Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sermon: "Jesus Christ: Dumpster Diver, or, The Kingdom of Heaven is Fish Guts"

"Jesus Christ: Dumpster Diver, or, The Kingdom of Heaven is Fish Guts"

Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
Denver, Colorado
Third Sunday After Epiphany
22 January 2012

Texts: Jonah 3.1-5, 10
Psalm 65.5-12
1 Corinthians 7.29-31
Mark 1.14-20


-In today's Gospel, Jesus has his work cut out for him as he officially begins his ministry. St. Mark drops him smack in the middle of all out spiritual warfare. Jesus has just returned from being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. His cousin John is on death row after crossing corrupt King Herod. Demoniacs, disease, and disgruntled religious leaders loom on the horizon. Into such chaos, Christ dares to speak words of light and new creation, proclaiming, “the kingdom of heaven has come near!”

-And then, as his first act as Messiah, he calls…Simon Peter. And his fishermen friends. Which, by the way, I’m pretty sure was a folk group in the 1960s.

-Now look, the guy’s the Son of God. Who am I to question his methods. Yet, faced with the full forces of shadow and darkness, you’d think he could do better. Recruit some of those guerilla zealots from the Galilean hillside. Summon legions of angels. Beam in advanced technology from the future. At least hire some ninjas or wizards.

-And then there’s Jesus’ stump speech. “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of people!” OK, look. I love fishing as much as the next guy. But if you’re like me, wouldn’t you rather have the Savior do a little bit more…saving? Couldn’t he have said, “I’ll make you investment bankers of people,” or, “alt-country rock stars of people,” or even, “safe, secure, trouble-free, and ultimately-fulfilled for people?” You know, promises more likely to win over the hearts and minds of the civilians?

-But of course, this is Jesus we’re talking about. And so, instead of hiring fresh young ivy league grads to staff his kingdom campaign, he goes with a bunch of half-naked peasants standing knee-deep in water, seaweed tangled in their beards, reeking from the fish guts smeared on their brine-encrusted hands. Can’t you just hear Satan shaking in his little red boots? I’m sure the people of Galilee saw them and just sadly shook their heads. “What a stench,” I can hear them say. “And what a waste.”

-I can imagine the odiferousness of Jesus’ new community quite vividly, because, as many of you know, I spend a lot of my free time in dumpsters. In fact, as a dumpster diver, I like to think of those fishermen as kindred spirits. We both work all night to find food in the depths of dark, unsavory places. We’re not particularly liked by the cleaner element of society. And then, of course, there’s the smell.

-But like Jesus’ calling of fishermen, dumpster diving also brings to the surface a dark truth about the tyranny of perfectionism that oppresses so many in our opulent society. See, Americans throw out over 90 billion tons of food a year. That’s enough to fill enough boxcars to reach from L.A. to New York. And back again. We trash over half of what we produce, even as we grow fatter and the rest of the world thinner. I rejoice when I find a case of 599 perfectly good grass-fed free-range eggs that were thrown out because of a single broken shell. This provision feeds my family and five housemates, and there’s plenty left over to share with our neighborhood food bank and others who help feed the hungry.

-But I also lament. Because this much food does not need to be thrown away. While some of that food really has gone bad, in the majority of cases, it’s tossed because of a harmless blemish, an arbitrary sell-by date, or some other failure to live up to the ideal of perfection we think we deserve as citizens of a prosperous nation.

-Look, I’m by no means advocating that you all go out and eat trash. After all, it’s an acquired taste. But whether its unsavory food or unsavory fisher folk, we live in a culture of sin and death that claims to cherish the quirky and the quotidian, even while it tells us that true value, worth, and effectiveness are tied to prettiness, power, prestige, perfection. And discreetly asks us to toss out anything – or anyone – that doesn’t measure up to our idolatrous ideals.

