Archive for October, 2009

Friday, October 16th Genesis 3:16-21

October 16, 2009

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:16-21

I met my father when I was 15 years old. At that time he had a great job as the manager of the service department of a tractor and implement dealership. Three years later, the dealership was sold to new owners and my dad was out of a job.

I have no idea how he did it, or where he got the money to do it, but he rented a building, hired some mechanics and a parts person, and opened his own diesel repair business. I worked for him one summer. It was hard. Business was good but it was complicated. I remember the race to be the first one to the bank so the payroll check didn’t bounce. I remember when he tried to get a small business loan so provide a cushion but it didn’t happen. A year later he had to shut the doors.

“In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life…”

A year after that, he tried again. He tried his hand at selling trucks. He would buy older trucks, rebuild their engines, fix them up and sell them. He hired a couple more employees – more families that he felt personally responsible for every single day that business was open. And once again, although he was a mechanical genius and a fantastic salesman, he wasn’t very adept at book-keeping and the details of running a business and that one closed too.

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground…”

Times are tough these days. All week long we have thought about those who have lost jobs. Today our attention turns to the other side of that relationship. The people who have the guts and the know how to open a business of their own, to create jobs for others, and to add their skills to the fabric of life. Imagine their daily realities, constantly shifting markets, unseen overseas competitors that can undercut prices while still making their own healthy profits, governmental rules to follow, tax policies that often seem anti-business, insurance rates rising faster than a speeding bullet.

Imagine what they worry about when they are trying to fall asleep! The families who make their daily bread in their employ. Maybe the generations before them who kept the family business going through good times and bad and now it is their turn to shoulder the burden.

99.7% of all the businesses in the US today are small firms employing fewer than 500 workers. They pay 44% of the private payroll. They generated 64% of the new jobs over the past 15 years. And every year, about 10% of small firms open for business and about 10% of them close their doors.

None of this is easy. But imagine how it is when it works. Imagine what it would be like to go to sleep at night, knowing that you had just had a good day. Knowing that the idea you once had has now turned into a lucrative business, providing for the needs of your workers, adding value to the lives of your customers, allowing you to earn your own daily bread.

Whether you believe it or not, I trust that the God who made provision for the characters in the creation stories continues to make provision for us. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires those ideas, who gifts those with the capacity to start new businesses, and it is God who hears their prayers of gratitude, and sometimes their prayers of worry and anxiety, before they go to sleep each night.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for those men and women who take risks and follow their hearts in starting new businesses and offering employment to those who join them in their ventures. We pray that you continue to lift up those people, continue to open doors, continue to make provision for us all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 15th Genesis 3:8-13

October 15, 2009

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Genesis 3:8-13

I hope that people aren’t misunderstanding what I’m trying to do with the devotions this week. I’m using the creation story to help us see through the haze of those personally experiencing the pain of these troubled times. I’m not saying that those who have lost, or will lose their job, have done something wrong. But I am saying that the brokenness described in this ancient creation story is still being lived out among us today.

The creation stories are not “once upon a time tales” of long ago but, in fact, are theological arguments about the way that life really is and always has been. Life is broken. When someone loses their job, they experience that brokenness, that instant reminder of human vulnerability, in particularly poignant ways.

How do we respond when life crashes down around our ears – either through what we have done or through what has been done to us?

The man and his wife act our knee jerk responses out before our very eyes. First, they are filled with shame and want to hide the ugly truth of their sudden exposure. Then, full of fear, they hide. Once confronted by God, the man blames both God and the woman for his sorry state – the WOMAN whom YOU gave to be with me. And then the woman, like any kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar will do, EXPLAINS herself. “The serpent TRICKED me.”

We feel shame. We are overwhelmed with fear. We want to hide. We look for someone to blame. We want to justify ourselves.

We think about all the money we wasted through the years when we knew full well that common sense called for setting at least 6 months salary aside for times just like this. We deny the reality that has settled upon us, don’t make changes in our lifestyles, and run credit cards through the roof to hold on. We blame the Republicans if we’re Democrats, the Democrats if we’re Republicans. We blame the Mexicans or the Chinese or the UN or anyone else we can.

But none of that helps. It just makes things worse. Shame, fear, isolation, blaming and self justification cannot and will not bring healing into our lives.

Now take a breath and read the verses again. Notice again how God is out “walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.” God isn’t troubled. God is kicking back, enjoying the garden, enjoying life. Notice again that GOD is the one who reaches out to his hiding children. “Where are you?” God is not content to leave them hiding in the consequences of their own brokenness and pain. God reaches out to THEM and it is God’s presence that elicits their self-justifying responses. But God doesn’t leave them there. God makes a way for them.

