Christmas Clean Up
12/29/2019 – Pardeeville – Dave King
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Matthew 13: 52
As traditional as the decorated tree, stockings hung with care, Christmas carols and gifts galore is the clean up after it is all over. Put away the leftovers from dinner; clean up the wrapping paper, Styrofoam packaging, ribbons, bows and cardboard; store the decorations for next year and try to find space for all the new stuff that came in all those packages. The clean up can be as daunting as the preparation had been.
I don’t know how it is at your house, but at our house that clean up involves a fair degree of sorting – wrapping paper is salvaged and stored for use again next year; Styrofoam packing is set aside for the next time we come to Pardeeville for recycling; cardboard and newspaper is saved to lay down in next year’s garden to help hold the quack grass at bay; and always the question, “now that we have something new, what do we do with the old?” This sorting aspect is what these scriptures call us to look at this morning.
It seems, that as human beings, we are always involved in sorting to some degree. As we clean closets, basements, garages, even workshops, we have to decide what to keep, what to pass on to someone else and what to just toss out. If we don’t sort, we are soon buried in the clutter, unable to move ahead because of all the stuff.
As a church, we are also involved in sorting – what is necessary; what is holding us back; what might the next generation need.
We chuckle at the buffoon in nearly every comedy routine about travel – the person who shows up with an impossible amount of stuff for a simple trip – and the burden that places on all of the other travelers. But we also want to be prepared for whatever might come up while we are away from our familiar surroundings. When we are doing clean up, we have to deal with the very real possibility that, in our efforts to de clutter, we might throw out something of great value.
Many years ago, the church I was serving rented an office on the main street of town in an effort to more fully engage the community. My office was next door to a barber shop operated by an eccentric fellow who functioned as a sort of bank for his customers. When they came in for a hair cut they would bring their paychecks and Roy would cash them on the spot. No one really knew where Roy made his money but they were happy to cash their paychecks while getting a shave and haircut. When Roy died, his son was cleaning out the barber shop – a momentous task because to my knowledge, Roy never threw anything away. The basement of the shop was packed with piles of old magazines dating from the time he opened the barber shop. As his son was finishing filling the first dumpster with these magazines, a wind came up and blew some of the magazines out of the dumpster. As we chased old magazines around the alley, we began to notice money flying about - $10’s, $20’s, even a few hundred dollar bills. Where could they be coming from? As it turned out, we discovered that Roy had kept his cash neatly stashed in the piles of magazines downstairs – after all, who would think to look in old magazines for money? The dumpster was carefully sorted as were the rest of the junk in the basement. When all was cleaned up, Roy’s son had collected over $90,000 in cash! (that’s in 1972 dollars!)
I tell this story to Linda every time she brings up the idea of sorting through all of the stuff that has accumulated in our machine shed. I really am afraid of throwing out something of value – something I might need in the future. But I confess, mostly I don’t want to throw out memories – memories of my parents, memories of half-completed projects with our kids, memories of project I had hoped to begin someday. As a result, I can’t find what I need to complete current projects – and I am sure our children hope we will live forever so they don’t have to clear out that shed.
But like it or not, we do have to sort through our stuff, as individuals and as a church.
A theologian and historian by the name of Phyllis Tickle has written a book about the "Emerging Church." She reviews the whole span of church history through the centuries and has developed a theory that every 500 years or so, the Church has tended to have its own kind of rummage sale, sorting through the doctrines and traditions of the past to see what needs to be saved and carried into the next stage of its life, and choosing what has become clutter and needs to be let go of. Like clothes in our closets, not everything still fits as we grow and change. Not everything is appropriate at different stages of our lives. So with doctrines and traditions of the Church that need to be examined and sometimes adapted as the world changes and changes us and new situations and experiences arise that need to be addressed. God's Spirit is not static, but ever-moving, ever-revealing, ever-speaking, ever-leading us onward.
As we become more aware of the coming conclusion of our stewardship of this church’s mission and ministry, it becomes even more important that we begin to sort through the stuff of our life – now, while we still have time, energy and the presence of mind. We need to ask ourselves how we are going to use what we have to prepare for whatever might come next. We don’t know what the next generations will need us to leave behind to nurture their faith, their witness to the living Christ.
We know it will not be the same as what was left for us when we first became the church because we are so aware of how much has changed in just the space of our lifetimes. The church is no longer at the center of our common culture. Worship styles and content (especially music) have changed. Patterns and methods of communication are barely recognizable from the time of our youth. Values of the common good are being displaced by unfiltered selfishness and quest for power.
Yet, the church – we aging and dwindling numbers of stewards – is still being called to be a living witness to God’s unbounded love. And we are being called to do this in such a way that future generations can also be faithful and effective in the conditions they find themselves.
As we become more aware of our own limitations, it becomes even more urgent that we sort what is important and necessary from all the rest, so we can preserve that and pass it on to those who come after us.
I have fond memories of my youth years in Boy Scouts. One of the common rituals at the end of every weekly meeting was something called the scoutmaster’s minute – a brief thought provoking story or meditation on some important aspect of scouting. One such story I remember was related to the scout motto: Be Prepared. The scoutmaster told of an old prospector in the desert southwest who was asked, “If you could only take two things with you into the desert for a long journey, what would you choose?” The prospector answered quickly and with certainty, “A good hat and plenty of water.” He knew that with those, he could stay alive and if he was alive he could be ready for anything. He knew how to be prepared.
That story has stuck with me all these years. When I have been engaged with a church in deep conflict or struggling with preparation for downsizing or closing, or when I have struggled with personal direction and motivation, it has reminded me to look for the essentials. What is the least we must have in order to be a church? What is the least I need to be a loving and productive human being – partner, father, and friend?
What I have learned over the years is that the equivalent of a hat and water, for both the church and for this humble creature is the same – We need the absolute confidence that the God of the past, the God who chose to live among us in the person of Jesus, the God who called us into being, the God who walks with us every moment of every day, That God is also the God of the future. That, to me, is the miracle of Christmas – that no matter how much changes, no matter what I may think is lost forever – God is still with us – as real as that baby in the manger. God always will find a way to be with us no matter how our conditions may change.