I Consider It Trash
Dwight A. Moody, preaching
The United Nations now estimates that eight million people will flee Ukraine as refugees. Some will go back, but others will scatter around the world, putting behind them their old life in Ukraine. Property, business, family, friends, plans: this and more discarded on their way to a future.
All of us have had to put behind us some things: a toxic relationship, an old job, a failing marriage, outworn ideas, convictions or beliefs. We have, as it were, dumped it in one of the green totes and rolled it to the street and left it for the trashman to pick up.
That is what happened to this itinerant organizer and evangelist two thousand years ago. “I once thought these things were valuable,” he writes in this little letter. “but now I consider them worthless…. I have discarded everything….”
I consider it trash, he writes. These words speak from his heart and speak to us today a good gospel word. It is time to put some things behind us and embrace what God has put before us.
This statement, I consider it trash, is the second of eight simple sentences that together comprise the Christian testimony of Paul the Apostle. A testimony is a statement describing our relationship with Jesus, our faith in God, and our experience of these religious and spiritual realities. I hope you have a testimony. I hope you can write in a paragraph or a page something that expresses how you feel, what you think, and why you take the name of Jesus Christ.
Paul embedded these eight statements in this letter. Here they are:
“I never get tired,” chapter three, verse one.
“I consider it trash,” chapter three, verse seven.
“I want to know Christ,” chapter three verse ten.
“I press on,” chapter three, verses 12, and again in verse 14.
“I love you,” chapter four, verse one.
“I praise the Lord,” chapter four, verse ten.
“I can do all things,” chapter four, verse 13.
“I have all I need,” chapter four, verse 18.
You may have heard me last week stitch these together into one paragraph. Let me read that again:
“I never get tired of talking about Jesus. I consider it—all my prior religious stuff—nothing but trash. I want to know Jesus Christ and live in the power of his resurrection. Because of that, I press on to be what God has called me to be. I love you, my brothers and sisters in the Lord. I praise the Lord for our partnership in gospel work. Because God strengthens me, I can do all things God desires. And for now, I have all I need.”
Today, I want to focus on this one piece of the testimony: I consider it trash. I consider it—all my prior stuff—nothing but trash.
Are there some things you need to push out of your life? Are there some elements of your religion that need to be discarded? Do you have things you once treasured that need to be dumped?
Maybe a few moments reading the testimony of Paul the Apostle, two thousand years ago, will give you reason to dump some stuff, motivation to leave some things at the curb, determination to cleanse your own soul and move into a future you long to embrace.
Paul lists the things he is dumping: “I was circumcised…. I am a pure-blooded Jew…. I was a Pharisee…. I persecuted the church…. I obeyed the Law without fault.”
That is a pretty impressive list of religious accomplishments.
Can I translate it into our religious culture?
“I was baptized at the age of nine. I was raised in a thoroughly Christian family. Even my grandparents are devout Christians. I was the champion of the Bible Drill as a child and honored as the Bible teacher as an adult. I denounced false Christians, like the liberals who deny the Bible or the fundamentalists who worship the Bible. I walk the straight and narrow path marked by Jesus and his disciples. I obey all the rules of our church.”
What was it about these things that turned them into trash? What is wrong with baptism? Shouldn’t I rejoice in my Christian upbringing? I love teaching the Bible. Should not we all desire to live a disciplined and devout life?
These are the questions that could have been put to Paul; these are the questions that could have stymied his search for authentic faith; these are the questions that could have prevented him from the conversion that has shaped the western world.
Many of these trashy things were valuable. There was something good about initiation into the faith and practice of Judaism. Paul was introduced to the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament we call it, the Torah they called it, the Word of God. He learned about creation and exodus; he sang the songs of the Psalms; he recited the words of the Law and felt the impact of the prophets who said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Surely, this was all good.
Sometimes even good things need to be left behind, abandoned, trashed. When the U. S. Army left Afghanistan, they left behind eight billion dollars of equipment!
What was it that motivated Paul to turn his eyes from these things and turn his eyes in a fresh direction? What was missing in his religion that he found on the road to Damascus? Why was he so quick and ready to lay aside these good things and go in a new direction?
Paul had a powerful encounter with Jesus the Risen Lord. While traveling to Damascus to continue his assault on those who deviated from the narrow way of Judaism, he saw a light and heard a voice and fell to the ground. Something new, and fresh, and compelling was presented to him. It was a new way to live, a new vision of what it meant to be human, a new understanding of God.
No wonder Paul wrote in another place, “old things are passed away, behold, all things are new.”
I sat across the table from a young man. “Are you from North Carolina?” I asked. No, he said, I’m from Montana. “How did you get here?” I asked, just to make conversation. He surprised me with his answer: A minister from here drove out to Montana, and rescued me from my abusive, narcissistic, and violent father. I’ve been here for eight years.
I did not know what to say. Here was a young man who could say with Paul, “I consider it trash, everything I had; it is all worthless. I am moving on to something true, and rich, and beautiful. I am ready to sing for joy and live with hope.”
Many people have put ugliness behind them to embrace the beauty of life, have said goodbye to violence to say hello to peace and tranquility, have abandon the road that leads only to promiscuity, pornography, and sensual pleasure to take the road that leads to delight and contentment and joy. In hundreds of buildings, sanctuaries, and storefronts, men and women are desperate to leave behind addictions to alcohol, drugs, and a culture of self-destruction and enter a life of what Paul the apostle described in his letter to the Galatians as “love, joy peace, steadfastness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Remember the Penses children? Susan, Lucy, Peter, and Edmond left the rambling two story house of the professor, walked through the wardrobe, and entered Narnia. They left behind some things, good and bad, to enter into things that were so much better.
