We are not a tidy family.
Not that anyone coming over to visit us will find our house an out of control mess either, but it is safe to say that we do not always have a parlor set up to welcome visitors, mail-order catalogs are likely to be present on our coffee table and the pillows and blankets on the couch are often in disarray.
We have a vacuum and it is employed at its task on a regular basis but we also have two cats and a dog so it’s a running battle between fur and floor. I like to do the dishes in the morning, like my morning meditation, so there are likely dishes around from the day’s activities on the counter next to or in the sink, unless of course you come over to visit at about eight in the morning, then I’ve probably gotten them done.
Caitlyn is twelve. That describes the state of her room without elaboration.
But there is always a certain level of untidiness at our house. I think that’s one of the reasons we like entertaining as much as we do, it gives us a reason to really attack the house and clean it up from top to bottom. We always resolve when we’re done entertaining that this is the time we’ll keep the house up, it’ll stay like this from now on.
Not very likely.
The thing is, we’re too busy. Debbie has a project going on, Caitlyn has a science project to finish, I tend to write with the laptop on the kitchen table so the kitchen table tends to collect a lot of stuff, supplies and the like. I just gave Caitlyn the hot glue gun from the table so she could put it away since her atom project was completed at least two weeks ago.
It’s not that we don’t know where things go, we know very well where the glue gun goes, but for some reason, between using the gun and going off to school there is a disconnect and the gun remains on the table until, well, pretty much until we need to use the table again.
This is nobody’s problem more than mine. The number of tools that have a fine coating of rust from being left outside once the project at hand was finished it too large a number for anyone other than theoretical physicists. I can point and snicker but the truth of the matter is that the single-mindedness of a project oriented person, I think that this is mostly true of Caitlyn and I, but when we are done with something we are quickly off to something else and the detritus of our passage is left in our wake.
I’d pity Debbie for being saddled with two slobs like us but she has entirely different issues that contribute and besides, Caitlyn is not here and Debbie is and so I’m keeping my mouth shut.
But we’ve got a twelve year-old who plays in the County Honor Band and sings in the Children’s Chorus and plays competitive league soccer, which is where she is at the moment, in Union City and just her contribution to the business of our lives might be enough to explain away the general untidiness but if the truth were told that is not the whole story.
It just isn’t the priority.
We’d like it to be, of course, but is just isn’t. We plan on it being a higher priority, we plot and scheme and try different methods of reminding ourselves but in the end we’d rather be the way we are than some other way because if that were not true, then we’d change it.
But we go along the course of our lives, just a little bit on the “too busy to have a tidy life” track and from time to time we do a massive clean-up and have people over.
Maybe that’s the metaphor I’m searching for, our lives are ruled like the tides, the clutter moves in until we feel the need to have a dinner and then it is pushed back out again for a time, only for a time, until the next tide appears and washes it all back in.
Churches too are rife with the same kind of untidiness, not just my office, which is an untidy extension of my life, but the kind of intellectual untidiness, maybe spiritual untidiness of missed priorities and misplaced faith that comes from, to be frank, being a little too comfortable, a little too safe.
It is easy to assume, if you are at the top of the heap, that you deserve to be there, that this is the place that God has assigned for you, that this is where you belong. You stop questioning what you do, stop making sure that things are true and that they are still relevant and start making sure that things are tidy.
The church has been using, for a couple of generations now, phrases like, “it is obvious that” and “everybody knows” as if we were the ones who got to tell everyone else what reality looked like. Forty years ago this worked pretty well. The world was different then and when you built a church you naturally attracted people who were interested in the truths that you thought of as “obvious” or that “everyone knows” and so things went well.
After all, the things that “everyone knew” were the things that we knew and the things that were “obvious” were the things that were obvious to us. We didn’t so much proclaim as we did explain.
Problem is, focusing in on tidy when it comes to ministry, focusing in on comfortable is of course focusing in our ourselves.
You get isolated pretty quickly, you tend to lose touch with the people outside and that is okay with you because the people outside are untidy, they don’t believe all of the things that we believe, their beliefs are kind of all over the place, they don’t like the same music, they don’t worship the same way, they like different art and different politicians and different schools.
They tend to mess the place up.
And if you are prioritizing tidiness, you certainly don’t want that.
