As a new cop (or probationer as we were called in Scotland), you are always given the worst jobs. Not long after I started my career as a police constable, my sergeant took me to a house where an old woman had been found dead. From the outside, the house looked impressive; it had once been a manager’s house for a huge Victorian mill that dominated the West Scotland town of Paisley. It had the air of Victorian respectability. I was not prepared for what lay on the other side of the front door: there was rubbish on every part of every inch of every floor over every floor in the house. The smell from the rubbish was overwhelming. We eventually waded through the rubbish to the kitchen. There, in a corner in a tiny bed, lay a little old lady who died in her sleep surrounded by the accumulated rubbish of her life.
I had to carry out an investigation. The neighbours said they rarely saw the lady but when they did, she was always happy and well-presented. She kept the small garden at the front of the house neat and tidy. But it was clear from inside that it had been years since she had thrown anything out. She just kept accumulating more and more rubbish in her house. Incidentally, I had to capture about six cats that lived among the rubbish; it wasn’t quite the glamorous and exciting police work I had anticipated.
Recently, I came across a comment from Canadian pastor Bruxy Cavey. It reminded me of that elderly lady, her house, and the smell of rubbish:
“What are you carrying around from your past? What guilt or garbage haunts you? What habit from your past or habit in your present causes you shame when you think about it? For some of us suppression, repression and denial are the only ways in which we can cope with another day. When we ignore our own sin, we are like people who store garbage in their basement. Sure, “out of sight, out of mind” works for a while but over time the pile builds up. We can try and live as though it doesn’t exist, and eventually we might become used to the rotten smell. But sooner or later someone will notice what we don’t, and our garbage will become known.”
How many people who gather in worship week by week have lives that are the spiritual equivalent of the house of that little old lady from Paisley, full of garbage from their past? People who keep everything respectable on the outside but who, on the inside, have a stinking mess of guilt, shame, and regret over sin in their souls?
This isn’t a new phenomenon. John talks to the church of his generation about it in his first letter.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
John says it’s time to kiss the garbage in our lives goodbye: to be honest about its existence, to stop trying to hide the mess of guilt and shame from ourselves and others and do something about it. Back in Paisley, I had to arrange with the local council to bring cleaners to the elderly lady’s house, to literally disinfect and scrub it. John says when we acknowledge and admit our sin, instead of trying hide it away in our souls, Jesus does the same for us. Jesus “will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The amazing thing I discovered about that lady back in Paisley who died in such squalor was that she had a very healthy bank account. She had had a good job, she never married, had no dependants, and didn’t spend very much, so her bank balance grew over the years. She had more than enough money to pay people to come in and do for her what perhaps she couldn’t do for herself: clean out her rubbish.
You probably realize where I am going with this. The promise here in God’s Word is that Jesus will do for us what we can’t do for ourselves: get rid of the garbage of sin from our lives. Jesus is in the cleansing, purifying business.
So why do we so often let the garbage of guilt and shame accumulate in our souls?
John says when we “come clean” about our sin to Jesus, he comes in to clean out our hearts and souls with the purifying disinfectant of forgiveness.
So, is there any garbage in your life that you have hidden from others – but that you can still smell? Jesus says it’s time to say goodbye to that garbage.