The Junk Man
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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