt burns out. There was an old leg that needed to be fixed. This leg was broken and I actually fixed it.  But that was just part of it. The desk looked so beautiful when it was stripped down. It looked so beautiful compared to what it was. But then, I had to rebuild. I put a varnish on it, a nice stain. The desk looked great after the stain. I put the first layer of  sealer or varathane. Then I sanded the varathane very carefully. The two layers. Steel wool. Then three layers. Then four layers. Five layers. Six layers. This is a beautiful desk. This is a … “new” desk.

The man was right: Imagination was needed to see past all the painted crud and scars. Much time and energy was needed to get rid of the crud and scars. Not a little time and energy but much time and energy. . Love was more important than skill. Loving the possibilities was crucially important in restoring this desk.

When God says, I make all things new; that is what God means. God take that which is old and makes it new. God would not take this desk and throw it out in an incinerator. He wouldn’t throw it into a garbage heap. That isn’t the way God works: throw it away and start all over. If God did throw the desk away and start all over, he would then go and get himself some seeds or plant some trees. Have the trees grow. Cut down the grown trees. Saw the wood into lumber. Build the wood into a new desk. Have the new desk sold to a store. The store would then advertise a new desk. That isn’t way God works. What God means by “making things new” is not making a new desk to sell in a retail store, but to take that which is corroded, scarred and broken down and restore it to its original pristine beauty. That is what the phrase means, “I the Lord God will make all things new.” You need to understand how God works. You need to understand the Biblical word, new.

Now, the analogy is so easy.  In many ways, our lives are like this old desk. Our lives become corroded and coated with layers of junk and old cruddy paint. We say we carry baggage. We are layered with baggage, with junk, with cruddy stuff.  As we grow older, there are layers of anger and bitterness and cynicism, where there is little joy in our lives. Through the years, we have collected innumerable habit habits. We have become critical, petty and short-fused about everything. We give into shallow and materialistic American values. We want to go buy this and that. … There is layer after layer after layer of crud that has accumulated in our lives.

But not only do we have crud. We also have enormous scars. We get scarred immensely by life. We all get hurt deeply. Scarred by childhood memories. Scarred by physical accidents. Scarred by emotional disasters. We know what scars are. They are the result deep cuts or terrible accidents. I don’t know one family in this parish who has not been scarred deeply by life.

We not only have crud on us and scars in us. There are broken pieces on the furniture that need to be fixed. So also in life. Things get broken in life. Broken families. Broken marriages. Broken dreams. I also don’t know anyone who has not been broken by life or will not be broken sometime in the future.

God needs to do something about the crud, the scars and the breaks in our lives.

So God goes to work on us. God has a great imagination and sees the possibilities in us. God sees past the crud, sees past the scars, sees past the brokenness and sees the divine possibilities in us. And then, God strips off the old paint. God strips off the old anger, cynicism and hatred and all the other bad habits we have developed. . God goes to work and starts to sand off those deep scars in our lives and then fixes the broken pieces of our lives.  This all takes time, more time than we want it to. But God doesn’t stop there. God starts to put on layer beautiful stain. And layers of grace and peace. And layers of joy and happiness. And layers of love and affection. And when God is done with us, God says, “I make all things new.” I restore that which is old, corroded and scarred into someone new.

 When we get broken down and corrupted and sick and old and rancid, God does not throw us away into a junk heap. God does not throw us away into an incinerator and go and get somebody else for a new people. No. God restores us. That is the purpose of God: to take that which is corroded, scarred and broken down and then God remakes us into new people.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many “re” words in the Bible? These are the words that begin with “re.” It is the Latin and the French prefix. It is the same for both languages. In the Bible, numerous key words use the prefix “re.” Resurrection. Rebirth. Restore. Renew. These are all key words in the Bible. These words talk about God returning us and creation to its original purpose and beauty.

Reborn. Do you remember when you were a little child of two, three, four, five, or six years old? Or if you can’t remember yourself at that age, can you remember singing to your own children or grandchildren when they were two, three, four, five, six years old? At night, they would go to bed, fold their hands, and pray to God. They knew for sure that God answered prayers. They knew for sure that God was all around them. They knew for sure that God would care for them through the night. Do you remember the absolute trust that a little child has in God? We need to be reborn; that is, we need to be returned to that time in life when we trusted God as a little child.

Reconciliation. We need to be reconciled. Do you remember those times when you had conciliatory relationships? Conciliatory relationships with your husband, your wife, when you were at peace with them? Think back on those times when you were really at peace with your husband or wife. Or really at peace with your son or daughter. Or really at peace with your mother and or father or friend.  Or think back to the times in life when you were really at peace with yourself. Do you remember those times when you were conciliatory? We need to be returned to those times in life when we were the kind of people that God wanted us to be. We need to be returned to our original pristine beauty.

