One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Text: Matt. 10:5, 21-33
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” so the old saying goes. This happens figuratively, where something that’s not valued very much might have great value to someone else. It also happens quite literally, going beyond sentimentality or personal opinions. Shows like American Pickers or the several shows where people will bid in auction on locked storage units have shown this idea come to life in new ways. Sometimes someone’s literal garbage, or their stockpiled forgotten junk, can yield valuable antiques, artifacts, or other rare items. It can be exciting to watch this happen and to imagine that we might have some unknown hidden treasures in the midst of all our possessions.
But we can also start to see ourselves in this equation in a different way that can become less fun and exciting. For every person who discovers a priceless artifact, there’s someone who lost it. It’s particularly hard for us to think that we’re not the ones who can recognize hidden gems. We don’t always know what we have, nor do we recognize how good we have it. We don’t like being the ones who can’t see a treasure for what it is, assigning the value of trash or junk, to be picked up by someone else from our curb.
But it’s hardest for us when we are the ones in the scale—not merely as the ones losing a treasure or finding it, but when we’re the ones so casually thrown away. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but it seems in this society of ours, we’re all too ready to throw out people, who are also all too ready to throw us out as worthless too. It’s the most difficult when we have Jesus’ words today that tell us that we are the ones deemed junk by others. “Brother will deliver brother over to death,” Jesus says, warning those who follow Him, “and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Hard, troubling words, but our Lord has never been one to sugarcoat difficult truths.
It’s always been this way for those who follow their Lord. From the very beginning, when Abel was murdered by his brother Cain; to Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers; to the prophet Jeremiah, who was a laughingstock before his own people because he kept trying to warn them that their financial security and shallow social peace wouldn’t be enough to save them—all these have had to bear the cross of persecution for following God. Even our Lord Himself was slandered by His own people. His siblings thought He had lost His mind and they tried to restrain Him. Government officials like Pontius Pilate and the good upstanding members of the community like the Pharisees bent and broke the law just to punish him for saying that they needed more than their own strength, their own goodness, their own ability to climb into heaven themselves. So Jesus says, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house”—Jesus—“Beelzebul”—a prince of demons—“how much more will they malign those of his household.”
Of course, our fallen nature which loves being celebrated and honored by the fallen world, will bristle at this. No one likes to think that they’ll suffer, especially for being a believer. Some may even now be wondering why they can’t have both Jesus’ approval and the approval of the unbelieving world. Why can’t I have worldly comfort and honor and be a believer? Why can’t I have what both God and mammon offer? Why shouldn’t I have everything I want in this world and the next?
But that’s just the old Adam and Eve in us talking. That’s just our flesh raging against the cross that we must bear as believers. Do we really think that we can follow in our Lord’s footsteps and not walk the same paths He did? Do we really think that we can have our eyes focused on eternity and also have a life that looks the same as those who don’t believe in our Lord or follow His Word? Should we, who know all that our God is offering, be fixated on what this world offers, only for here and now? “A disciple is not above his teacher,” Jesus tells us, “nor a servant above his master.” So we should recognize that if our Lord underwent such things, that we should be ready to undergo them too, just as all those who went before us in the faith have. Our lives will look different. And even if some of our actions look the same as the world’s, our motivations behind them will be very different—not because we’re hoping for some sort of reward, but because of who we are, because our Lord has done it, so we will too.
It can be uncomfortable. We will have to say no to some of what the world offers. We’ll even have to disagree with what it says is good or worthwhile. And that will earn us some anger from the world, as it did for Abel, for Joseph, for Jeremiah, for the Apostles, and for Jesus.
But the whole point of what I’m telling you is that it’s OK. This has seemed like a lot of bad news. It’s not really bad news. The whole point of our reading today is to tell you to have no fear of them. Jesus has told you that the anger of the world, its disappointment with you, its evaluation of your worth, all of that really means nothing. “When they deliver you over,” Jesus says, “do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” You have the Triune God backing you up. What can the world do to you? The world may mock you and call you worthless, foolish for believing the things you believe, silly, backwards, whatever little insults they can come up with; but to your Lord, you are a treasure. To Him, you’re valuable enough to die for. To Him, you’re the most important person in the world and He’s stopped at nothing to have you spend eternity with Him. He’s picked you up, cleaned you, polished you, and carries you everywhere, showing all of creation—angels and archangels and all the forces of the cosmos—exactly how much you mean to Him. That’s what He did in Baptism, here today, and at your own Baptism. That’s what He does every time He tells you your true worth in the words of the Absolution at the beginning of the service. That’s why He gives you His own body and blood to strengthen and defend you here at the Communion rail. What you have in your Lord is so much better than whatever trinkets the world can give. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. You’re Jesus’ treasure, and He is yours. And the things that the fallen world treasures—well, those things won’t last. Power, fame, money, comfort, prestige—it all goes away. But what your Lord gives you never fades away.
So rejoice. Rejoice to be different. Rejoice to be unique. Rejoice to swim upstream, even when the rest of the world is going with the current. Your Lord has called you to something beautiful. Hold fast. Keep your eyes on what Jesus has given you. Be strengthened with His gifts. He has promised, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” You will be saved. He has seen to that. So rejoice in His saving work. In the name of Jesus, who makes us strong, Amen.