Renunciation –Cleaning Out the Closet– Ephesians 4:17-29

Ephesians 4:17-29
 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

     This is the last of the RE word sermons. Graham has preached on resurrection, redemption, reformation, reconciliation and rejoicing.  Now along I come with the last of the RE words, renunciation. YIKES. That is a mouth full. If I ask you to renounce someone or something, how does that make you feel?  Horrible? Mean spirited? Self-Righteous?  On a scale of one to ten what is your comfort scale with this word?  Probably a low 2. Renunciation sounds like a terrible wrenching experience, like getting your teeth drilled.  That is why Renunciation needs a rehab.
         I started to think about “renunciation” and here is what came to mind, The Committee on Un-American Activities, witch-hunts, persecutions and The Spanish Inquisition.  “NO one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Their chief weapon is surprise, No Surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Their two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... No their three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.”  You get the point despite Monty Python’s spoof, no one likes the Spanish Inquisition and no one likes renunciation.
         This word has lots of calcified old baggage. We see renunciation as being judgment and rejection.  How could such an ugly word be associated with Christianity?  Well unfortunately judgment and rejection are part of what humans do to each other. This is the sin part of our nature playing out. And some Christians have latched onto this error. But that wasn’t how it was meant to be. Renunciation was a spiritual practice and a call to examine our lives. Renunciation flowed out of the monastic movement and it came from scriptures just like Ephesians 4. In Ephesians 4 we hear a call to put away an old life that doesn’t lead to Christ. Renunciation is about putting away old maladaptive behaviors. It is not about condemnation, judgment or rejection. Our problem starts with the definition of renunciation.          Renunciation has two definitions the first is denial or rejection: a denial or rejection of something or somebody. The second definition is a declaration giving something up. We are called to give up something.  But we are never called to renounce someone. Renunciation is never in the bible as a renunciation of people. Ephesians 4 calls us to put away our former way of life, our old corrupt self and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self. It is a spiritual closet cleaning so that we can be free.
         Picture a life where you never give up anything you have ever had or any thing you ever were.  This is hoarding.  Who has watched the cable TV show Hoarders?  Hoarders are people who cannot let go of anything. They acquire and collect and save and stack and pack and accumulate until they are paralyzed. They squirrel and stash until they are in danger of avalanche in their own homes.  Hoarders are living a slow death of suffocation in possessions. Hoarders are driven by fear.  If they let that thing go of their stuff who will they be? If they let go of that thing, maybe they won’t have enough. If they let go of that memento of love, maybe they won’t have enough love. Hoarders fear loss so much that they can’t let go. Renunciation is all about letting go of past behaviors, old mental junk, old ways of doing things, old maladaptive behaviors. If you are intent upon growing in faith you are keen to renounce anything that gets in the way of following God. We are asked to let go of anything that possesses us, hinders us or stunts our growth. 
         One of the things that characterize a hoarder is that they are paralyzed. They can’t move in their home because of all the junk.  They can’t have relationships or other interests because they are too obsessed with their stash. They are not just paralyzed they are petrified. That word is true in both its definitions.  They are petrified in the meaning that they are immobilized by fear and they are petrified in the meaning of taking something living and growing like wood and turning it to stone.  In our passage from Ephesians, Paul writes that the same thing was happening to “The Gentiles.”  The Gentiles were trapped in the futility of their minds. What a perfect turn of phrase for what we all experience when we are spinning in confusion, trapped in the futility of our minds. Paul writes that, "their understanding was darkened because of the hardness of their hearts." The Greek word is porosis, which refers to a stone harder than marble. If the ancient Greeks wanted a really stylish kitchen they would order porosis countertops. But porosis also has a medical meaning that helps us see even deeper into this hardness of heart.  Porosis means a callus that forms from a broken bone that is reset and poorly healed. How important it is for us to understand that this particular kind of hardness of heart often comes from the places that are broken in our lives.  Too often we try to set our own bones and our attempts at self healing end with this hardness or callused porosis.  So that the broken place can no longer move because of the terrible hardness.  This porosis of the heart means that they could no longer feel. They had lost all sensitivity or freedom of motion. This is the kind of awful stuff we are to renounce.  We are to let go of all the callused petrified old self to allow more tender self to grow.  Renunciation is a good thing. Renunciation isn’t a horrible judgment it is a cure to this hard heart and this paralysis.
