There are critical moments in life - in my life, in all of our lives - when huge questions are asked and huge decisions are made. Sometimes we are aware of the importance of the moment, but more often we are not. These critical moments come, I believe, when we are struggling with life’s biggest and greatest questions: where to go to college, whom to marry, what job to take, where to live, how to deal with a major personal problem we face, what to do with the rest of my life. These moments can happen at any age. And to any of us.
These moments can be difficult and they can be exciting. We wish more than anything else for clarity, not ambiguity. Those moments take us out of what we like to call our comfort zone because they are not often clear, they present us with new alternatives, new possibilities, and new challenges. They move us out of our comfort zone, those critical moments do, because they invite us to become, in some way, a new person. Change can be hard because nothing changes without conflict.
The young man in the passage is right in the middle of one of those important, challenging, uncomfortable, and promising moments. We have some big decisions at every turn. Certainly in our nation. But in our church. And in our lives. Big decisions are always difficult, rarely clear. In fact, maybe the bigger the decision, the less clarity. Some of you reading this post may be in the middle of a BIG decision. Some may still be weighing the decision. Others of you this week committed to a decision, maybe led by the heart or by your mind, hoping the other would follow along.
I remember Peter Block, a mentor of mine, once saying: “we walk around waiting for someone to ask us the big question.” What qualifies as the BIG Question is one that makes the asker nervous in the asking.The young man in the familiar text this morning was asking the most important question in the world: “How do I inherit eternal life?”
I like how John Buchanan, in one of his sermons, translates the meaning of “eternal life” as the young man is asking: “what do I have to do to live fully, deeply, passionately, meaningfully, now, in this lifetime, and in a way that has the significance of eternity about it?” “Obey the law,” Jesus says. “I do,” the young man says. “Have obeyed all my life.” Then something very interesting happens. Jesus looks at him and loves him. Jesus loves this young man. Loves his integrity, his moral commitment, loves his question, I think, loves the fact that this man is asking a BIG question. The disciples are amazed. Amazed because Jesus has challenged one of their society’s fundamental assumptions: namely that money is a sign of God’s blessing. They are astonished because of the way he cuts through one of the most basic conceptual assumptions and invites people, all people—rich people, poor people—to think in new ways about their lives and what they are here for and what to do with their lives.
And so Jesus might challenge us, might he not?
Like the young man, we have a lot of stuff. We love our stuff. We think about, spend our resources to buy more stuff, maintain our stuff, and our stuff. Our stuff can be a distraction. I am reminded of the story about the trusting abbot who was taken aback by the spiritual progress of a young disciple. The abbot let the disciple live in his own lean-to down by the river. Each night he would wash his one robe and put it out to dry. One morning he was dismayed to find that the rats had torn his robe to shreds. He begged for another from a nearby village, only to have the rats destroy that one as well. The disciple got a cat, but he found he had to beg for milk for the cat. To get around that, he got a cow; but of course that meant he had to have hay. He got the hay from the fields around his hut. He had to get workers to help. Soon he was the wealthiest man in the region. Several years later, the abbot comes back to find a mansion in place of a hut. He asked the monk what was the meaning of all this? "Oh Holy Abbot, there was no other way to keep my robes."
Like him we walk away grieving because there is no way we can live without our stuff. Our stuff is often at the center of the narrative of the story of our life.
There are the perils of materialism but I don’t think it is the main concern for Jesus. Instead, Jesus’ focus seems to be upon an invitation to a sincere and honest young man asking the BIG question, an invitation to let go of the strong hold, driven by anxiety and fear, that he had on his resources and to trust God for his salvation. What Jesus offered this young man was the opportunity to discover abundant and eternal life in the freedom of God’s love and the privilege of living for something more and better and bigger than personal security.
So “what’s your story?” And how does it connect to God’s story? That’s a hard question the story of your life is not told in a vacuum. Work can take precedence over worship and our social lives can be prioritized over spiritual disciplines. It is a hard question because words are the basis of our telling our story and we don’t have a confidence in the vocabulary of faith to discern and speak about where and how we see God showing up in our lives. So today I leave with you the question: What is the story of your life and how does it connect to the story of God?