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Recycling the Rubbish
I'm amazed at the skill of the people who, week by week, recycle our rubbish. I paused beside the truck the other day and watched the swift and efficient movements as the men pitched glass and plastic and tin each to its own compartment. It sounded a bit like a musical symphony of rubbish! It looked like a cross between aerobics and ballet! Muscular strength, hand-eye co-ordination, accuracy and speed are all required. This is skilled work! Until now I don't think I've been sufficiently appreciative.
What would we do without this service? Not only is our rubbish removed -- it is recycled. We are not left with mountains of discarded containers. They are whisked away and turned into something useful. Exactly how it happens once the truck leaves my driveway I have no idea. But I count on it happening and continue to offer my recyclable rubbish to the process.
'm grateful to the rubbish collectors not only for taking my rubbish but also for turning my thoughts towards God. I'm sure they'd be surprised if they knew! But recycling our rubbish is something God is very good at!
I'm not being flippant here. One of the most astounding aspects of the Christian gospel is that God, in Christ, took into himself our sin so that we might be made righteous. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."1 What a breathtaking exchange that is! "Let me take your sinful rubbish and in return I'll give you the righteousness of God." Who wouldn't put their rubbish out for that sort of recycling?
Sadly the answer to that question is -- lots of us. Many times we don't see sin as rubbish to be thrown out. It has somehow come to mean 'something I should hide in case I get found out' or 'something to re-name so I can hang onto it without looking bad'. The result is that we either pile up the rubbish in a (hopefully) hidden place, or polish it up to be seen in a new light. Either way there's no chance of recycling and less and less space for anything new.
ords like 'sin' and 'confession' are good words that have gone stale. They suffer from connotations of punishment, worthlessness and fear. That's a pity. How much more freeing and true to the gospel it would be to think of confession as God's regular recycling service.
It is a way to put out before God the stuff that's cluttering up our lives: attitudes gone sour, actions that hurt others, viewpoints that are past their use-by date. When we see them as the rubbish they are we are glad to have them taken away.
At this point you may think the analogy breaks down. God's recycling is much more than reshaping the rubbish into something useful. In the ultimate transaction of the cross God takes the very core of our sinful nature and gives back righteousness -- something of a totally different order. True. No analogy is sufficient for the mystery of God's grace.
Yet on a daily basis I think God does offer to reshape the very stuff of our lives into something more beautiful and more useful. Our capacity to think, to feel, to act, and to make choices is not removed. If we're willing, God offers to reshape our thinking, channel our emotions, guide our actions, give godly perspectives on our choices.
t might be a refreshing spiritual discipline at the end of every day to check what needs to be put in the recycling bin. "Here is my anger, Lord. Here is my selfish response. Take my sharp temper and my worn thin patience. Change my heart oh God so that my passion is put to good use, my responses stem from love. Reshape my quick tongue and restore my compassion."
This is a very old spiritual discipline. Confession and self-examination are part of most liturgies and religious traditions. What I think is often lost is the recognition that God offers not only forgiveness (wonderful enough as that is) but also something new to replace the old. We not only "put off", we also "put on".2 As we reject "the works of the flesh" we make room for "the fruit of the Spirit".3
Throwing out things now seen as 'rubbish' without receiving the recycled gifts of grace reminds me of Jesus' warning about leaving the house empty when the demon is gone!4 Don't stop half way. God is a very creative recycler!