Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Freedom to Follow

(Read Mark 10:17-31)

The nature of all people, animals, plants and minerals, the nature of all objects is impermanence. Nothing lasts forever. The grass withers; the flower fades. Cars rust; houses rot. Life for me and for you comes, and it goes.

Not only are living beings and objects impermanent, but so are feelings and thoughts. How you feel right now will not be how you feel at the end of this service. What you are thinking right now will not be what you are thinking tomorrow morning. Everything moves; everything changes in this life. Jobs change; goals change; relationships change. Impermanence is a fact of life. And if we know this, if we embrace this truth, we will relieve our own suffering and the suffering of others.

The rich man in today’s Scripture reading does not understand the law of impermanence, and thus he has allowed himself to become attached to his possessions. And in being attached to them, he cannot leave them.

The rich man goes to Jesus very excited, saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to follow the commandments, and the man proudly exclaims, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” And then, Jesus clues in on the man. Jesus takes a look at him and sees that this rich man really wants eternal life; he wants to have the life of the Eternal One as a part of his earthly life; he’s already walking the spiritual path and he wants to exist on a higher plane. Jesus feels love for him because this man is a kindred spirit, one who wants to walk with God.

Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But as we know, in hearing Jesus’ instruction, the man is shocked and greatly grieved for he has many possessions, and he walks away.

The rich man isn’t just grieved because he has many possessions, he’s grieved because he has put great value in his possessions. He has built his life around them. He thinks he needs them to be happy. If he sells them, he thinks he will lose his happiness.

There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy in and of itself. The problems arise when we become attached to our wealth, when we give our riches value that they do not deserve, when we let wealth control, guide and rule our lives, instead of God, which is what the rich man has done. He can’t follow Jesus; he can’t walk in the kingdom of God because his heart and time and energy are being put into acquiring, enjoying and preserving his wealth.

The kingdom of God is a past, present and future reality. It was established in the past. It exists in the present, and it comes to completion/fulfillment in the future, what we might call heaven.

To be in the kingdom of God on this earth is to live a life where God is the ruler. So in a way, we can step in and out of the kingdom of God depending on what we are letting rule our lives. If we live for God, then we are in it. If wealth and riches or anything else control us, then we are not walking in the kingdom.

This is a trap that we must be careful not to fall into. We all know that we must earn money and acquire some possessions in order to survive in this world, in order to create a safe and comfortable place for our families to live and grow. So we start out innocently enough, working diligently to get to that place we have conceived of in our minds, that level that we have marked as enough. But I think we all know that it’s easy to get caught up and not to be able to stop. To want a little bit more, a little bit nicer. To feel pressure to work a little bit harder, a little bit longer. But at what expense? Our souls become enslaved when they live for something other than their own expression.

If the reason we wake up in the morning and do what we do throughout the day is to acquire and maintain our wealth, we have a real problem, spiritually speaking. This is not the purpose of life. And the term "wealth" can have broad meaning – living for cash, stockmarket, houses, cars is one aspect. But also, living for power, for status, for presige is another form of how we feel wealthy. Even our family can be considered our assets. Jesus tells us to leave father and mother, children, sisters, brothers if we have to in order to follow him and walk in the kiingdom

What Jesus is trying to tell the rich man, whom he loves, is not to make the purpose of his life about acquiring, enjoying and maintaining things he values. Life is about more than that. Jesus tells him, use your life to follow me, which is to say: Use your life to seek the face of God. Use your life to grow in understanding and insight. Then, use what you learn to love others, to relieve their suffering. (Help families see through their quarrels. Help those who are afraid grow courage, etc). And teach others how to live in this way also. Teach others how to follow Christ, how to walk in the kingdom where God rules. So that what all of us are doing here is building up the kingdom of God. We can use our lives to decrease illusion, blindness, confusion, suffering, anger, fear. As these things decrease, the kingdom of God expands. It grows. We can use our lives to increase understanding, insight, compassion, happiness, peace, wellbeing. As these things increase, the kingdom of God expands. It grows.

What the rich man is lacking in putting his wealth above following the spiritual path is freedom. He is not free to live as the child of God he was put here to be. He is not free to live into God’s great vision for what his life is meant to be. His spirit is not free to learn and create and love.

But Jesus calls us all to such freedom. Leave what you have behind and follow me, he says. So I ask you: what are you living for? What gets you out of bed each day? Do not waste your energy on the acquisition and preservation of things which by their very nature will not last. Let go of whatever you have to so that you can follow the Spirit as it moves through your life, shaping your destiny. The kingdom is here and now. Enter in. Live in it. Help it to grow.

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