Mark 10:13-16; Psalm 150
The Rev. Tom Herbek
June 26, 2016
Jesus was very clear that the things that we often think define us are not what are most important. He shows that there are several things that tend to make us small and paranoid, and sometimes violent. Jesus says that these things need to be reduced in their importance in our life: they are our religious or national identity, our job or career, and our family. When we try to base our security on these things, or on what we have, what we possess, then we are missing what is most important in life. Instead, Jesus calls on the people around him – and he calls on us – to think differently about who God is, and about who we are and can become. His statement to “let the dead bury their own dead” is a clear indication that when we put our security in the wrong places, then we are as good as dead. And when his mother and brothers and sisters come to try to convince him that he has lost his mind, he makes it clear that they can no longer dictate or control what he does and who he is.
As Richard Rohr comments in his book, Yes and… : “All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough, naked enough, and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect from other people. That place is called emotional freedom.”
George Eliot once wrote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” And Jesus said it this way: “The kingdom of God is within you.”
The truth is that faith calls us to unlearning what holds us back, as well as learning what enables us to become who we have been created to be. Joan Chittister describes how our search for security can keep us from becoming who we can be:
Security is a fragile thing. One day we have it; the next day we don’t. The problem is, How is it possible to tell what is really security from insecurity?
The problem is that what we call security like any anchor, is also a mooring that ties people down. “Those who have cattle have care,” the Kenyans say. The more we accrue – from money to jewelry to property to houses – the more we have to guard and tend and protect them.
-“The Mirage of Security”
Dr. Rachel Remen describes what can happen when security is placed in what cannot provide life:
My father was the son of immigrants. He had worked since childhood and held two jobs most of his adult life. In the evenings he would often fall asleep in his chair, his feet in a basin of warm water, too exhausted to talk. Always he had worked for other people, on their terms, for their goals.
One of the earliest things I can remember is my father telling me how important it was to be your own boss, to be in control of your own life.
I grew up on the sixth floor of an apartment building in Manhattan. All through my childhood, there was a game my father and I would play. He would talk about his house, the house he would someday own. There would be a dishwasher in the kitchen. And a garden. We argued about whether the living room should be painted light green or be cream-colored. I favored cream. Dad thought it was too upscale.
I was almost twenty when he and Mom bought a little place on Long Island and he retired. For a while his dream seemed complete. Some months after the place was his, I stopped by on a Sunday visit and found him asleep exhausted in his chair. A familiar sight from my childhood, but I had thought that things would be different now. My mother told me he had just taken a little job, so that they could keep the place up. Things are always deteriorating.
On my next visit, he was asleep in his chair again. “Are you enjoying yourselves?” I asked. “Well,” Mom said, “your father is afraid that someone will break in and take away everything we’ve worked for. He’s still working because he wants to put in an alarm system.” My heart sank. I asked how much it would cost. My mother evaded me and said they would have it in just a little while. Months later, my father continued to look weary.
Concerned, I asked when they would be taking their vacation. My father shook his head. “Not this year – we can’t leave the house empty.” I suggested a house sitter. My father was horrified. “Oh no,” he told me. “You know how people are. Even your friends never take care of your things the way they would take care of their own.” They never took another vacation.
In the end, my parents rarely left the house together, not even to go to the movies. There could be a fire or some other sort of vague and unnamed disaster. And my father worked odd jobs until he died. The house turned out to have far greater control over him than any of his former employers ever had.
If we fear loss enough, in the end the things we possess will come to possess us.
-Kitchen Table Wisdom
What is most important in life? How do we free ourselves from what holds us back? Joan Chittister comments: “In the end power does not lie in wealth and authority: it lies in having nothing to lose. When we have nothing to lose or to gain in a situation, we are finally free.”
Many of us are comfortable enough financially and spiritually that we no longer have to worry too much about the power of possessions to hold us back. But sometimes the legacy that our family instills in us can be what holds us back. Writer Mark Nepo describes his own “legacy of sadness”:
Many of us are raised by well-intending parents to be the carriers of their sadness. Often the one child who is softer than the rest, who is more sensitive than the family is used to, is the one selected to deal with what no one else will deal with. It is an odd fate.
As an adult trying to be my own person, understanding which feelings are genuinely mine and which are those I have inherited is often confusing. People like me, and maybe you identify, so let me say people like us, frequently feel responsible for the emotional condition of others.
It is delicate and never-ending work, this sorting of what is truly ours and what is not. When unable to stay within ourselves, we become codependent, never feeling at peace until the emotions of everyone around us are managed and tended-not so much out of compassion, but as the only way to quiet our anxious burden as carriers of sadness. Or when rebounding the other way, we can isolate, becoming not only dispassionate to others, but also numb to ourselves.
The work becomes that of making an accurate inlet of the heart without closing off to the feelings of others or to the depth of things that are ours to feel. Though some of us were trained to carry the sadness and pain of others, the fiber of the one heart we were given is strong and light enough by itself to bring us to the wind that is whispering: “Let down, let go, the world will carry you.”
For many of us who have spent much of our life as givers and caretakers, we find that what may hold us back most strongly is our difficulty in allowing ourselves to be helped. It may be hardest for those who come to success at a younger age. If we are too successful too early in life, we may never learn how to rely on others.
Jesus was clear that we must learn to define success in whole new ways. He described it as a new wineskin, which needs to be filled with new wine.
So rather than being “the dead” who bury the dead, let us find new ways to become alive, new ways to discover the kingdom of God that is within us!
May our religious and national identity, our job or career, and our family be seen as secondary to what is really important.
Let us remember that the kingdom of God is within us, and that it is never too late to become who we might have been.