Over the past week I’ve been busy in the yard. I’ve been cutting and digging and filling the yard waste bin. It will probably be weeks before all the leaves and branches that have accumulated get carted away. Even so, already the yard looks far less cluttered than it used to.
Clutter is not just a seasonal matter; for me, it’s a constant challenge. Seems like stuff accumulates, both inside and outside the house. Outside, it’s leaves and branches. Indoors, it’s papers and boxes and clothing. It doesn’t help that I tend to be a pack rat. It doesn’t take long for a space that seems pretty neat and organized to get cluttered!
Clutter can be a spiritual matter. Clutter, after all, is anything that keeps us distracted from what’s most important. Not only does our time get taken up by trying to keep up with and manage all our stuff but our calendars get full. Our hearts can become cluttered with fear and worry, distracting us from peace, and joy and gratitude.
It sounds strange but we might say that one way to summarize Jesus’ whole ministry is: Clearing Out Clutter. We Christians sometimes get the idea that Jesus came along with the intention of doing away with the teachings of his Jewish faith. But he was clear that the opposite was true, when he said: I came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. In other words, Jesus pointed to what was most important to the practice of faith. He longed for his people to clear out the spiritual clutter that had made their faith more of a burden than a joy.
Last week you heard Pr. Jon speak of the Pharisees and the more than 600 laws that had accumulated over the centuries. 600 laws! Remember how it started? God gave Moses 10 Commandments. It wasn’t that all those hundreds of laws were bad, any more than the stuff that accumulates in our homes and lives is bad. The point is, excess stuff can become a burden, a distraction if it becomes the focus rather than something that points us to what’s most important.
There’s even more to it than that. Jesus seems to suggest that even the Ten Commandments can become clutter. If over time we see them as “shoulds” or “have-tos” we miss the point that God gave these commandments to us as a gift.
In last week’s reading we heard Jesus reduce those Ten Commandments to two: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
How about that? Not 600 laws, not even10 Commandments–but two. I don’t know about you but that sounds like a whole lot less to keep track of, a whole lot less to be distracted and burdened by. If I can remember to keep my attention on these two commandments, it may be a bit less likely that my heart and my mind will become cluttered with other stuff.
But–our lives do become cluttered. Five hundred years ago Martin Luther realized that the Roman Catholic Church had become cluttered with all kinds of rules. Luther never set out to start a different church or a new denomination. No! He believed that the Church was God’s gift to humankind; all he wanted to do was to return to what he believed was most important: the belief that God’s love is unconditional and that our relationship with God cannot be earned. We are loved by God without condition or exception. Luther, like Jesus before him, was out to clear away the clutter that distracted from that truth.
This past week we received a shipment of the new “red book” service book and hymnal. I say “new” even though it’s been published for five years already. In order to make room for the red book we needed to clear out some other books. You’ll notice that the green books and the rainbow books are missing from your pew rack. You might even notice that the Bibles are missing!
But if we kept all those books in addition to the red books think how cluttered it would look. You might not feel comfortable calling hymnals clutter. And certainly not the Bible! But folks, clutter is not the same as junk. It’s not garbage. It’s something that has served its purpose and now needs to be put in a different place or to a different use. The proof of that is in the Bibles. These books are probably 50 years old but, except for fading, they look like they were printed yesterday. If they’re not being used, they simply become clutter.
Think of an example of clutter in your own life. It could be the accumulation of stuff in your home or yard. Or, it could be your mind spinning with all kinds of thoughts and concerns, all of which seem so important. How does that feel? Or, a better question that runs all through Scripture: How free are you?
In today’s reading from John Jesus says, If you continue in my word you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.
Freedom is the goal of Christian faith.
Living in a free country you might think that we have every advantage and are freer than anyone. We have so many choices to sort through; so many voices competing for our attention and loyalty. We have TV, radio, Internet—not to mention that anxious voice inside us that keeps reminding us that we need to look out for “number one.” How in the midst of all that we have can we be truly free of all the clutter that demands our attention? How do we hear the word of God, the truth that makes us free?
None of us is Jesus, or Martin Luther, or Moses. We’re not Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. But each of us has the same mission as these more famous heroes of our faith. That mission is freedom. One way we invite others to a life of freedom is to work at clearing away the clutter of our own lives, as an example for others. This world into which we were born is full of people whose lives are cluttered, not only by stuff and schedules, but by laws and demands and expectations from government, family, church.
But that one thing—the truth of God’s love for you and for all people—that one thing is always there. It’s often hidden in the clutter, but always there, waiting for us to remember: Nothing can separate us from God’s love. When we do remember this truth we are free because no matter what the circumstances of our lives that truth is always there and cannot be changed, whether in this life or the life to come.
May the truth of God’s love for you and for all people make you ever more free. As free people, may your life in word and deed help clear away the clutter of other lives longing to be free.