-And that’s how Satan tries to win the war. By dangling the impossible ideal of perfection ever before our eyes. By selling the idea that to be a useful to the kingdom, you have to be proper, prosperous, professional – or, for that matter, become a professional, a pastor or a professor or some other respectable form of mental illness. As with our food, our lives are bombarded with the claim that we need to meet the sell-by date of our gifts and talents. All the while, we are simultaneously crippled by the false promise that what we need is always in the future, always somewhere else, if we only work hard enough or become perfect enough to deserve it. In the eyes of the world, the kingdom is never near - or never deigns to come near such messiness

-I wonder how many dreams and how many potential ministries we have all thrown away because they have failed to meet these satanic standards.

-I wonder how many of us have thrown our selves away because, whether we are prosperous or impoverished, we feel our lives are a waste.

-I wonder how many other people we have disregarded and discarded because, deceived by death, we’ve refused to acknowledge the value of their lives.

-I wonder how long a boxcar train all these would make. How many dumpsters they would fill.

-But again, this is Jesus we’re talking about. And this Jesus is the one who gazes upon the fisher folk of the world and sees the kingdom coming near. This Jesus not only embraces the stinking, fish-gut covered flesh of the forgotten and the filthy. He also goes so far as to clothe himself in that very flesh – blood, guts, odors and all! And in doing so, brings the kingdom near to us by his very presence as Immanuel, God with us. This Jesus is the Incarnate God who delights in diving head-first into the deepest dumpsters of the world’s wastefulness, because this Jesus seeks, not perfection, but a new community, and the restoration of all created things.

-This Jesus does not say, “become something else, and then you can do ministry with me.” No, this Jesus says, “follow me, and fish for people.” He says, “follow me, and become teachers – for people. Become lawyers, business people, social workers, musicians, artists, designer, dumpster divers, parents – all for people. Heck, be unemployed for people!” But most importantly, he says, “follow me, become more deeply who you are, and be the good creation I made and delight in – for people!” It doesn’t matter what your vocation may be. Even time spent not knowing your vocation is not wasted. Nor is time spent questioning, doubting, or hurting. What matters is that Christ sees you, looks upon you with a piercing gaze, and calls us to be, one and all, ministers of the Gospel, and servants of one another. Perfection’s not mentioned here. Just command and promise.

-Now, we don’t need new atheists or a theology degree to know that God’s history of working with people is far from, well, perfect. Christ called Peter, knowing full well that he would deny him three times. Christ built the kingdom, not on ideals, but on idolatrous human beings who fight over power, divide into denominations, kill heretics, exclude outsiders, and generally do everything in their power to waste the good gifts of community and vocation we’ve been given. If there’s a candidate for landfill status, it’s the church.

-But while the church may abandon Christ, Christ never abandons the church. Rather, he continually calls us to be a people who, having been reclaimed and re-made from the refuse, look on one another and the world as Christ does. Seeking, not perfection, but possibility. Wasting nothing, blessing everything. Diving into the depths of one another’s lives in order to serve one another, all the while building each other up in our vocations to be fishers of people, and followers of the one who first dove, from the heights of the cross, into the hellish dumpsters of our sin and our death, catching us in the net of his grace and his love. When we receive the Eucharist, we are salvaged from selfishness. When we embrace one another with a sign of peace, we are living reminders for one another that the kingdom has come near, and that there is a place in that kingdom for us all.

-There is no waste in the kingdom of God, and Christ throws nothing away in the new creation. Your life is not a waste in his eyes. You are held in the powerful gaze of Jesus, and his call seeks nothing less than the transfiguration of our entire lives. Christ does not promise power, prestige, or prosperity. But he has already given to us the perfection that is the freedom of grace to live our lives for others in the kingdom of Love.

-Christ the dumpster diver defeats the powers of darkness, not with angelic armies clad in pristine white, but by restoring humanity’s place in the creation. By making a place for fisher folk – stench, fish guts, and all. By making a place for you. That’s the kingdom of God, and it has come near, here in this place, and in all places. Hear the promise. Take the plunge. Dive on in.



  1. Thanks, Matthew. I needed that today.

  2. Excellent sermon! Thanks, I needed that too. I don't know if I ever told you, but I met Jesus in a dumpster... I'll tell you the story next time we can get together. Thanks again!