Summary: Spiritual renewal is not just an exercise to make us feel good; it is God’s way of making us better servants.
Last Tuesday, as I began to prepare for this second message from Zephaniah, a prophet who lived some 2600 years ago, I was searching for a way to connect his words with our own experience, but I was not making progress. By mid-afternoon, I had stalled, so I got up from my desk to do something else.
Then, about 4:30, Sue and I decided to knock on a couple of doors close by where people had moved in recently.
As we approached the first place, we saw a piece of a bed frame, part of a cupboard, and miscellaneous items of junk randomly distributed near the front door, which was wide open. We stopped at the threshold, knocked and said, “Anybody home?” Peering into the darkness we saw three bored people sitting on the only piece of furniture in the room staring at a TV on the opposite wall that was spewing out some kind of drivel.
On one end of the couch sat an unkempt, pot-bellied guy, maybe 45 years old, wearing a pair of red running shorts. He had an incredibly blank look on his face and he never said a word during the few minutes we were there.
Propped up next to him was a tall, skinny, 19-20-year-old, scantily clad girl who said something about her baby that was evidently somewhere in the house. Her right arm was resting inappropriately on his misshapen belly.
And next to her was a young guy listening to something on a cell phone. When we announced who we were, he said that he goes to a church over on the other side of town and was leaving soon for some kind of reunion. The girl complained about her previous landlord who wouldn’t fix anything in the house. The pot-bellied man said nothing. Clearly, they were not interested in what we had to say, so we left.
At the other house, we saw a dilapidated pickup in the driveway that was loaded with dead branches. The porch floor was spongy, and the house was dark, but we could hear a fan running.
An energetic woman in her late 30s met us at the door. When we told her who we were, she said, “I have a church, but these two in here need one.” And she motioned for us to enter.
We stepped inside and there in that dark room with blinds pulled down, sat a man and a woman on the edge of a mattress, with two fans blowing hot air on them, pretty much oblivious to our presence. Our guide told us that they were drinking and it was probably not a good time to talk, so the three of us stepped outside again.
She told us that she goes to church every night because their church is having three weeks of revival services and the two people in the house need to go with her, but they don’t. She pointed out how messy they were as she pointed to the beer cans in the yard. We told her we could use those cans for something good, to help kids go to camp, and that we’d bring a bag over to collect them. “Maybe you’d better bring two,” she said. Before we left, we made a little circle on the porch and had prayer for her. When we got home, I grabbed two garbage bags and walked back.
For some reason, these two encounters did not do much to lift my spirits. The people in both of these houses, within a block of where we live, represented the lowest kind of material poverty and spiritual blindness we had seen for awhile. And we went to bed that night trying to deal with the sheer weight of knowing that our neighbors’ lives are so impoverished that they drink themselves silly or just sit there bored out of their skulls.
At about 3:00 a.m., I awoke to the noisy whistle of the north-bound freight, which always sounds like it is coming through our bedroom when the windows are open. The street light and the full moon combined to shine a light into our bedroom so bright that I could raise my hand and make interesting shadow effects on the wall, which I did only briefly. I couldn’t stop thinking about the two houses we had visited and the three people in each one. Then, suddenly, a thought hit me that brightened my soul.
In both houses, as depressing, deplorable and despicable as they were,
God had stationed someone to bring light into a dark place. What was it the young man had said in the first one? He had said he was leaving in a few minutes for an Emmaus walk reunion.
As some of you know, the Walk to Emmaus is a 3-day spiritual renewal program that gets its name from Luke 24, which tells the story of that first Easter afternoon when the risen Christ appeared to the two disciples who were walking together along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus brought light into their darkness as he revealed who he was. The young man we talked to was connected with a community of faith and God had planted him inside that house as a witness. John 1 says that the light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.