I Am the One Thing You Need
Pentecost 21 – Proper 23
Searching, yearning, searching some more.
From ancient days when the Psalmist time and again sought the face of the LORD, to St. Augustine of Hippo some 1600 years ago, who said “our hearts are restless until they rest in [God],” to Blaise Pascal some 350 years ago, who said that in every heart is an “infinite abyss” that can be filled only by an infinite God,1 to this century’s scientific quest for the Higgs boson, the “God particle,”2 that would let us understand everything about how the universe works, humans have been trying to figure out what on earth God is up to, and what it has to do with who we are and life as we know it.
Searching, yearning, and searching some more is the very nature of the journey of life.
Sometimes we give up. As one t-shirt put it, “A conclusion is where you stop when you get tired of thinking.” And sometimes we just don’t search in the right place. No matter how hard you look there, you just won’t find what you’re looking for. That happened to me in June, in Bath, England, on my sabbatical. Early in the morning, Gus and I got in our rental car, drove on the wrong side of the road through the gorgeous countryside, and, using Google maps, found a great parking place near the Roman Baths.
I pinned the parking place on my phone, and off we went on our day.
The ancient Roman baths are fascinating – we spent hours there, going through exhibits showing layers of archeological digs, wonderful artifacts, and glimpses into the daily lives of Roman England. We ate lunch in the Pump Room, where Jane Austen fans like me imagine what it was like in Regency times, in the early 1800s.
Then we went off to the glorious Bath Abbey with its famous fan ceiling. Hot, tired and happy, we went back to our car, which I had so carefully pinned on the map on my phone that morning.
It wasn’t there. In fact, the entire parking lot (or car park, as they say in England) wasn’t there.
Well, there was a car park, with lots and lots of cars. But the one we’d parked at had a parking garage, and there was no parking garage here. We searched and searched.
Gus, logically enough, said I had to be wrong about the pin. But I was sure. I’d pinned it! How could I be wrong?
We were in a state. Gus was pretty peeved, and I was panicky. We found two regulation English Bobbies, and explained the situation. They said that we wouldn’t be finding a parking garage here, in the Charlotte Street Car Park, because only the Avon Street Car Park had a parking garage. The Avon Street Car Park was a half-mile south.
1 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18269/18269-h/18269-h.htm, p. 113.
2 Leon Lederman, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, Mariner, 2006, p. 22.
Today’s Collect and Scripture readings are at the end of the sermon text.
Copyright notices: The Scripture text (except for the Psalm) is from the Common English Bible, CEB, Copyright 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise noted, all other content is original and copyrighted by Becky Robbins-Penniman, 2018. All rights reserved.
No longer very interested in me or my pin, Gus headed south, and I went trotting behind muttering to myself: But my PIN!
I pinned our car in the Charlotte Street Car Park. What was going on?
However, the bobbies were right. There was the Avon Car Park, there was the parking garage, and, with enormous relief, we found our car. It wasn’t Google Maps’ fault. It was mine. I had pinned the wrong place.
I could have spent the rest of my life searching in the Charlotte Street Car Park, and I never, ever would have found the car. With help, I was redirected, even though I didn’t think I needed to be. That’s what’s going on with our rich man today.
He’s sure he’s on the right track, and to an extent, he is. Note that the commandments that Jesus quotes to the rich man are all ones about how we are to treat other people. He has spent his life doing the right things, respecting others.
Even so, this man who has so much knows he needs something else to obtain eternal life. Now, if I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a thousand times: eternal life isn’t just life by and by, pie in the sky, after we die, it’s the life of the Eternal One right here and right now.
This rich man still has that restless heart, that infinite abyss, he is still searching and yearning for what God is up to in his life.
What does he still need to really live? What must he do?
Jesus, the Word of God come down on earth, does what Hebrews says the Word does: Jesus penetrates the man’s heart, he judges the rich man’s thoughts and intentions. Everything about him is naked and exposed to God with skin on, before whom the man kneels.
Make no mistake, Jesus liked a lot of what he saw as he looked carefully at the rich man kneeling before him. Jesus gave him the answer: I am the one thing you need.
Here’s what you need to do: let go of everything you don’t need, and follow me into eternal life, the life of the Eternal One.
Unlike Peter, Andrew, James and John, who immediately dropped their nets and left the things they didn’t need to turn and follow Jesus,
this rich man made a different decision.
He turned from Jesus to keep searching for God in his riches, concluding that looking forever in the wrong car park was better than having no car at all. Can you imagine Jesus’ heart as the sad, rich man turned walked away?
But Jesus does not give up on him, does not condemn him. Jesus knows how tough it is! As Hebrews also says, Jesus sympathizes, empathizes, with our situation, because he’s been there. He, too, was tempted with riches.
Just because he overcame it doesn’t mean the temptation wasn’t real. Being tempted isn’t a sin. The sin is trying to fill our restlessness, our infinite abyss, with all the things that are NOT God. When we do that, we’ll never find righteousness, the kind of truth, justice and goodness that come only from God. We will, as Amos says, have unrighteousness, the sort of truth, justice and goodness that come from filling our selfish desires: a truth that says if we’re rich, it’s proof that God loves us; a justice that favors the Haves and grinds down the Have-nots;
a goodness that fills our bellies so full that nothing is left for the poor.This selfishness is just another word for sin.
