You’ve probably seen them in your neighborhood. The houses that stick out because no one has cut the grass for a month, or the paint is peeling, or part of the garage is falling apart. I saw that last one in a neighborhood around here a few months ago. The corner of the garage was in pieces, probably from someone running a car into it. It’s fixed now but it had me wondering what was up with the homeowners. Didn’t they want to keep the place in good repair? I learned later on someone in the family was very ill and it made me rethink my earlier judgment. Maybe what’s going on inside the home is more important than maintaining outward appearances.
Even houses that look neat and clean and proper on the outside can contain some nasty shocks on the inside. That’s what we hear when the evening news brings us the story of the latest murder, and how the neighbors are shocked when they learn about it because the family that lived there “seemed so normal.”
Jesus told stories that warned us about the same thing. What goes on inside a person is more important than how they look on the outside. God does not judge by what’s on the outside but what goes on inside the human heart. Here’s one of those stories:
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26).
Appearances can be deceiving. What really matters, whether we’re talking houses or the human heart, is this: who lives here? Is it a spirit of love and peace and welcome? Or is it the opposite, a spirit filled with hatred, self-centeredness and malice toward others?
When we invite God into our lives, God’s spirit dwells in us. The Holy Spirit fills up the empty places in our lives. (This was the reason the evil spirit in Jesus’ story could move back into its old haunts so easily—the house was neat and orderly, but it was empty. Today we might say: the lights were on but no one else was at home).
Who lives here?
In instructing the people of Israel to keep God’s commandments, Moses told them to talk about God’s commands all the time, at home and when they were away, and to “write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9). That way, everyone would know the commands of the Lord as well as the answer to the question “who lives here?” It’s God.
Leonard Sweet is a United Methodist teacher, thinker, and futurist. He tells the story about an old German schoolmaster who had carved above the front door of his house the following words: “Dante, Luther, Goethe, Barth, Heidegger live here.” None of these poets, theologians and philosophers actually lived there, of course. This was the old schoolmaster’s way of saying he had live so closely with their ideas over the years that it seemed like they shared his home.
Sweet concludes his story with his own statement of who lives in his “house.”
I only want to write one thing over the doorpost to my heart and life: “Jesus Christ lives here.” (1)
May it be so with each of us.
(1) Leonard Sweet, “A Response to Critics,” Leonard Sweet website, article online, http://www.leonardsweet.com/article_details.php?id=63, accessed 29 October 2014.