My dad had a similar problem. His last few years, he was struggling with COPD and when he came home to his apartment, he dropped off his mail and groceries on the table and then went to sit in his big easy chair with his oxygen tank. I am sure he meant to sort through his mail and throw out what needed to be thrown out and keep what needed to be kept. He never got around to it. We did it and then found in his apartment things that didn’t appear to be his. You see, my dad moved into his dad’s apartment after my grandfather died. My dad inherited his furniture and moved it to two other apartments. When we went through the drawers, we found my grandfather’s pipe tobacco. When we looked in the closet, we found my grandfather’s clothes still on hangers from two other moves. In the pocket of one of the bathrobes way too small to be my dad’s was my grandfather’s pipe. We found my grandparents marriage certificate and love letters from the 1920’s. I’m kinda glad my dad kept those. And we gave them to my uncle to keep.
When is it time to throw away and when is it time to keep?
This is spring cleaning season. Do we need so many clothes? So many sets of dishes? So many sheets? I’m glad we gave some Lenten giving opportunities to give away those things that we have accumulated.
It’s odd that we have this idea of keeping and throwing away on Commitment Sunday.
I’m not sure keeping and throwing away is the right metaphor for giving of time, talent and treasure to a really good cause. In fact, I think the church suffers from the throw away mentality. Before throwing something away, give it to the church. We end up with lots of stuff that other people don’t want in their home, but want to give to the church. If our giving is what we discard, then maybe that’s where we put God in our lives, as well. That doesn’t bode well.
Diane Hooge told me that one of the first things she did when she became the Pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church about 15 years ago was to fill a couple of dumpsters full of accumulated stuff that was clogging hallways and needed to be thrown out. There is a time to throw out and a time to keep.
We have concept of tithing as central to our way of living. This is rooted in the Biblical tradition in which people set aside the first fruits of their harvest to give to the work of God. The Biblical model is to set aside one tenth of your resources to further God’s work in this world. Think about your time, your talent, your treasure. How are we using those for the betterment of this world?
We have a very generous and committed congregation. We have a beautiful building which is a fine resource for ministry. Of course, it needs constant attention and even repairs to keep it so beautiful. We are always looking for more people to invest their time and talent to beautify our grounds, to attend to the upkeep of the building, to be involved in ministry, to share in music or theater, to feed the hungry, to connect with our sister church in Leon, Nicaragua, to take care of our administrative responsibilities, to serve on ministry teams and committees as your passion fits, to dance, to create art, to imagine how to be better stewards of the earth. All of this is what we do here at UBC. And I’m sure you can find at least one if not many things you can check of on your ministry commitment form.
But we need more than time and talent. We need treasure to do the right kind of ministry to which we are called. We always time commitment Sunday around the middle of April when people know how much they have and how much they can imagine affording. For our family, giving to the church is a commitment and a joyful investment in creating a world that does justice, loves mercy and walks humbly with God. We do so here and we celebrate in the midst of beauty and challenge. It is not about throwing out or keeping.
When Jesus commissioned the twelve disciples to do acts of mercy and healing, Jesus tells them to take no gold or silver or copper in their belts. That means, no currency. No money. He also said to take no baggage, no walking stick, no tunics and no shoes. I like that last part. I think Jesus was concerned that carrying too much or keeping too much was going to overshadow their ministry.
This month’s mission offering is for the Shigaki Mission travel fund and the Alliance of Baptists. The Alliance made the decision many years ago that they did not want to become an institution, but they wanted to be a creative movement. They chose not to buy property, because you tend to make decisions based upon preserving the property. They wanted to be nimble like the disciples.
Jesus encouraged us to live simply. "Take nothing with you, just the bare essentials and if you don’t know what to say, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance and the words will dance off your tongue. Leave your excess baggage behind. You’re on a holy mission. The rewards and trappings of this world are called traps for a reason. Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves."
There is nothing wrong with having things to enhance our lives together. But the things must never take priority over the people.
Think about the things that clutter our lives. Think about what might weigh us down. Think about the burdens we carry that keep us from doing what we want to do, or being who we want to be. Think about what we carry with us from move to move, from job to job, from relationship to relationship. "Are ye weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?" asks the old hymn, "Precious Savior still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer" comes the answer.
When we are full, there is little room for God to come in. But God is clamoring to come in to grant us health, wholeness and hope. Think about one place where you can remove clutter in your life. One less bag that you need to carry around. One less millstone around your neck. If you can just remove one piece of clutter, then you have begun the process of freeing yourself up to be the child of God that you are.
Clutter is tempting. Living complicated lives is exactly what we do. If our lives are not complicated, then we are prone to think that there is something wrong with us.
The Apostle Paul, or whoever wrote the letter to the Ephesians encourages us in the fourth chapter to rid ourselves of the diversionary clutter which we hold in our souls. Only when we do that, he implies, can we be free to live a gospel lifestyle.
"Put off your old nature which belongs to your former way of life...and be renewed in the spirit of your minds. Put on the new nature created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness...THEREFORE, putting away falsehood, let everyone speak the truth with one's neighbor...Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger...don't steal, but rather do honest work...don't talk evil, only talk with grace...let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."
It’s all about priorities.
There is a time to keep and a time to throw away.
But I think about keeping what might have an opportunity to make the world brighter. Why keep for ourselves what could be used for the community? When the early church met, they shared their goods and distributed it to everyone as they had need. No one went hungry and the church was committed to an alternate vision of the world.
We should certainly keep what we need and share what we can. Think of how much we throw out. If we repurposed even a portion of that, imagine how much better we could be.
Why not throw away (or repurpose, or recycle, or donate) those things that get in your way. Throw away thoughts and actions that bind you and blind you. Throw away the things that make us selfish and ornery and mean. Keep that which grounds you. That which empowers you. That which empowers others.
And because we have kept that which is good and thrown out that which is no longer helpful, let us invest our time, talent and treasure and make a real difference in the world. There is a time for everything under heaven. Now is the time to invest in this community which will continue to bring beauty, challenge, inspiration and the radical grace of God which changes lives and makes our corner of the world a bit better. Let’s keep that and throw out that which binds and blinds us.