Dumpster in the Driveway

Every now and then in life, you need a big dumpster to get rid of things. Sometimes it’s a symbolic dumpster that you need, say when it’s time to toss a lot of emotional baggage or if you need let go of some past chapter in your life and move on. But other sometimes you need a literal dumpster. There happens to be a big, rusty, blue one in my driveway right now. Our neighbors decided to move to the mountains of Mexico in order to have an adventure. The whole family has been learning Spanish for months, and they have gradually given away or sold most of their worldly possessions. They plan to travel light for the year ahead. But of course, as in any move, there is a lot of random stuff leftover, that detritus of the useless clutter we just accumulate over the years. Thus the dumpster in the driveway that our two houses share. 

Over the years we have shared much more than a driveway. Our lives entwined in mundane ways that only those of neighbors can, with a kind of natural intimacy that develops over time. Their 9-year-old girl and ours have been inseparable ever since they were little, when they first met and insisted on parading around the neighborhood in princess dresses. The backdoors into our kitchens have constantly opened and closed with their comings and goings. And over the years, the guys have bonded over problems with impossibly small crawlspaces and other challenges that come with older houses. We have commiserated over careers and parenting and politics, all on front porches. This week, as I’ve watched that dumpster fill up, the reality of their move has finally sunk in. We will miss them more than we realized. 

In addition to all those emotions around the dumpster, Jason and I also got inspired. We started our own clean out. The attic was our first target, as most of its contents were items long-destined for a dumpster anyway. It’s amazing what you can haul around for years that really just needs to get tossed. Things were clearing out quickly, until Jason came across a pile of boxes that have sat in his parents’ various attics for years - memorabilia from his childhood. They were filled with everything from grade school handwriting exercises to high school musical programs.There were also notes from old girlfriends. I was very quick to toss those, you know, to be helpful. We gave away and recycled what we could, but the rest ended up physically and emotionally in the dumpster, now mixed in with our friends’ stuff from next door. 

Maybe you know that feeling that comes when you survey the contents of a purge and wonder what comes next. It’s a strange mix of memories and hope with a cleared out space in between. On the hope side, we now have new neighbors moving in. We left the dumpster for a few extra days in case it’s helpful to them as they unpack. We hope they feel at home in the neighborhood, that we will be good neighbors, and that our kids will have fun together. All of that will take time, as moving into any new future always does. For now, the dumpster in the driveway and our empty attic are reminders of being in that in-between space between the past and the future. 

On this Sunday, the church finds itself in a similar in-between space between the past and the future. This day lands between the Ascension of Jesus into heaven and the Day of Pentecost, which comes next week. We find ourselves looking back over Jesus’ earthly and Easterly ministry, and wondering what on earth the Holy Spirit will do with us when it comes rushing in next week. This Sunday is kind of like a cleared out space in between. What shall we do with it? It’s interesting to me that the gospel we just heard has Jesus praying for the church of the future. Scholars call this his priestly prayer. It’s a lofty and eloquent prayer about really big, hopeful ideas like unity and love and the glory of God. As a prayer, it can feel a little abstract, maybe like the unknown future ahead of us. But the passage suggests that we ought to follow Jesus’ example, and consider what future we are praying for.

Immediate things might come to mind for you, as they do for me. Our prayer might be a simple one for something like a good relationship with a new neighbor. Or maybe something more complex, like help in the face of a medical scare or for the alleviation of despair. This week it might be for safety and community resolve in the face of rising flood waters. Whatever weighs on your hearts and minds on this Sunday, I invite you to pray like Jesus. And to pray for big things like he did, for a future pleasing both to God and to us. Go big or go home, right? That could be this Sunday’s prayer motto.

I recently attended a gathering called the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis. It’s an annual meeting of preachers from across denominations and countries. The sermons offered are typically not only masterful but large in scope. As one keynote speaker put it, just at the point when sermons normally have to go to bed, at the Festival of Homiletics they’re allowed to stay up late and have a big time. And boy, do they. 

William Barber gave a sermon, which I will never forget. If you don’t know his work, he is on a mission to bring people of faith together in a renewed commitment to social justice and moral responsibility for the common good. And he can move a crowd. Steeped in the black church and civil rights traditions, he might just be one of the greatest orators of our day. He certainly got our attention. He claimed that we need nothing short of a “moral pentecost" today. A moral pentecost. The Holy Spirit needs to blow through us and give us courage to heal all that’s broken. We Christians need to get beyond our divisions, he said, things like left or right, conservative or liberal, and work together - not only in our churches, but in our culture, in politics, and for the climate. He gradually built up the energy in his sermon until he brought the refrain of a moral pentecost to a forceful crescendo. And, I kid you not, it ended with an altar call for the 1500 or so preachers in the room. He got everyone up on their feet with their hands in the air, including the polite midwestern Lutherans, and even the Episcopalians. It was a sight to behold. It was surely the gospel.  

On this Sunday in-between the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost, our task, my friends, is to figure out what we are praying for. Are there things we need to let go of from the past? And what new possibilities for the future do we dare imagine? Maybe it’s time for us to go bigger in our prayers and in our moral imaginations as Christians. This day in the church year is like  one in which there is a symbolic rusty blue dumpster in the driveway. There is surely some old clutter to get rid of, like some of the unhelpful or lack luster ways we have thought about church or politics, about our own lives or about the way things always seem to be. We can toss what is no longer serving us, because that’s how we make room for the future to which God calls us. Then, in that cleared out space, perhaps we should set our sights higher than we’re used to doing, praying like Jesus that our lives and our world will reveal real unity, real love, and the very glory of God. It will take some time to live into that God-filled future. But as we pray in the midst of our cleared out space, we know that Pentecost is just around the corner. And the Spirit always goes big.  

Kate Alexander