Their future doesn’t get rosy overnight. The truth of the lives that stretch out before them is that life is going to be hard. But difficulty does not trump purpose. Brokenness does not equal abandonment. God is still looking for us, still walking with us, still calling out to us, still aware of the tastiness of that apple on our lips. And God will still make a way for us. Trust him. Talk to him. Listen to him. Rely on him. And do your part.

Let us pray: Thank you, Gracious Lord, that you do not leave or abandon us when life feels like it is crashing down around our ears. Thank you for forgiving us for what we have done and left undone. Thank you for continuing to light a path before us. Open our eyes that we might see it and fill our hearts with courage that we might follow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 14th Genesis 3:1-7

October 14, 2009

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. Genesis 3:1-7

This text is one of many in the Bible where my mind has been etched with an indelible memory that kicks in every time I read it. I simply can’t read the first verse without seeing the softly hissing Kaa curled up in the tree above Mowgli’s head from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” Kaa hissing…and then gently hypnotizing Mowgli to sleep before wrapping him up for dinner.

The serpent was more “crafty” than any other creature and in his craftiness he appeals not to what the woman HAS but to what the woman does NOT have. He first challenges her trust in God’s Word and then in God’s wisdom. Once their focus was shifted from the infinite variety of gifts available to them in the garden to the ONE THING they weren’t supposed to touch, they took and they ate. Bathed immediately in shame, they made loincloths and covered themselves up.

Throughout this week of devotions I’m remembering the conversation I had with a man this past Sunday. Three times now in his career he has been laid off through no fault of his own and has had to find a new job. I’m thinking of my friend who was laid off last February and is still looking for a job. And I’m remembering a member of Covenant who suddenly lost his job and struggled hard before finding the next one.

In each case, the loss of their jobs involved the sudden appearance of a little hissing voice in the back of their minds….”You’re a failure”….”You’ll never find another job.”…”God isn’t going to take care of you or your needs…”

How do you fight those voices?

First, resist the urge to isolate. The creation stories certainly value highly the gift of daily work and the abilities/calling we have to care for creation. But they are also about interconnectedness and relationships. An unemployed person might not have a job to go to in the morning but they still have 24 hours in each day. Use that time, first to heal, and then to make as many connections as possible. Call old friends and connections. Attend job fairs. Borrow a desk at someone’s office so you can get out of the house to make calls.

Don’t skip worship on Sunday! Maybe you feel guilty because you can’t put as much money in the offering plate. Get over that. Others are still working and they can cover for you. Bringing your body into God’s presence is always way more valuable to a congregation than the dollars you put into the plate. You need that community, you need to be in that room. God has not and will not forget you. You have nothing to be ashamed about. Fight that hissing voice!

And second, focus on what you have and what you can do rather than on what you have lost. You’ve lost a job but you haven’t lost your skills, abilities or experience. You can still learn – maybe now is the time to retool and find something new. Your new job is finding a job. Reframe rejection in your own mind – success is measured in trying your best and showing up. I heard yesterday about a company that had 10,000 applicants for 90 positions. 90 might have gotten a new job but 9,010 can still feel good about putting themselves out there. Maybe they will find a better job more in line with what they really want to do.

You’re not in this alone.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, continue pouring hope into the lives of those who feel hopeless. Continue drawing people out of isolation into community. Continue birthing creativity into those who start new businesses or reach out to others with opportunities for meaningful daily work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 13th Genesis 2:15-22

October 13, 2009

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Genesis 2:15-22

The unemployment rate in the United States is close to 10%. The actual figure, which includes those who have been unemployed so long that they have quit looking, is higher. Among African Americans, it is over 15%. In Detroit, over 30%. Perhaps the word “crisis” is overused but I can’t think of a word that fits any better.

The creation stories are clear about the holiness of work. “The The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” When we use our personal time and talents in our daily work, we are cooperating with God in the work of creation. The human economy puts price tags and various values on the work we do but in God’s economy, our value is measured by the good we are doing for others. (By the way, Tuesday morning is “Garbage Day” at the Nelson household. Today, my garbage man is far more valuable to me than a brain surgeon.)

But there is another aspect of daily work that is a blessing in our lives – the opportunity that going to work gives us to develop friendships and relationships with a wide variety of people.

The creation story says that it isn’t good that we are alone. It isn’t. It isn’t good for us to be alone. It isn’t even very healthy. Single men have much greater incidence of poor health indicators than married men. Loneliness breeds depression and unhealthy means of self medication. Spending a significant amount of time at work blesses us with relational connections to people we otherwise would never know.

