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Lessons from a Yard Sale

May 20, 2012
Sermon:  Lessons from a Yard Sale
Text:  Galatians 5:22-25


If “Lessons from a Yard Sale” strikes you as an odd title for Graduate Recognition Sunday, believe me, you had the same reaction as those on staff when I first announced the sermon topic. 

I want you to think with me about an event that occurred here at Morningside about a year and a half ago on October 2, 2010.  Many of us cleaned out our basements, garages, and attics and brought all of those items we no longer wanted to the church for a yard sale.  Many church members gave the accumulation of years to the church, bringing items they had discarded to be sold.  Thank you, so much.  I cleaned out my barn, and I am so glad the items I donated are with you and not still housed in my barn.

Many of these young people who are graduating from high school were a part of that big event in the life of the church.  So many of us were involved, in fact, that the yard sale actually became a fellowship.   Group events that involve many individuals are more fun. There is always strength in numbers.  That yard sale was one such event that became a church-wide fellowship.

The youth organized and sold the donations, with the proceeds going to the church building fund for the Extreme Makeover.  That yard sale, at least in my memory, deserves some recognition.  It was one of the first ways of increasing the giving to the building fund.    On that occasion, the youth provided the leadership.

Many of you have played a significant part in the lives of these young people and their time here at Morningside.  All of us have prayed for them when they traveled on mission trips.  Some of you have taught them in Sunday School or in Sunday night programs.  Every single one of our students is important to the life of this church; and all of us have, in some way, had a hand in bringing them to this point in their lives.

Having been a part of yard sales in every city I have lived, I have learned some lessons that I want to share with you.

One lesson I have learned is that if you want to have a sale, you must be prepared, planning ahead of time and not waiting until the last minute.  This step includes managing your space.   Deciding how items will be organized so that you can see everything that is going on is vital.  Have your customers in mind, thinking of such needs as an electrical source.  People will want to check the actual working condition of any appliances they may want to purchase.

I want to give a word of caution; do not allow customers to enter your house, even if it is hot, the children need a drink of water, and someone wants to use the restroom.  Send them to Hardee’s or to some other public place where they can meet those needs.  Refusing people entrance into your home is one of the most important bits of advice you can follow when managing your space.

Second, you must adjust your attitude when meeting and dealing with the public.  Be friendly, greeting people when they arrive, exchanging stories, and sharing common experiences.  Remember, though, that you are there to sell and they are there to buy.  Focus on those customers who are interested in purchases.  The public can oftentimes be cantankerous, as many of you know.  It is important for you to be the calm, especially when people want to throw fits at yard sales.  You be the calm.  Let them be the storm.

Managing your time is also essential.  Customers often show up and hang around before daylight, wanting to cherry-pick and get the best selection.  Set a beginning time and an ending time, and stick with it.

Finally, manage your money.  Helpful hints include carefully determining the prices, labeling each item, and keeping a record of sales.  Keep your money on your person – in a fanny pack or better yet your pocket – not in a shoebox.  Keep a cell phone handy just in case you have to dial 9-1-1 to get help from authorities.  You calculate the cost of purchases, not your customers.  This next statement may greatly surprise you, but some unscrupulous people in this world will steal, steal even an item priced for a dime.   Some will give you a ten-dollar bill for their purchase and vow they gave you a twenty.  Be prepared for people who will change price tags on items or remove merchandise from a box, conceal it in their clothing, and leave an empty box.  Stick to your guns about prices early in the sale.  As the day grows longer and you realize that you must return unsold items to your attic, basement, or garage, cut the prices.  Be willing to bargain as the hours approach the end of the sale.

Have I gone through a list like this because I want to teach you the basics of a yard sale?  No.  These five practical principles – Be prepared, have a good attitude, manage your time, manage your space, and manage your money – come into play whenever we reach one of the intersections in life, just as these seniors are preparing to enter the next phase of their life.

These students have been preparing a lifetime for the next stage in their life.  They have prepared academically; and Nathan, along with those who work with him, has done everything possible to prepare them spiritually for these life-changing events in their future.  Our prayer for these students is that they will have a good attitude, a can-do approach, for every endeavor in life.  Our prayer is that they will be kind and respectful to all they meet.  I say that no students ought to graduate from high school until they learn how to manage their calendar, checkbook, time, and space.  A college roommate is not happy with someone who cannot manage space.  Those practical principles apply to every transition in life.

