Monday, October 12, 2009

one thing

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" 20 He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing.”

If you haven’t heard the news, “it’s over.” At least, that’s the word coming from America’s most respected and widely read current events periodical – US Weekly. I have to say, I was rooting for Justin and Jessica – thought they’d make it. Sad they didn’t. And I know what you’re thinking. Did he really buy that magazine? No, I did not. I stole it from a teenage girl. I was captivated by the cover. Can you see the headline? “A heartbroken Jessica Biel refuses to let go.”

This headline made me wonder. Is there anyone or anything that I need so badly that I should refuse to let it go? According to sources, “she refuses to accept it and pretends like nothing’s wrong because she needs him.” Now, I’m not trying to make light of whatever pain she feels. If Justin Timberlake and I ever become friends, make no mistake, that’s one bromance I’ll refuse to let go of too. But still – is there anyone or anything that we need so badly that we should refuse to let it go?

Letting go isn’t easy. Especially when it comes to whatever makes us feel secure. And when I use the word secure, I’m talking about whatever we’ve placed at the center of our life. I’m talking about whatever we deem so valuable that we refuse to let it go because without it we’d feel incomplete. We all have our Justin Timberlake. What’s your one thing? What’s that one thing you refuse to let go of?

In today’s Gospel, a man comes to Jesus and asks the ultimate question – what must I do to inherit eternal life? Now, a word or two about this encounter. First, he’s excited. He’s not some punk Pharisee out to do Jesus in. No, this guy’s pumped – he runs up and kneels at Jesus’ feet. Second, this is one faithful dude. To the best of his knowledge, he hasn’t broken one commandment since he was a kid. Third, Jesus likes this guy. Mark says that “looking at him,” Jesus loved him. Or perhaps a better translation, Jesus was “exceedingly fond of” this man, and Jesus’ desire was to be closer to this man. “Let go of everything and follow me.” That was Jesus’ invitation. The only problem was the “letting go” part. There was one thing this man refused to let go of.

This man had accumulated a lot of stuff and Jesus told him to get rid of it. Jesus looked inside this man’s heart and saw that one thing he placed at the center of his life, that one thing he deemed so valuable that he refused to let it go because without it he’d feel incomplete. His possessions. And you know what Jesus said? “That’s the one thing I want you to let go of.” And according to Mark, “he was shocked and went away grieving.” Can you see the headline? “A faithful man turns down the chance of a lifetime.”

I’m not going to lie, I hear this story and I cringe because I imagine Jesus is asking me to do the impossible – to let go of everything. And when I hear Jesus asking me to do the impossible – to let go of everything – I cringe. I refuse. Like the man in today’s Gospel, I am shocked and I walk away grieving. And do you know why? Because I’m not quite sure that I fully grasp that Jesus is exceedingly fond of me too – that Jesus’ desire is to be closer to me than I’m allowing him to be right now. I’m not sure I realize the depth of Jesus’ love – that his love for me is so great that he’s willing to look at me and to tell me the one thing I lack. You see, I forget that Jesus’ words are life, and not death – that they’re grace, and not judgment – and because I forget, I wrongly assume that Jesus is harsh – that he’s asking me to do the impossible. And so I refuse to let go.

But you know what’s so ironic about tonight’s Gospel? Jesus doesn’t give us one ounce of extra work to do. There’s no secret eleventh commandment being revealed tonight that says “sell all your possessions.” The great irony of tonight’s Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t give us a new commandment at all! All he does is remind us of the first – the first commandment that says, “I am the Lord your God, don’t have any other gods before me.” Jesus looks at this man and sees the one thing he’s placed at the center of his life, the one thing he deems so valuable that he refuses to let it go because without he’d feel incomplete. And it’s not God. It’s his stuff. And because Jesus knows him, and because Jesus loves him, Jesus tells this man the one thing he loves more than God. And that one thing – that’s what Jesus asks him to let go of.

And so the question I leave you with tonight is pretty simple – what’s your one thing? What have you placed at the center of your life? It doesn’t have to be material possessions. In fact, I’m willing to bet that for most of you it’s not – especially for those of you living in a glorified prison cell that the University likes to call a dorm. But then again, maybe it is. Or maybe your one thing is an intangible possession – like being popular or attractive or funny. Or maybe your one thing is making your parents proud, and you’re allowing that desire to shape how you live. Or maybe it’s a person. Maybe you’ve placed a person, or a group of people, at the center of your life, and even though your heart knows that’s a pretty unstable center, you can’t help it because you’d feel incomplete without that group. Or maybe it’s pleasure. Instant gratification is glorified in today’s world, and so how secure do you feel when you’re not having fun? Or the kicker – maybe its school. Maybe your one thing is academic achievement – and because of that you’ve made faith in Christ an extracurricular activity. What’s your one thing? What have you placed at the center of your life? Because that’s the one thing Jesus wants you to let go of.

Now for the record, I’m not suggesting that you drop out of school or break up with your boyfriend or stop telling jokes as a result of tonight’s sermon. But what I am asking you to do is this – be honest with yourself about your one thing, and have the courage to remove it from center of your life. I’m not here to you what your one thing is. Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus knows you well enough, and frankly only Jesus loves you enough, to say those four little words: “You lack one thing.”

You see, not one of us would be here tonight if we weren’t wrestling with the ultimate question: what must I do to inherit eternal life? The man in tonight’s Gospel – he didn’t understand Jesus’ answer. He thought Jesus was asking him to do the impossible – to get rid of everything in order to be saved. So he refused. He walked away sad because he realized that there was nothing he could do to inherit eternal life. That it was literally impossible.

But let me ask you this – what if this man had realized that Jesus’ words were life, and not death – grace, and not judgment? And what if he had realized that the good news of the Christian Gospel was the very thing that made him so sad – that there was nothing he could do to inherit eternal life? That it was a free gift of grace? It’s sad – this guy left before Jesus could fully answer his question. What do I have to do to be saved? “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible?” What if this man understood that Jesus was exceedingly fond of him, that Jesus’ desire was to be closer to him, that Jesus alone knew him enough, and loved him enough, to tell him the one thing he lacked?

I guess we’ll never know. But I can’t help but think that he would have woken up to the fact that there was one thing he needed more than anything else in this world, one thing without which he’d be incomplete – and that it was Jesus. And upon hearing Jesus’ words “come, follow me,” I imagine he would have said yes. And after spending time in Jesus’ presence – if I had to guess – he’d refuse to let go.

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