It is very painful to make that last drive home from work with your office packed in boxes in your trunk. It is a deeper pain than simply worries about how you are going to pay the bills. Deeper than the loss of financial security and self esteem is the realization that you have not only lost your place in the world, you have been cut off from the people with whom you have shared a significant piece of your life.

Those left at the office are feeling the pain as well. Living with the fear of “you could be next” and the guilt that you still have a job, those still working after the latest round of lay offs are also missing the co-workers who aren’t there any longer.

So it is that many people today find themselves living through a very confusing, stressful, scary time of life that they never really saw coming.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we pray today for those people who are still coming to grips with having lost their means of making a living, for those living in fear and despair. We pray that they find ways to connect with others, to step out of isolation, to find new employment. And we pray as well for those with the abilities to start new businesses and provide new jobs for others. Far too often we ignore the holiness of daily work and all that it takes to provide it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 12th Genesis 1:26-31

October 12, 2009

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. ”So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:26-31

If you listen to the creation stories as they are intended to be heard – as theological arguments toward viewing all of life in a certain manner – these short verses tell us many things.

They tell us that life is relational. Life is connected. Beginning with our grounding in our Creator, everything is connected – physically and spiritually. Because we are grounded in God, we are relationally connected to everything God creates.

They tell us that we, and everything else we see, hear, touch, taste and experience, are not accidental. We are here, we are alive, we have reasons for being.

They tell us that creation is incredibly diverse. There is no way to capture this diversity in language so symbol is used. Fish, bird, cattle and creeping thing represents the incredible diversity of the animal world. The same with seeds and plants. And that same with “male” and “female” as we all recognize that gender is only one aspect of our humanity that distinguishes us from one another.

And they tell us that we have a purpose. We are to take care of creation even as creation takes care of us. We are created to work.

They tell us that, down to the deepest roots, life not only “is” but life is good. Life is very good.

But the sad fact is that life isn’t terribly good for everybody and life certainly doesn’t feel good all the time. When the earth quakes beneath our feet and the water rises, thousands die as we have seen recently in Asia, the Philippines and Thailand.

When we don’t have access to the good food and water which the earth produces, we die of hunger and thirst. Millions die every day. When health care is reduced to a tradeable commodity rather than a human right, many die needlessly.

When the systems we live within that allow us to trade our skills for the means of sustaining our lives falter, we can find ourselves suddenly cut off and cut out. We live not only in material need but in emotional anguish as we wonder where we lost our sense of purpose. Over 15,000,000 able-bodied Americans are not enjoying a day off today, they are suffering from a lack of meaningful work and good paying jobs.

Creation is very good. But many things seem seriously broken.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we trust your Word. We trust in the goodness of your love and the goodness of creation. But we live in the midst of brokenness that sometimes seems overwhelming. Hear the cries of those in need and open the ears of those in positions to be helpful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 9th Mark 10:28-31

October 9, 2009

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” Mark 10:28-31

Peter and the other disciples were standing right there when the rich man approached Jesus. They heard his question, heard Jesus’ response. They all grew slightly uncomfortable as the rich man turned away, ashen-faced. Then Jesus turned to them.

Now Jesus turns to us.

Peter unwittingly demonstrates his own version of “justification by what we have done” – he doesn’t appeal to his lifelong obedience to the commandments as the rich man had done but instead “reminds” Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

That isn’t going to cut it either.

Here are the two realities and the one question that remain after watching this encounter all week. First, there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. Regardless of what we have done or left undone, nothing can separate us from God’s love. Second, God isn’t interested merely in the “sweet by and by” of heaven. God is interested in life that begins now, on earth, in real time.

Eternal life isn’t an alternative existence measured quantitatively by infinite years after we die; eternal life is a qualitative difference in how we live our lives in community now, that is brought to completion in the life to come. Living this life in the here and now will be difficult because it means letting go and “seeing” life in radically different ways.

And then the question – Now that you don’t have to do anything, what are you going to do?

Yes, Peter and the others left everything and followed Jesus. They left everything and they gained far more than they could have imagined.

You and I are modern day disciples. We don’t have the luxury of waking up in the morning next to Jesus so that we can watch him in real life action as he dealt with all sorts of people. But we have the stories and we have the faith that the Holy Spirit has planted in our hearts.

