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Have you ever walked away from a situation because in your mind you believed that you did not measure up or could not live up to the standard held there? Have you ever missed an opportunity because it did not look like, sound like, or feel like you thought it should? Have you ever felt inadequate to an invitation that might have changed your life? Our thinking sometimes can get the best of us.
This text underscores the tensions some of us have at one time or another in our thinking about Jesus--the ways we might become sure about Jesus' approval of us. Jesus is approached by a man who kneels before him with an eternal life question. He calls Jesus "Good Teacher," to which Jesus asks, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone." Jesus reminds the man, telling him about keeping the commandments which he already knows. This man is eager. He thinks maybe he already has the right stuff. This man assumes that Jesus already knows what he knows or likes what he likes. This man probably believes he is a "shoo- in."
I believe that it is a dangerous thing to think that the Lord only likes who we like or is impressed with what we think we know. It can lead to ecclesiastical entrenchment--that our thinking about Jesus has covered all the bases cornering the Christ. Many have been hurt, maimed, and killed by those who thought Jesus' ways were their ways. This man practically assumes that Jesus' assumptions are indeed his own. But this text reminds us--It's not always what you think. Then the man tells Jesus, "I've been doing that since my youth." Come on, congratulate me--all of this! He's got all of that covered in his own mind. So what else must be done to inherit eternal life? Jesus, I've done this. There's nothing else to do. I've served this church all my life. I've never missed a meeting. I'm commended by the commandments. Been there. Done that.
But Jesus looks at him, loves him, saying, "You lack one thing. Go sell it. Give it to those who need it and then come follow me." Yes, you've been there and done that but now go there and do this. It seems that this man in his own mind lacks one thing--eternal life--perhaps he wanted that too with everything else. But Jesus speaks the truth in love to this man. "Go there and do this." This man, however, in the words of Jack Nicholson in the movie "A Few Good Men," can't handle the truth. He was not liking what he was lacking.
The text says he goes away grieving. In order to have eternal life, he would have to give up perishables that are not eternal. He would have to give up his stuff. In order to live forever, he would be required to give up things that would not last forever. He asked Jesus a leading question hoping Jesus would follow his lead but discovered that he would need to follow Jesus' lead.
There was a commercial where a man rummaging through garbage finds a lamp and rubs it, and a genie pops up. And the genie says, "You have three wishes." And the man said, "OK, I want all the money in the world." And, BOOM, all the money appears. The man is covered with money. He said, "OK, you have two more wishes." The man said, "OK, now I want all the women in the world." And, BOOM, all of the women in the world are there around the man. So he has all of the money and all of the women. And, finally, the genie says, "You have one more wish. What do you want?" The man said, "I want to live forever." And, BOOM, he turns him into the Energizer bunny!
The truth be told--we all want more. But could this text be telling us that more is not more, but indeed less is more? The truth be told, on a good day we all still lack one thing. My former pastor used to say, "There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it behooves none of us to talk about the rest of us." But I would add the Lord Jesus looks at us and loves us anyhow. This text says that this man could not have eternal life with Jesus because of what had him. His possessions possessed him. It's not always what you think! He was stuck on his stuff! He thought he had everything covered, but as Howard Thurman once said, "As much as we seek to cover--and I would add, and congratulate ourselves with what we've already done--there is always that exposed flank, the place of lack." But this text helps us to remember that Jesus not only paid it all on Calvary but sees it all. He paid it all while still seeing it all. It's not always what you think. Your lack is just right for Jesus. Your mistake or being mistaken is just right for Jesus. That which we cannot seem to let go is just right for Jesus. Yes, we all have a lack at one time or another that we have a hard time admitting that it is lacking or have a hard time letting it go. This text does not seek to find fault with us but to free us from that fault.
Why should we feel discouraged when grace stands before us in this text right in the face of grief? The Almighty Provider stands before the one who is possessed by his possessions. The Deliverer stands before the disappointed. His vulnerability could not have been a way to his availability. This man makes his move too soon. This text teaches us today: Don't leave; the Lord loves you.
Will we as the Church of Jesus Christ become sermon tasters or will we become sermon testers? Will we come thinking that we already know it all or will we come to hear what the Lord has to tell us, "Let it go. Don't leave. The Lord loves you."
The story goes that Winston Churchill, while at a tea party, was approached by a woman who said, "If you were my husband I would put arsenic in your tea," to which Churchill shot back, "Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it." At that moment perhaps Churchill's sarcasm was not as much defamation as it was definition. She thought she had him pegged like the man in the text thought he had Jesus pegged, but Jesus told him to let it go. Churchill acknowledged that woman's assumptions of him as well as his assumptions of her. But on a less sarcastic note, Howard Thurman once encountered a young Hindu who asked him, "Why are you in my country in the name of Christianity which has been so brutal to your people?" Thurman answered, "That which you have seen--the brutality to my people--is a religion about Jesus." Sermon tasters. "I'm here in the name of the religion of Jesus." Sermon testers.
This text tells us not only "don't leave, the Lord loves you," but it also beckons us: "Don't leave, the Lord can still use you." Jesus told the man if you give up what you have, you will have treasure in heaven.
The story goes that there was some prospectors who had looked for gold and they had their donkey and the sun was setting and they saw a village up ahead, but prior to going to the village, they had wandered into a cave and noticed that there was a vein of what it seems they'd been looking for all of their life--a vein of gold. So they chipped away until it was too dark to see. And they decided to put the dust in a bag and go on to the town and rest for the night and go back the next day. They saw some people on their way into the town and spoke to them. And they sat out the next morning early, back to the cave where they had found what they had been looking for. And as they were chipping away at the gold, they heard a commotion outside, and they noticed that many people from the town followed them back to the cave. It seems that what they had discovered--that they'd been looking for a long time--showed up in their faces though they tried to keep it a secret.
And so it is when we discover Christ. We don't have to leave. Christ can use us to draw still others to have treasures in heaven. We don't need to walk away discouraged, but we need to walk away with Christ and discover that we too can be lights in this world of darkness.
Don't leave. The Lord loves you. Don't leave. The Lord can use you.
It's not always what you think but what the Lord loves about you.
God, we thank you today for your grace and your mercy. God, grant us eyes for mercy and ears that can hear your grace and experience what you have for us. O God, help us to let go of the things that possess us so that you can use us, for it is in letting go that we find eternal life. O God, let your word go forth and find fertile souls, listening ears, and hearing hearts. And we'll be careful to praise your name always. In the blessed name of Jesus Christ your Son we pray with thanksgiving. Amen.
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