Straightening Up Your House

James 5:7-10; Isaiah 35:1-10

My sermon title for today is: Straightening Up Your House. We do a lot of straightening up for holidays, especially when we're going to be having guests. But what about the house we inhabit-our physical body, our mind, our heart? What about that house? The following are three examples about cleaning up our houses-the outside appearance, and the inside appearance, and hanging on to the same habits of keeping house even when there's a chance to make a big change.

While suffering through the tortures of getting dressed up-washing his face, combing his hair, straightening his tie and what have you, little Jimmy asked: "Mom, does the way you look help a guy get into heaven?"

"No, son. Really, in God's eyes all people are equal."

Jimmy was astounded. "Then why do I have to get all cleaned up and dressed up to go to church?"

Indeed, why? There are a lot of folks who fix up the outside of their "house," but seldom pay attention to the inside.

A young woman was on the first day of a new job in the men's department of a large clothing store. Her first customer wanted seven pair of underwear. They came in packages of three, but she could not convince him to take nine or six. So, she broke open a pack to make seven. She asked why he needed seven and he said, "One for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Later, another man wanted underwear and wanted twelve pair. The clerk was relieved since she didn't have to break open a pack but could just sell him 4 packs. She did ask why he needed 12 pair. He said, "Well, one for January, one for February...."

I'm sure we couldn't tell the difference between the two men just by looking at them (the odor might be another matter with the man who only changed once a month), but most likely what they believed would become evident in what values they held to be important.

In frontier days a little church in a Colorado town burned to the ground. The owner of the town saloon generously offered his place for Sunday services. Shortly before the service was to begin the preacher started to cover the bar and the bottles with sheets. The saloon keeper's parrot noticed and let out a squawk: "What's that? A new bartender?"

When the women of the choir came tripping in the parrot let out another squawk: "Hey! A new floor show." But when the parishioners began to file in for the service, the parrot gave another squawk" "Aw, heck! The same old customers."

Sometimes God gives us a chance to start over but we fail to clean out some of the old habits so a new start doesn't have much of a chance of succeeding.

There are some wonderful phrases in our scripture lessons today. "No grumbling against one another. Be patient. Strengthen your hearts. Be strong, do not fear! And some encouraging words about a highway that will be there for us where no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.

John the Baptist in his preaching in the desert says, "Get the road ready for the Lord! Make a straight path for him...Straighten the crooked paths and smooth out the rough roads. Then everyone will see the saving power of God."

You probably think I'm mixing my metaphors by talking about straightening up the house and straightening out the crooked paths. But not so. To me, straightening out your house (your inner self, your mind and emotions and your spiritual self) is like making the rough places smooth, the crooked paths straight. And this not only benefits you and me as we do this, but as John the Baptist says, "Then everyone will see the saving power of God." And Isaiah says, we "shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

So think about cleaning house, and now I'm talking about your house, your apartment, your condo. Look for the dust bunnies. Dust bunnies are an indication that you haven't cleaned a certain area for some time. So, by the same token, look for the dust bunnies in your "house" in your inner self. There are places that you haven't paid attention to within yourself for some time. We all have them. Mostly we don't pay attention to them because we think no one really sees them, but they're there and they're an indication that we've let some areas of our "house," our inner self, go unattended to. I know what mine are. You know what yours are. Probably you made vows to yourself to do something about those areas of your life, but just never make it a priority-whose going to know, really, we say to ourselves? Well, ultimately when we don't straighten out things on the inside, the messiness starts showing up on the OUTside in our relationships. But even worse, it messes up our relationship with God. So, we need to tend to those inner "dust bunnies."

We need to tend to those crooked paths within ourselves, too. Rather than take time to straighten them out, to smooth the rough things out, we make paths AROUND something we don't want to deal with, and so we have a network of crooked paths within us. That too shows up on the outside in our relationships. When it's hard to get a 'straight' answer from someone, it means there are lots of inner rough places for which they've created lots of crooked paths around them to avoid the rough places rather than smooth them out.

We all do it. Sometimes, MOST times, that eventually confuses us because the many crooked paths become a maze, and the unattended rough spots inside make rough spots for us on the outside in our interactions with others, and of course, really interfere with our relationship with God. We keep blocking all the good that God has to give us.

And a word of caution here; beware, because some folks, who have that network of crooked paths within them, will purposely ask you questions or set up a situation for which there IS no straight answer, and then they will accuse YOU of not giving a straight answer.

Here's another straightening up your house matter. What about tracking mud into the house on your boots? Are you catching on here? I'm using matters in the physical realm to relate to those in the inner, spiritual self. Yes, tracking mud into your "house" from outside to inside. That's letting the outer negative world influence your inner self. You track that in and if you don't clean up those boots, or clean up what you tracked in, you will just track it into other parts of the "house." It can affect your entire "house"-you can dirty your entire "house," meaning your whole outlook on life; your attitude toward life will change to a muddy one, a negative one.

Here's another: What about dishes in the sink? That means you make a mess and then don't clean it up. You put things off and put things off. Your inner self just gets more and more cluttered and so that affects your relationship with God and your relationship with others.

What about taking out the garbage? The longer you let it sit there, them more it smells. Are you getting how this all relates to your inner being, your inner self-your "house" of who you are?

So, how can you help yourself along in straightening out your "house"?

Strengthen your hearts, the letter of James says. How do we do that? Prayer is one way for sure. Prayer is conversation with God. You should be in conversation with God as often as you can. God is always there-ready to listen, ready to guide.

Good deeds are another way to strengthen your heart. Do random acts of kindness. This time of the year we hear of countless ways to act compassionately and generously and to help others. We should do that year round.

We are straightening our "house" to make room for a special guest. We need to strengthen our hearts so that we have the stamina to straighten out our "house," clean up the inner self, get rid of the crooked paths that we created to avoid facing rough matters, clean up the messes, get rid of the garbage, stop tracking in the mud and spreading it around in our inner selves.

And what is our reward for doing this? Joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away. The desert we created in ourselves shall bloom and blossom abundantly. We create so much of our own sorrow and unhappiness by not straightening out our inner self. By letting the dust bunnies accumulate. By letting areas of ourselves turn into a desert.

But we can reverse that so that the desert will bloom and blossom abundantly.

Start today to make room for a special guest, Jesus. Make room for your Savior. We celebrate his birthday each year, but he's already come; he's already here. But can he get in? How long does he have to stand at the door and knock? How much room are you making for him? Is your "house" too cluttered? Is it too full of stuff you haven't tended to? Is there any room in the Inn?


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