In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
And so we pile up broken habits, broken experiences, sins, regrets. Our lives get cluttered with them, bogged down by them, even immobilized by them, as we are filled with regret, sadness, and frustration. We want to be different, to be more joyful, but we always caught up in our own clutter. Well, Our Lord who casts out demons, forgives sins, and sets spiritual houses in order can also do the same for you! He starts by granting the gift of repentance, the realization that you must change! And then He comes in and sweeps your life clean. He washes you clean in baptism. Gets rid of the junk of sin. Cleans you up and sets your life in order. But we all know what happens every time we try to make a fresh start, every time pastor cleans up his desk, or you break through clutter and mess of your house or life: it all just builds up again. Often with a vengeance. And the state of that house, that desk, that office, or your life ends up being worse than the original state!
This happens especially in those sinful patterns of behaviour you inherit from your parents. Whether it be the guilt you always saw your mother hold over silly things; whether it is taking on responsibility for everyone and everything, foisted on you by your father, even those things you have no right taking responsibility for because God has not given them to you but to someone else; whether it be laziness, sloth, anger, drinking in excess, harsh words, ridiculous and impossible to meet expectations of your spouse or children, or all manner of physical, verbal or sexual abuse. There is much we inherit from our parents.
Many times we have said to ourselves that we won’t do that. Yet along comes the day where we find our selves defaulting to our base programming, to the patterns out of our childhoods. You can try to sweep things clean, put them in order, make a fresh start. But the problem is that you haven’t filled the mental or spiritual house with anything else. So you just go back to way it was before. You fill it up with the same old garbage, the same old sins.
That’s the secret to getting rid of old patterns and old behaviours: filling up the house again. Once you recognize them for the sin they are, repent of them before your God, receive His cleansing forgiveness in Holy Absolution, His sweeping and putting in order of your life, His return to your Baptism, and then you must fill up the house again. Not with the same old, cluttery junk of before, the same sinful habits or behaviours. Fill it with something new, something better.
In our day sexual sin is a big thing that many struggle with. For men and the more visually minded there are temptations to it every time you turn on the TV or internet or open a magazine. For women and the more relationally minded there are fantasies being offered up in shows, books, and commercials. All of those temptations work in us a covetous, greedy appetite for something more, something new, something different than what God has granted you. We are bored with the good gifts we have. This is why St. Paul equates sexual sins and impurity with covetousness, which is a sinful dissatisfaction with what you have. It is boredom. Boredom with the good gifts God gives you in your spouse, in your life, in your relationships and in your stuff. Boredom, an insatiable appetite inside you for next better thing. Boredom is the sin of covetousness, or dissatisfaction (the 9th and 10th commandments).
But once we repent of our sin of boredom, once Christ’s cross-won forgiveness sweeps you clean, then what? What do you replace it with? Well, Christ Himself. His Word. That means, we must repent of the way we live our lives and make room for His Word. Read it. Study it. Memorize it. Change your habits. Carve out five minutes a day to read the Bible, or to memorize a favourite verse or a hymn, or the catechism, or to read a devotion. Get His Word in you. And if you are already doing that, consider, how can I carve out five more minutes to add to it?
His Word being in you does an awful lot to change you, including your attitudes. And that is key. Instead of a covetous desire for more, instead of boredom in you, the Christian’s attitude is thankfulness for what you have. And that both starts with and leads to prayer. If you don’t pray a short thanksgiving for what you receive when you eat, start doing that. If you don’t have any intentional time each day when you talk to God, maybe you should consider it.
It’s great to say, “Well, I just talk to Him all throughout the day.” And maybe you do, but most of us who say such things don’t. We all know how much stuff clutter our lives and how easy it is to not spend time with our spouse or family, let alone the Lord who is always there, and almost always ignored. So intentional times of prayer can be good. For they remind us to trust in our God by bringing Him all our cares, worries, needs, and they give us opportunity to be thankful to Him for all that He does for you today.
An attitude of thankfulness, graciousness, generosity toward God and others displaces our sinful natural attitudes. But don’t do this for God. He doesn’t need it. Do this for you. You need it. Do this for your neighbour. Your neighbour needs it. Do this, in love, for the people who have to live with you and interact with you each day. They need it from you. And we’ve all met positive people, happy people, energetic people whose presence, whose genuine graciousness make you smile or warms your cold heart. This is how we live out the forgiveness given to us.
God’s Word is mighty. It is powerful; powerful to convict you of sin. I have preached a lot of instructions today. Instructions which can be a blessing to you, but for every single one of us, we will fall short of those instructions in some way and so they will ultimately convict you and cause you some guilt. But the beauty of God’s Word is that it not only convicts of sin but also removes sin! It sweeps your eternal life clean of sin’s effects and fills you with the hope of everlasting life.
You may be a clutterbug till you die. One sin or another will continue in your life, no matter how hard you try to get rid of them. God will not love you the less. His Word of forgiveness remains yours. And He has a plan to rid you of sin all together. It is your death and His resurrection. And He redeems your sin caused death with His innocent death, He defies sin and death with His glorious resurrection. And He grants you the cleansing of sin through His Word. So blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it by constantly clinging to Jesus our saviour.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON