the things we wear: surrender
All fall we’ve been asking if Jesus shows us what it means to be human - what does that look like? What are the things - the postures, the dispositions, the rhythms - that he calls us to ‘wear?’ So far we’ve got quite the closet full - we’ve rest, gratitude, indignation, heart, and hope.
We’ll end it all next week by exploring curiosity but for today … today we look a a posture and disposition, or maybe even better yet, a practice, that Jesus offers us which draws us into the kind of humanity and life we’re here looking for and it’s a practice which takes an incredible amount of sweat and intention to do, but it’s one that when we find it, when we’re able to put it on, we discover those sacred things like transformation, growth, and movement.
So my friends, this morning we: see how this story is our story, we nerd out a bit, and we look at the wisdom our story has to offer us.
So there's a story in the Bible.
You can actually find it in three of the four Gospels - that’s those collections of stories about Jesus you can find in the Bible. And because it’s in three of them, that tells us something:
that not only did this story probably really actually happen, but even more importantly, it was a big deal. For some reason this story was burned into their collective memory. There’s something in this story that people saw as having some weight to it and worth sharing.
It’s a story that starts out pretty innocently: a young man we’re told nothing about comes up and asks Jesus a question.
“what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now we gotta pull over here because … oh man, this is a huge question.
Anyone else ask this question before?
This question is our question. In one way or another, we’ve all asked this question. Another way we may hear his question and another way we’ve all probably asked it, is something like:
“what must I do to get to heaven after i die?”
Regardless of whether we’ve grown up in the church or we simply absorbed it through our Christianized culture, the general gist of all of this - of God, of Jesus, of Church - is to get to heaven, this place we go when we die, this place that’s somewhere other than here, this place where we have eternal life - where we live happily ever after. I mean, that’s the stock and trade of religion isn’t it? I mean it’s right there in the question - inherit eternal life - it's what happens after death.
And if that’s the goal of all of this then understanding what faith is and how faith works becomes pretty easy:
It’s doing what it takes to get to heaven. It’s doing what it takes to, as the guy said, inherit eternal life. I mean, again, it’s right there - inherit - it’s what happens when somebody loves you and gives you something. Faith is all about doing what it takes to make God love us so we can go to heaven after we die.
Anyone here have or ever have that understanding of faith?
Its easy to do. That’s been the general idea for a long long time. We see it in the hymns, you see it in the art, you see it in the liturgies. It’s baked into everything.
So when we read his question, of course that’s how we hear it. And maybe even some of us are probably glad he’s asking it. Maybe some of us have some curiosity or anxiety around what happens after death and we hear this story and we go ‘Yes! Finally. Someone is asking my question!’
But here’s the thing:
He’s not actually asking what we think he’s asking when he’s asking about eternal life.
Now, if you’ll nerd out with me …
When it comes to our scriptures, when it comes to stories like this one, there are generally two Greek words used which we translate both as 'life.'
One of the words used for ‘life’ is 'psyche.’
Psyche is your earthy tangible life. It’s our physical aliveness, it’s our literal time here on earth; it’s what we lose when we die - which is why the word can also mean breath. Pysche is our very biological, very physical, very earthy way of taking about life.
The other word used is 'zoe.'
Zoe is way bigger than psyche. It is life underneath, around, and beyond the psyche. If pysche is the tangible stuff, zoe is the intangible. If psyche is our psychical aliveness, zoe is our spiritual aliveness. It’s the very substance and essence of life.
My friend Shane would describe moments of zoe this way:
Have you ever been talking on the phone with a person you love and you glance at the clock and its 8pm, and a few seconds later you look again and its suddenly 4 in the morning?
That’s zoe. Time becomes irrelevant, but life is so abundant.
Or maybe you’ve been at your spin class and the trainer yells ‘Only 30 more seconds!’ and that 30 seconds feels like hours.
That’s zoe. Time becomes irrelevant, but life is so abundant.
Or maybe you’ve been to the doctor and she tells you they don’t know what that growth on your breast is and they’ll have to do some tests. Come back in a week. A week that feels like months.
That’s zoe. Time becomes irrelevant, but life becomes abundant.
Or maybe you’ve worked with people less fortunate than you and something about it feels so right and deep that everything else ceases to matter.
That’s zoe. Time becomes irrelevant but life becomes abundant.
Zoe is that life abundant. It’s what we call those moments of being truly and fully alive.
And the thing people began to notice about this zoe, and maybe you’ve noticed this too, is that when we tap into it, when we experience it, even if its just for a moment, everything changes:
It shifts our priorities, it shifts how we see, and it shifts how we think. As one writer of the Bible put it: “It changes how we live, move, and have our being.” He said later that “it’s almost like being born again.”
Anyone know what we’re talking about?
Im sure we all do.