Our journey is to live as followers of Jesus in a pluralistic, materialistic, violent, divided and constantly changing world that has very mixed feelings about religion in general and Christianity in particular. Our challenge is to the carry the Good News into the world in our words, our actions, our attitudes, our behaviors, in such a way as to make the world a better place to live. This is a costly challenge. It will cost us time, money, personal involvement, passion and courage.

But, unlike the rich man who walked away alone, we – like Peter and the others – live our lives in the company of others on the same trip. We aren’t alone. The journey is well worth the cost.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, your disciples heard you talk and saw you in action. We, who live and walk by faith, whom you have claimed to join you on the road, are not much different than they were. We ask questions. We get confused and troubled. Yet we pray that you use us as you used them, to your glory and the welfare of your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, October 8th Mark 10:23-27

October 8, 2009

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Mark 10:23-27

How do these words sound in your ears? Where do they challenge you? Where do they comfort you? Poor people might love them…and wealthy people will recoil. Why?

The simple truth is that wealth has its benefits in our lives. With money in the bank and more rolling in every day, we have a sense of security. With all that money can buy, we can bolster our self esteem with the right clothes, the right car, the right home, etc. With the subtle, or not so subtle, power that money represents, the influence it can wield, it can heighten our status in many different settings (including the church.)

While none of this has any eternal significance, it can make a big difference in our day to day life. Money can provide the security, self esteem and status that ought to come from God alone.

In short, wealth can be idolatrous. When Jesus says “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God” he isn’t challenging the value of wealth, he is simply stating the obvious. The more you have, the greater the temptation to trust in what you have as your “god.”

This, of course, turned the disciples’ worldview upside down just as it does to us. We have been taught from the youngest ages that the goal of life is to get a great education, to work hard, to be as worldly successful as we can, and (between the lines) we all picked up the message that success is measured by $ucce$$.

The disciples assumed, as do we, that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, God’s blessing. We love to hear that! We’re impressed with everything to do with wealth. Even in the church. Big church buildings impress us. Large congregations impress us. And when we hear that “God has blessed us” we hear both the intended meaning (we really believe that all of this comes as a blessing from God) and the unintended meaning (anyone struggling along in a lesser building, with fewer people, struggling every month to meet the budget) is necessarily being less blessed by God.

It is dangerous.

So Jesus offers us a challenging corrective. His words pull us up short. They require us to think more deeply than the social conventions built into our cultural assumptions. Certainly we can be grateful for all that we have. Grateful enough to use all that we have in generous and righteous ways.

With God, all things are possible.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we are mindful of the vast differences between those who have so much and those who have so little in our world. We pray for the grace that moves us to hold very lightly to all that we have, to use our gifts well, to be grateful and generous, to consider the needs of those with less and to fight the constant temptation to want more. Help us find our identity and purpose in you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, October 7th Mark 10:21-22

October 7, 2009

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “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.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:21-22

I don’t know who coined the phrase “tough love” but that is what Jesus is doing in this story. Mark clearly let’s us know that. Jesus, looking at the rich man before him, the one who has followed the rules all his life (nothing wrong with that) but now wonders where those rules have led him, sees him and loves him.

If the Jesus story was put on film by the Disney studio, I suppose, at this moment, the music would get soft and then dramatically rise as Jesus would put his arms around the man’s shoulders, with a great big grin and not a few tears, and tell him that everything will be OK.

But that isn’t what happens. Instead Jesus hits him right between the eyes.

“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.”

There was a woman who was new to my first parish who once caught me on the sidewalk with this passage. She was new to the faith, hungry to learn, and had been reading her Bible. She got to this passage, reading it in a very nice chair in her very nice house, surrounded by all the trappings of upper middle class American life – a life marked by the reality that Americans comprise 6% of the world’s population but consume 40% of everything consumable – and it attacked her just as it had attacked the rich man.

“Does Jesus really expect us to give up everything we have if we want to follow him?”

There are two answers to this question. The first answer is easy: No. That wouldn’t make any sense. If everyone who had anything gave it all to follow Jesus, and Jesus then calls us to reach out to the entire world with the gospel, someone somewhere is going to wind up with something. So no, the passage is not to be read as a command for all people for all time.

The second answer is equally easy: Yes. Clinging to our stuff, clinging to our rule following and our possessions possession leaves precious little room for God. Following Jesus isn’t a line item on a busy daily schedule but a radical reorientation to how we see our lives and how we live our lives.

This rich man, whom Jesus loved, was climbing up a ladder leaning against the wrong building. He could very well have been the rich man who walked by Lazarus sitting at his gate every day. He could have been the one who built extra barns to store his abundant harvest only to discover that he wasn’t going to make it through the night. He could have been the one who built the beautiful beach house on the foundation of sand.

