Dirty Laundry – June 10, 2018

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Sermon Preached by Jennifer Hudson
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 10, 2018

Genesis 3:8-15Mark 3:20-35


In the name of God who creates us to be whole, redeems and heals our unsettled hearts, and inspires us to move into right action. Amen.

I’m not very good about my laundry. Anyone who has ever lived with me knows of the worn articles which lie, sometimes for months, in the basket as they await washing. I’m ashamed to admit that if you were to go through my laundry basket right now, you’d not only see heavy sweaters from winter, but also tank tops from last summer. Yes, you heard that right. Last summer. In fact, my basket is so full that dirty clothes are spilling onto the floor. And, as embarrassing as it is to confess, whenever I can’t find something in the closet that I want to wear, I’ll then find it in my basket and rush to wash and dry it—although I’ve also been known to leave this step out and just wear the item, wrinkles and all. 

It’s not that I don’t wear clean clothes. I’m just not good about getting around to washing them so they’re ready for use again. How can I when I balance so much? A full-time job. Family and friends. Service to church. A novel-in-progress. But perhaps I’m using all of those things as an excuse. I suspect what my lack of action really boils down to is that I tend to let things—dirty laundry, grievances, anxieties—pile up. I’ll sweep them under the proverbial rug—or, in this case, into a basket—until things spill over and I’m left with a mess. There’s a clear division here between the me who desires order and the me who waits for chaos to ensue before I take the actions needed to shape things into order. 

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” A very wise observation from Jesus this morning. I wonder what he’d say about my order/chaos dichotomy and the embarrassing state of my laundry basket. He seems to have a bone to pick with the “unclean spirit.” But what exactly constitutes uncleanliness in his eyes? Is he talking about our dirty laundry, those private matters or habits soiled in shame?

Simply put, Jesus has been driving demons out of people by the power of the Holy Spirit, but instead of recognizing God as the source of Jesus’ power, instead of accepting Jesus for who and what he is, the religious leaders accuse him of being possessed by the devil and driving demons out in the devil’s name. That’s like saying God is unclean and unholy. That is the ultimate, unforgivable perversion because it means not being in right relationship.

God always wants right relationship with God’s beloved creation. God is always holy and clean and good. And we—even when we don’t see ourselves as or don’t act in ways that match—are also, in essence, holy and clean and good. We are of God. God’s life-giving Spirit breathes in all of us. Jesus knows this. That’s why he says we can’t survive divided: against each other, against God, even against our own individual self.

As we see in Genesis, once Adam and Eve realize their nakedness, they see themselves as separate from—and not as a part of—God. They feel shame. They feel unholy. Divisions then start to make themselves known in this and subsequent passages from Genesis between holy and unholy, clothed and naked, female and male, human and animal, divine and human. 

When we’re unsettled about ourselves—perhaps due to a long-guarded secret, an embarrassing habit, or some action we regret—if we let our sense of fear and shame fester and pile up, it divides us, forcing a split between our true God-breathed self and the self we know and share with the world. When we feel fear and shame, we encounter others from that place of fear and shame. When we’re divided within, we see and create divisions with others, even with God. When we treat ourselves and others as unclean and unholy, we treat God as unclean and unholy. We’re not living in right relationship.

Now I’m not suggesting that the divisions and injustices we see so rampant in our country—transphobia and homophobia, racism, children detained in cages—can be easily cleaned up and solved by working on our own individual fear and shame. However, it’s a start and can have a ripple effect. A shift in attitude can go from within to without, from the self to our immediate family and friends, to the communities in which we belong, to the strangers we may meet, to communities-at-large, to this whole beloved earth.

God doesn’t want us to feel separation or division. God desires for us to be whole. God wants us to feel connected—with God, each other, whole communities, creation, even with the broken and naked parts of ourselves we deem unclean and shameful. God dwells in all of it. God loves it. Even our overflowing dirty laundry baskets.

In Wearing God, author Lauren Winner writes: “If I could know that God wants to nestle up close to the places of my shame, as close as clothing—then the shame would dissolve. Anything God wants to nestle against is not shameful, so if I actually believed that God wanted to be close to my curdling, the shame would dissolve, and I would be slightly less hidden from God, or from myself.” 

Dirty laundry isn’t meant to pile up. If we want to be less hidden from God and from ourselves, we need to care for and air it out with tenderness. When we wash away the shame and fear, we are left better able to see ourselves, each other—all of God’s creation—as brother and sister and mother. We get clothed in God’s all-inclusive, mind-blowing, unconditional love. What action might you take today to uncover that love? 

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