THE WORD Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
MESSAGE “Put it Away!” Rev. James Renfrew
Put it away! It’s a simple instruction, but every parent and grandparent knows how difficult this simple instruction can be to follow. But if not handled correctly you can end up with clothes and toys spread everywhere, sometimes as deep as ancient geological strata, with a new layer of fresh material laid down over the previous day’s mess.
One of our strategies was to operate our family toy collection like a library. In total desperation all of the toys were kept locked in a separate room. Our son could take toys out, but an equal number had to be put back first. Others of you use the weekly allowance as the motivation: no allowance until everything in your room is put away. And others have big toy chests, the toys don’t have to be neatly organized, they just need to be dumped into the chest, so you can see the floor. And how about this one? My mom had my dad build a clothing chute from the upstairs bathroom down to a big clothing bin in the laundry so the kids could easily remove the dirty clothes from their rooms.
I don’t mean to only pick on kids, because plenty of adults have difficulty putting things away, like clothes, dishes, tools, or paperwork. Some of us follow the strategy of instantly cleaning up the messes before they can take hold, while others accumulate things for a week and then attack it all at once for hours at a time. And, finally, some people have a room where you just put stuff day after day until one day it causes your house to tilt off the foundation under that room!
But you’ve already figured out today’s theme, it’s not cleaning up the clutter and mess in your house, it’s getting rid of the mess and clutter that fill your mind, heart and spirit. And here’s the immediate truth of the matter: some of the things that need to go, that need to be tossed, are so hard to get rid of, well, you’d rather clean your basement, attic or barn with a toothbrush than face the much more serious matter of what’s cluttering your head. Because we’re not talking about things as much as we are talking about behavior and habits.
And I’m now going to mention some of the behaviors and habits that I know we want to toss, but somehow keep a tight grip upon us. You know, the things you absolutely know are no good for you and the people around you, but you won’t let go. Somehow we convince ourselves that holding onto the crutch of our bad behavior is better than letting go of that crutch and facing the future without it.
For example, I am deeply disturbed by racism, particularly because I observe that racism that is actually growing by leaps and bounds these days. And not just in some distant southern state but all around us. I see Confederate flags flying in our town, and to me they represent only one thing, one thing only. I hear language that is absolutely shocking, that turns my stomach. I thought this was something that was being put to rest during my lifetime, after years of struggle, to achieve voting rights, open housing, equal opportunity in education and employment, and harmony among neighbors. But why would someone, anyone, keep holding on to racism? It can’t benefit anyone, yet too many people won’t let it go, they won’t toss it. But it needs to go.
There are plenty of other things that we need to toss. Making bad choices in food, I face that every single day as a diabetic. I go to the grocery store and it’s like walking through a minefield, so many tantalizing choices, most of them apparently designed to kill me.
Addictions, I don’t know a single tobacco user who is happy about using, it’s a killer, it’s expensive, t can hurt people around us, but it is very hard behavior to toss. And opioids … who would choose to be addicted to something that is a proven killer? In our immediate area it is a serious problem, people can’t seem to let go of it.
And here is a long list of other behaviors we would love to toss, but somehow keep a firm grip upon: some are from the list in Ephesians, but I’ve added some others: dishonesty, stealing, slander, malice, prejudice, nationalism, back-stabbing, cheating, anger, violence, swearing, name-calling, emotional baggage, stubborn grievances, ugly memories, lost opportunities and so many more. We could spend an hour naming the most common ones, and even then we’d have barely scratched the surface.
OK, we’ve named a lot of them. We want to toss them, but we haven’t. Maybe we’ve tried and they keep coming back to us. Well, we’re going to take a first step today. It’s not complete elimination, but it establishes our intentions. You can’t make a change in behavior without an intention to do so. But please don’t think that intention is all you need to change. No, you need to express the intention and then take actual, concrete steps. They say worship is practice for living, so we are going to express our intentions and then actually practice tossing the things that need to go.
You’ll notice that there is a trash bin at each of the three entrances to the sanctuary. You’ll also notice that there is a slip of paper inserted in your bulletin. Write down the behavior that you badly want to toss, and then fold it up and toss it in the bin. No need to write your name on the paper, it’s between you and God, and don’t forget that God is on your side with this. I hope it feels good tossing that paper, and I hope that you want to do it again, many times again.
Not sure what to write? Here’s a risky idea, only a few brave ones will dare to try this approach. If you can’ think of something to toss, ask someone who loves you what they think you might benefit from tossing!
Want to talk more about it? I’ll be hanging out near the trash bins, or feel free to call me this week, or send a text or email. You can tell me about what you want to toss, and I’ll tell you what I want to toss, and maybe we’ll find the strength to follow through together. After all, we’re in it together. After all, Jesus is in it with us, too. We can do it. Time to put some things away!