10, 9, 8 7, six... We have ignition. We have lift-off! And sometimes we have relaunch.
So began the introduction to a series of interviews in the July, 2000, issue of the magazine Fast Company. The interviews were on relaunch--whether you're talking about a brand, a company, or your own career--the new economy features the art of the relaunch. "Sooner or later, what goes up must, well, go up again..." (p. 97)
One of those interviewed is Sally Ride, former astronaut and president of space.com Inc. She begins her reflections with these words, "When you think about it, relaunch is about risk management. Whether you're relaunching a shuttle into space or relaunching yourself into a new career, you go through a process. You acknowledge, internalize, and accept risks that are associated with relaunch. If you can't do that, or if the risks are unacceptable, you don't relaunch."
Beloved people of God, the challenge of today's Gospel is to relaunch yourself. Sally Ride is correct. Relaunch is all about risk and trust. Relaunching is that process of facing the present squarely with the future clearly in mind. Some of us have used other language for this process. Many of us think of "re-inventing" ourselves. Others of us use "re-framing our lives" or "re-focusing," "prioritizing" as language to describe those moments when we understand the need of real change.
Though whatever language we use, it has to do with that remarkable human capacity for starting over, for renewal. For the Christian it has to do with our God's call to an open future. "The old has passed away; the new has come," Jesus tells us. And again, "You can't put old wine into new wineskins or put new cloth as a patch on pre-shrunk fabric." And, in some sense, this is what we mean when we speak of eternity: God's unlimited future that expands beyond our wildest imaginings and comes always, always, as an invitation.
For the man who approaches Jesus in this great story, the invitation of Christ is to relaunch his life, to reinvent, and re-prioritize all that he holds dear. Though this is a man with deep spiritual passion, in verse 17 we read that "he ran up and knelt up before Jesus and asked him, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" Oh, we can almost hear the breathless quality of his voice. We can imagine his intense eyes, rigid posture, and tremulous anticipation. There is little restraint here. Instead, we meet a spiritual hunger and passion that captured Jesus' attention and as we shall see, his very heart. So let us not judge this man too quickly nor dismiss him out of hand. His question is heard and acknowledged by Jesus.
Please remember these things the next time you have a question for God that seems out of bounds to you. When the peace of God seems out of reach, remember this man's heartfelt longing and dare to ask Christ. When your prayer feels like an interruption for God--whom you believe has much more important things to worry about than your paltry concerns--picture this man who gets in Jesus' path, halts his journey, and begs an answer. And remember that Jesus valued the question, respected his honest spiritual hunger and stopped everything to answer him. Surely the Savior will have time for you.
Well, we meet in this man not only passion but a recognition that what he had been doing wasn't enough. He understood that having launched his faith in one direction in the past, the future was calling for a relaunch. Something had to change!
"I have done all that I understand the Bible has expected of me, but there still is no peace," he seems to say. And Jesus answers with profound love, "You lack one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven."
What's happening here? This is the only time when Jesus makes such a radical claim on someone. I submit to you that Jesus was calling the man to look away from what he had done, what he could do, and into the eternal love of God. "Can you dare to trust God the Creator rather than your own efforts?" Jesus seems to be asking him.
Beloved people of God, the man couldn't do it. Why? Because the risks seemed too great.
Well, I was backing off a cliff. The rope was fastened to the harness around my waist. It was my first time rappelling. We'd practiced on the ground and while on the ground, they told me that the rope could literally hold a 5,000-pound automobile. But now as I backed over that cliff, my breath shortened, my legs became mushy, and my only question was whether it would hold my 200 pounds or not. Now the guide told us there would be two times of high anxiety. The first, when we launched over the top edge of the cliff, and the second some fifty feet later where the cliff itself dropped off and there was a six to eight-feet indentation when we had to put our feet literally above our heads and, trusting the rope, kick out and swing freely in the air to drop the remaining 75 to 100 feet.
Sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ, it's not a question of whether you and I will ever find ourselves facing great risks; it's only a question when. For some of us, it will come as we face a business failure. For others of us it will come when our most cherished relationships end through break-up, divorce, or the death of a loved one.
Still for others, the riskiest venture of all will be to leave the known of our hometown friends and families and back off that precipice into a new place all by ourselves. And we are well acquainted with the risks themselves--there is the risk of losing what we have and coming up empty handed as well. There is the fear of the unknown with all the demons that whisper in the deep insecurities of our past pain and failure. And there's the lack of imagination that can only see the future in the muted colors of our past. The question in the face of such realities is simply, "What will you trust? What rope, if you will, are you holding onto, or, more precisely, is holding on to you?" Will that in which we've placed our hopes and dreams be strong enough, faithful enough to hold us in the thin air of relaunch?
On that cliff in the wilderness area of Colorado, I trusted those who told me of the rope's strength and risked my life by backing off that cliff. Some of my colleagues couldn't do it and I understood.
The rich man, in the face of our Savior's radical call to trust the rope of God's provision, couldn't back into the unknown of God's grace. What about you?
Perhaps you're standing before a cliff of change in your own life and you're wondering if God will really hold you up. Maybe your circumstances have been radically altered by things beyond your control and now you find yourself in the midst of a relaunch and you wonder if God can be trusted to catch you, to lead you. If so, I'd like you to look beyond your own situation and, unlike this rich man who turned away, look into the eyes of the one who promises to be with you no matter what. This is the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Beloved people of God, the encouragement is to relaunch yourself into the limitless love of God in Jesus Christ.
Jim and I had prayed before. Now we were praying again. Diagnosed with lung cancer nearly two years ago, he had launched into an aggressive treatment regimen at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. On the other side of that treatment, he'd relaunched himself into a more radical regimen. And after months of remission, the cancer had returned and he was once again, relaunching his body into a test treatment, one of a mere handful of patients in the world for this clinical trial. And so we had come together to pray.
"Pastor," he said. "Pastor," he said. "I want to pray for a miracle. But I want you to know that no matter what, I win. Whether I receive more time here on earth with my wife and family as I desperately desire or join that angel choir in eternity doesn't matter. Either way, I win." And looking at me with that bright smile and tears welling up in his eyes, he whispered again with conviction, "Either way, I win."
Sisters and brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the way of God. God always opens the future. For the person of faith, there is never a failure, just another opportunity to learn of God's presence and relaunch. For the one of faith, the risks of leaving that abusive situation, whether at work or in the family setting, are met by the affirmation of the Creator God who invites you to live fully and abundantly valued. For that person of faith, the fear of confronting that unethical business practice, the unfair ridicule or gossip about another in school is met by the God who promises to uphold you as you do the right thing, no matter what. And for that family that struggles with the letting go of a loved one into the eternal hands of God, there is the promise of the Savior that death itself shall be the final healer, eternity the soul's next destination.
For those of us who've discovered the strength of this rope of God's love in Jesus of Nazareth, it is true... either way, we win. Either way, we win.
Let us pray
Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks and praise that your promise is strong enough, your love faithful enough that you will not let us go. Whatever our life's circumstances, I pray now for those who are listening, in that your presence would be tangible, your promise uplifting, and your faithfulness a rope strong enough for each one to hang onto. Amen.