March 10, 2013
Homily preached in Penang, Malaysia, on the Silver Whisper
on March 10, 2013, the Fourth Sunday of Lent
by The Reverend Hope Howlett Eakins
This afternoon in Penang, we saw a statue of Queen Victoria which narrowly escaped destruction by the Japanese in World War II, as they sought metal to melt down for ornaments. But they never saw Victoria because a local resident hid her in a chicken coop until the war was over.
Last Tuesday we visited the Temple of the Golden Buddha in Bangkok. This Buddha was made of SOLID gold in the 14th C. It weighs 5 1/2 tons, is 15' 9" high and 12' 5" wide. When the Burmese attacked Siam in the 15th C, smart monks covered the Buddha with plaster to hide it, doing such a good job of it that people forgot what was underneath and no temple wanted the Buddha because it was so lumpy and heavy. So it sat there for 600 years, until one abbot decided to chose the statue for his monastery and had it moved there, but alas, the Buddha fell from the crane and cracked. But then one day in 1955, when a monk was praying, he saw a glint beneath the crack and discovered the gold - all 5.5 tons of it! Now this Buddha sits in a gorgeous temple and knocks your socks off (well that’s not exactly true but you do have to take your shoes off to go and see it).
Many years ago, Bill and I also found treasure. It was a rainy spring that year, and the men whom Bill had hired to paint the outside of the church were at loose ends because of the weather. So Bill had an idea: perhaps they could clean the bell tower of the grit that had accumulated for a hundred years or so. The grit was mostly dried bird droppings, and the painters loaded it into great bags and dropped them down to the undercroft where some folks gathered to package them. Sign of the Dove we called it and we marketed it as fertilizer. It was actually very good fertilizer, according to the State Agricultural lab’s analysis, and we had a ton and a half of it, which when sold raised $110,000 by turning garbage into treasure.
There is a lesson for us all in these stories, I think, about the redemption of garbage, about finding gold in an unexpected place. For aren’t these our hopes too? Hopes of finding solutions in unexpected places after we have searched our mind and soul and found them bare? Hopes of seeing what looks like waste transformed into something that evokes growth and new life. From dung to fertilizer … isn’t that at the heart of our desire, to go from frail and fallible human beings to children of God with a purpose in this world?
What the story of God’s guano teaches is that what looks like unacceptable garbage, what we like least about ourselves or our situation, what we are ashamed of, can be redeemed by God and used to make the world grow.
In today’s reading, St. Paul gives all sorts of instructions about Christian life, about being kind and humble and patient - and then he sums them up - saying “Be thankful.” He tells us to be grateful for what we have and to ask for God’s grace to use whatever we have - even if it looks like garbage. There is treasure to be found in the church tower and beneath the Buddha’s plaster and in a chicken coop. There is treasure to be found in each of us. The thing we may want to throw away may be the gift of greatest value to us. Are you judgmental? With God’s grace you can become a person of great discernment. Are you lustful? With God’s grace your desire can be turned into deep and selfless love. Are you selfish and acquisitive? With God’s grace you may become passionate for righteousness. Are you timid and cowardly? With God’s grace you can grow in powerful dependence on God. Are you slow to learn? You can become a person of great compassion and patience.
As the old saying goes, God doesn’t make junk. We are all precious treasure waiting to be transformed by God who loves us and can make all things new.