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All Things New

All Things New

There are loads of things in my life that fall in and out of use: clothes, shoes, book bags, tools, etc. Sometimes I discard them quite easily, and other times it’s difficult to let them go.  I use plastic bags when I go to the grocery store.  I know.  Don’t judge me!  I should be more environmentally conscious.  When I’m finished with the plastic bags, I simply toss them in the trash.  I suffer zero attacks of conscience by doing this.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are many in my family who save these bags religiously.  They roll them up and cram them in a box with a small hole in it and shove that box under the sink or out in the garage somewhere or in the pantry.  You never know when you might need a plastic bag, right?  It is not on my radar to save these things because they have served their purpose and no longer have an immediate usefulness to me.  But to others, this is wasteful.  Those bags can be reused for all sorts of things!  They can be used for lunch bags, garbage bags, waterproofing the inside of your cycling shoes (don’t ask!).

Usefulness. Utility. Benefit. We all have different ways of understanding and interpreting this concept.  I’m sure you’ve heard the adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  It’s so true.  I’ve been known to pick up things on the side of the road—like ottomans or end tables.  And I have also tossed lots of items to the curb at my house that have been gathered up by others who were searching for that very thing.  So the discarded gets retaken up into a state of efficacy. 

When I was in college, I had a friend named Mike Giles.  Mike was everybody’s friend.  He was very outgoing, very funny, and he seemed to be everywhere all the time.  Of course omnipresence is reserved for the divine, but Mike Giles came in a close second!  I would see him in the cafeteria at just about every meal, regardless of what time I chose to take that meal.  I saw him walking to class most days.  He was involved with SGA, so there were loads of Mike Giles posters to be seen.  He was ubiquitous ... sort of.  Mike came from a large family whose members are all just like him.  They are boisterous and love any excuse to get together.  He used to talk about his family get-togethers with a mixture of fondness and head shaking.  Of course it’s fun to eat with and spend time with people you love, but it can also be more than a little irritating.  Everyone knowing everyone else’s business; it can be aggravating.  Paul Thorne wrote a song called “I don’t like half the folks I love.”  That sums it up well for many people!  Anyway, the Giles family get-togethers became legendary.  They were epic tales on par with the Aeneid or Beowulf, except more on the Greek comedy end of the spectrum. 

I was at school for an extra year starting a master’s degree, and Mike may have been a junior by that time (I think!). I remember hearing through some mutual friends at our college ministry about how Mike went with a large group to a music festival that was out of state.  It could have been Music Midtown in Atlanta or Bonnaroo ... I honestly can’t remember that detail. Regardless, Mike is walking around with his buddies when he sees a total stranger wearing something familiar.  He goes up to this person and says, “Hey man, where’d you get that shirt?”  “I think I got it at a Goodwill store in Alabama,” says the mystery man. “Why do you want to know?”  “Do you like it?” Mike asks the kid.  “Yeah, it’s a pretty hilarious t-shirt.  It looks like whoever had it made must have been a really fun group of people.”  Mike pauses ... “That’s a t-shirt from my family reunion!  I have a ton more at my parents’ house.”  They both explode into laughter!  Sure enough, this total stranger was wearing a shirt with a mowtown-esque logo that said “Giles Family Reunion,” among other things.  And when Mike got back to school, everyone wanted one of those shirts. 

That story got retold quite a bit over the years.  I’ve never forgotten about it.  Of course I literally L.O.L. when I recall it.  But there’s something about it that always makes me feel uplifted or encouraged.  A ridiculous t-shirt created a bridge that carried two complete strangers into a state of friendship.  I love it when random things like that happen!  Who knows which member of the exorbitantly large Giles family got rid of the shirt!  Maybe they outgrew it.  Maybe they got tired of it.  Or maybe it had simply served its purpose and they needed to make room for other things. 

Jesus isn’t like me.  He doesn’t use things up and then just toss them once he’s gotten what he wants.  He could, I suppose.  He would be perfectly within his rights as the “firstborn of all creation,” “very God of very God.” Instead, what he decided to do is vehemently and joyfully to pursue the hopelessly broken things of this planet and buy them back to route them towards a better end.  This world along with all that it contains is under a yoke of futility.  We are altogether spent and useless.  We are worthy of being discarded.  We are used t-shirts and target bags.  But we can all be repurposed. 

Jesus is kind.  His kindness enters into our experience and draws us back to ourselves.  Fundamentally, he loves us.  “He so loved the world,” that he displayed the “greater love that hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  He walked among us, judging the brutality of the religious but embracing the drunkards and the gluttons and the tax collectors and the prostitutes—the discarded—and he called us “friend.”  No journey back to the garden can begin without the kindness of Jesus.

Jesus is authoritative.  “Being in very nature God,” He left his kingly office and “for the joy set before him endured the cross.”  He became the cumulative effect of every drop of blood from every bull, ram, or sheep ever spilt for any child’s indiscretion.  He is the ultimate sacrifice that covers all.  A dying God, enduring the death of a criminal, on behalf of his enemies.  And it might have ended there—a purchase that wasn’t sealed.  “But on the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father.  From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”  He has the power to reshape!

Jesus is creative.  He doesn’t always take the most direct route.  Instead of lighting the sky with a massive brilliantly lit sign that says “Hey guys, I’m back!”, he chose to walk with his friends on the road to Emmaus and let a simple snack with a stranger burst their world wide open to realize they’d been with the risen Savior.  Instead of walking out of the tomb directly into the office of the emperor, he gently greets a group of women who had come to pay their respects.  Often, instead of telling us what to do, he told us stories—stories that paint a tangible picture of an intangible reality—stories that bring reprobates adjacent to heaven in our minds and in our hearts.  The impossible has become possible.  A curtain has been torn, a stone has been rolled away, and a spark has become a thousand tongues of fire.  Who would have ever thought to do it this way?  No one, except Jesus.

Meanwhile back in the Goodwill store, I’m looking through the t-shirts trying to find something ironic with a high “hipster quotient.”  The Giles family reunion comes screaming back into my conscious attention.  Is this how Jesus might feel?  Digging through things that nobody wants hoping to find a diamond—something he can use again to make a new creation?  I don’t know, but it definitely makes me wonder.  And isn’t it unexpected that in order to complete his joy in proudly wearing the castaway, he put himself in the donation bin.  He allowed himself to be hung on the rack.  He was sold and cast aside. 

There is nowhere we can go where Easter cannot find us.  It is as inconspicuous as a conversation with a stranger, and then we are surprised by a Savior.  It’s as camouflaged as a mustard seed that then grows into an overwhelming garden.  It’s as unassuming as a few loaves and fishes that then feed a great multitude.  In the hands of Jesus, there’s just no end to what can be made.  Let Easter take over and open our eyes to the impossible reality that we never dared to hope for: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and underfoot, and overhead; it surrounds us, and its gracious Lord is always making all things new.