This is the testimony of so many people: I consider it trash. I’m going to toss aside some things I’ve been thinking, some things I’ve been doing, some things I’ve been keeping … in order to go in a new direction, with new energy, with new ambition. This is what the Bible means by new life in Christ. This is what the Jesus means by born again.
This is what the gospel means by conversion. This is what we see in baptism: we go all the way under to signify the death and burial of some things; we come all the way up dripping wet to signify the beginning of a new life.
I’m putting out the trash, Paul writes here, to make way for the newness that Jesus Christ is bringing to my house, my soul, my life.
It is not just people, you and me, that need this sort of trash day. It is nations, and churches, and families. We as a nation looked around at the despicable way we treated black people in our nation; we looked and said, “These trashy policies, and attitudes, and behaviors need to go.” There are many other policies and practices that we need to consider trash and haul to the curb. We need to move on to a better future. We need to dream of a better day, a day without prejudice, without violence, without addictions. We all need to have a dream!
And what about our congregation? Do we need a new day, a new plan, a new spirit? Do we need to take to the curb old ideas of what it means to succeed, of what it means to worship, of what it means to serve? Do we need to embrace new ideas, new opportunities, new realities of being disciples of Christ in our place and time?
I spent a long time on the phone with a friend in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was driving over the mountains to Kentucky and every three minutes my phone lost contact and he had to call back: again and again and again. He was talking about post-pandemic gospel work, how their congregation was emerging from the dark night of the soul that we called COVID. “People have left and are never coming back,” he said; and I said Amen. “Programs have dissolved and will never take form again,” he explained; and I said That’s for sure. “Church life is different now that it was before,” he concluded; and I said, Tell me about it!
We were having church in two states, across the mountains and the wide Mississippi!
The Lord spoke to me on the road to Knoxville in the voice of my friend in Tulsa. As he explained the three-pronged advance of their church, I thought about the three things we need to do: the Sunday worship here and everywhere (through the broadcast); the Lord’s Day meal we serve next door to those who need soup and sandwich more than they need a song and sermon; and the everyday outreach of gospel teaching and testifying, of listening and learning, of connecting with those who have no interest in walking into this sanctuary or joining an organization called church.
We need to put aside our fears and our failures, our hesitation and our inhibitions, our practices and our preferences and go where we have not gone before.
Two weeks ago, a dozen or more of us picked up balloons and palm branches and started walking. Some of you were skeptical and most of us were unsure. What are we doing and why and what will come of this? We started in the parking lot, walked up the deadend street behind us called Shepper Street and turned left on Oakland Street. We waved our branches and started singing, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m going to let it shine.” We turned right on the one way, one block Killarney Street and walked to Patton Street and turned left and kept walking. We held our balloons filled with helium even as our souls were filled with hesitation.
The sky was blue, and sun was bright, and hardly anybody saw what we were doing. No doors opened, no curtains parted, no lights switched on. But something was happening…not to them, the people who live around us and don’t know we are here, but to us, the hearty souls walking, singing, and giving glory to God. We turned left on Highland Avenue and walked past the old hospital on the left and the confederate flag on the right. We were feeling better, and I have it all on video! We turned left on Regal Street, a place some of you have never been even though it is only one block our church. We walked down the sloping street to the where it tees into Oakland; we turned left and headed back to the church, singing, “Hide it under a bushel, no, I’m going to let it shine.”
I was telling this story to an old friend in Lexington on Wednesday night, and she asked, “What did you do on this walk?” I said, we sang, and celebrated Jesus the Risen Lord. But what I thought to myself was this: “We put ourselves in a place where God could do something in us, among us, through us. It was not the community God reached that day, but it was us. As we walked back into the church, we said to one another, “That was alright. That wasn’t so bad. That was good. I‘m glad we did that. Let’s do it again next year.”
But I say to you today, let’s not wait until next year. Let’s get out of this sanctuary and off our property, out of our comfort zone and into our mission zone. Let’s take to the curb the idea that people need to come to us and sit in our pews and sing our songs; let’s repackage our gospel and hand deliver it to somebody where they are.
There were a dozen or so of us who marched around the block. Is a dozen people enough? Are twelve apostles enough? There are sixteen of us here today. Is that enough? We are the micro-church. We are the future of the faith. We are nimble enough to change our ways and courageous enough to consider some things trash. I helped my sister clean out her garage this week. Piece after piece she picked up and said, “I’m getting rid of this. This goes in the trash.”
I am going to make the first move in this march toward tomorrow. On Pentecost Sunday, June 5 I am going to join this church. When I started, on the first Sunday of June last year, I insisted on being called the Sunday Preacher. But by January of 2022, I said, “OK, you can name me Interim Pastor.” But now, I want to be the Pastor, pure and simple. I am calling for a church conference on Sunday June 5 to vote me in as pastor of the church. I have created a campaign committee and ordered yard signs and lapel buttons. I want to win that election.
In the book of Acts, the writer describes the unusual thing that happened to the people on the day of Pentecost. The sound of a rushing wind, the look of fire settling on each one, the testimonies one after the other of people who were living for Jesus, the charge of drunkenness from a stranger, the explanation and sermon of Simon Peter, and the invitation to all the people to get up and do something. It concludes with this sentence: “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day (Pentecost) …. And they devoted themselves to the teaching, to fellowship, to sharing meals, and to prayer.”
Who else wants to join with me and this church on Pentecost Sunday?
And who wants to share a meal today after church?