         Renunciation is a Christian practice. The New Members who joined to day were asked to renounce sin and its power in the world.  What a good thing.  Renounce; let go of things that make you sick.  Renounce or let go of the things that hold you petrified in fear.  The new members then went on to answer two other questions. Now that you have let go of the old stuff can you embrace the new stuff?  Can you accept Christ and be part of the Body of Christ the church.  If we are asked to take on something new we need to create the space for it.  If you are called to speak the truth in love, you have to clean out the closet of lies.  If you are called to reconcile and forgive, you need to sweep out the anger. If you are called to put on new clothes you need to take off the old ones.  There is no sense putting on a great new outfit over some sweaty old clothes.  Layering the new on the old doesn’t work so well. 
         Let me give you some examples.  Suppose you worked at Glade Run Home for Children, a school for kids with a lot of problem. You see a kid and noticed he seemed to have on 3 or 4 T-shirts, and then a sweatshirt and a sweater. And you look more closely and it seems that there might be a second pair of pants just sticking a little up from the top of his outer pants.  You will start watching that kid very closely. That boy is layering, which is putting on all these layers of clothes.  That kid may be thinking about running away.  So that when that kid runs and hits the streets that boy will have some a change of clothes.  If you see an adult on the street and he is wearing layer upon layer of clothes. That guy may well be homeless. Layering is a warning of something wrong. Layering doesn’t work very well.  Hoarding doesn’t work very well.  We need to discern what to clean out, what to renounce.         
         But how do we do this?  On the front of your bulletin is a quote from Henri Nouwen that shows great insight into the process of renunciation.  
"To be able to enjoy fully the many good things the world has to offer, we must be detached from them. To be detached does not mean to be indifferent or uninterested.  It means to be nonpossessive. Life is a gift to be grateful for and not a property to cling to.
A nonpossessive life is a free life. But such freedom is only possible when we have deep sense of belonging.  To whom then do we belong? We belong to God, and the God to whom we belong has sent us into the world to proclaim in his Name that all of creation is created in and by love and calls us to gratitude and joy. That is what the “detached” life is all about. It is a life in which we are free to offer praise and thanksgiving."   Henri J. M. Nouwen, “Bread for the Journey”

Now I want you to think of renouncing the power of things over you as detaching.  Nouwen doesn’t use the language of renunciation, but uses the word detachment.  In the sense that both renouncement and detachment are letting go the meaning is similar. Nouwen says freedom is only possible if we belong. Fully realizing we belong to God allows us to let go of the stuff that holds us prisoner.  Do you remember the vow you made this morning to new members?  You promised to accept, guide and nurture.  That means you promised to help these new members to know that they belong.   We all have a part to play with each other.  If we are all going to go home this afternoon and clean out our spiritual closets, let go of the things that keep us stagnating and keep us from growing, we need each other’s help. We need to encourage each other. To say in a 1000 ways, you belong. This is a place where love is spoken. This is a place where you don’t need all your armor and layering.
         So you have some homework before Pentacost Sunday next week.  Did you notice I didn’t tell you what you have to renounce?  That is your homework.  Think about three things you need to let go of, three things you need to renounce. If you take a Sunday afternoon nap set out a pen and paper before your nap and ask for guidance. Then nap, but when you awake jot down three things to let go.  If you are going to a sports event, bring a scrap paper and do the same thing. 
         If you are going to receive something from God you need open hands.  So what do you need to empty to make some room for God?