Restore. The whole earth needs to be restored to its original form and beauty. Do you remember when you used to go hiking out in the woods up to Mount Rainier and you didn’t see all kinds of plastic bottles all along the road up and then all along the path? Do you remember going into national parks and you didn’t see all those aluminum can rings that seem to be scattered all over the globe? Do you remember those times when you used to go walking on the ocean and you would lift up your bare feet and there was no oil on the bottom of your feet? Do you remember those days? The whole earth itself needs to be restored. It needs to be returned to its original pristine beauty. …

I will restore you to the joy of your salvation. Do you remember those times when you were happy? Think back to those times when you were really happy, when you woke up in the morning with a song in your heart and a prayer on your lips. When you felt like praising God in song. When you felt like whistling. When was the last time you happily whistled? Why don’t you whistle any more? Do you remember those times in your life where you weren’t so rushed and racing, when you weren’t so concentrated on the tasks before you, where you weren’t so sour and negative, when you were truly happy inside? I do. The Lord God says, “I want to restore you to the joy of your salvation.”

In all of these words, we hear that God wants to restore us to our original pristine beauty. “I the Lord God make all things new.”

Jesus was the same way. The whole purpose of Jesus’ life was to restore human beings to their original beauty. When you think back on Jesus’ life, his whole purpose was to restore people to be healthy and loving. The woman at the well, the sick man lowered down through the roof by his four friends, the rich young ruler. You think of every story about Jesus and his earthly life, Jesus restored those people to health, to wholeness, to goodness, to happiness. That is what Jesus was in; Jesus was in the restoration business. He was giving people new life. That is, Jesus was restoring human beings, and in their restoration, those people found new life.

One time I had a friend a long time ago, way back in 1971, and his name was Dennis Barger, and he wrote a song called, “The Junk Man.”  In this song, he compared Jesus to a junk man who went around who went around and found old stoves and fixed up the old stoves. The song sounded like this: “O the junk man, yes, the junk man’s here. Pickin up stoves. Pickin up stoves. O the junk man. Yes, the junk man’s here.” It was a wonderful, wonderful song. In the song, the composer saw Jesus as being the junkman who went around and picked up old stoves, not to throw them away, but to restore them.

So how does God restore us? What does God do to restore us?

First, it is God who works the miracle. God is the potter and we are the clay. God is the carpenter and we are the wood. God is the sculptor and we are the marble. It is God who sees the imaginative possibilities with our lives.

I have to ask you a question about this desk here standing in front of me. Does this desk have the power within itself to restore its self? Is there anything within this desk that enables this desk to restore itself to its original beauty? What a dumb question. No. Restoration is something that happens to the desk. In other words, we don’t changer ourselves but God gets inside of us and changes us.

This was evidence in the rock opera, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the song of Mary Magdalene. She sang, “I’ve been changed, just really changed.” She didn’t sing, “I changed.” A Christian never says, “I changed myself.” A Christian always says, “I’ve been changed.” When God gets inside of you; when the Holy Spirit gets inside of you, God is the one who has the imaginative eye and sees the possibilities in us.

Next, God begins stripping off the old crud from our lives. Old habits. Old angers. Old stupidities. All the crud that has collected on our lives for many years now. …Our temptation is to want to forget this cleansing step and just have God put on the new varnish and varathane. I remember preaching a sermon one time of the theme of “stripping off the old.” I had an old, skuzzy, dirty T-shirt on, while standing in the pulpit. I said how people are tempted to put the white shirt and tie on, over the muddy T-shirt. But we all know that is not smart. Before the clean white shirt goes on, we must remove the old cruddy T-shirt from the body.  Likewise, God needs to work on us over time, helping us remove those defects of character. We all need help on this. We need others. You can’t do it alone. You can’t quit drinking alone. You can’t quit drugs alone.   Likewise, God needs to work on us over time, helping us remove those defects of character. We all need help on this. We need others. You can’t do it alone. You can’t quit drinking alone. You can’t quit drugs alone. You can’t quit smoking alone. You can’t quit smoking alone. You can’t get rid of damaging defects alone. We all need help…from friends, church, AA groups, and anyone else wanting to help us.

Next, God gets out his sander and goes deep into the wood to get out the scars. We all have scars from life. We all have those painful memories. Gradually, over much time, God heals those inner scars. How? I don’t know. It is like trying to explain a miracle. If you can explain a miracle, it is no longer a miracle. I personally have seen it happen again and again. God has sanded out those scars deep within. O yes, we still have memories, but the scars can gradually fade away. I have seen that happen again and again.

Next, God has to fix the broken stuff in our lives. The hinge on the door, the broken leg brace. All of our lives are broken. Broken marriages. Broken dreams. Broken families. Like the professional restorer said, love is more important than skill. God knows where we are most broken in our lives and God helps us put life back together again.

Next, God finally begins the restoration process, the positive beautifying process. The stain for color. The protective finish. The luster. On these old desks, there are several coats of varathane. God begins to shine our lives with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control. God shines us and begins to heal us.

Any time a life is restore, remade, and renewed, it is a miracle. God, prayer, people, love, support, confrontation, forgiveness. When these occur in our lives, it is always a miracle of God.

I love this desk. It is solid oak. I remember when it was pea-green, and as ugly as sin. But look at it now. It shines. It is like a new desk. Amen.

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