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Monday, October 15, 2012

Open Hands

Pr. 23, Yr. B
Mark 10:17-31

     Poor guy. He comes up to Jesus, addressing him politely, and he asks a perfectly legitimate question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus, who has been very testy in this chapter of Mark, jumps on him. "Why do you call me good? And don't you know the commandments? Can't you figure it out?" Jeepers, Jesus...this is not how make friends! But to his credit, this man doesn't give up easily, and rather than being cowed by Jesus's response, he pushes harder. "That's exactly how I've been living, all my life in fact." And at this, Jesus softens...or maybe he simply didn't want in the beginning to give him the hard truth he now needs to speak.
     I suspect that any of us truly listening to what Jesus says next--give everything you have to the poor, rejoice in the treasure you have in the kingdom of heaven instead, and then follow me--feel some anxiety at those words. Give up everything? Hand it all over to the poor? How will I survive? Treasure in heaven doesn't pay the rent or buy the groceries on earth. Surely Jesus must be joking, or at least exaggerating!
     I think the bottom line here is that Jesus is saying we have to pick. We can try to have most and all, or we can have the one thing that matters most. He's not offering us an in-between, a negotiated compromise. No wonder that guy walked away so sad. He'd probably always understood his riches to be a sign of God's favor, an indication that he was doing everything right, not a barrier; maybe asking Jesus the question that day was simply to get reassurance that he was in fact on track to eternal life.
     The irony is that Jesus looks at him with love just before telling him this. So where's the love?
     What the man asked was, "What must I do...?" and the response, deeper than the admittedly big thing of telling him to give away everything, is really that he can't do anything to gain eternal life, in the sense that it's not his to earn or acquire. Eternal life isn't in the stuff, or in what we do or sacrifice to get it, or even in our following the commandments to the nth degree. Eternal life is in a relationship with God, one that God initiated in the beginning of time. We don't have to do a darn thing; we simply get to be, and be loved.
The catch comes with the things that make us forget that truth and that relationship. The worries and fears...often very legitimate ones. The culture around us that tells us more is better but still not enough. The advertising we buy into that makes us doubt our adequacy. The attitude that creation is ours to use however we please, regardless of our power to damage and destroy. The tragedies, disasters, and personal crises, those Job moments, that leave us grasping for a way to find control in the midst of chaos and confusion.
     And so we forget, or as my first boss used to say, "We neglect to remember." That God has made each of us precious and beloved. That we're perfect as we are, even as we are becoming more fully ourselves. That God will always be with us, whether to console or to rejoice. That we have been made for an everlasting relationship with God.
     The best way I know to let go of things, both tangible and intangible, is by first being grateful for what I have, appreciating the abundance in my life rather than being anxious about scarcity or lack if I give some up. The more I put myself in a mindset of gratitude, the more I can release all the stuff that I've put in place of God, or have trusted in more than God. So think about all that again for a moment: God has made each of us precious and beloved.  We're perfect as we are, even as we are becoming more fully ourselves.  God will always be with us. We have been made for an everlasting relationship with God. What a lot be thankful for. What amazing blessings.
     Jesus wanted the rich man to set aside everything that got in the way of remembering God, everything that he was holding on to so tightly that he couldn't receive God's gifts. He wants the same for every one of us...and that will mean releasing whatever we are holding on to, perhaps for dear life. If we stay in anxiety, we'll just grab something else the instant we perceive any emptiness. If we open ourselves to seeing and being grateful for our abundance, our hands and hearts and lives will be overflowing with God's love. In the next four weeks, members of our congregation will be our preachers, exploring the Sunday readings in light of their thankfulness for who God is in their lives and how God has blessed them, and encouraging each of us to do the same.
     As a beginning, as we enter into this Season of Gratitude, when you come up for communion today, I invite you to take one of these marbles and let it represent whatever it is besides your relationship with God that you are holding onto. Release it into this symbol [baptismal font, at the head of the aisle] of the water the Spirit swept over in creation, the water of the freedom the Israelites found as they crossed the Red Sea, the water stilled by Jesus, the water of your baptism. And then, with your hands and soul open, receive once again in the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, that outward and visible sign of God's love beyond measure, the love that calls us to eternal life.



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