June 2, 2019
Sometimes we come into this place seeking sanctuary – shelter from the storms, from the tempests of our lives. And often what we find here is that peace.
In the midst of the storms of life, Jesus keeps calling us… calling us to comfort us, and to challenge us…
Calling us to trust him
Calling us to love him
Calling us to follow him
Let us worship God.
Introduction to the Text:
For three weeks we’ve been exploring the image of our lives as a journey, and what that journey is like as we seek to live as people of faith.
Two weeks ago, we looked at the twists and turns we face in life’s journey that sometimes come whether we ask for them, or not – and how they change us – and what still remains at the core of who we are – and how we hold onto that…
Last week Trip preached about the fierce tenacity and courage it takes to keep moving through the storm – and the inspiration of people who do just that.
But what happens when we have to make a choice along the way – when there’s a fork in the road, for instance – or where the thing that’s calling us forward also means that we have to leave something else behind? Something important to us? Something we cherish?
One day a certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good—except God. You know the commandments, don’t you? Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Honor your father and mother.”
He said, “I’ve kept them all since I was young.”
When Jesus heard that, he said, “There’s one more thing lacking: Sell everything you own and give the money away to the poor; then you’ll have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.”
When he heard this, he became despondent, because he was extremely rich.
Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God’s kingdom? It’s easier to thread a camel through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
Those who heard this asked, “Then who has any chance at all?”
“No chance at all,” Jesus said, “if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”
Peter said to him: “We left everything we owned and followed you!”
“Yes,” said Jesus, “and I tell you: anyone who has given up home or spouse or brothers and sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will get back many times over in this life – and eternal life in the age to come!”
* * * * *
There’s a small book I turn to from time to time when I find myself in a quandary. It’s a collection of stories by Rabbi and counselor Ed Friedman, and it’s called, appropriately enough, Friedman’s Fables. In these stories, he describes the predicaments we can find ourselves in; especially the ways we can find ourselves stuck. These aren’t stories about actual people – they really are fables – kind of like the parables of Jesus. Provocative, surprising, and messy.
When I read our scripture passages this morning, I found myself thinking about one of Friedman’s Fables. Like the story of the disciples and the rich ruler, it’s a story of decision, and choice – a difficult choice. In order to get what he really wants, he has to let go of something else. In order to keep on his journey, he has to leave something else behind…. And that is never easy.
Here’s how Friedman’s story goes…
There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure. At last, he began to see clearly where he wanted to go.
Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often he applied all his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked. And then at last it came. It would be available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again.
Eager to arrive, he started on his journey. With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor. Strength that had left him since his early youth returned, and desires, all kinds of desires, reawakened from their long-dormant positions.
Hurrying long, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring.
He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other were coming to greet him. he could see clearly, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist.
When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.
The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, “Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?”
Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it.
“Thank you,” said the other, who then added, “two hands now, and remember, hold tight.” Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.
You get the picture… the man who is so eager to begin his journey – his long-sought, long-awaited, tantalizing, exciting, life-giving journey – is stuck holding onto the rope on the bridge. If he lets go, the man who jumped off will be lost. He can’t pull him up; the weight is too great. There’s no place to tie the rope so he can go and get help. It’s a responsibility he didn’t ask for, but it’s his – as the man who jumped keeps reminding him.
What should he do? “If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way this will haunt me forever.”…
The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make.
The only other choice he could think of was to hold on long enough for the man to climb up the rope himself. “I want you to listen carefully,” he says…
I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own…
It’s up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight. You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here…
“You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility what could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me.”
He waited a moment. There was no change in the tension of the rope.
“I accept your choice,” he said, at last, and freed his hands. [i]
I told you it was provocative… And messy.
But that’s often how life is, isn’t it? If there were easy choices, we probably wouldn’t be here... It’s the tough ones that test our souls.
And if you think Rabbi Friedman is provocative, it was Rabbi Jesus who said, “Anyone who has given up home or spouse or brothers and sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will get back many times over in this life – and eternal life in the age to come!”
So… some questions come to my mind… maybe it raises questions for you, too. Things like…
Is there something you need to let go of, in order to follow what matters most?
Are you taking responsibility for something that isn’t really yours to hold?
Is there a relationship you have held onto out of loyalty, habit, or pressure?
Or is there part of yourself you need to let go of, let die?
Some assumption about yourself, that’s no longer true?
Some story you’ve been telling yourself, that no longer serves you?
Some label that’s stuck, that it’s time to throw away?
Is there a new identity that’s calling you? And what will it require of you?
I have taken to a new way of journaling lately. I still write every day in my journal – it’s not a virtue, it’s a habit, and it helps keep me sane. But I also have a sketchbook I keep now, too.
And lately I’ve been drawing paths… paths to where my heart is calling me, a vision of what I think God wants for me, intends for me, hopes for me – in my work, here; in my family; in my whole life.
I draw that path…
And then I think about what’s blocking the way – the walls that are up, the blockades; the people, places, ideas, or things that are getting in the way. I draw them in my sketchbook, walls blocking the way.
Then I pray about them… and what it is that will help to open the path before me.
It’s powerful. It’s empowering. It helps to set me free.
Because I remember what Rabbi Jesus said:
“There’s no chance at all,” Jesus said, “if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”
That’s what it takes, isn’t it?
That, my friends, is a place to begin.
And now – a final charge, and challenge, and blessing.
The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice
though the whole house began to tremble
and you felt the old tug at your ankles.
“Mend my life!” each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy was terrible.
It was already late enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper into the world,
determined to do the only thing you could do –
determined to save the only life you could save. [ii]
[i] Edwin H. Friedman, “The Bridge,” Friedman’s Fables, [New York: Guilford Press, 1990], 9-13.
[ii] Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, [New York: Penguin Press, 2017], 349-50.