Hammering at Heaven’s Gates

by Rev. Doug Gray

Anyone know someone who has trouble getting rid of their garbage? One magazine I read, had some ideas for classes someone could take if they were having trouble clearing out the junk.

     Class 1. Refrigerator Forensics:  Identifying and Removing the Dead.
     Class 2. If It’s Empty, You Can Throw It Away:  Accepting Loss, Semester 1.
     Class 3. If the Milk Expired Three Weeks Ago, Keeping It in the Refrigerator
          Won’t Bring It Back:  Accepting Loss, Semester 2.
     Class 4. Recycling Skills 101:  Boxes That the Electronics Came In.
     Class 5. Recycling Skills 201:  Styrofoam That Came in the Boxes That Electronics Came in.
     Class 6. Giving Back to the Community:  How to Donate 15-year-Old Levis to Goodwill.

According to Elizabeth Royte in her book, Garbage Land:  On the Secret Trail of Trash, we each create over 4 pounds of trash every day. Even with the recycling we do, many of the things we throw away—plastics and Styrofoam for example—are going to be around for centuries. Our world seems to have two kinds of problems:  1. Too much garbage that we don’t or won’t get rid of, and 2. finding a safe place for all the garbage once we do get rid of it. If we are honest, we have the same kind of problems in our inner lives as well.
     The first really big problem we have with trash is there’s just so much of it all the time. In each of our lives we have trash that is accumulating

     •    old hurts we received as children (perhaps from our parents)
     •    hurts we have done to others
     •    times when we let someone down
     •    times when we did something we know God wouldn’t like
     •    fear of failing
     •    fear of success

It’s this kind of trash that has piled up in the life of the person writing Psalm 130.

     1    Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; 2 O Lord, hear my voice.
          Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

     When we find ourselves burdened with the trash of our lives, Jesus wants to help us find the trash and take it out. This is not a do-it-by-yourself project. Timothy Cargal notes, “We realize that we cannot maintain a solid stance in the shifting pile of refuse we have created. When we try to climb out, we simply lose our balance and fall deeper into the pile. The debris of our sinful actions creates a kind of quicksand that sucks us ever deeper in.” It’s out of those depths that we cry out, hammering at heaven’s gates. Sharing what we have done and want to be different really matters here, but ultimately, forgiveness cannot be complete until we receive it…and that means someone gives it to us. It’s something Jesus does for us and something we can, by God’s grace, do for each other. The psalmist writes to God, “But with You, there is forgiveness, that You may be revered.” To listen to each other and to forgive are some of the most profound ways in which we can be Christ for another human being, but the wellspring of all that forgiveness is the steadfast love of God.
     The second really big problem we have with trash is that has to go somewhere. In recent decades we have learned that part of the problem with physical trash is not only it’s immediate smell or danger to us, but that it goes somewhere and can become a health problem for others. Have you heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s an area between California and Hawaii where lighter-than-water plastics have been swept by prevailing ocean currents. It’s twice the size of Texas! Closer to home, chemicals, paints, oil, electronics and nuclear cooling rods—we worry about the safety of where we put these things, because it’s so easy for these things to contaminate the water we need to drink or the air we need to breathe. The same is true in our own lives:  if we do not find a place for the trash of our lives, it can leech out into how we treat others, becoming a toxic hazard to the groundwater of our families and the atmosphere at work. Our lives can even be “re-contaminated” as our toxic anger, depression, and bitterness come back to us from those we love. Again we come to the end of what we can do. Our brokenness and trash seem to have us spiraling down, and all we seem to be able to do is to hammer at heaven’s gate, hoping God will answer. The psalmist writes in vss. 7–8, “O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.” Timothy Cargal asks, “Where does our [life’s] garbage go? What is the final destination of our gossip and insults, half-truths and lies, lusts and longings, selfish manipulations and self-less wanderings? All this trash goes straight to the cross. And that’s where it stays, forever. No toxic stew. No environmental danger. No waste management problems.” That’s full redemption, and God Himself did that in Jesus Christ.
How do we solve the problem of trash in this world? Ultimately, by making less of it, and by making sure the trash we make is not the kind that sticks around. When it comes to our internal trash, the only way to make less toxic waste, is to stay close to God, to live the way Paul talks about in Ephesians.
     This afternoon, Clara and I are headed to Gavin House again. Every time we are there, I meet good people—people just like you and me—but the “trash” in their lives is completely overwhelming them. Many of them are hammering on heaven’s gates, not even really sure if there is a God, not really sure they want there to be a god, but knowing they desperately need the God who can help them with the toxic goo of their addiction, along with their pain, guilt and sorrow. And every time I’m there, I share the Good News that when we cry out from our depths, God is listening. Whenever we are hammering on heaven’s gates, we can turn to find Christ is standing beside us already. When Clara and I share this Good News at Gavin House, I see this gleam of hope in their eyes haunted with suffering. I want you to hear this Good News too:  The best part of God’s plan for our lives is that trash removal is only the beginning. God’s real plan is renovation—to make us totally new in Jesus Christ. You see, when we sincerely offer up the trash of our lives, God takes it all in—cleansing our hearts because He himself plans to come and live in us. We will never be alone, and always have more light and love to share than we thought possible. May Jesus Christ come into each of our lives, help us clean up, awaken in us a desire to be different, and make His home in us—a place of welcome for our friends, family and yes, by God’s grace even the stranger and enemy. We may be dismayed by our trash, but God delights in freeing us.