“A handbag!” Shrieked Lady Bracknell in the play, “The Importance of Being Ernest.” Jack had just told her that he’d been adopted after being found in a handbag at Victoria Station. Her startled reaction only served to confirm my amazement at what women keep in their handbags. But then, I’m but a mere male; I can’t be expected to understand such feminine mysteries!
So I should not have been surprised when a friend told me of her recent discovery. Avis –not her real name –had three budgerigars and a couple of cockatiels. Brilliant were the flashes of blue, green, red and yellow as her feathered friends flew around her room. Our phone chats were punctured by their squawks –especially loud when two or three of them perched on her head or shoulder. Clearly, Avis and her budgies were very close! They felt really at home with each other.
So much so that one day she noticed a bright yellow budgie flying into her best handbag, left open on a sideboard. What was the attraction for her budgie? Curiosity forced Avis to investigate. To her delight she discovered the budgies had made a nest in her handbag. Yes, in her handbag! What is more, she –the budgie, not Avis -was incubating two eggs. What was Avis to do? The simple answer was, “NOTHING!” She could not bring herself to disturb the nesting bird. That meant she couldn’t use her best handbag until the eggs had hatched and the baby budgies had fledged. In spite of this inconvenience Avis was overjoyed at the prospect of having a young family of budgies in her home –even though they would have left her handbag in a real mess.
This reminded me of a beautiful passage in one of the Psalms. It runs, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God,” (Psalm 84.3). What a lovely idea –wild creatures making their homes in the House of the Lord. Not just swallows, but ants and spiders. We have a saying about being as poor as a church mouse. The Lord welcomes all of them as His creatures. As for us clergy, we call in pest control officers to remove these messy beasts!
But what’s so amazing is that the Lord, the All-Holy Lord, welcomes us sinners into His home. Instead of clearing us out, He invites us in, especially if our lives are in a mess. His mercy transforms us from being pests into becoming God’s children. As far as He’s concerned we’re neither rejects, nor outcasts, even though the self-righteous may consider us unfit for their company. But not so Jesus; He seeks us out and makes us welcome. And it is we who recognize our need for Him. We, and so many others, have good reason to rejoice that He wants our company. Not only does He welcome us into His Church buildings, made of bricks and mortar. He even welcomes us into the intimacy of His very life, And so St. John’s letter tells us, “And we have known and have believed the love which God has to us. God is love, and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him,” (1 John 4. 16).
Wonder of wonders, not only does God want us to be at home with Him, but He wants to be at home with us. That’s why He sent His Son into the world to become one of us. Now, through the Holy Spirit we become the very temple of God –His sacred abode. Eagerly St. Paul reminds the Corinthians. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6. 19).
In us Almighty God has certainly chosen some unlikely places to make His abode –much weirder than a budgie making its nest in my friend’s handbag. As for us, the Psalmist sums up what should be our deepest longing, our most fervent prayer, “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the day of my life,” (Ps. 27. 4). He is our lasting abode; nowhere else will we find real happiness; nothing else matters!
A final question. Do we treat strangers as unwelcome pests? Or do we show them God’s hospitality–illustrated by Avis allowing her beloved, messy, budgie to make its home in her best handbag?
The next posting will be on 4th October.