Yes, I confess. I used to dread our biannual church yard sales, which are always on a Saturday, but take two days to set-up. A lot of my distaste for them was the pressure of time while raising kids, the neglect of my own home and yard that would still have to be made up, and the tedium. I’ve noticed a gradual and growing shift in my attitude over the years, and while my reflections are fresh in my mind from our most recent one today, I thought I’d share some of them.
We live in a consumption driven, acquisitively orientated society. No doubt about it. I lament it often—just ask my kids—while knowing full well I am implicated in it. It’s tempting to look at all the donations we have at our yard sale and think “What a shame. All this stuff people acquire and discard. We live in such a disposable society, buying stuff we don’t need and then tossing it out.”
I used to do that, and maybe I’m just projecting onto others; maybe no one else looks at it that way. Without a doubt there’s some truth to it. I see it differently now, though. I look around and I see a high chair parents used to feed their baby in. I see couches people used to snuggle on as they rested at the end of the day. I see kitchen tables that people used to fellowship around, pray around, laugh around and sustain themselves with daily bread. I see toys and games a child once opened with delight under a Christmas tree or unwrapped for a birthday. I see clothes that protected people and kept them warm or cool or dry as they worked, played, worshipped or even hurt, hungered and grieved. I see exercise equipment that at least represented hope if not reality, cups that helped quench thirst, pictures that used to hang on walls and brighten a room and vases that held beautiful flowers that brightened a day. I see books that educated, fascinated and entertained.
It’s all there, and more, much more. Above it all I see love. We all know that the most precious gifts we have to offer are not tangible. But, being the frail creatures of the tangible world of sense that we are, when we freely and joyfully give tangible gifts to one another, we are able, by doing so, to also give them intangible gifts.
Not all, but some of the donations were once gifts given or received in love. Some of them were probably things that used to belong to departed loved ones that their family is finally able to give away as they struggle to move through their grief. Some of them were originally purchased as a way to care and provide for someone’s family. Some were bought in hopes (perhaps misplaced, but who knows?) of being better people. Some were bought to do good work, to better care for creation, to spend time in genuine activities of re-creation. Some, yes even some, were probably bought wisely, on a budget, when something else nicer, better, lovelier, but more expensive, would have been preferred, but the person wanted to save more for generous, cheerful giving or necessary provision. And now they have given them away, in hopes that others may find some value in them, rather than toss it in a landfill.
Of course some of the stuff was unneeded, was charged with money one did not have, was bought in an attempt to satisfy a selfish desire, or was put to bad use, but not all, probably not most. Many of the donations we had to offer were bought by people seeking to fulfill real needs or to give as the best gift they could to someone they dearly love, and maybe even to save money to give more to God or to others, and the donations helped them to do just that.
On yard sale weekends, our fellowship hall is packed with shared humanity: our memories, hopes, generosity, longings and love as well as our greed, acquisitiveness, envy, discontent and self-inflicted pain. It’s packed with the image-bearers of God and the fallen, broken, prideful rebels those image-bearers have become.
And it’s packed with another kind of humanity, too: the humanity of church family fellowshipping and serving. I say serving because I believe most of the people who come are sincerely glad and genuinely needful of the things they buy, and knowing it’s not ideal, it truly helps our church continue to serve and worship God. It would be nice to not have to use the proceeds for the budget, to give it all away to Lutheran Services for the Aging or ELCA World Hunger or Disaster Relief, or to Synod benevolence, and that’s a good goal worth striving for and remaining mindful about, but God knows our frame; He knows our need; and He understands our fears and weaknesses.
I’m not willing to concretely say that we have not been faithful in giving. I only know that I haven’t always, so it’s likely in the abstract that others have sometimes also not been as faithful as they should. But this too I know: God is always faithful, and He provides in our unfaithfulness without ever approving of it, always prompting us to more faithfulness and more generosity. We need, nay, we must move towards that with the help of God’s grace and the power of His Spirit, but we must also give thanks to God for His provision now.
I also say fellowshipping because there’s a chance to get to talk to church family you may not get to talk to that often, the sharing of stories and memories, and even a good laugh or two. Most get the chance to sit down and share a meal with someone. There’s also the natural fellowship of shared labor, which doesn’t always include words, and the appreciation one gains for the willingness of others who do all the setting up and preparing. To top it all off, it’s intergenerational fellowship!
One also meets members of the community. Some of the same people come year after year, and many of them will stop and talk if you give them an opening. In the slow part of the afternoon this past Saturday, I spoke to a man who seemed hesitant to say more than hello, but I pressed a little and the next thing I knew we had a 20 minute conversation.
It’s a different world for me than it was 5-6 years ago when I begrudgingly started working at them. Go to one sometime and see for yourself. Bring a fresh pair of eyes. They really help!