Sunday, April 22, 2001

Spring Cleaning

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Philippians 3:1-11

"For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as trash, in order that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection."

Christians facing the 21st century have some Spring-cleaning to do. To be Christian in a new millenium will mean facing and solving two trash-removal problems.

None of us hears, or hears easily, the ringing sentence of St. Paul in Philippians. We do not expect the Bible to speak the way it does about faith. Either we have come to think that faith is a matter of a momentary conversion, an intense experience of God, a religious thrill, or we have come to think that faith is just another word for every day. St. Paul, right here in plain view of the rest of the Bible, says something completely different. He says that faith is not something he has obtained, or that he possesses or that he owns, or that he controls. Rather, faith holds him. Paul says of himself, that he "presses on", that he "strains forward", that he "presses toward the goal" in order that he then, subjunctive, "may know", that he "may share", that he "may attain", that he "may gain". Paul, St. Paul, the greatest Christian of his generation says candidly, says flatly, that it's not over until it's over. And he makes it even more plain. Says Paul, "I have lost all things and count them as trash, for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus." In other words, faith requires some trash removal.

I wonder how many of us here today are ready to live with this truth.

Trash removal is to make the first point, a physical problem for the faith community of the 21st century. To know the fullness of the Second Person of the Trinity, in a new age, we all will have to deal with our trash. To know Christ we will have to relearn that old moral, "waste not, want not."

Trash is a real problem for the faith community. Look at the facts. We produce mountains of trash in America:

  • 700 million pounds of garbage a day3 billion tons of solid waste a day
  • 3 pounds of trash a day for every person
  • 16 million disposal diapers a year
  • 2 billion plastic razors
  • 220 million tires

NYC sends 25,000 tons of trash a day to a corner of Staten Island, which will soon be a mountain in its own right, the second highest point on the East Coast! Many dumps in our country have higher copper contents, higher percent of copper than Rocky Mountain mines! Yes this is the age of Junk. Junk food. Junk mail. Junk bonds. We want to throw it all away. But as my friend points out, and others with him, "nothing ever goes away, because there is no "away" for it to go to!" Think about it.

The Bible teaches us, in Genesis and in Proverbs and in the Parables of Jesus, that we are to be good stewards of the earth. We are to take care of the earth. That is the Bible teaching. Not to sack, pillage, and burn, but to cultivate, protect, "have dominion". The steward is one who has been given the responsibility for the management and service of something that belongs to someone else."

In ways great and small we are slowly learning to deal with our trash. We notice the ways our families are carefully following county regulations about trash removal. We appreciate the efforts made in our city to stem the tide of garbage. We salute the attempts made to convert from Styrofoam to paper cups. We are learning again the value of composting. We can acknowledge the importance of new forms of waste beds. We can grow in our capacity to recycle. And, most importantly, we can produce less garbage. Being a person of faith in the 21st century will involve facing and solving our physical trash problem. What we throw away, how we throw it away, and how often we throw it away will define in part who we are in the new age. Let us make a decision or two this morning to be more sensitive to our role as stewards.

St. Paul claims to have left much behind, and counted it as nothing, rubbish, trash. In this trash removal, he indicates, lies a part of your walk in faith. "I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as trash." Straining forward, leaving behind what is past – this is the posture of faith, says the apostle. Some of us have another kind of trash removal problem today. Maybe part of the reason for our monstrous physical waste problem may be found in a spiritual trash problem, hidden but powerful, which feeds in an insidious way, the visible issue.

Trash removal is, to make the second point, a spiritual problem for the faith community of the 21st century. A modern monk has written that our inner life involves treasures, baggage, and garbage. Treasures: our sources of strength and integrity. Baggage: internal furniture of our lives, not harmful, not essential, just there. Garbage: that which needs to be thrown out. Some of our most industrious people create the most spiritual garbage. If you are industrious, you are going to create trash. The question is how you will deal with it. St. Paul speaks to us today of leaving behind what is past, and counting our losses as trash. Have we learned the lessons of spiritual trash removal?

Sunday is a good time to take out the spiritual garbage. All that pent up spiritual trash. You know what I mean and you know where it is collected and you know how bad it smells, on a warm day. All that trash. All that bitterness over something lost. All that jealousy over someone else's good news. All that envy of another's gifts and graces. All that guilt. If thing else, Easter banishes your guilt. All that regret. All that pride, that cuts you off from others. All that crazy, even wanton hubris that says of any situation, "this is mine, I will do as I please". All that hurt, deep hurt, personal hurt, sometimes regrettably more cherished than all the sunny days of summer. All that faithless worry, worry, worry. You look around the rooms in your soul, the attic of your heart, the garage of your spiritual life and tell me there isn't any trash to take out! On the contrary. The cans are full to overflowing. Today is trash day. Put it on the curb.

And hear the gospel: "Brethren, one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

You can compost your trash. Some of that spiritual refuse, left on the compost heap of life, and pressed down over time, will provide rich soil for growth, perhaps for yourself, but more likely for others. Countless Christians who have turned the rubbish of their bitter experience into nourishing soil for other's faith. How? By taking out the trash, in this case by composting, letting it alone to decompose. "Rise above it!" said Rhoda Riegel or you can put your trash in a waste bed. We don't like waste too much, but fallow fields and times are very good things. Many of the things that our society calls a (waste of time) are the waste beds of faith. Reading. Praying. Worshipping. Loving. Friendship. Sunday. Do you really want to go through life and get to the end and be able to say, only, "I don't waste any time"? Tombstone: "he never wasted an hour." Wow. What a confession. Trash is transformed in the waste areas of life: in sanctuaries, in theatres, in poetry classes, in parks, in snow days, in boat shows and train exhibits and symphonies. Baseball is a real waste of time. Opening day has come and gone. Were you there?

Or you can recycle your trash. I think we learn more sometimes from our failures than from our successes, if we know the art of recycling. Some of your mistakes have in them hidden wisdom. Recycle them. Some of your sins have in them hidden wisdom. Recycle them. Some of your angers and fears have in them hidden wisdom. Recycle them. Here is a strange truth: God can use the most unpromising parts of your life as channels of grace. Isn't that odd? But true. God can recycle especially the worst parts of your experience and behavior, to help someone else. You wait and see. Sometime that misstep, of which you are so rightly embarrassed, will be recycled to someone else's need. God can bring treasure out of the trash of our soul. God brings good out of evil every day. What? Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid. But spiritual trash can be recycled, too. Isn't that the word of Easter. A sign of cruelty, ugliness, death – transformed by God.

I want a decision or two made today to put out the trash, composted, wasted, or recycled, or all three. Why? "So that we may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible we may attain the resurrection of the dead."

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