It is theoretically possible, I suppose, to live a ‘flawless’ life and still miss the point of it all.
Or to think one has, as seems to be the case in the conversation that plays out between Jesus and the one who catches up with him here at this point in Mark’s Gospel.
Or to put so much energy and focus there, that one misses life in all of its wondrous complexity and fullness.
As for the one before us now, one rather thinks that he coming to Jesus looking for affirmation of what he already believes, or is trying to believe, about himself and his place in the whole scheme of things.
And yet I wonder now, while he seems pretty sure of himself, even so, he’s asking, isn’t he? Could it be that deep down he knows something is missing? Something he hasn’t been taught or hasn’t yet discovered on his own by accident or otherwise?
And while we don’t know what becomes of him next, we know that he steps away from this conversation realizing something he likely hadn’t considered before. That in the end, life isn’t measured by how you ‘did it all right.’ But rather, by who you are in the midst of it. Not by what you have ‘kept,’ but by what you have given away. Literally. One hopes that sooner or later he hears the words of Jesus as the invitation they are meant to be — to leave behind the safety of just following the rules — and to risk it all for the sake of so much more.
Because as we hear today, that is where we meet eternity.
And so it is I am wondering at where the invitations lie for us — for you and me even now.
And I am considering today a group I have worked with for some time. One that cares passionately about the state of the world and has spent the last few years, book by book, conversation by conversation, learning things we maybe only had a glimpse of before, especially about the concept of race and how that has played out among us over time.
It began as some preparatory learning before taking a group on a Civil Rights Tour, visiting places and seeing first hand where history was made more than half a century ago. It was meant to be just a little dip into some of the darker parts of our shared history. And then a global pandemic delayed the tour by a year. And so by Zoom, week by week, the group kept gathering. And now again this fall, carefully in person. And kept learning hard things about where we have been and how we have come to be where we are. And it has been good. And real. And important. But it has also been safe.
It’s a stretch perhaps, but like the man in the conversation with Jesus now, we can certainly feel as though now ‘we have it all right.’ We know what has been and what is now.
But lately, some among the group have begun to push. To wonder what it means to ‘sell it all’ and figure out more fully what all of this means in the community where we live today. To take it out of the theoretical, out of a place of ‘checking boxes’ and to move out into the neighborhoods we share or ones which border our own and to see what it means to build deeper relationships with those who differ from us, to wonder at what needs to be done to correct centuries of injustice, to listen for how our voices, our hands, our hearts might more deeply engage the complexity of all of this. Indeed, what does it mean ‘to sell it all and give it all away?’
And it’s risky, of course.
We may, we likely will, get it wrong.
But in the effort itself, we may just just open ourselves up to loving the world more like God loves the world. And we may just get a taste of ‘eternity’ in all that ways that Jesus intends today.
And yes, I do wonder what this means for us all now as we seek to be God’s people in a world that is not yet ‘post-pandemic’ but where we are starting to wonder what is next. Indeed, how might God be using this time of disruption to invite us to let go of that which always gave us such security in terms of our walks of faith — and instead accept the invitation to ‘sell it all,’ to ‘give it all away’ for the sake of something so much more that really, truly matters more.
Indeed, in a lot of our places it appears that some who found their way into the pews week after week before, just aren’t coming back. Some are watching on line, yes, but a whole lot of folks have taken this time of disruption to acknowledge that what was, was just not enough. Or maybe not meaningful. Or perhaps not something they missed as much as they thought they would. And even for those who have found their way back, some at least are wondering at what or how it and we might be called to be different now. Because life itself is about so much more than ‘following the rules,’ as Jesus is trying to teach the one in this conversation now.
Indeed, it is so that such times of loss and insecurity, of grief and fear, can lead us to this, can’t it?
I mean, might we also be invited now to set aside what we thought mattered most and just ‘give it all away’ for the sake of something more?
And I won’t lie to you. This conversation is somewhat terrifying for those among us who were so well served by what was. Myself included.
Apparently, the man in the story now could not imagine what could be next and at least in the moment described now, he did not hear the invitation deeply enough to do what Jesus suggested. And maybe he was able to step away from that and forget he ever asked the question, to not sense the hollow echoing in his heart that maybe he has been missing something all along. Maybe he could set that aside and go back living life as it was.
But I doubt it.
I don’t know what is echoing in your heart right now, but I do know that we have been living in and through a time of chaos and change, grief and fear, where joy has been intermittent but all too often fleeting, and never, ever knowing what’s next. And I do know that God does not leave us alone in such times. And I do know that God uses these times to invite us ever deeper into something more.
- Which means that this time and the time to come will be by definition a time where the eventual outcome may seem uncertain.
- It is and will be a time of grieving for what was and is no longer, no doubt.
- And the only way for it to be anything else is if we can hear the invitation now to acknowledge that what was perhaps served us then, but does no longer, and it is time to let it go, ‘to sell it and give it all away’ and to enter into a time when we no longer have the answers except we know the one, Jesus, who we are called to follow.
- Wherever that may lead.
Because we can pretend we have never come to this moment, but that gets us nowhere, and the questions can be buried, but they will not go away.
Just like I believe they never did for the one who turned the invitation aside today and went away ‘shocked and grieving.’
Until finally he turned and answered this call as well.
- How do you hear Jesus’ challenge to the one who catches up with him today in your own life or in the life of the congregation or community you serve? For me, at least, on a late night walk this week it came to me (as it has a thousand times before but perhaps more urgently than ever now) that none of it is about ‘the building,’ but about the human heart. But what does that mean in so many of our places where the physical needs of aging structures take so many of our resources, monetary and otherwise? Indeed, no doubt I am stepping into dangerous territory here, but what does it mean hear the invitation of Jesus now to ‘sell it all and give it all away?’ And how do we begin to facilitate courage conversations about such as this?
- What do you think? Is it possible to live a ‘flawless life’ and still miss the point of it all? If so, where and how might this have been true for you?
- I am totally just wondering here, but do you think the one who was ‘shocked and went away grieving’ ever turned back to follow Jesus? What would it have meant for him if he never did? How might it have changed everything if he did? And what does it mean for all of us who have heard this invitation again and again, but are now perhaps hearing it in a new way for the first time? What would it mean for you to ‘taste eternity’ now?