Sunday’s sermon: Uncommon Treasures

gum wall 2

Texts used – 2 Corinthians 4:6-18 and Mark 12:38-44

  • In the Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington, there’s an incredible, weird, beautiful, interactive, communal art installation that’s been a work-in-progress for 22 years.
    • It’s one of those really cool works of art that’s made up of so many small elements that the further away from it you get, the more you see. And the coolest part about it is that it’s communal. All sorts of people have been leaving their mark and adding to this work of art for more than 2 decades.
    • Specs[1]
      • 15’ x 50’
      • Setting for movie scenes
      • Popular backdrop for marriage proposals and wedding photos
      • Tourist attraction and local landmark, bringing people from all over the country and all over the world
      • Also named one of the 5 germiest tourist attractions in the world, second only to the Blarney Stone → You know … that block of limestone built into a castle in Ireland that everyone kisses.
    • This incredible, weird, beautiful, interactive, communal art installation can be found along the brick wall behind the Market Theater. In fact, the art installation is the brick wall because the wall is covered … in used chewing gum. Yup. You heard me right. Used chewing gum – probably millions of pieces of gum, several inches thick in some places, that have been stuck on and stretched and molded and manipulated into the most amazingly whimsical, fantastical, gem of a local landmark.
    • Interesting thing – came out this week that they’re cleaning this local landmark for the first time ever
      • Scraping off the gum
      • Scrubbing the wall
      • Steam cleaning
      • Purpose = actually preservation: sugar in the chewed gum is eroding the bricks
      • But once the alley wall has been cleaned, the city of Seattle has decided to allow people to begin sticking their used gum up on the wall again and creating a whole new work of art.
    • Use chewing gum. Chewing. Gum – that has become a local treasure, a place of beauty and inspiration and unexpected joy that has become so important to people that they are willing to spend another 20+ years recreating it. Used chewing gum – something that people usually throw away, toss into the garbage (if you’re lucky) or disdainfully scrape off the bottom of their shoes. Garbage. Unwanted. Disgusting, even. And yet here it is … treasured.
  • Both of our Scripture readings this morning present us with similarly uncommon treasures.
    • Scene Jesus described presents stark contrast
      • On the one hand: rich people throwing lots of money into the temple treasury box
      • On the other hand: widow who drops in a meager 2 coins
      • If we stopped our reading there and asked, “Who gave more?”, this story would basically be a no-brainer. “Count it up! Math is math, right? Two is greater than one. One hundred is greater than two. Done and done?” But as usual, Jesus flips our standard expectation on its head.
        • Text: Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.[2] → In this example, Jesus is making the point that what the widow gave is treasured above all else not because of the quantity of her giving but because of the quality of it. The diminutive nature of her contribution made it uncommon in relation to all the other gifts being given. The sincerity and devotion and self-sacrifice with which she gave those coins is what made them a treasure.
          • Highlights treasure of her gift
          • Even more importantly: highlights treasure of the woman herself → Seeing as this woman was a widow, which meant that she had absolutely zero status in Jewish culture at the time unless she had male relatives to stand up for her, it’s possible that the rich people didn’t even notice this woman at all – literally didn’t even see her. Or worse yet, that they actively tried not to see her. But Jesus did see her. Jesus noticed this woman.
  • Made me wonder what kind of treasures we’re missing out on in our lives because we’re not ready or willing to see them → What is God trying to bring to our attention?
    • Treasure in the world around us – nature that we take for granted
      • Stunning colors in the sunrise/sunset
      • Quiet wonder of snowflakes falling gently from the sky
      • Miraculously precise way that nature interacts with and renews and strengthens itself – circle of life
    • Treasures in the people around us
      • Who are the treasures that we often forget to see?
        • Maybe see them so regularly that we’ve begun to take them for granted?
      • Who are the treasures that we actively choose not to see?
        • Those who are different from us
          • Economically, racially, religiously
          • Different in terms of gender, sexual orientation, education level, social status
        • Striking e.g. – those struggling with mental illness
          • Stats[3]
