Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
I started doing my own laundry when I was in high school. My mother gave me a few pointers and soon thereafter she deemed me competent enough not to ruin the clothes she and my dad had purchased for me over time. So it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to washing my own clothes. But you certainly wouldn’t have guessed that fact if you knew me in college. Especially in my sophomore year…
I’ve told you before a bit about my sophomore college roommate. Together the two of us kept a pet python in an old dishwasher in our dorm room. It was a snake we obtained from the pet store when we traded in our grumpy and behaviorally challenged lizard. And we also had a pet tarantula in our room, which we kept in a cage because he was far less friendly than the snake.
To my fellow dorm members who had the privilege of spending any time in our room that year a pet snake and a pet tarantula made all the sense in the world. Because our room looked sort of like a jungle. And it mostly came down to laundry.
My roommate and I started out the year with the best of intentions. We put our clothes in the dressers provided and in the closet the way you’re supposed to. But before the first trimester was over, the two of us developed some bad habits. And things snowballed downhill from there.
Eventually, it got to the point where you could walk into our room and see a huge pile of clothes sitting right in the middle of our floor between the two beds. When you looked at the pile, you couldn’t really distinguish whose clothes belonged to who. Nor was it readily apparent which clothes were clean and which clothes weren’t.
Somehow though, those questions about ownership and cleanliness started to matter less to the two of us than convenience. What could be better, we figured, than waking up, rolling over, reaching out and grabbing a shirt and a pair of shorts without even getting out of bed? If the outfit was a little dirty, no big deal. If the socks didn’t match, why would anyone notice or care?
Even when we got desperate and one of us did the laundry, we had the same system. My roommate lived in the next town over, so he took his laundry home. Meanwhile I saved up quarters and used the machines down in the dorm basement. Then when we brought our clean clothes back into the room though, we fell into the same routine. Never mind folding, we’d turn the bag inside out or flip the laundry basket over and pile the clothes back on the floor in the center of the room.
Eventually my laundry habits improved when I had my own room in my junior and senior years at college. My mother is going to read this sermon at some point so she’ll be glad to know that her laundry training wasn’t completely for naught. Nevertheless, if you’re like me, I don’t think you get really serious about laundry until you actually get married. Or for some people until you have kids.
It wasn’t until I married Kristin that I had to separate clothes into piles, for example. Up until then, I was pretty content cramming as many clothes as I could into one load and taking my chances. That way I took some time and drudgery out of the task.
When Micaela was born, however, the separate pile thing went to a whole new level. We had piles just for whites, piles for red clothes and new clothes and anything that might bleed, piles for dark colors, piles for light colors, and piles for towels and washcloths and baby blankets and all those non-apparel items. Once or twice every laundry occasion I had to debate with myself whether a particular piece of clothing was dark or light or white and which pile it should go in. Of course I’d usually guess wrong because Kristin is the final arbiter in our house when it comes to separating laundry…
Doing laundry can be routine at best and tedious at worst. But I think the subject does qualify as relevant…with a slight twist. As the title of this sermon indicates, this morning I want to consider with you the notion of spiritual laundry…based on the premise that I think how we do our laundry shares a lot in common with how we live our faith lives.
Over the years I’ve learned pretty well how to separate clothes into piles. When we’re talking about spiritual laundry, however, I’m really talking about separating life into three distinct piles.
I don’t know how it works in your house, but the first thing in any laundry process is to try and discern whether something truly needs to be washed. If something is not really dirty, or you’ve only worn it once or twice, or it looks fine the way it is, it stays in the original pile. The pile of things that don’t need washing.
The same is true in life. Virtually every day you and I create a big mental pile and try to wash a whole bunch of things that don’t require washing. Things we don’t like about ourselves, things we are ashamed about, things that cause us embarrassment.
For some people, the thing we’d like to change or fix or improve is a particular physical characteristic. For some people it’s their heritage. There are all kinds of gifts each one of us is given at birth and those things do not need to be washed. They are, quite the opposite, worthy of celebration.
Psalm 139 reminds us, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” In our first pile are things we don’t need to wash, things that are great just the way they are, things we can wear and live out with pride.
The second pile of things in our lives are things that do need washing. But they don’t need to be washed on the heavy duty cycle. They don’t need to be washed on the regular cycle either. Some things in our lives need to be washed gently. On the delicate cycle. Not a whole lot of agitation or spin or rinsing.
When it comes to clothing, I don’t think I own anything that requires a delicate touch. I also know I’ve never washed anything Josh owns on the gentle cycle. However, Kristin, Micaela, and Hannah are another story. When it’s silk or polyester or whatever, the instructions from the three of them are always explicit. Set the machine here, set the timer here, set the water temperature here, pull my stuff out at this time, put it in the dryer for this long, hang it up on this hangar this way etc.
In life I can point to any number of things that could use a gentle wash. Times when I’ve caused hurt feelings. Times when I’ve perpetuated misunderstandings. Times when I’ve accidentally or intentionally been rude to someone. Times when I’ve snapped at someone I love for no good reason. We all say the wrong things. We all do the wrong things. We tend to feel badly about them when they happen.
But those things don’t require heavy duty washing. They just need a quick fix. Admit that we made a mistake. Apologize. Ask for forgiveness if it’s needed. Let it go. And then move on without carrying something around like a grudge or a burden.
If the first pile in our spiritual laundry consists of things that don’t need to be washed and the second pile in our spiritual laundry is reserved for slights and shortcomings that could be adjusted with a little delicate work, then the third pile requires extra care. Pile number three is for the big, nasty things in our lives that need maximum agitation and spin. They cry out for several rinse cycles. In all likelihood they could use extra strength spot remover to get the stains out.
Maximum dirt, things that have weighed us down for a long time because we carry the scars with us, are the sins buried deep in our souls and spirits. Sometimes we need a way to dig deep into places where the stains of sin have soaked in over time. Shame, self-doubt, self-loathing, addiction, guilt. Moreover, sometimes we need someone who will forgive us because we can’t find a way to forgive ourselves.
And you and I know who that someone is…
In the prophet Isaiah we read this morning, “Wash yourselves and make yourselves clean. Stop doing what is wrong and learn to do what is good and right. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow.”
When forgiveness is hard to come by and we can’t seem to forgive ourselves, God’s grace and forgiveness never cease. And once we accept God’s grace and forgiveness, then something inside us loosens up. Even the toughest stains in our lives begin to dissolve and fade away…
In the end, God sees through the sin and stain in our lives. All the way down to our spirits and what makes us God’s children created in God’s image. And God knows you and I just need to be cleaned up once in a while.
Ask yourself then what in your life doesn’t need to be washed. Think about the things in your life that could use a gentle, delicate cleaning. Finally, consider what needs extra detergent and spot remover, a second spin cycle, and some heavy duty agitation.
Separate your life into piles and do a little spiritual laundry. In the end, I suspect it will all come out in the wash. Amen.
NOTE: Inspiration for this morning’s sermon came from a sermon preached by the Rev. Susan Sparks. Her sermon, entitled “Sinners at the Laundromat”, was preached on the Day1 radio program on Sunday, February 23, 2014.