Getting Back on Track: Knowing When to Let Go
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/10-11-09.MP3]Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31
Over the past few weeks and over the next few weeks we are following the travels of Jesus through the Holy Land as he makes his way from the Galilee toward Jerusalem. Today we are in the region across the Jordan River. The idea as we make these travels together is that perhaps by following Jesus in his footsteps that we ourselves might be able to get back on track in our own lives. We've touched on many aspects of this idea, of getting back on track, of finding our footing again with the way that life knocks us off balance. Today we're looking at the idea of knowing when to let go.
I want to suggest the possibility that there are things to which we cling, that we hold to desperately, that get in our way of following Jesus.
In the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Harrison Ford is on his quest for the Holy Grail.
It has been about twenty years since the film came out, but there are still a lot of scenes that say something about to the life of faith.
***spoiler alert*** (it has been 20 years...)
In the final scene in the movie, they are riding through the desert looking for the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus shared at the Last Supper with the disciples. Indiana Jones is the one that picks it out because he knows that its this simple one made by a carpenter, not the fancy gold one his Nazi competitors think it is. Once they have discovered the Grail, then the earth begins to shake and begins to break and give way. As the Grail falls off a ledge, Elsa, who has been his love interest up to this point and then turns out to be a Nazi collaborator, she wants the Grail and falls off the ledge reaching for it, and it's just out of her grasp. Indiana Jones is holding onto her hand and she's reaching and reaching until he can't hold on anymore and finally she slips and falls into the abyss. Immediately after that scene, Indiana Jones tries the same thing. But his father manages to pull him back from the brink and lets go of the Grail so that he might live. For Elsa it was her refusal to let go that was her demise. For Indiana Jones, it was his ability to let go that saved his life.
In the story of the rich young ruler, the rule kneels before Jesus. He submits before Jesus, calling him a “Good Teacher.” Jesus rebukes him, because “No one is good but God.” The man learns from that and addresses him appropriately the next time. But he didn’t learn quite enough. Jesus tells him, “Here's what you need to do in order to inherit eternal life, to enter the kingdom of God, to participate in the desires of God and the way that God wants the world to be, which is on its way. You have to follow the Commandments. You know what they are. There's the ten in the famous list from Mount Sinai. There are the more than 600 throughout the Hebrew Bible.”
And the man says, “I got those. Check. I’ve been doing that since I was little kid. I’ve got that straight.”
At which point Jesus says, “There's one thing you lack: sell everything that you own, give it to the poor, and then come and follow me.” And we read that the man went away grieved, dejected, downhearted, because he had many possessions.
Is there a broader lesson for all of us in this? I want to be careful, because there's something contextual about it all; Jesus is speaking to this one man for whom his wealth is a barrier to following Jesus. But I also don't want let us off the hook too easy. This leads us to ask ourselves, “Is it possible that what we possess, the riches that we might have, get in our way of following Jesus?” It's in this story that Jesus gives that incredible, impossible, ridiculous example of the camel going through the eye of a needle. You may have heard in Sunday School that it wasn’t really a camel and it's not really the eye of a needle, but rather a gate in Jerusalem that was called the “eye of the needle,” and the only way to get through that gate was to kneel down; so it's not really about this impossibility of physics, of a dromedary getting through the eye of a needle; instead, it's more about humility: submitting before God and entering God’s presence. Unfortunately, that isn’t true. There is no such gate in Jerusalem. We’re not let off that easy.
So then, what does that word “rich” really mean? What does it mean to be rich, to possess enough to be called “rich”? The disciples wrestle with this. They recognize the frank reality of it, responding, “Nobody can enter heaven. If you raise the bar that high, then nobody can get in.” I did some number checking this morning. My salary is a matter of public record. If you're curious, you can go look it up. The congregation has to vote on it every year. You know what it is that I make. I wanted to compare my salary with what it means to be rich. In the United States, my salary is above average. It is right about in the middle. Is that rich? Is that middle class? That might be a matter of debate. Globally, however, I'm in the top 0.78%. I better practice my needle threading.
I think the truth is that a lot of us are like that rich young man. We may have submitted to Jesus, as he did, kneeling before him. We may have joined a church, or been baptized, or have taken on a leadership role, or have gone into professional ministry. But the question is: “Are we really following Jesus?” Have we really taken up our cross and followed him?”
What is the one thing that we lack? what is that one thing that Jesus would name in us that would send us away grieving? What is it that you hold to that keeps you from holding onto God? It could be wealth. It could be something else. Maybe you have an anger or a resentment about a situation in your life that you just can't let go of. You want to hold onto it. Maybe there's an old wound that just won't heal that keeps you from following Jesus. Maybe it’s a drive for success, all things at all costs. Maybe you ask yourself a series of “What ifs” and If onlys”, all these questions, that act like a rocking chair: they give us something to do, but they don’t get us anywhere. Maybe you know right now that are not following Jesus fully, maybe you know that you are holding on to something, but you’re going to get around to it later when the time is right and things calm down.
I was struck by something else in this text and the idea in our theme this morning of “Letting Go.” Elizabeth and I were a fortune enough to get to go to the U2 concert this past Tuesday. Since then, we’ve been listening all week to our U2 albums and have been reconnecting with the meaning of the songs. There are incredible spiritual and Biblical themes in Bono’s lyrics. There's one song that I've heard before, but didn't really recognize it until this week. It’s from the album War, and it’s called “Drowning Man.” Bono sings:
“Take my hand. You know I'll be there. I’ll cross the sky for your love. These winds and tides won’t drag you away. Hold on and hold on tightly. Hold on and don't let go of my love.”
At first glance, it’s simply a love song. Somebody is drowning and someone is reaching out. But as the lyrics unfold and Bono begins to quote Scripture,
“Rise up with wings like eagles. You’ll run and won’t grow weary”,
we know that the love song is from God to someone who feels like they’re drowning.
Does that feel like it describes you? Are you drowning? Do you even know it? Or do you in fact know it but can't admit it? Is there something in your moral center that is bugging you that you just can't bring yourself to look at? Is there something that you are holding onto that makes it more and more difficult for God to take hold of your hand? Let go. Let go. And let God take hold. Let go so that Christ can embrace you fully. Let go so the Spirit can lift you up with wings like eagles! Is there one thing that you lack? Is there one thing that sends you away from following Jesus again and again, grieving your own inability to unclench your fist? Maybe you can't do it. Maybe it's impossible. But with God, all things are possible.
Prayer: Lord God, there are times that we hold our hands together so tightly that not even light can get in. We cling desperately to the things that we think make for life. Help us to remember that it is you hold us in the palm of your hand; it is your light which heals us and strengthens us. Help us to let go of possessions, ideas, pains that keep us from opening our hand to you. We pray all of this in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.