I have begun a new project – again – to clean up and out my home of things and stuff I have stored for years. The home in which my three children were raised, the home that has four floors, including a huge attic, a full basement with four different rooms and bathrooms, a garage with built-in storage, and two outside structures filled with garden and pool ‘things’.
One of the things I had always loved about my home was that there was a place and space for everything. This was the key to keeping an uncluttered, neat, home according to all I had learned about housekeeping. And for the most part to anyone visiting, it looks uncluttered and neat. A place for everything and everything in its place – but as you can see from the pictures, behind the scenes, just not so. And this is just the old stuff, the stored stuff. What about new things that arrive?
A new book from Amazon? There’s a place for that, my office or any one of the five built-in book shelves around the house. Winter coats and boots during summer? Yup. Place for those, too.
In this home I have even gone so far as to designate one room in my basement to store things for my children and grandchildren and in another room and over the course of a year, I store clothing, furniture, household items, and sports equipment to donate either to my church or Goodwill. So, yes a place for everything and everything in its place – swept and neat. But.
Every summer as I prepared to deliver the stored donations I was stunned at how much I had accumulated. Hadn’t I given away all this stuff last year? Hadn’t I gone through the kid’s rooms and cleared out their elementary and high school textbooks? Why did I not get rid of that microwave last year? These audio cassettes? Ski boots? As I write this, my basement is overflowing with ‘stuff’ yet again and yet again, I am befuddled at why I still have so much to get rid of.
Apparently I am not alone with the dilemma of keeping my house (life) in order and organized around a life-giving principle, not the haphazard put this here, that there, clear out next month, next year, tactics I’ve used up to now.
Last year Marie Kondo made her way onto the world stage promoting her book, a New York Times bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Kondo’s system has been so well received that she branded her system the KonMari Method and millions of folks are cleaning up houses and lives based upon her method. She debunks the strategy ‘everything in its place’ along with another favorite operating principle of mine, ‘tidy a little bit everyday.’ Bottom line in her method – tidying is a special event -a big one – and once your house (life) is in order, new life begins. Your relationship with your people, your home, your things, your vocation even will be significantly altered once you learn to let go, clean out, simplify and create ‘space’ for joy.
This is what came to mind reading today’s gospel. Transformation comes – new life comes – after, by grace, our unclean spirit – our flesh – is booted out so that the Holy Spirit can move in and direct our lives.
Luke 11:14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15But some of them said, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ 16Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul.19Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists*cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 21When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 ‘When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” 25When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.’
Jesus casts out demons from the mute man (an others). The unclean spirit was driven out ‘by the finger of God’ so that ‘the kingdom of God’ came to dwell within. Jesus cleans the insides out of the man lock stock and barrel and by grace thereby making room in the man for the infilling of the Holy Spirit. This is no matter of ‘tidying up’. Nothing of the unclean spirit remains. He is a new creation in Christ.
This contrasts with other unclean spirits , Jesus says, who have merely ‘gone out’ of a person. Jesus is speaking specifically of “the demons which had been temporarily exorcised by certain Jewish priests who performed this function in his era. He was also referring to those who converted under John the Baptist who had fallen back into sin… by placing more trust in morality than grace-filled faith. The result was a moralistic hypocrite, no different to the Jewish priests condemning Jesus.”¹
Matthew Henry writes of the hypocrite:
Here is the condition of a hypocrite. The house is swept from common sins, by a forced confession, as Pharaoh’s; by a feigned contrition, as Ahab’s; or by a partial reformation, as Herod’s. The house is swept, but it is not washed; the heart is not made holy. Sweeping takes off only the loose dirt, while the sin that besets the sinner, the beloved sin, is untouched.
These folks had simply tidied up – swept up the dirt, if you will, but not cleaned house. Cleaned up, but empty.
The word for me this morning is to consider how much space I have allowed the Holy Spirit, Christ within in, to move me, to direct my thoughts, my actions, my decisions, my life day to day, moment to moment. Have I given Him free reign? Or have I compartmentalized like I have done in my home – a storage room for donations, another for gifts, another for winter clothing. Have I slotted the Holy Spirit into my worship and ministry rooms? And throughout the rest of my house, have I simply swept the dirt away for the time being, getting by another day without anyone else knowing how messed up I really am.
Time to get this house in order – once for all. And life, too.