Trashed, Treasured

Rev. Dr. Greg Osterberg

Luke 15:1-3; 11-32 (read by 4 different voices for characters)

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus[a] said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31 Then the father[d] said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”’

Jesus is story-telling to make his point. So, here is 21st-century news story to fit with it:
A certain woman, Bilikiss Abiola, (pronounced BILLY-KEESS) earned a wonderful opportunity.
She packed her things, said goodbye to her friends and family her home in Lagos, Nigeria, traveled thousands of miles to Massachusetts… Institute of Technology.
There she would study hard and work diligently toward a Masters of Business Admin.
An MBA from MIT would open up a world of possibilities for Bilikiss.
She could start a new business, or work at a big corporation at a high salary. Soon she could have enough money to provide for
Courtesy Wikipedia her family, and buy just about anything she wanted. The world was her oyster!

Yet, this is not who this young woman is. While still far from home, Bilikiss “came to herself,” to borrow Jesus’ phrase. She saw people in the U. S. sort their trash into recycling bins. She learned how recycling helps save the Earth, dramatically decreasing the amount of trash in landfills.

Then, this she remembered the huge trash problem back in her home country, Nigeria.
“People in the U.S. are very careful about taking care of waste.
I thought, Why not Nigeria?” she said.

In Lagos, about 60 percent of the trash made by the 21 million residents is never collected:
It sits in piles, sometimes in the street. More than an odiferous nuisance, uncollected trash is a dangerous health hazard. Trash piles are breeding flies, rodents, and disease. Lagos, Nigeria

In “Trash” Bilikiss’ saw new possibilities for her new MBA: She would start a recycling business to help Nigeria with its trash problem.

So, Bilikiss did what MBA’s do: She created a business plan. She calculated startup costs & business logistics. She dreamed up ways to educate people about recycling, and ways her company would help. She imagined a business name: We-cyclers!
Soon after graduation, she made the long journey home, eager to make a difference for her people. At first, things didn’t go as planned. It’s hard to get people to change their habits.People didn’t start recycling “just to help the environment.” So, Bilikiss started offering incentives — in essence paying people for their recyclables. “Credits” sent by text message to thousands of recyclers!
She showed people the value of what they were trashing. Lagos generates 735,000 tons of plastic each year: worth $300 million, which waste brokers could resell to be re-made. “That’s money lying on the street,” Bilikiss says.

Wecyclers visits some 6,000 homes each week exchanging cash and household goods for recyclables! They’re collecting 40 tons of “Trash” each month! We-cyclers helps the city with their trash problem, cuts down on the spread of disease, and generates cash — which helps people improve their lives. You could say, WeCyclers is “really cleaning up!”

This young woman traveled far from home… then came home to change the way her culture sees their “trash.” What once was seen as “trash” — is now seen as treasure!
In Luke 15, Jesus’ story famed “Prodigal Son” has similarities: a young person moving – far from home. Unfortunately,the son’s move from home has a very different narrative than the story of Bilikiss: almost the inverse!

The young man seizes a startling opportunity: Boldly, but insultingly, he demands his father’s gift of his share of a future inheritance. “Father” complies — but his son collects the assets and leaves.

Like Bilikiss, this young man also travels far from home – but, not to seek higher education, find a good job, or start a business. Instead, he squanders father’s money on, as Jesus so delicately puts it, “dissolute living.”
Before long, he too finds himself looking at trash — in a pig pen!
Where Bilikiss sees an opportunity in Trash, this guy sees that he’s “trashed” his life! Jesus says, it is then that this young man “came to himself.”
Though he’s turned his dad’s treasure into trash— it is time to turn his life around.
Even tho’ his motive is survival, that is
[Engraving: Hans Beham, (1500-1550) Wikipedia]
enough to start: God meets us where we are.
He devises a plan for going home; He rehearses an apology: In humility, he will ask his father for a job. Thankfully, this is not the end of this young man’s story, because like Bilikiss, the father sees value where others don’t.

The boy is still walking home, but his dad spies him in the distance. Setting aside his status as a patriarch and landowner, the father hikes up his robes, and sprints out to greet his son. The young man blurts out his planned speech, but his Father isn’t listening.
Painting: Guercino, 17th C.

His Father doesn’t need the young man to debase himself. Instead, the father is overjoyed! The true treasure he’d lost when his son cut ties and ran — has been returned to him. Calling for robes, rings and roast beef, his father demonstrates that he sees treasure in his son, not trash. That kind of love, transforms!

Many of us can put ourselves in that young man’s place: A voice inside of us only wants to look only at how we’ve trashed our lives.
Like a discarded soda can, we feel that whatever was of value inside of us has been poured out by our mistakes or willfulness. But, God is the Great Recycler.
God sees something very different in us: Treasure, yet untapped.
When we wake up, turn around, come home…
God declares a celebration!
That is what this Table is all about!
Here, the One crucified on the city garbage heap welcomes us to be turned into treasure: how God sees us. Here, even resentful elder bro’s eyes are cleared & hearts are softened – joy restored.

Our Creator restores treasure we often miss – in everyone! Daily we’re invited to join in — turning trash into treasure, right where we live! Starting right here…
Amen.