“Taking Out The Garbage”

“TAKING OUT THE GARBAGE”
Jonah 1:1-3; Philippians 3:4b-14
Rev. Dr. Sallie M. Watson

May 1, 2022

How do you understand yourself to be a child of God? Do you understand yourself to be
a child of God? I suspect that some of us say that we are because we’ve always been
told that we were. And I suspect there are others who know it in their bones because
there was some occasion, some event, some crisis or tragedy or opportunity when
everything crystallized and all of a sudden, it became clearer than clear whose we really
were.

It’s like the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Some of us sing along without thinking much about
it. Some of us love it because it reminds us of certain occasions when we have sung it,
or it reminds us of certain people who sang it with us. Then there are those of us who
sing it with extra clarity because we are convinced beyond a doubt that it is “grace has
brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”

That’s how it was for John Newton, the man who wrote this hymn. Newton had it all –
he was a slave trader, independent, wealthy, with no misgivings about getting rich quite
literally on the backs of others. But much like Jonah, it took a thunderstorm on rocky
seas to bring him to his knees and ask God’s protection. And as God is wont to do, God
gave him far more than he asked for. In the end, he was saved from a storm, but God
had saved him from far more than that. Not only did he leave the slave trade and
become an abolitionist himself. He went on to write what is probably our most beloved
hymn. It took a flash of lightning, but Newton came to understand himself as a child of
God.
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The older I get, the more convinced I am that we only come to see ourselves as children
of God as we begin to make sense of our lives through God’s eyes and notice where it is
that God has been at work in them.

Unfortunately, we live in a time of me, me, me – when the emphasis gets put on my
experience, my story, my needs, my everything, my anything – my, my, my. But the good
news is that searching for God’s movement in our lives is cut out of entirely different
cloth. Rather than navel-gazing to discover who I am for my own self-centered purposes,
understanding ourselves as children of God is the story of our being led to discovering
who we are in light of God’s goodness and God’s good intentions for us. To put it
another way, if our lives were a sentence, we would not be the subject of it; God would
be the subject, and we would be the object. My life is not about my choosing and
fulfilling my own destiny; my life is about God calling me and using me.

That was how it was for the apostle Paul when we met up with him this morning. I
suspect that, in your life and mine, it’s been far less about how each of us struck out on
our own and created our own destiny, and far more about how God’s grace was the
golden thread woven through our highs and lows, holding our lives together, whether
we knew it at the time or not. We come to see ourselves as children of God as we begin
to make sense of our lives and notice where it is that God has been at work in them.

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And once we begin to make sense of our lives as we see them through the eyes of God,
then everything else in our life as we once knew it is up for grabs. It’s like we wake up
from a weird dream and wonder how we got here. Those things we used to want, the
ways we used to behave, those things which used to be important to us, somehow all of
a sudden, we don’t need them anymore. It’s not that the things we were saying and
doing and wanting and buying were bad things – we just don’t need them anymore.
It’s kind of like training wheels for a bike. They serve a purpose for a while. They provide
extra balance and stability while you’re learning to ride a bike. But once you’ve figured it
out and are riding that bike down the driveway by yourself, it’s time for the training
wheels to come off. It’s not that training wheels are bad things. You just don’t need to
hang on to them any longer. They’ve outlived their purpose.

Once we begin to make sense of our lives as we see them through the eyes of God,
suddenly there will be any number of things in our lives that will have outlived their
purpose. And if we don’t count them entirely as garbage, as the apostle Paul said in our
reading this morning, then at the very least, it will be time for a garage sale.

That’s how God has tended to work in my life. Some of you know that before I decided
to go to seminary, I worked in advertising in and around Dallas. And I was pretty good at
it. I started out working for the Dallas Times Herald, and ended up working for an
advertising agency specializing in recruitment. I was the account executive for some
companies that you would recognize, working with them to come up with a campaign
that would provide them with a great pool of folks to hire. But over a period of two or
three years, God and I wrestled to the mat about what it was that I was supposed to do,
and finally, I made the decision to begin seminary. People thought I was crazy. I had to
give up my cool apartment and move back in with my mom for a few months. I gave up
the cushy office and the expense account for a part-time job where I had to ride the bus.

One day about six weeks later my phone rang, and it was Bill Carrera. My favorite boss
from the advertising world. Bill was going out on his own to open a new agency, and he
wanted me to work with him. He offered me more money than I’d ever made. A
company car. And a chance to work with a guy I trusted and admired. It took every
ounce of will I had, but I told him that I could not because I had decided to change
careers and go into the ministry.

Things got a little quiet on his end. If he’d called me six weeks earlier, I said, I would
have jumped at the chance. But my plans for seminary were already in motion, and so I
would have to say no. I got off the phone and cried for about an hour. A couple of weeks
later, I got the news that Bill had moved ahead with opening his new office – and he had
hired my nemesis! Talk about adding insult to injury. I had to give up what at that time
seemed like a dream job, and then she got it!

Even so, did I ever make the right decision. Fortunately, once again, God had saved me
from myself. The cushy job and the company car – they weren’t bad things. I had just
outgrown them. When I began to see the way that God was at work in my life – not
when I had found myself, but when I realized that God had found me – somehow those
other things had outlived their purpose. I just didn’t need to hang on to them anymore.

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So, what’s your story? You’ve heard mine and the apostle Paul’s this morning. What’s
yours? How do you see yourself as a child of God? Can you look back through your life
and see yourself not as the subject, but as the object of God’s action? Where is it that
God is calling you? And what is it that you need to leave behind? How is God’s grace at
work in your life? Where is it that God is leading you?

My friend Amy Cloninger was a little girl at Mo-Ranch with her family one summer,
and she wanted more than anything to prove that she could swim the length of the pool
so that they would let her go on the big slide into the Guadalupe River.
But Amy had to wear glasses, because she was blind as a bat without them. She got into
that beautiful pool next to Manor House, but she kept swimming in circles because
without her glasses, she wasn’t able to get her bearings and swim the length of the pool.
Her father noticed that she was struggling. So, he came up with the idea of walking
alongside Amy on the edge of the pool to give her a landmark. So, while she could
hardly see her hand in front of her face, she could make out her father. Maybe it was
just the security of having him there as much as it was having a beacon to follow. But
when Amy began to stop struggling on her own and let herself be guided by her father,
it wasn’t long before she was going down the big slide into the river.

Sometimes, friends, we’re swimming in circles too, aren’t we? Even with our glasses,
sometimes we don’t know which way is up. But instead of admitting to that, we still try
to find our way all by ourselves and end up getting nowhere. It is as we begin to
understand ourselves as children of a loving God that we see that God is right there,
sometimes walking beside us to give us strength whether we think we need it or not,
and sometimes a little ahead of us when we can’t see which way to go.
“I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

Amen.

About Rev. Dr. Sallie Watson