Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 108; 150; Jeremiah 44:15-30; Acts 18:24-19:7; Luke 10:25-37
What if cleanliness really isn’t next to Godliness?
Jesus once told a parable about an unclean spirit which had departed from a person and wandered aimlessly for a while, only to return and find its old abode as accommodating as an empty house, all swept and orderly. Of course it moved back in, and brought friends with it so that the home – the person – was worse off than before.
Maybe the word we’re looking FOR isn’t cleanliness so much as … tidiness.
This parable can be read on different levels. One is the danger of believing that once we’ve solved a spiritual problem, we are out of danger. Relapses – addictive, behavioral, or otherwise – occur when we stop being vigilant. When we’ve created chaos in the life of ourselves or someone else, regaining order is an important step, but it’s the beginning, not the end. Order not put to a purpose is like an uninhabited house; it will fill up with something, so we better pay attention to what that something is or we end up with unwelcome guests. Think of the “dry drunk” home, where the shelves have been cleared of liquor bottles, but dysfunctions both new and ongoing fill the space.
On another level, it is about the hollowness of order in the institutional church. The religious leaders kept the house of the Lord tidy by enforcing the letter of the law, but neglected the spirit. Demons of apathy took up residence. A church that deals with our sinful nature by prioritizing orderliness above wholeness may glitter like a gem, yet it’s not welcoming to those who need it most but can’t meet its superficial standards. Its rituals and sacrifices are like a stench before the Lord, who asks us to take in the unwashed beggar, the wailing widow, and the unruly orphan – and that’s going to be untidy no matter how much plastic is on the furniture. Our kitchens will fill with dirty dishes. Shoes will pile up in the doorway. They are not the disruption, but the mission. Together we learn to find a home for all of it in God’s house.
A house is designed to be inhabited, otherwise it’s just a shrine to a life that was. Shrines contain history; we worship a God who is present and living.
Comfort: Some of that messiness in your life is actually holy.
Challenge: If you are prone to clutter, create a little more order. If you have a place for everything and everything in its place, commit those things to a purpose.
Prayer: For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken. (Psalm 62:1-2)
Discussion: What distinguishes a holy mess from mere clutter? Which are you prone to?
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