This story was written for Endicott/Fairbury/Daykin UMC for a sermon on the first Sunday in Lent, March 10th. See the art that represents dwelling with God, and the story below. For the sermon, click here.
STORY: God dwelled in Jim’s House
Jim had really messed it up. Although he had hosted his daughters wedding at his big house last night, he had also ruined the whole thing with what had come out of the woodwork.
He drank so much that he unknowingly urinated his pants and everybody could see it as he stood on stage by his daughter. And then he passed out a few moments later. He knew he had ruined the ceremony for her.
He had the house cleaned up beforehand, and on the surface it looked clean. But Someone opened a cupboard by the food, looking for a trashcan, saw three dried up dead mice in mouse traps, and a screw fell out of the door as it fell off of its hinges. It was a beautiful house on the outside but apparently it was dirty behind every closed door and it was all shoddy work.
Then someone had opened a closet, mistaking the door for a restroom and a bunch of blow up pool floats fell out that said “Spring break; Mazatlan”. Word quickly spread that he had been sporting with the young coeds every spring.
Almost everything bad that could have been uncovered was. and And right before his toast Jim had seen his ex-wife whispering in a corner with his old business partner who was married, and Jim wrongly assumed that they were having an affair. He called it out bitterly during his toast, using them as an example to tell his daughter what not to become. His business partner had to interrupt him and say they were whispering because they had been planning a surprise birthday party for him as a last ditch effort to rescue him from his self-absorption. “I guess that won’t be happening any more.” The business partner explained to the crowd. "Party’s off folks.” Another group of men who Jim had invited so he could shmooze them into becoming new business partners backed out before the night had ended.
The officiant of the ceremony was the pastor of a church that his daughter had just started attending and really wanted to be welcomed into. At the end of the night as the pastor walked out, Jim touched his arm and slurred, “I’m… I’m sorry. Please don’t hold this against my daughter.” The pastor looked down, both of them realizing the unbuttoned cuff of Jim’s sleeve was soaked in smelly liquor, and getting on the pastor. Holding back his disgust at the whole man, the pastor replied dryly, “I won’t hold it against her. But I hope this is a wakeup call for you.” And he walked away.
Jim had even told everyone a high class restaurant had catered the food but when a cricket and an inappropriate hair were both found in the food people stopped eating, and were left hungry and angry.
He had tried to come out a hero by hosting it at his house, but it was a disaster and he had been proven a selfish, deceitful lush.
The next day, Jim woke up, hungover, and looked around. He did not want to be in this place. He had always just used this place as a tool to get what he wanted and everything felt like it had a stench.
He was nursing his hangover with a drink when he heard his doorbell. After two more rings Jim stumbled to the door. To his surprise, the pastor who had officiated the wedding standing
Jim asked, "i thought you’d be the last to come back to this… sinful place.”
The pastor replied, “It wasn’t in my plans to come back, but someone to told me to.”
Jim asked, dumbfounded, “Who was that??”
The pastor replied, “It’s the same person who I think might be paying you a visit soon.” The pastor brought something out from behind his back. “This may sound weird,” the pastor shook his head as if he were just as baffled, “But I think I’m supposed to give you this.” The pastor held out a box of tea bags. Jim took it from him and looked at it. “I pray you find some peace, Jim.” The pastor put his hand on his shoulder with some effort, and nodded at him, as he turned around and walked back to his car.
Over the next few days Jim waited for his doorbell to ring. Who would want to visit him? He drank a little less alcohol, knowing that someone could show up at any moment. But at the same time his thoughts went to very dark places. Every item in this house just held shameful memories. If a home was meant for living in, and this is what he had made of his home, he didn’t want to live.
The third day after the pastor came, Jim realized his house was haunted. He heard a disembodied voice say. “Jim. follow me.” He was watching TV, a really sleazy show, when he heard it. The voice came from somewhere upstairs. It wasn’t a scary voice though. He turned off the TV and went upstairs. He searched through all the rooms. But all he found were things that reminded him of people he had hurt or ways he was bad.
The next time he heard the voice he was standing in his doorway that walked out onto the patio looking out over his uncleaned yard. He had turned off his TV because he wanted to be able to hear it if that voice spoke again, and he did.
This time the voice pulled him outside. “Jim, follow me.” And it drew him out to his property. He had never walked most of these places but he saw how it was only as manicured as it had to be to impress people. Now he could see the weeds growing up in the grass and the muddy puddles of standing water he hadn’t seen behind rocks.
The third time he heard the voice it was when he was sitting in a big chair looking out his big panoramic window. He had moved the chair there and steeped the tea so he could just sit and ponder everything in his life. He hadn’t taken a serious, purposeful pause to consider his life for a very long time. He had taken the first few sips when it felt like big warm hands settled onto his shoulders. But no one was physically there. And he heard the voice, “Jim, follow me.”
Jim let out a wavering whisper, “Where are we going?”
“Look up,” the voice said. Jim looked out the window, and then around the big main room. The voice continued, “Right here. I want to make my home with you.”
“How could you want to be in this horrible place with me? It’s just a cold machine I’ve used for my selfishness.”
