John Davenport believes in sweeping away the dirt in your life. Davenport, owner of Hamel Brooms in St. Jacobs, Ontario, is one of the few broom makers left anywhere. I visited his shop a few weeks ago and watched him work. He estimates he makes about 24,000 brooms a year, selling most of them to hardware stores. Some of the equipment he uses dates back to 1947. Davenport can make a broom in about ten minutes, and he says the sign of a good broom is when you can stand it on its bristles.
Brooms are ubiquitous. If you’re a baseball fan, you know the umpire uses a small broom to clean home plate. If you’re a student, you see custodians pushing brooms or mops up and down hallways. In my drive to school each morning, I pass through a small village where the shopkeepers are always out sweeping the sidewalk and entrances to their stores. If you’re a TV watcher, you will have seen lots of commercials for the latest variation of the broom—the Swiffer.
Historians have tried to trace the origins of the broom. They believe brooms have been around since ancient times. We know they were around in Jesus’ day—in his parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:8, he says, “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it” (NLT)? While historians don’t have an exact date for the broom’s invention, bundles of twigs, reeds, and corn husks were used to sweep up ash and embers around fires and, later, hearths. These brooms fell apart easily and often caused a bigger mess when used!
Various versions of a broom-making machine cropped up in the early 1800s. Sometime in the mid-1800s, a Christian sect known as the Shakers invented the “flat broom,” which is what you probably have in your garage or closet today. The Shaker invention, according to writer Bryan Lowder in Slate magazine, was simple but ingenious: Instead of lashing the broomcorn grass in a round bundle to the handle, they found that securing the corn with wire, flattening it with a vise, and sewing it tight resulted in a superior cleaning tool. Flat brooms offered a broadened surface area and increased control over the broom’s motion.
Today, a visit to Home Depot reveals a whole host of brooms. Synthetic fiber was invented in the 1940s, and big companies began mass producing all forms of brooms and brushes.
Most of us have a metaphorical closetful of brooms we keep to clean those corners and floors of our lives when things get messy, when we slip and fall and dishonor God with our decision-making or inaction. I know sometimes I use one of those big old early brooms and make broad sweeps with my thoughtless prayers for forgiveness. Other times, when I really want to make a clean sweep of my life, I’ll reach into the closet and choose more finely bristled brooms and scrub away at the dirt in my life. I don’t know about you, but I find my life goes in cycles when I consider my sins. There are stretches when I ignore the crumbs and buildup along the crevices. Soon enough I—and others close to me—can see the mess. Maybe you’re the same. Succumbing to the addiction. Defaulting to that attitude. Ignoring those who need you most.
God, of course, made a clean sweep of the world during Noah’s day when he sent the Flood. In the Old Testament, God used his broom when he didn’t approve of the dirt he saw building up in the world he created. He destroyed cities and people. He allowed his people to obliterate towns and villages.
But in the New Testament, a new order was brought in. God sent his Son, Jesus, with a broom. Jesus walked the earth and taught people to look closely at their lives. He asked religious leaders to sweep away their hypocrisy and desire to be important in the eyes of their fellow people. He taught his followers to scrub disease and sickness from people and to invite them to clean up their lives and follow him.
In the ultimate act of cleaning, Jesus died on the cross for us, sweeping away all the sins of humanity and leaving no trace behind. His act of cleansing still applies today. Your sins are forgiven. His grace remains as the divine Swiffer until his return. All you have to do is accept him in your heart and believe he is the Son of God who died on the cross for your sins.
And then you will be swept . . . and saved.
Ron DeBoer is an educator and writer living near Toronto.