We can derive some spiritual principles from a simple yard sale.  Just as we must clear away the clutter in our life, we must clear away the clutter in our mind and the clutter of our heart.  How?  The best way is to focus on Jesus, focus on what is most important.  Jesus tells us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will fall into place”  (Matthew 6:33).  We must be willing to clear away the distractions and concentrate on Jesus’ plan for our lives.  We must concentrate on people, not things.  I have seen family members fight over sticks of furniture after the death of a parent.  I have seen adults at a yard sale almost come to blows over stuff.

Everything in life has some value.  We all wish that we could find the one article of high value in an attic, basement, or yard sale that could make a big hit on Antics Roadshow.  While it may be true that one person’s junk is another’s treasure, most of the time I find that one person’s junk sooner or later becomes another person’s rubbish.

Finally, I want to address the fact that some items in the yard sale provide a kind of parable that is important for life.  Some donations at the yard sale here in October certainly must have had interesting stories.  While the usefulness had expired for the owners who donated the goods, every person had spent hard-earned dollars to purchase them.  The goods had served some purpose at one point but had become worthless and irrelevant over time.  They were cast aside and discarded.

When Clare and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, I went to a yard sale and saw an old overstuffed easy chair that almost had a voice.  Leaning to one side, it came complete with broken springs, dog hair, and stains on the arms.  I tried to imagine what that chair had witnessed.  A special beloved pet had probably crawled up in the person’s lap.  Maybe grandchildren had caused those stains.  I thought about the possibility that the owner may have died, finally just wearing out with the chair.  I could imagine that someone had spent a lot of time over the years, sitting in that chair, talking with friends and family members, and watching television.  It had been somebody’s comfort zone.  We all need a place like that to kick back, unwind, and relax.

I looked at that chair and realized that God often calls us away from our comfort zone.  God has plans for us, tasks He wants us to accomplish.  Sometimes Christians believe that they are already used-up, that they are no longer needed for active service.  Finding a comfort zone and staying there may not be God’s design for us.  Consider Abraham, who was seventy-five years old when God called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees and settle in an unfamiliar land.  Consider Moses, who was eighty years old when God called him at the burning bush.  Another lesson we can learn from a yard sale is that having a little mileage on our odometer does not mean that we can stay in a comfort zone.

In a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, yard sale I saw an old manual typewriter that looked familiar to me.  It resembled one at the lumberyard and one I had used to write term papers in college and later to write sermons, letters, and Bible study notes.  This particular machine at the sale – dirty, rusty, and completely unusable – was missing some arms and keys.  A sturdy machine in its day, it was now reduced to rubble.  Nothing is more outdated than something that no longer works or something that has been replaced with more advanced technology.  I wondered what in the world the man who actually paid $3 for that broken typewriter was going to do with it.  I happened to know that this fellow had retired from the very company that had manufactured the machine.  He restored it to good working order and gave it to the company to display in their museum showroom.

Like that old typewriter, we, too, might feel discarded, considered of no value.  Maybe the rust and grime in our lives is sin.  God, a redeeming God, is in the business of restoring us when we come to the point that we seem no longer functional.   This restoration is called redemption.  It is the work of the grace of God in our lives.  Paul writes about God’s restoration in II Corinthians 5:17:  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; former things pass away and all things become new.”

Young people, I hope you have committed Jeremiah 29:11 to memory.  Jeremiah, speaking on God’s behalf, says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to do you good and not harm, to give you a future and a hope.”  God wants to give us all a future and a hope.  To that end, He is constantly restoring, constantly redeeming.

I want to share a yard sale story about a woman who owned a string of pearls.  These pearls were particularly valuable to her because her father, who had died when she was just a little girl, had given them to her mother on their wedding day.  The woman remembered her mother wearing those pearls and knew they were one of the few items of value her mother had owned.  The pearls were such a real treasure that this woman kept them in a safe deposit box at the bank.

One day she removed the pearls from the safety of the deposit box so that she could wear them to a family wedding planned for a Saturday.  Unable to return the pearls until the following Monday when the bank reopened, she decided to hide them in a box containing a collection of inexpensive costume jewelry.

Several weeks later, a friend collecting items for a yard sale asked this woman for any donations.  The woman had forgotten about the pearls and gave her friend the box of what she thought was only costume jewelry.  That jewelry and the pearls sold for ten cents.

The treasure, the heirloom, was lost because of carelessness.

You remember the story about Esau who was so hungry that he sold his birthright when his brother, Jacob, offered him a bowl of pottage.  It was only later that Esau realized he had sold something precious, something that could not be retrieved.  He had acted in a moment of impulse driven by physical desire.