Now I am not doing this just as a way to absolve myself of being an untidy person but it is nice when those things come together isn’t it?
Tidy is not a Christian priority. Let me say that again so you can see that there is not a trace of irony or sarcasm in my face or in my voice.
Tidy is not a Christian priority.
People are not tidy. They are angry and scared and they like curry and fry bread and goulash instead of lefse and knockwurst and lutefisk. They listen to punk rock, and not modern, neutral puck rock but the harsh stuff from the seventies and eighties. They want you to mean what you say instead of wanting you to be able to explain what you say. They don’t have church clothes or they want to come in suits and ties. They are hungry and don’t have enough money, they are dirty and don’t have access to a shower, they are rich and want the church to be all about them when we all know that it is all about us.
There is a good cartoon by a nice Lutheran pastor artist named Dan Erlander which has a man praying on his knees and he asks “Why is it when I ask Jesus to come into my life He always brings his friends?” and the picture has Jesus standing there with the beaten and the broken and the dirty and the hungry when all this guy wanted was the Lord.
When we make tidiness a priority we are asking for nothing but the Lord, nothing but people who look like us and sound like us and worship like us and think like us, we want what we have, just more of it, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Christ abiding in us does not come with tidiness, it does not come with comfort; it does not come with peace. Remember when Jesus says that very thing? “I bring not peace but a sword?” He’s not talking about war, Jesus is saying that this is no going to be easy, and as soon as it looks like it might be getting easy, you should get uneasy because something is getting too tidy, to comfortable, and we are leaving people behind in their sin when our singular calling is to share our blessings with them, no matter how untidy they are.
Our blessing is not just the word: but it is also no less than the word of God, the love of Christ in our lives.
The Pharisees want things to be tidy, for there to be a rule for every situation and a neat solution to every problem. When they go to test Jesus, that is the worldview that they are expressing, what is the solution so things can be predictable and safe for us?
We take this morning’s scriptures and we throw them into a pot and we boil them down until they are reduced to little more than a set of rules, how-tos for living, and not just living our lives but everyone’s lives. Marriage is this or marriage is that, it is tidy and it comes with a ribbon on the top.
I’ve only been married for fifteen years but it has not been tidy. Not for one day has it been tidy and to be frank, I like it this way, it is more interesting. It is also more nerve racking, so I understand how it might not be for everyone, but the ups and the downs are what make it an adventure. I hope to be on this adventure for the rest of my life.
So I get how we might yearn for a place of safety, an island from the storm of untidiness outside. It makes sense. Children raised in broken homes crave stability, people who labor for a living yearn for an education for their kids while the educated whine about wanting the simple life. We want what we cannot have and since the world outside is untidy it makes sense for us to try and build a refuge, a mighty fortress if you will where we can feel safe.
I’m just afraid that we’re sweeping the Lord out with the dust because ministry is just not tidy.
It involves humans after all and as much as we’d like to think that we have it all figured out, we’re hampered by sin, haunted by fear and all the other things Jesus came to free us from because we struggle with letting go and trusting that God will find a way.
We want it to make sense as much as the workers in the vineyard wanted it to make sense. When the vineyard owner paid all of the workers the same, no matter how long they had worked, the whole idea of grace escaped the workers, and it escapes us still.
We who have achieved so much, have achieved a level of tidy unheard of in the world struggle to think that the same grace might be for people who seemingly come to do nothing other than upset our applecart.
THAT’S the problem. It isn’t our applecart.
We’re called to be an instrument of reconciliation, the voice that proclaims the Gospel which means entering into unsettled places to do it, being ourselves unsettled a bit.
Who are our target audience? For decades they told us that it was young families. What of the older families? Don’t they count? How about all families? How about all people? How about letting go of all of the divisions and proclaiming to all people?
Sure we might be better at one or another group and so we should certainly seek them out but if we only ever did what we were good at we’d never grow in faith and in hope or in anything else for that matter.
Except tidiness. We’d get better at that. I just don’t think that is enough.
Let the little children come to me, sayeth the Lord, and the older children as well, and the truly old children and any others who come along with them and do not stop them, do not stop for a minute to sweep up or to tidy, you might just miss them.
Let the little children come, for we are all little children in the eyes of God.