            • 8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year – That’s 1 in 5 people. One in five!
              • Nearly 60% of them didn’t receive any treatment last year
            • Result of choosing not to see
              • 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters are living with mental illness à notice caveat: “staying in shelters” = skewed statistic because what about those on the streets?
              • 24% of state prisoners have “a recent history of a mental condition”
              • 70% of children in juvenile justice system have at least one mental health condition
          • Social stigma surrounding any and all kinds of mental illness and yet there are incredible contributions to the world – art, science, math, literature, drama, political activism and advocacy – made every day by people that society often chooses not to see → uncommon treasures that are commonly overlooked
            • Reminds me a lot of that beautiful gum wall in Seattle → I’m sure that there are people who look at that wall and see just the stickiness, just the “ick factor” – people that can’t get past the fact that it’s just a bunch of used chewing gum stuck up on that wall, people who just can’t step far enough outside their comfort zones to recognize the unexpected and abstract beauty of it.
  • Choosing not to see – whether it’s actively choosing or not – is even more pejorative when we see that Paul makes it clear that human being as a whole are uncommon treasures in our other New Testament passage this morning!
    • Passage begins by speaking of glorious nature of the light of God that shines in each and every one of us → highlights the treasure
    • But then we come to one of Paul’s most famous comparisons: But we have this treasure in clay [jars] so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us.[4]
      • Uncommonness of placing a treasure as sacred and precious as the light of God in such a vessel → Face it, ya’ll, when it comes to finding a receptacle and a bearer for the light of God, we are a strange choice indeed! We are fragile. We are commonplace. And compared to the incredible treasure that we carry with us, we are woefully unadorned.
        • Get impression of this in Paul’s following description of struggles: confused, harassed, knocked down, dying even as we live à encompasses all those things that pursue us and plague us each and every day
      • And yet God chose to come down and be a part of our strange and fragile humanity in Jesus Christ. God chose to come down and live this commonly uncommon life with us to bring us the treasure of eternal life in God’s own holy presence. → bring us uncommon strength, uncommon courage, uncommon endurance
        • Paul: We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.[5]
        • Goes on to speak of uncommon treasure that witnessing to that faith can be: We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you. All these things are for your benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory. … Our temporary minor problems are producing an eternal stockpile of glory for us that is beyond all comparison.[6]
  • We do this because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will also raise us with Jesus, and he will bring us into his presence along with you.” Friends, carrying name “Christians” makes us bearers of ultimate uncommon treasure: Christ himself.
    • God came down as a Jew in a society in which Jews on the whole were powerless and oppressed
    • God spent time with those who were even more disregarded and disdained
      • Women
      • Children
      • Those who were sick and disabled
        • Lepers
        • Beggars
        • Those who were ritually unclean according to Jewish law
        • Possessed of demons (which many scholars today believe were people battling some form of mental illness)
      • Sinners
    • God came down to live among us knowing that the death that lay ahead of Jesus was the excruciating and humiliating death of a criminal. God came down to experience this life knowing that it wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows. There would be pain. There would be sorrow. There would be regret and shame and fear and disappointment. There would be trouble and confusion and harassment. There would be death on a cross. But there would also be light. There would also be joy. There would also be laughter and teaching and tenderness and healing. There would be empowerment and friendship and love. Above all else, there would be the uncommon treasure of grace – unearned, undeserved, and unconditional. Amen.

[1] “Gum Wall” from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_Wall. Last updated 3 Nov. 2015, accessed 5 Nov. 2015.

[2] Mk 12:43-44 (CEB, emphasis added).

[3] “Mental Health Facts in America” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers, accessed 7 Nov. 2015.

[4] 2 Cor 4:7.

[5] 2 Cor 4:8-10 (emphasis added).

[6] 2 Cor 4:13-15, 17.

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