Summary: Holding on the right things and getting of the wrong things keeps life simpler and more fulfilling. This is the discipine of Christian discernment.
Tossing the Junk
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Introduction: It was one of those scenes you only see on television. For Rick’s sake, I was glad no cameras showed up. I knew Rick had some problems. But I had no idea. Someone had called me early that morning and told me that I might want to get over to his house.
Rick Parker was a member of a church I once pastored. None of you would know him. He lived a few hundred miles from here. In fact, he passed away a couple of years ago. Despite the fact that you wouldn’t know him, I have changed his name for what I am going to tell you. I think you will understand why. I assure you that what I am going to tell you is absolutely true.
Rick was in his late fifties at the time. Rick had lived alone for years. He had been married once years before. But that marriage ended after only a few years. At one time he had worked in a factory. But he developed health problems and eventually went on disability. All of that was long before I knew him.
The church was a big part of Rick’s life. He had grown up there. His mother was one of the oldest members for a long time. I had her funeral while I was there. Because he had a lot of free time on his hands, Rick would stop by the church office two or three times a week just to visit and share a cup of coffee. Rick was also a very good singer. He sang in the choir. People often requested him to sing for funerals or other special occasions. “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was his specialty.
As I said, I knew he had problems. In addition to his health problems, Rick battled bouts of depression. More than once, some of us had to convince him that he did have something to live for. We would tell him he had plenty of friends and family who cared about him. Those talks became more frequent after his mother died.
Rick also had financial problems. Obviously, trying to live on a disability check wasn’t easy. He received food stamps and government medical assistance. But he also made his own problems worse. Rick was constantly using a credit card to order this or that gadget that he saw advertised on television. He belonged to all kinds of record clubs, book clubs, and video clubs. Church people helped him out of a financial jam every now and then. We paid to have his utilities turned back on. Many of us also offered a lot of unsolicited advice on money management. Very little of it took for long. Eventually, Rick filed for bankruptcy. Some friends at church tried to convince him to move into an apartment or better yet some kind of assisted living quarters. He would have nothing to do with it. He insisted on remaining in his house no matter what.
Nobody understood why. His house wasn’t much. I had never been in it, but I had driven by it many times. Every time I mentioned stopping by, he always had an excuse. I never thought much about it until the morning I received that phone call.
When I pulled up, several sheriff’s vehicles were already there. A large truck was parked in front of the house. Several coverall clad men wearing protective masks and rubber gloves were carrying Rick’s belongings out of the house and adding it to a growing mountain of trash already piled by the street. At first I thought it was a hazmat crew. I was partly right.
When I introduced myself to the deputy posted at the front door, I found out that Rick’s house had been sold for taxes several months before. I had known that something like that had been threatened, but Rick had assured me that his bankruptcy lawyer was taking care of everything. Apparently not! He had been given notice. But he thought that as long as he didn’t answer the door when the sheriff came to serve him the papers, nothing would happen. Wrong! After the months of warnings had been given and ignored, the day had finally arrived when a judge ordered the sheriff to move Rick out. They didn’t know what they were getting into.
During my years of ministry, I thought I had seen about everything. But nothing like this! It looked as if (and the sheriff’s people assured me that it was the case) the house hadn’t been cleaned or anything (anything!) tossed out for twenty years. Old newspapers, magazines, empty plastic milk jugs, cardboard boxes, discarded mail and trash bags full of garbage were piled everywhere. Every square inch was piled four or five feet high with trash. Everything you could imagine, plus some. The kitchen, what you could see of it, had stacks and stacks of dirty dishes covered with dried up food. Dozens of greasy pots and pans filled the sink. Most had not been touched for literally years.