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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Letter from the Pastor...June 2008

You can tell a lot about people by the "garbage," the refuse, they throw away. That's not a new idea. We're still digging up previous generations' garbage. We call it "archeology." I have this theory that neighbors watch each other's garbage more than we might acknowledge. My grandmother used to advocate putting the champagne bottle from New Year's Day dinner "on top of the garbage." Obviously, at one time, champagne was a sign of class and prosperity.

At any rate, Americans throw out a lot of refuse or "garbage." In one day, we throw out 150,000 tons of just PAPER products. One million bushels of that, by the way, out the windows of cars and trucks on our highways.

What dos our garbage tell about our culture and our values? About what is important to us? What will WE leave behind? What will archeologists of the future find? It's kind of embarassing to think that somebody will be going through your garbage, even if it's 3,000 years later.

St. Paul talks about garbage in Philippians 3: 7 He says "I consider all things rubbish." Garbage. He's talking about all the "stuff" that made up his life prior to his becoming a Christian. "That which was to my profit" says Paul.

What makes him call this stuff "garbage?" Didn't Paul have a good life before becoming a Christian? From what we know, Paul was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He hailed from the city of Tarsus--capital of the Roman province of Cilicia--in the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. He was a Jew, a proud descendent of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul had an outstanding eduction by the standards of his day. He had grduated the rabbinical school of the Pharisees at Jerusalem. HE kinew at least three langauges--Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. He was at home both in Greco Roman culture and Judaic culture. He had inherited from his father the coveted Roman citizenship. He had grown up in one of the cultural centers of the ancient world, Tarsus. It boasted a university second only to that of Alexandria and Athens. Paul would have been able to put many champagne bottles atop his garbage.

And yet, he says: "I consider all these good things rubbish." Why does he do that? What he is saying is, not that all of these things were in of themselves bad. Nor was he saying that such things would have to be given up in order to become a Christian. What he WAS saying was that he now knew what was of ultimate importance in his life. And, by way of comparison, everything else in his life was now just "garbage" or "refuse." Jesus Christ and his salvation was so important to Paul, that everything else was, by way of comparison, was dispensible.

The fact of the matter is, Paul had, in fact, lost many of these things for confessing Christ at the time of his writing. "For his sake" writes Paul, "I have suffered the loss of all things." Literally, "I have had these things confiscated." Paul was imprisoned, and eventually lost his life for the Lord. And yet he says: "I suffer these things gladly, for the sake of Jesus Christ, my Lord."

There is one thing Paul was glad to lose...his self righteousness. Paul thought he was "good enough" to save himself as an expert keeper of the law. But now that was wrapped up and out at the curb. Why? "Because now I have a righteousness NOT my own, but that righteousness whichis through faith in Christ."

The things we throw out in America? Look at what washes up our beaches. Crack vials, needles, syringes, prescription bottles, styrofoam and plastic. These things symptomatic of a society based on an illusion of self sufficiency. A society which doesn't think it needs God.

And along with the garbage, on the Jersey shore, washes up a crucifix.Ironically, symbolic of our greatest need. "Whatever was to my profit, I now consider as loss for the sake of Christ." "I consider everything as loss compared with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, and the righteousness which comes by faith in him."

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