Have you ever known a Christian who sacrificed something precious – their own integrity, their dignity – in an impetuous moment?  Have you ever known anyone who sacrificed their good name, their reputation, by making a hasty, impulsive decision, trying to satisfy some sort of physical desire?  We must guard our heart and our soul from careless and reckless decisions.

Bob loved yard sales.  Bob’s wife, however, hated them because he was addicted to filling their garage, basement, and attic with junk.  He usually sat down on Fridays and marked in the newspaper all the sales scheduled for Saturday.  Then he would route his journey on a map of the city.  Bob was the kind of guy you hated to see coming to a yard sale.  He arrived before daylight, even before the sales began, trying to hit the best places first.

Early one Saturday morning before daylight, Bob drove his pickup to a house where the man was still setting up sale items on plywood tables lining his driveway.  Using a flashlight, Bob hastily walked by the tables, but nothing caught his eye.  Then he noticed at the back of the driveway an open garage door.  He walked inside, turned on the light, and, letting curiosity get the best of him, lifted a sheet-covered object.  Underneath was a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Wondering what Bob might be doing, the owner joined Bob in the garage.

Bob asked, “Is that motorcycle part of the sale?”

The man answered, “You don’t want that motorcycle.  It doesn’t work.  The engine has seized up.  Several mechanics have seen it, but no one can get it to work.  It’s basically a pile of scrap metal.”

Bob asked, “Are you willing to sell me that pile of scrap metal?  How much do you want?”

The guy answered, “Thirty-five dollars.”

Bob asked, “Would you take $25?”

“No.  But I’ll take thirty.”  They struck a deal on thirty dollars.

Not having a way to load the motorcycle onto his truck, Bob looked around the garage and saw a 2×10 lying over to the side.  After the two men used the plank to load the vehicle, Bob asked, “Does the 2×10 come with the deal?”


“How much you want for the board?”

“Five dollars.”

“How about $4.50?”


Bob whipped off a five-dollar bill and handed it to the man before heading home under the cover of darkness with his purchase.  He circled his house several times to be sure that his wife was still sleeping.  He backed into his driveway, unloaded the motorcycle into his garage, and covered it with a tarp before heading out to find other yard sales.

Several weeks later when Bob’s wife was away for the day, he began inspecting the motorcycle.  Confirming that the engine was seized up, Bob called the Harley-Davidson company and asked for an owner’s manual.

The customer representative instructed Bob to call back with the serial number.

After locating the serial number, Bob called the company again.

This time the representative told Bob, “Sir, that serial number does not match anything we have on record.  We will need to do some research and get back in touch with you the first of next week.”

On Monday morning, just as promised, Bob received a call from Harley-Davidson, this time from the vice-president.  He said, “Bob, I want to check the serial number.”

Bob answered, “I have it right here on a card.”

“No, I want you to go back to the motorcycle and write it down again.”

Bob went out to the garage, wrote down the same number as before, and returned to the phone, stressing to the vice-president that he was sure of the number.

The vice-president then asked, “Bob, do you have a Phillips-head screwdriver?”

“Yeah, I bought one last Saturday at a yard sale.”

“Remove the three screws on the seat and bring it to the telephone.”

When Bob returned to the telephone, the vice-president instructed, “Bob, look underneath the seat.  Read the words you find there.”

“They say, ‘The King.’”

After a long pause the vice-president said, “Bob, the Harley-Davidson Company would like to offer you $100,000 for that motorcycle.”

Bob asked, “Can you do any better than that?”

“I will have to think about it.  We’ll back in touch with you.”

The following day, the company president called and said, “Bob, we would like to offer you $250,000 for your motorcycle.”

Bob hesitated, then answered, “I will have to do some price checking and see.”

Three days later, Bob received a call from Jay Leno who said, “Bob, I have a thing for old motorcycles.  I understand that you have Elvis Presley’s motorcycle.  I would like to offer you $500,000 for it.”

What is the parable in this particular yard sale?  The one to whom we belong determines our worth.  Our value does not come from what we do, what we accomplish, or our condition.  Our value comes from belonging to Christ.  I have baptized many of you.  You have been branded, sealed, by the Holy Spirit, sealed in Christ Jesus, which gives you a worth you cannot have any other way.

Do you belong to Christ, to the one who makes all the difference?  Have you made the decision to acknowledge Jesus as Savior?  If not, I invite you to make that decision today.

Kirk H. Neely
© May 2012

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