He could be us.

So Jesus loved him with a tough love. Give it all away and follow me.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you know, and we know, that we will never have enough if accumulation is the goal of our lives. And you know, and we know, that we will never have to little that we don’t have enough to share. Cast the demon of possessions out of our lives that we might be generous, that we might consider the poor, not just with charity but also with justice. That we might follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, October 6th Mark 10:18-20

October 6, 2009

Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Mark 10:18-20

This past weekend I helped lead a workshop about stewardship with Keith Mundy, Assistant Director for Stewardship for the ELCA. He helped me see this exchange between Jesus and this rich man in a new light by contrasting it with the story of Zacchaeus.

In the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19), Zacchaeus makes no claim for innocence. He knows he has not been a good person. His wealth has come through extortion and theft. When Jesus spots him in the tree and welcomes himself into Zacchaeus’ house, Zacchaeus immediately melts and promises to make restitution toward those who has wronged. Jesus finds Zacchaeus a significant person, not because of what he has done or hasn’t done, but simply because Jesus recognizes him and engages him.

So it is with us – Jesus has called us by name, sees who we are, no matter what we have done or left undone, and loves us. We find our significance, our purpose, in him.

Contrast that exchange with this rich man who approaches Jesus. He has truly been blessed. And he knows it. We have no reason to believe he came by his riches in any other than a noble, honorable way. We have no reason to question his piety when he declares that he has carefully observed the commandments his whole life.

Yet there is still something missing inside of him. He still has a sense that he has missed something along the way. He has it all but he is wondering if what he has is all there is. He approaches Jesus as one who assumes his insider status, based on what he has done and what he has accumulated. His is a fragile faith.

Rob Bell in his book “Velvet Elvis” talks about a certain way of understanding the Christian faith he calls “Brickianity.” Brickianity is a faith based on rules and regulations, doctrines and practices, both inside the church and out in the world, carefully crafted like a well built brick wall. Such a faith looks at first like it is strong and impervious but that is an illusion. If one brick is lost, the whole wall might crumble.

My sense is that this rich man would well understand Brickianity.

For us, when we come to Jesus, are our hands full or empty? Do we stand before him ready to play “show and tell”, demonstrating all that is good about us, or do we come hoping that he will show us and tell us what we do not know?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, at some point we know better than to trust in ourselves, in our own goodness, in our own good intentions, to achieve a place of recognition with you. As some point we know better than to confuse worldly acclaim with your claims on our lives. Yet we continue to do it. Forgive us, accept us anew by your grace. Help us know it is good enough just to be who you have created us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, October 5 Mark 10:17

October 5, 2009

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark 10:17

It seems the holiest of questions.

There is no reason to question either the sincerity of the questions or the motives behind asking it. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Once there was a young man who was determined to be a success in life. Even as a child he had the vision and the determination to be the best at anything he attempted. He developed a strong sense of discipline in his studies. He decided he would be the financial manager of the most successful fund in the world. But then he reached a point in college where he questioned everything. “What was the point?” he asked himself. “Surely there must be more to life than being the best.”

So he quit school. Got rid of everything he owned. And he moved to India to study at the feet of a renowned guru.

Several months later he called his parents to say hello. When asked how he was doing, with great excitement he told them how much more quickly he was advancing in his studies than any other student, how his teacher told him he was a natural and could undoubtedly have his own school some day….

So it is that the desire to “do it on our own” is woven so deeply into our humanity that are powerless to remove it. Whether we strive to do our best or quit trying and give up, deep within us growls this voice telling us that it is up to us.

Sometimes the accent is on the WHAT, other times on the DO, but at all times the “I” is written in bold capital letters.

So it was that this young man who had everything knelt before Jesus. What else could he ask, what other room was there in his imagination, but to ask – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This inner drive isn’t all bad. It gives rise to tremendous creativity, unleashes the power of our potential. It gets us up in the morning. But far too often, like a flooding river exceeding its banks, it also keeps us up at night.

The truth, of course, is that there is nothing we must do to inherit eternal life because there is nothing we CAN do to inherit eternal life. Eternal life is God’s realm. The questions with the most real world significance are those questions about real life.

But he asked the question and Jesus stopped to listen. Tomorrow we will join this man at the feet of Jesus to hear what he has to say to all of us.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we long for the fullness of life. Your Spirit has already planted a restlessness in us, a holy discontent, that seeks the satisfaction of living your will. Guide us in discovering what we can do today to answer that call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.