My sister, Patty, collected napkins. I don’t remember collecting anything. She collected napkins imprinted with the bride and groom’s names placed on the cake table at weddings. She collected napkins from her friends’ birthday parties and even from a new truck stop where our family of six went for cheeseburgers and chocolate malts. As I recall, she carefully stored her napkin collection in a box under the bed in a room on the main floor of our farm house. Sounds like a risky location to me. I coveted her napkin collection. I would sneak in and hide between the narrow space between the bed and the wall and open that box and gently leaf through her entire collection. I could almost smell the pink or green mints in rose or leaf shapes and nearly taste the frothy ice cream punch that had dripped onto the golden numbers “1967”. Although I thought my sister’s napkin collection was enormous, I just learned that a lovely woman named Marilyn has the world record for the largest napkin collection: 6,652 paper napkins, organized in 26 alphabetized categories, from airlines to weddings. Sorry, Patty.
Our daughter collected rocks when she was young. In fact, it was just recently that I brought myself to clean out a drawer in our laundry room that held plastic bags full of her rocks. I remember her walking in to the house with pockets stretched from all the rocks that she would pick up, nearly weighing her down. Around the same age, she also very innocently began collecting shot glasses as vacation souvenirs. She thought they were just cute little glasses. I remember feeding her habit by bringing her one from Texas with blue bonnets on it. One of our sons collected flags from the different states he visited. I have a treasured collection of pink depression glass including ice cream dishes with matching saucers. I cherish our Christmas tree ornament collection from our various travels, the first being a simple wooden deer from our honeymoon in Glacier National Park in 1981.
I love the word “collection”. I think it is a beautiful word to say. It’s a beautiful word to write. Google tells me its origin is from the Latin word, “collegere” meaning “gather together”. (If I personally had to have a definition, that’s the one I would want. . . “gather together”.)
I got to thinking about collecting and collections recently when I heard a great sermon about what Jesus did in his time here on earth, “He collected sins” said the preacher. Peter, Jesus’ disciple and eye witness to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection wrote: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
To be honest, Peter, I like the part about healing but true confessions here, I like to collect my own sins, thank you very much, and I think I’m pretty good at it. Sometimes I hide them under the bed like my sister’s napkin collection hoping no one finds them. Other times they are out in plain site, times when I am being self-absorbed, judgmental, envious, unbelieving or silent. Often they weigh me down, just like little Julia with her pockets full of rocks. In fact, when they sit in my pockets long enough, they can turn in to shame, regret, hopelessness or indifference.
Martin Luther wrote,“If we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing.” From The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Volume 2.
Because Jesus collected, gathered together, TOOK our sin we have been set free. Luther goes on to write that it takes an “earnestness” on our part to let our sins go. (Cue the Frozen soundtrack). It takes leaning in to our gift of faith by using those tools that God has given us. Tools like remembering the promises God gave us in our baptism, praying, and listening to preachers who deliver the Gospel of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament. . .going to communion and leaving that sin collection at the cross.
As of last week, I’ve collected 58 birthdays. I think during this, my 59th year, it’s time I do a daily review of all my personal collections. Today I’m keeping my pink depression glass, Christmas ornaments, and those sins I’ve been collecting? By the grace of God, I will let them go and lay them on Christ and fearlessly believe in His forgiveness.
As for any new collections? I think that will be my neighbor, in the broadest sense of the word. For in hearing God’s forgiveness of our sins we are set free to serve our neighbor.