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Sermon for Lent – De-cluttering our lives

Article posted on 14 March 2018 Leave a Comment

Introduction Rainbow

I’ve often thought there are many Bible passages which act like a rainbow. A single story, a single source of light that can be refracted through the spectrum of understanding to reveal a myriad of different ways of looking at it. They all lead back to the same source yet approached through different perspectives.

The story of the Cleansing of the Temple is one such story. It can lead us down a number of paths, each valid in their own interest of enquiry. We could follow what appears to be the unusual behaviour of Jesus, the apparent rejection of all things commercial in a church – a very dangerous and erroneous pursuit in my view – or the taking up of the space reserved for the Gentiles for example which our Lent books focus on.

Clutter

But today I want to take a different route and start by talking about clutter. The definition of clutter is ‘’a collection of things lying about in an untidy state.”

Do you have rooms, garages, lofts which are full of clutter? We certainly do. It usually starts by stuff that has fulfilled its purpose for which you acquired it and you are not sure what to do with it. ‘It might come in handy one day’ we say. Stick it in the back room, or the garage, or the attic. Some of this clutter we attach meaning to. It holds memories and so we cannot throw away. It would be like disposing of a treasured memory and so we hold on to it.

Lack of cohesion

The thing about clutter is that it doesn’t really fit together. It is usually bits and bobs of all sorts of ‘stuff’. It doesn’t make a cohesive whole. As a collection of things, it doesn’t make sense. Though individually they may hold meaning, as a whole they become devalued, a nuisance, something we have to crawl over to get around. It no longer serves any purpose in our lives. But often we leave it.

Clutter of Ideas

A clutter of physical things is one thing. A clutter of different philosophies of life is something altogether more dangerous.

We live in a technological age where information of every kind is instantly available at the click of a mouse or the touch of a finger. It provides a worldwide marketplace where ideas and attitudes are hawked across social media in an instant influencing minds and hearts. There is no safe place where we can avoid the challenge of alternative worldviews. Views abound which have their roots in materialism, consumerism, individualism, pluralism. These are not things we collect, but a culture we live in, a presence we cannot avoid and which we so easily absorb unquestioningly into our understanding of faith.

Clutter of worldviews / Niebuhr / Nietsche

What we end up with is a clutter of worldviews; ‘a collection of things lying around in an untidy state’. There is no cohesion, no shared values. It was this kind of ebb and flow of a collection of ideas that a man called Reinhold Niebuhr was talking about when he said, ‘every time I find the meaning of life, they change it.’ Niebuhr also brooded over man’s weakness in the face of conformist human behaviour – the herd instinct – where ideas are readily accepted without critical assessment.

The philosopher Nietsche believed that as long as we are a product of our culture we cannot rise above its values. We become trapped into group think.

Cleansing of Temple

Is this the issue with the traders in the Temple? Perhaps they were a product of a culture which had overtaken their religion. Developments had been allowed to flourish without any application of critical thinking; without ever questioning whether this contributed to a cohesive whole or just added to a collection of untidy things. They simply didn’t grasp the true meaning of worship. To the traders, what they were doing was all perfectly acceptable because the culture they were in never questioned it.

Jesus’ criticism of culture

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus criticises the prevailing culture for allowing the ideas of men to be treated as the words of God. He quotes Isaiah 29 where the prophet pronounces God’s judgement that people say the right things, but the hearts are far from me. ‘Their worship of me’, he says, ‘is based on merely human rules they have been taught.’

 

Paul’s warnings

Paul writing to the Romans spends chapter 1 explaining that if humans do not worship the creator, we will make a deity out of something in the created order. He says,

‘They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.’

Later, in chapter 12, Paul says,

‘do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern the will of God.’

Writing to the Thessalonians he says, ‘test everything, hold fast to what is good’

Critical Thinkers / Blind & Elephant

In her book, ‘Finding Truth’, Nancy Pearcey believes that today the need for critical thinking is greater than ever.

‘Christians,’ she says, ‘must become critical thinkers with the tools to think critically about diverse points of view’

She uses the example of a poem entitled ‘The Blind men and the Elephant’

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
Conclusion / Vigilant

And so the challenge for us today is to be vigilant about what we take on board in our minds and lives; to always be ready to apply critical thinking  to the ideas and attitudes paraded by the culture we live in; to stay true to the faith of Christ; to clear out the clutter of ideas and stay true to the unchanging belief in Christ which brings a cohesive meaning and purpose to our lives.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

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