And so why’s this important? It’s important because:
Zoe is the word we translate into 'eternal life.’
When we hear ‘eternal life’ in the Bible, it’s not talking about life after death, it’s talking about life before death. 'Eternal life' is the phrase people used to describe a life right here and right now that felt as if it was life as it was always meant to be - not life free from pain and suffering, but life abundant:
a life caught up in God’s Spirit, a life tuned to how that Spirit is moving in the world, life connected to God, each other, and ourselves, a life full of those reverent things of hope, joy, peace, and love.
So this is what the man is after.
He’s asking how do I get that life. How do I get abundant eternal life?!
And maybe that’s our question too. Anyone asking that question?
As good and legit as questions about the afterlife are, I think this one’s way more interesting because it’s ultimately asking:
How do I experience the best this life has to offer? How do I tap into the Something Bigger Than Myself? What’s essential? What’s not? How do I live into the heights and depths of my humanity? How do I be fully human and alive in this world? How am I made to live?
Those are huge questions aren’t they?
This is what the guy is after. He wants to know how to create a life that hums with reverence.
So he goes up to Jesus because it’s Jesus, if anyone has a needle on the record its him, and he asks him:
"What must I do?! How do I get that life abundant?!"
And he’s asking because well, it sounds like he’s stuck. Nothing else is really working out for him:
He’s followed all the commandments, he’s keeping them all since he was a kid. He’s prayed the prayers. He’s gone to temple. He’s passed all the tests. He’s followed the rules but still, despite doing a life-time of all of that, that life he’s after … its still not happening. Its still out of his reach. He's not feeling it yet!
It’s the spiritual equivalent of “Ive done the diet, why am I not in better shape?!”
Anyone know what he’s talking about? Anyone ever been in that place before? Anyone here done the diet but still found themselves not where they want to be?
Yah, Im sure we all have.
I certainly have. Whenever Im feeling a bit thin or flat or like Im drinking from a shallow well I end up saying: “What is going on?! I do this for a living but it still feels off.”
So our question is also “why?” Whats he missing? What’s happening? Why can't he finding the life he’s looking for? Which is really to also ask what we’re missing, what’s holding us back, and what’s stopped us from tapping into the life eternal and abundant?
Now when it comes to this character, we’re told that Jesus kind of intuitively see the problem, and Mark, the storyteller, he tells us right at the very end, at the very last line of the story. And I love how this translation we heard puts it:
“He was holding on to things too tightly and not about to let go.”
It’s there, in that very last line, that we can find the thing that this story offers us about what we’re supposed to wear to help draw us deeper into that abundant and enteral life. I think we could hear the wisdom it’s offering us by saying something like this:
“Whenever you’re struggling to enter into that life abundant and life eternal, look at your knuckles.”
Cause here’s the thing about that eternal and abundant life:
If it is about life before death, about movement towards wholeness, about deepening our existence, about opening ourselves up to possibility, and about getting caught up that Spirit of God and letting Her lead us into new life … it can’t be a life of clenched fists.
If we hold on to part of our selves and our lives too tightly, whether that's our relationship with the Divine, our relationship with our partners or our families, our relationship, like in this story, with wealth, or with our pasts, our jobs, our futures, our expectations, whatever it is, if we white knuckle those things, what are we doing? What happens?
We’re stopping ourselves from entering into the very thing we’re seeking.
Cause the thing is, if we hold things too tightly,
we leave no room for possibility,
we leave no room for liberation,
we leave no room for new truths,
we leave no room for change,
we leave no room for hope,
if we hold on to things too tightly we’re taking away the space for that very Spirit we’re after to move and lead us forward.
For those of us seeking that life, this story reminds us that it requires letting go. It requires surrender. It means opening up our fists and stewarding all that energy in a different direction.
It reminds us that we need to hold on to our lives and everything in them loosely, to open up our grips, feel the weight of it all but never closing in on it, always leaving enough room for God to do something, always surrendering to that Spirit that leads us into a new way of life.
So if you’re here today and like this guy in the story you’re feeling like you’re missing something, if you’re feeling like your just not finding that life you’re after, if you’re going “what must I do?!” take a look at your knuckles …
Are they white?
Are you holding on to something too tightly?
Is that stopping you from being lead forward?
If you’re here and you’ve got a death grip on anger and resentment … maybe it’s time to let it go.
If you’re here and you’re squeezing a wound … maybe it’s time to start the process of forgiveness.
If you’re here clenching an idea or a way of thinking … maybe it’s time to listen.
If you’re here holding tightly to being right … maybe it’s time to know that’s not the most important thing.
If you’re here struggling to find abundant and eternal life, a life that just hums with reverence, may you loosen the grip you have on life, may you open up, may you let that Spirit in, and may She lead you forward.