It’s official. After some off-the-record practice in normal days gone by at 8am on Sunday mornings on Trinity Hill, I am now a registered Sutton Coldfield litter picking volunteer; one of about 150 community-minded citizens who have each adopted a local road to keep clean. The council have provided me with the kit – bags, hoop and litter picker, along with a high-viz jacket (several sizes too big). Eldon Drive and half of Penns Lane are definitely cleaner since I joined, along with many other areas of Walmley, Sutton and Newhall Valley.
Genesis chapter 1 verse 31 says that after he had finished creating this world, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” And during the last 15 months, many people have been enjoying his handiwork far more than previously.
However, the more people who have been out walking, whether along the roads or in the parks, the more litter has been appearing. I can sympathise when a sweet wrapper is accidentally dropped or a paper hankie flies out of a pocket by mistake but I fail to understand how a soft drinks can is able to jump into the middle of a holly hedge without some deliberate human help. Why, I ask myself almost every day, do people feel they are going to die of dehydration on a 1 hr local walk unless they take a supply of fluids in tin cans, cartons or plastic bottles which they are then apparently unable to carry home when empty? Perhaps more disturbing, I rarely go out without spotting at least one discarded mask somewhere in the hedgerow, although I generally manage to reassure myself that the sunlight is sterilising it. And can somebody explain to me how dogs do their poo in little bags hanging on tree branches. Finally, what about those odd collections of silvery Nitrous Oxide cannisters – which, to use a Nick Owens type joke – is no laughing matter to those of us who abhor litter.
Enough of my moaning. It’s all to do with my age – being brought up in an era when we took our rubbish home with us! Litter Picking is actually fun: I get fresh air, exercise, dirt, several thumbs-up from passing cars and a host of ‘Brownie points.’
So – to raise the standard of discussion, what does the Bible say about litter picking? Well, to be strictly accurate, it doesn’t say anything, but it does have a few things to say about rubbish.
In Kings & Chronicles, we read about a couple of kings who decided to restore the temple in Jerusalem after their predecessors had polluted it by bringing in altars and idols to worship foreign gods. Joash started well but then he himself turned away from God and there was no lasting benefit. Josiah, on the other hand, kept at it all his life. First, he got the priests to clear out all the stuff – the rubbish, as it were – associated with the false gods that had been brought into God’s holy temple. While they were doing this, they found the Book of the Law in the House of the Lord and they took it to the king. He read those Scriptures and what followed was not just a restoration and rededication of the temple, but a revival in the nation.
Sadly, that did not last long after Josiah’s death and Judah was later exiled to Babylon. That was because they had forgotten God once again, but God did not forget them. After 70 years, he brought them back under the leadership of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah and so they began to rebuild the temple and then the city of Jerusalem. When they first started the repairs, they were ridiculed by their enemies who said they would not succeed as there was far too much rubble. Even the people themselves were discouraged because of the amount of rubbish they had to clear. Nehemiah, however, was a man of prayer, and he encouraged them, gave them practical advice and they succeeded. And then Ezra, as in Josiah’s day, read from the Book of the Law and the people turned back to God once again.
So – what does the Bible say about rubbish? It says that there are some things that get in the way of our relationship with God and that hinder our spiritual progress. It implies that these things are like rubbish and so they need to be litter-picked and thrown away.
Perhaps the New Testament makes it clearer for us. The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 12, verses 1-2 says:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, looking to Jesus…”
And Paul, in his letter to the Philippian church in chapter 3 verse 8, says:
“…I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”
I wonder what are the things that are acting as rubbish in our lives? Some of them may be bad things – sins – which are perhaps easy to identify though less easy to disentangle ourselves from. Some may just be hinderances – perhaps good things in general but not what we should personally be prioritising. Or perhaps, like the Jews in Josiah’s & Ezra’s times, we need to rediscover the book – the Bible; to listen again to God’s word, to look anew to Jesus?
Can I encourage you to consider this and do any litter-picking that might be needed in your lives.
And can I also encourage you to enrol in the Sutton Litter Pickers. I’d love to have some companions join me and do it together as it’s a bit lonely all on my own.