Stephanie Haskins Maquoketa UCC
Mark 10:17-27 August 26, 2018
I have a new appreciation for one fact: I have many possessions. The chances are good that so do you. I’ve been extra aware of my possessions since I’m preparing to move. Recently a kind person helped me organize a room I tend to avoid unless the tornado siren is going off. My basement. Up until last week, my basement was a mishmash of dark, heavy furniture I inherited, empty cardboard boxes, a complete collection of Shakespeare’s works, and gift bags for every occasion. (And I mean every occasion—I even found a Chanukah bag). I’ve been avoiding my basement for years, except to add something to it every once in a while. But my moment of reckoning is finally here. The truth is staring me in the office. I have many, many possessions. And it’s clear to me now that some of them I care nothing about. This is what baffles me: I kept them, anyway.
I choose to think of the rich man in this story as a good person. Even though to Mark’s audience rich people were not typically heroes, I think we’re meant to like him, or at least sympathize with him, especially because Jesus likes him. Jesus loves him. One day, this rich man runs up to Jesus and kneels before him to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. Eternal life is not what you think it is. It’s not heaven. It’s not an afterlife. In Mark, eternal life is the world to come on earth. The people Mark wrote for believed that Jesus would return someday soon to shepherd in a new paradise on earth. This rich man takes that promise seriously, and thinks Jesus might know how to get a ticket to eternal life. And in fact, Jesus does. It’s just that the rich man won’t like what that means.
When the rich man tries to flatter Jesus by calling him “good,” Jesus sidesteps the question. No one is good except God, he says, a very classic Jewish idea. “You know the commandments,” Jesus says to the man. And then lists them off. The rich man agrees: Yes, “I have kept all these since my youth.” Wonderful. If we choose to think of the rich man as a good person. As a faithful person. A person like you and me, whom Jesus loves, we have to listen carefully to the next part. Because it’s at the heart of this story. Jesus looks at this privileged and well-meaning man, and says: “You lack one thing: go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Oh. Is that all, Jesus? Just one thing? One thing which is selling everything you own, giving the money to the poor, leaving everything you know and then joining him as a disciple? That’s one thing, huh? That’s quite a thing!
It is quite a thing. But then, following Jesus is quite a thing.
Following Jesus means that God will keep on inviting us to let go of that one thing we don’t ever, ever want to give up.
Now, I want to stop here. And have you consider. Do you know what God might be inviting you to let go? What is something you don’t want to give up? I have a clue. It’s probably the thing stressing you out right now. Is it being right? Is it an addiction? Is it a person you wish would do what you want? A feeling of anxiety? Is it someone you don’t want to forgive? Chances are good if you searched your heart you know the one thing that imprisons you with invisible chains. You know the thing that if it shifted would lead to more life for you and for others. You know it. And so does.
This is why I’ve found the language of The Welcoming Prayer to be so helpful. The Welcoming Prayer is a companion piece to Centering Prayer. I think of it as the warm-up before the game. It’s a series of spiritual stretches. My favorite—and the most difficult—part of the prayer is the letting go section. “We let go,” it says, “of our desire for security and safety, our desire for approval and affection, our desire for power and control.” The Welcoming Prayer understands that our stuff is never really about stuff. It’s about what our stuff means. When something has a grip on us, when we’re powerless to it, when it leads to compulsive actions and mistakes, something bigger is at stake. It’s not about the thing itself. It’s about what it means. It’s about our frustrated needs for security and safety, approval and affection, power and control. It’s about all those things that live in the dark, damp basement of our consciousness: taking up space, collecting dust, and weighing us down.
That’s why I want to believe the rich guy is a good guy. That he’s sincere in his faith. It’s just that he has so many things, and before Jesus pointed it out, he thought he loved God more than those things. But he was wrong.
There are all kinds of things that we love more than God. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the love of wealth and the status that comes with it is one of Jesus’ favorite topics. We are watching play out on our own national stage a Shakespearean tragedy of the love of wealth and status over and above the love of other human beings, the love of just laws, the love of decency or God help us, the love of common sense. But you don’t have to be a billionaire to love money, to trust it more than you trust God, to hoard it or squander it or treat it like it has more power than it does. God knows—God literally knows—that human beings are prone to feeing insecure and vulnerable. And so we cling to that one thing we think will save us. But if it’s not God, it won’t work. It won’t save us. So how does the prayer go? “We let go…” We let go to the God who looks at us. And loves us.
When I look at my basement, when I can bring myself to look at my basement, do you know what I see? I see a person who accepted some things I didn’t like out of obligation. I see a person who kept things without thinking. I see a person who wanted to make sure she had this one thing in case she ever needed it. And she never did. I see someone who is still a work in progress. Just like her basement.
Good people, holy works-in-progress, we are meant to be free. Free to love and serve. Jesus knows what holds us back. Do we? Amen.