Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Tale of Two Houses

I seem to remember someone telling me a story a long time ago to describe what happens when a person becomes a Christian.

It’s like a person living in a house that comes under the ownership of a new landlord. Things begin to change. The new landlord for example installs double glazing, so out goes the old wooden frames, which, let’s admit it, were a bit rotten anyway. He has gets rid of the old boiler and puts in central heating. You have nice warm radiators about the place, on a timer switch. You are going to be making significant savings on your gas and electricity bills. The old bathroom suite, with the leaky taps, and the large stains are replaced with something white and gleaming, new wall and floor tiles too. The kitchen also gets the make-over. Gone are the old miss-matched cabinets and the fridge that hums noisily in the corner. He has even put a dishwasher in for you.

Sometimes the landlord consults you about the changes he is making; sometimes he just does it anyway. Like, for example, yellow wall paper in one of the bedrooms might not
be your first choice. You would prefer carpets to the wood flooring and the scattered rugs.

The place is shaping up really nicely. The landlord has invested a lot of time and energy and resources in the house and it has become a really nice place to be.

Then one morning there is a knock on the door. Don’t worry. It’s not the old landlord wanting his property back; although he has been known to shout swear words through the letterbox. The locks have been changed, and he can’t get in, and if he did, the landlord would have him arrested for trespassing. No, it’s the landlord with his arm around a stranger you have never met before.

“Come on in,” says the landlord, “Have a good look around. See what I have done to the house.”

Now this might be all well and good, if you weren’t still lounging around in your pyjamas, with your teeth un-brushed. As the stranger disappears into the kitchen to admire the dishwasher, the landlord turns to you to explain.

“When I became the landlord, the house became mine to do with as I wish. You live in the house, but it’s not really yours any longer. I didn’t make these changes just so you would have a more comfortable life. I want other people to be able to see that I’m a good landlord – the best there is. What better way than to show them your house?”

End of story. I will leave you to work out the meaning.

Early this morning I couldn’t remember what brought the story to mind. I am down to lead the meeting on Sunday and I might have been sifting through sermons I preached a long time ago, forgotten by now, that I could just dust off, breath new life into, resurrect if you will.

“What about part two?” said God, in his most obscure voice. “You know that life isn’t like that, the nice house, the make-over, the dishwasher and all that. What happens five years, or ten years down the line?”

What happens, apparently, is that one morning you wake up with a sore head. You are laying in the hall with a bruise the size of a duck’s egg. You don’t want to look too closely at the cricket bat someone hit you with. There might be blood on it. There’s been a break in.

You drag yourself into the sitting room. The television has gone the DVD player and the collection of DVDs. The ornaments off the shelf, which may not have any value to anyone but you, have been smashed one by one. The sofa has been disembowelled. Offensive graffiti has been sprayed over the walls. In the kitchen, all the cupboards have been emptied, the plates and cups smashed to smithereens, the packets of flour and sugar opened and emptied on the work tops. The microwave is missing and the door of the dishwasher has been wrenched off. The bathroom is bad. They have taken a sledgehammer to the tiles, and that brown stuff on the walls has a particularly foul smell. It’s definitely not brown paint.

There’s another knock at the door. It’s the landlord. Looking through the spy glass, he has a stranger with him. It’s not the man from the insurance. Actually, now you think about it, you know the man. He was the visitor you saw earlier – when you hadn’t had time to dress.

Are you going to open the door this time?

You see, that is my life right now! I had a break in (not in real life). The old landlord perhaps, or a gang of thugs he knew, couldn’t get through the door, so he bashed in a window. I didn’t invite him in, put the cricket bat in his hand and invite him to knock me unconscious. He just did it. He wreaked havoc. He destroyed things that meant nothing to anyone else, but everything to me. He left destruction everywhere.

The temptation is to lock the door. How can it help anyone to see me amidst all the damage?

Yesterday, a friend of mine was brave enough to unlock a door and invite me in to her heart. She had suffered a spiritual break-in and robbery. Her “house” had been ransacked and she was left in tears. She didn’t put a cloth in one hand and a bottle of detergent in another, but I found myself starting to gather up the fragments of the broken ornaments.

It’s what you do in those moments where a powerful testimony lays. I wish we never experience the break-ins, but we do. Let’s not lock the door, to each other, on our messes.

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