“We will make it new. This is the day of your birth.”
He had totally forgotten today was his birthday. But someone had remembered.
He didn’t hear that voice again for a couple weeks. But it changed something inside of him. He started picking up after himself, because he wanted it to be nicer for this kind voice who still wanted to live here with him, even after everything he had done. What a strange and welcomed haunting this was.
He got rid of the pool floats. He vacuumed. He scrubbed counters. he did little surface things. And when he wasn’t tidying or cleaning, he spent a lot of time in that chair drinking tea thinking about his life. He sat there hoping for his visitor to come back again. But it wasn’t usually in that seat that he felt the presence the strongest. It was often when he had to go into a room to put something away and saw something special like sunlight cutting across the room, the dust particles glinting, that he felt a little bit closer there to the voice. He would start to organize that room, and vacuum the carpet and scrub the windows, because he wanted to be as close to the voice as possible if it spoke. And he wanted to make it presentable if the voice came back.
One time when cleaning a room, he uncovered In an old box an heirloom from his ex-wife’s family. Her grandfather had been a famous baseball player and the heirloom was a signed baseball card of his. He had told her it was lost instead of giving it back to her at their divorce. He sat there in the glistening light, looking the card over. He found himself saying out loud, “I don’t want to give this back to her. It’s worth a lot of money. Plus then she’ll know I’m a liar.” But he felt his guilt attached to the baseball card, and he knew the voice felt it too. He wanted to be clean of it. It was like the voice was moving into not only his house, but his body. So he mailed it to his ex-wife with a note that also contained a very humble apology.
And when he was down in the basement one time he saw water damage on the carpet and drywall. So without much thought he started tearing off the dry wall and tearing back the old carpet. And underneath he found rotted wood and moldy floorboards. he put his hands to work and did a weekend renovation of the room. Afterwards these load-bearing foundation walls had been replaced with new, stronger framing, and the cheap floorboards had been replaced with clean dry natural wood floors. He painted the new drywall, and even wandered into town to an art gallery he had often seen. He talked to the old man who was the painter and bought one of his pieces after he asked the story behind several of them. The old man said he would love to see it hanging on Jim’s wall so Jim invited him out. But they started talking. The old man had lost his wife and was lonely. “Do you want to have a drink with me and stay a little longer?” Jim asked.
The old man thought for a moment, “Do you happen to have any whiskey?”
Jim looked at the cabinet from which he had recently thrown out all his alcohol. “Do you like tea?” After the man left a couple hours later, Jim said to an empty house, “You felt so close tonight.”
And then one day when he was cooking some food, which he never used to do, he thought about his daughter. And it wasn’t his usual thoughts like “Why hasn’t she visited me lately.” He couldn’t shake the feeling he should just let her know he was thinking of her. He picked up his phone and texted, “Hey sweetie. You probably don’t want to hear from me. I can’t apologize enough. But I’m really sorry. I really just felt like I should text you to make sure everything is going okay. Love you.”
And to his surprise she texted back right away. “Thanks for the apology, dad. I really needed to hear that. It might take some time but I’ll try to forgive you. But I actually would really like to talk to someone tonight. Things are kind of rough with Dustin and I. Can we meet somewhere?”
Jim almost jumped out of his boots with joy. “Yes, darling. I’d love to meet up. I know you have a lot of bad memories over here but I’ve been cleaning up the house a lot and it’s a lo more peaceful. If maybe you’d like to come over. I’ll make you some tea and we can sit."
After several minutes she replied, “Okay. I’ll see you in an hour.”
She came over and from the moment she walked in the door she told her father about how she and her husband were already fighting. He steeped the tea and they sat down in the big chairs he had placed by the big window. She talked the whole time and before she left she said to him, "Thanks dad, I needed this. And by the way, did you have someone come out to clean the house? It feels different.” He smiled, “I guess you could say someone came out and started cleaning.”
This happened a couple times every week. And slowly she was beginning to trust him again.
Then one day he was sipping tea, looking out the big window across his yard, hoping for the voice to visit him when a thought occurred to him. “I should start a garden.” That day he went to the store and bought some seeds and seedlings. And for the next few weeks he was in the garden almost dawn till dusk, only taking breaks to sip tea and gaze out over the land that surrounded him. And a few weeks after that he started to see sprouts.
Two years later he had an overflowing garden. And for his birthday he invited people over for a feast he made mostly from his own, natural, honest produce. Some of his old friends were there, having seen a new side to Jim. And some new friends were there too. His daughter was there holding her husband's arm with one hand and holding a new baby in the other arm. There was much laughter and peace. And now instead of finding shameful things inside of unopened rooms, new doors revealed pleasant surprises. And people found themselves telling their friends, come look what I found in this room. Isn’t it beautiful? It was the first of many parties.
Even Jim and his ex-wife had a conversation that day and to both of their surprise they planned a time to hang out again. Just to catch up a little more. They both liked the idea of just sitting in the big seats to talk, drinking some tea.
But even when everyone left, Jim cherished his house now, for it had become the place where he could dwelled with his God.