October 8, 2017 Exodus 20.1-4,7-9,12-20, *Philippians 3.4b-14 “Everything Else is Garbage” Pastor Jacqueline Hines
If you have ever driven behind a garbage truck, you just might get a whiff of something most unpleasant. In traveling to undeveloped regions you may see things that are not usually visible in developed areas, such as raw sewage and dumps piled high with garbage. As best we can tell, ancient cities, such as Philippi, dug ditches for latrines and they waited for the rain to wash the dirt away, and it probably did not move it along too far too fast. It was not only unsightly, it was not something you wanted to get too close to for fear that you would gag and lose your lunch.
Garbage has its own special place in our society for a very specific reason. You may remember the story of a mother trying to teach her son a very important lesson. She asked him to clean up his room and he went off to college one weekend and neglected to do so. She put all his trash in a box and mailed it to his dorm room to remind him to appreciate a clean room enough to make it happen. It was an unforgettable lesson for sure.
The words are not in the bible, but cleanliness is next to godliness! [slide # 1 cleanliness….]
Paul was detained several times for preaching the gospel. The places he stayed were, no doubt, trashy and nasty. He was either under house arrest and had to be back in detention at the end of the day or he was actually chained barbarically, with his feet in stocks, for hours and hours, maybe even days. This was the way it was when he was in the city of Philippi. [slide # 2 prison bars]
He lost a lot by becoming a follower of Christ. Instead of a physical hurricane like Texas and Puerto Rico experienced when so many of their belongings suddenly became trash, Paul suffered a spiritual hurricane. He lost his reputation as a member of the ruling class of Jews among the Sanhedrin – for he was no longer considered a Jew when he claimed that rabble rouser Jesus to be the Christ – the Messiah, the Anointed, the one chosen by God to save this world.
He lost a part of his health because of the rough travels by sea with shipwrecks, beatings that left him for dead with open infected wounds, and the terrible prison conditions to name a few. He probably lost quite a bit of money and some of his friends and family may have been afraid to associate with him, but he still had Jesus and that was enough. In verse 9 [slide # 3 verse 9 ….] he says, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.” They became like garbage. They could no longer be used; they had lost their value and he let them go. He kept his life in God’s hands. He knew that being in the will of God was more precious and beautiful and longer lasting than anything.
Nowadays more than ever we are reminded that all of our material stuff can become worthless garbage in an instant. We are reminded daily that nothing we have in our closets or in our pockets is worth more than our families full of faith, hope, and love. Nothing.
Paul experienced a spiritual hurricane because of his faith. He was imprisoned because he helped deliver a slave girl that a group of men were making money off of. They were forcing her to do fortune telling. When she got delivered, they not only looked like fools in front of their clients, but they lost a fortune. That is why they railroaded him so he would be put away.
Paul’s story reminds me of a 45 year old man who was sentenced last week for human trafficking in Chester County, Bucks County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia. He particularly preyed on women who are heroin addicts. He treated the women like trash, but Jesus looks at us as treasures even when we are addicts.
The motive for Paul’s arrest is very common. From the beginning of time, governments have had many ways of dealing with very religious people who they feel are an economic liability or a threat to their safety and wellbeing. Some governments use the law to protect the people. Some governments keep a watchful eye, using surveillance tools for homeland security. [slide # 4 police car]
Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic scholar from Turkey is living in a compound in the Poconos. [slide # 5 Gulen] He has been accused of trying to overthrow the Turkish government and Turkey wants him back so he can stand trial. He has Islamic schools around this country that are under suspicion by some, but he has not been charged with any crimes that would lead to his deportation. We can be sure that, like Apostle Paul was, he is being watched very carefully and his schools are constantly under scrutiny. Politics mixed with religion is a frustrating subject to say the least.
As Christians, there are many details we may not know as we pray for peace and live alongside people with whom we feel uncomfortable, threatened, and suspicious. By faith we trust the Holy Spirit who is our light that reveals to us whatever God wants us to know. We expect the Holy Spirit to be our guide and show us what steps to take in every area of life. [slide # 6 guiding signs]
A woman I did not know came up to me years ago after a service, saying “The Lord told me to give you a hug.” I thought, “That was nice.” I believed her and was thankful.
When I was working several part time jobs my mother paid my cell phone bill saying, “The Lord told me to do it.” I was real happy, and I asked her if the Lord said anything to her about paying my car insurance too.
This week I asked my sister to pray for me as the doctor said I needed some work done to keep my health in order and she called at 7 a.m. one morning and left the message that she did pray one night and the next morning the Lord whispered in her ear that there was nothing to worry about. The message was a comfort and when I wondered why I had not gotten the comforting message directly as I have sometimes in the past, I remembered that all Christians are one in the spirit and God works in ways that unite us, rather than separate us.
Another example of God speaking was during my time at Eastern University, I was part of a choir giving a concert. There may have been 100 18 year old or so kids gathered. Instead of simply closing the concert with a word of prayer, one of my fellow students asked the moderator to invite the young people to give their lives to Christ. The moderator was hesitant, but finally gave in to giving an altar call, a call to discipleship, an invitation for those young people to come forward in the style of Billy Graham and say “yes” to the Christian lifestyle. Surprisingly, at least a dozen kids came up. It was dramatic and tearful and sincere. God does lead us and we do well to follow!
There are days that we are puzzled and confused about what God is doing and saying as we listen and watch for God’s direction, and that is ok. [slide # 7 confused] By faith, we accept that fact that sometimes God goes before us, sometimes God goes behind us, and sometimes God goes alongside us. Nevertheless, because God is with us, we always have a light and a guide every step of the way.
Even though we may be confused and don’t always get things right, God will help those who want to be helped to know which of our values and traditions are garbage and which are to be cherished. God will help those who want to be helped to know which people we should invite to church and which ones we should not, and which should keep at a distance, but add to our prayer list. God will help those who want to be helped.
Scriptures tell us that the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I tried this week to be a laborer, so I asked God to help me as I invited several people to church. They were people I chatted with in Boscovs or Lowes or the hair salon. People were polite and I hope they show up at Bethel or somewhere to worship God. I try to remember that inviting others is not a waste of time, even though they may not show up after the first invitation. I will make a second and a third as the Lord guides me to. [slide # 8 invite…]
When we see the wreckage of the latest hurricanes in Mexico and Puerto Rico, we see piles of useless debris. Everything seems to be a waste and ready for the trash bin. The material treasures have become trash. It is the spiritual treasures of faith, hope, and love that remain.
Nowadays more than ever we are reminded that all of our material stuff can become worthless garbage in an instant. We learn that nothing we have in our closets or in our pockets is worth more than our human family full of faith, hope, and love. It is so worth it to encourage others to enter into that priceless relationship with God. [slide # 9 relationship with God]
Paul was in prison for his faith. All around him was trash, waste and garbage, but he understood that within his heart, was the greatest treasure of all, Jesus, and that was enough. [slide # 10 Jesus all I need]
One man I chatted with and invite to church this week told the story of a woman dying and lying in pain. Though there seemed to be little hope or relief and she had not spoken of her faith during her lifetime, a relative asked her if she knew Jesus. Expecting that her painful impending death was all that was foremost on her mind, it was a comforting surprise to hear her say that Jesus was holding her hand as she lay there [slide # 11 hands]. She had lost all, but there she was with Jesus holding her hand.
[slide # 12 …no matter what…] When losses come our way, when we lose our health, our resources, our relationships, may we too be able to let them go and enjoy the wonderful treasures God has for us from one end of the globe to the other. [ slide # 13 hands/map] Amen.