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This message is from March 2, 2008

Scripture Reading:
Psalm 49:1-15
Leviticus 25:29

This Old House

The laurel hedge was taller than he remembered. The waxy green leaves were no longer trimmed into even planes. The bush had gone wild, and rough around the edges. The grass was taller, too. Blackberry vines were creeping across the driveway. The whole yard was rising up to erase the memory of human habitation.

Months ago, autumn leaves had fallen from the trees overhead. The leaves had drifted into piles against the house. Now they were decomposing. Near the front door, daffodils had shoved aside the blanket of rotten leaves to greet the spring.

Jordan stood at the front door to his house. "No," he reminded himself. "It's not mine." But he still had the key. It was worn from years of use. The chrome plating had worn away, revealing the brass underneath. Jordan unlocked the door, and stepped inside the house that no longer belonged to him.

There was a musty smell inside. It was the architectural equivalent of morning breath.

The house was almost completely empty, but Jordan could still see evidence of furniture. Like the memory of a crime scene, the floor was covered with faint outlines. Jordan could see the outline of the bookshelf and the TV cabinet. And he could see the path that people had taken from room to room. The memory of all those passing feet had left its mark on the floor.

The walls had their own story to tell. The picture frames were gone, but their absence left rectangles on the wall.

There was something strangely vulnerable about the empty house. Without furniture or decorations or rugs on the floor, the house was exposed. Every blemish was plain to see. There were stains on the floor. There were cracks in the wall. There were spots of mildew beneath the windowsills. Dust had settled into cobwebs, leaving a gray felt of neglect behind doors and in hard-to-reach places.

Jordan walked to his old bedroom. His feet knew the way.

There was a peace sticker on the light switch. There was an old poster on the closet door. These were the things that he left behind. He'd left some of his junk on the floor. There was a bottle cap from Mexico and the stub of a movie ticket.

He walked into the bathroom. There was a dusty mirror above the sink, and Jordan caught sight of his own reflection. With a melancholy smile, he asked himself, "Remember me?" A drop of water fell from the faucet. The small leak had left a trail of rust in the sink. "I'll take that as a 'no,'" he said.

Jordan reached down and pulled open a drawer. The empty drawer smelled like deodorant and hair spray. But it wasn't quite empty. Jordan saw a few strands of his own hair at the bottom of the drawer. No doubt the hair had fallen from the comb that he once kept here. Jordan grabbed a hair between his thumb and forefinger. He lifted the hair to his head and studied his reflection. "Still the same color," he said to himself.

After closing the top drawer, Jordan opened the next drawer down. This drawer was far from empty. A small tide of little objects rolled with the motion of the drawer. The little objects were white. They were caps from tubes of toothpaste. There were dozens of them. Jordan laughed to see them again. For 15 years, when he squeezed the last drop of toothpaste from a tube, he had tossed the cap into this drawer.

Some of the caps were like cylinders and others were tapered like a cone. Some had flip tops and some did not. It was like a toothpaste museum. It was a way of celebrating the small progress of everyday life.

When he moved away, Jordan had left the caps behind. It's hard to imagine your future self ever thinking, "If only I had the caps from a b'zillion tubes of toothpaste." It's not something you ever expect to need. Even so, Jordan couldn't bring himself to throw them away. Their accumulated mass was a testimony to the forward momentum of his life.

And so, he had neither saved them nor destroyed them. He had simply walked away. Nine months later, all those plastic caps were still there. The whole house was still there. Even after nine months, the walls welcomed him home. Even bare and stained with mildew, the walls welcomed him home.

Jordan reached for the toilet paper. With a handful of tissue, he started to wipe the dust from the mirror. "I love this place," he said.

A year prior to all this, Jordan had lost both of his parents. It had been a terrible time. A summer of pain and anger had given way to a long winter of grief.

Nine months ago, Jordan had sold the house where he had grown up. He sold it to a developer. The house would be torn down. The site would be used for three town homes. The new homes would be luxurious, with marble counter tops and double-pane windows. All the appliances would be stainless steel. There would be recessed lighting, walk-in closets, and all that stuff.

Nine months ago, the housing market had been robust. Jordan made some money on the deal. With the money he made, Jordan could have bought one of the new town homes. He could be living in a new house that smelled of fresh paint and furniture polish.

A new house would be the smart thing to do.

But his love was here. Even now, with mildew on the walls and cobwebs in the corner, Jordan loved this house. Even with blackberry vines growing across the driveway, Jordan loved this house.

And because he loved it, Jordan wanted to fix it up. He wanted to make it shine. He could add double-pane windows. He could add marble counter tops. He could scrub the walls and repaint them. He would paint them daffodil yellow, the color of life breaking through. He would have his friends over. He would invite his aunts and uncles to dinner. People would be amazed to the see how beautiful the old house had become.

* * *

The Developer's name was Lief. He told people that was named for the Viking who discovered Greenland. Jordan thought the name was perfect. Anyone who names a rocky, ice-covered landmass "Greenland" knows a thing or two about real estate development.

Jordan called Lief and said, "I want to buy back my house."

"It's not your house," Lief replied. "You sold it."

"I know," Jordan said. "I made a mistake. I want to buy it back."

"That's a bad idea." Lief spoke kindly, like a big brother who had more experience in life and wanted to pass it along. "It would be really expensive for you to buy it back. You have to understand, Jordan, I didn't really buy your house. I bought the land. I bought a chance to build three luxury town homes. If you bought back your house, all you'd get is a crummy old house. But I would have to charge you for the luxury town homes. That's how it works."

"I know," Jordan said. "But that's my house."

Lief sighed. "Okay," he said.

"I'm going to fix it up," Jordan said.

Lief said, "It would be cheaper to tear it down and start from scratch."

"It's my house," Jordan insisted.

Lief, who was full of surprises, asked, "How much do you know about the Bible?"

"Not much," Jordan confessed. "Why do you ask?"

"With a name like Jordan," Lief said, "I thought maybe you would know the Bible. When God tells the people of Israel how to live, God gives them this rule: 'If a man sells a house in a walled city, he retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time he may redeem it.'"

"That's it exactly," Jordan said. "I want to redeem it."

"Yeah," Lief said. "I can tell."

* * *

If you love something enough, you don't throw it away. You don't start over from scratch. If you love something enough, you fix it up -- no matter what it costs. You make it shine. You do this because of the love you feel.

That is how God feels about you.

God loves you.

God will never forsake you.

God will make you shine.