Putting today’s month together with my topic, one might have the expectation that I will be talking about Luke 2 this morning. But I’m not. Instead my mind is focused way beyond that chapter, on Luke 11 – which contains more than a day’s worth of good stuff.
Luke 11 starts with Jesus responding to a disciple’s request, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (11.1). That story is followed by a different person saying of Jesus, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” (11.16). The chapter concludes with Jesus talking about the sign of Jonah, bushel baskets covering lanterns, and those who “cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside are full of greed and wickedness.” (11.39).
In the middle of all this Jesus tells a three-verse parable – one I title “Vacancy or No Vacancy”. Jesus introduces the story by saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” (11.23). Then comes the parable: “When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it roams through waterless places looking for rest, and not finding rest, it then says, ‘I’ll go back to my house that I came from.’ Returning, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that person’s condition is worse than the first.” (11.24-26)
I’m not sure what you make of this story, but I can tell you my impression. Getting rid of bad habits – or whatever you want to call them – and all the evil in our lives is only the first half of getting our lives in order. And we will never reach goal if we never get into the second half of the process. In fact, we will end up in worse shape than how we started (hence the introduction in 11.23). In other words, the “Vacancy” sign in our lives is always quickly replaced with the sign “No Vacancy.”
Thus, the real question is not “How do I rid myself of those ‘bad habits’?” No, the question is, “What will I fill my house with before those eight evil spirits move in?” Without focus and determination in the second half – what does Jesus say the result will be – “that person’s condition will be worse than the first.” (11.26)
The Holy Spirit has promised to work in us – to dwell in us – through God’s Word and Sacraments. We can read as many self-help books as we want, or experiment with every new life-changing idea that comes our way, but all they will ever do is make your “house swept and put in order” (which, by the way, is important). In order to “have life and have it in abundance” (John 10.10) we must, at the same time, place the “No Vacancy” sign in the window, and welcome the Holy Spirit in. And how does one do this?
Well, shortly after Jesus talks about the abundant life (John 10.10) he goes on to say, “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10.27-29)
I believe – in your mind – you can connect the dots. The real issue is, will you connect them to your life? Or, in more direct language, what kind of spirit is going to fill the vacancy in you?