And this is the word I bring to you from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who spoke to 1300 or so of the frozen chosen, good Episcopalians one and all, at Diocesan Convention on Friday, and Michael Curry set us on fire. Oh, you should hear the man preach! He rocks and he rolls, he shouts and he whispers, he sings and he dances, and he calls us to find the one thing we need: Jesus, and to do the one thing we must do: Love. Love as Jesus loves.
What does it mean to love as Jesus loves?
Imagine my delight when the Presiding Bishop described divine love basically the same way I do: Love is when we DO what is best for the other, even if it costs us dearly.
The opposite of Love, said Michael Curry, is not hate, or apathy, but selfishness. And that selfishness is just another word for sin. The rich man’s sin was NOT having wealth! The ability to make money is a gift, not a curse. One of the most misquoted verses in the Bible is “money is the root of all evil.” That is not what the letter to Timothy says!
It says “the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim 6:10)
The rich man’s sin is that he could not give that money away TO THE POOR. He couldn’t love them. He loved the money and wanted it all for himself. He was selfish. He was a sinner. Yet, Jesus did not give up on him. Remember, he knew the man’s heart. Yes, the rich man turned away, but there is hope, there is always hope, Let’s say the rich man just came to a conclusion for a while.
His search for Eternal Life didn’t end and, some day, he might turn back. If you’re in this building today, some part of you, like that rich man, is searching, yearning, searching some more. Let’s try this now: let’s kneel now, just as the rich man knelt at the feet of Jesus.
Before Almighty God, our hearts are open, all our desires are known, none of our secrets are hid. We seek eternal life, the life of the Eternal One, right here and right now. Jesus looks at us carefully, and loves us, just as we are, both in what we do that’s right, and in our selfishness, the thing we hold on to for dear life no matter whom it hurts.
Jesus sees that selfish place, and he says, “I am the one thing you need.” Then he tells you he wants YOU to follow him into the Way of Love,
the Way that will give you Eternal Life, the Way that will bring you so much security, so much community, so much of a sense of meaning and purpose in your life, that you’ll be truly rich, as heaven counts wealth.
But first, Jesus is asks you to let go of something. What is it? Remember, it will be something that concerns selfishness, where you refuse to do what is best for the other because you want to do what’s best for yourself instead. Let’s open ourselves to the Holy Spirit for a moment.
Do you need to banish a prejudice? Renounce an addiction, or stop enabling an addict? Do you need to stop excoriating other children of God whose politics are different from yours? Are you holding fast to a grudge, refusing to forgive? Do you need to take a look at how you use your time or money and give more generously? Do you need to convert your sense of justice from exacting revenge to seeking restoration and healing? There are so many ways to be selfish.
Let the Spirit speak as you kneel at the feet of your Lord and Savior.
[Pause.] You can take a seat again.
Perhaps you got some insight, but this the question of a lifetime.
Even if we manage to find that thing today, we’re still going to be sinners tomorrow – beloved, but needing to turn, again and again, on our journey of faith, which is a lifetime of searching and yearning and searching again.
After all, even Jesus’ hand-picked disciples had to keep learning and turning many times during their Lords’ life, and especially when confronted with the real game-changers, his crucifixion and resurrection.
If you would, take your bulletin home and contemplate this question further.
You can’t hide your thoughts from God, but it might take some time for you to be honest with yourself, much like I had to stop being committed to the car park I pinned on my map, be honest that I was wrong, and go look in the correct car park.
The Sermon Hymn is one of my favorites – words, tune, everything.
But let’s not just sing it, let’s pray it, especially that third verse, about selfishness, which is just another word for sin.
COLLECT OF THE DAY
Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith, that forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead, we may follow the way of your commandments and receive the crown of everlasting joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
AMOS 5:6–7, 10–15
Seek the Lord and live, or else God might rush like a fire against the house of Joseph. The fire will burn up Bethel, with no one to put it out. Doom to you who turn justice into poison, and throw righteousness to the ground! They hate the one who judges at the city gate, and they reject the one who speaks the truth. Truly, because you crush the weak, and because you tax their grain, you have built houses of carved stone, but you won’t live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you won’t drink their wine.
I know how many are your crimes, and how numerous are your sins— afflicting the righteous, taking money on the side, turning away the poor who seek help. Therefore, the one who is wise will keep silent in that time; it is an evil time. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of heavenly forces, will be with you just as you have said. Hate evil, love good, and establish justice at the city gate. Perhaps the Lord God of heavenly forces will be gracious to what is left of Joseph.
So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
Return, O LORD; how long will you tarry? be gracious to your servants.
Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
Make us glad by the measure of the days that you afflicted us and the years in which we suffered adversity.
Show your servants your works and your splendor to their children.
May the graciousness of the lord our God be upon us; prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork.
Because God’s word is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions. No creature is hidden from it, but rather everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of the one to whom we have to give an answer.
Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin.
Finally, let’s draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help.
As Jesus continued down the road, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?”
Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except the one God. You know the commandments: Don’t commit murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Don’t give false testimony. Don’t cheat. Honor your father and mother.”
“Teacher,” he responded, “I’ve kept all of these things since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, “You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.
Looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” His words startled the disciples, so Jesus told them again, “Children, it’s difficult to enter God’s kingdom! It’s easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom.”
They were shocked even more and said to each other, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them carefully and said, “It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God.”
Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life. But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.”
SERMON HYMN: God of Grace and God of Glory