Today's Reading: Mark 10:17-31
Unlike some folks who found love when they are young, I had to wait longer than most. I didn’t find love until I was in my thirties: 34 to be exact. As a result, I had years to speculate about what it would be like to find one who truly loved me.
And by the time I reached my thirties, I thought I had it all figured out what it would be like to be loved. I figured it would look something like this.
The person who loved me would be someone who shared all of my interests. We would spend hours watching Houston Texan football games, Houston Rocket basketball games, and Houston Astros baseball games - rooting on the good guys. The person who loved me would be someone who intuitively picked up on my likes and dislikes. We would saunter in to Blockbuster and have no problem picking out a movie in a matters of minutes – because we would share the same taste. And the person who loved me would instinctively know when I was feeling under the weather and volunteer (without my asking) to run out and pick up a little Nyquil or Excedrin PM. Once I met one who loved me, I told myself, life would be easy.
And then it happened. On the evening of Thursday, November 29, 2001 I met someone who loved me. And over a period of time, I learned that being loved by someone doesn’t always look the way you might expect.
While Mike and I shared a love of sports, for instance, the way in which we loved them differed dramatically. He loved spending hours in the gym each day; I loved being a rabid fan on the couch. And our taste in movies? Our tastes were so different we started taking different cars to Blockbusters because it proved nearly impossible to find a selection we could agree on.
And the instinctive reading of me when I’m sick?
Well, he does have a sixth sense about that. He knows when to work late at the office in to avoid my fevered crabbiness. I admit, I make one lousy patient when I’m ill. Let’s just say that being loved by another doesn’t always turn out the way you expect.
So what’s all this talk about meeting one who loves you have to do with this morning’s passage?
Well, for me it speaks to what I believe is the pivotal verse in this morning’s passage – verse 21. Let me take up a moment and set up that verse before I tell you why it’s so important.
In the first four verses of this morning’s passage, the author of Mark’s Gospel sets up the encounter between Jesus and the young man. In those verses we learn a great deal about the young man. We learn he’s inquisitive – he leads with the proverbial “What must I do?” question. He’s confident – he challenges Jesus’ answer by defending his actions. And he’s fearless. When Jesus looked deep into his eyes, the young man didn’t blink.
In that moment the young man could probably barely contain himself – for he was sure that he had found the spiritual guide– the one for whom he’d been searching.
And I imagine that – much like me – he had it all figured out in terms of how things would unfold. He probably felt as if he knew how Jesus would respond to his”What must I do?” question. Best case scenario, he probably expected Jesus to say: “You’ve already nailed it. You’ve attained eternal life!” Worst case scenario, Jesus would throw together a short laundry list of tasks for him to race through so he could be on his way. No matter what happened next, the young man figured he knew pretty much what to expect.
And – boy – was he wrong.
Verse 21 tells us that as Jesus looked the young man hard in the eye – Jesus did the most unexpected thing: Jesus loved him. Only it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy kind of love. It was a deep, knowing, penetrating love that cared so much about the young man that it refused to leave him in the place where Jesus found him. Instead, it was a transformative love that sought to call the young man to his better self.
Lots of us on our spiritual journeys approach our relationship with God in a way much like the young man and I approached our quests. We go on that journey to establish a relationship with the Holy in such a way that it will be a warm, fuzzy, comfortable experience. One that leaves us where we are. One that leaves us as we are.
Now here’s where I want to be incredibly careful – almost surgical with my words. For while one of my core beliefs is that God loves us exactly as we are – over the years, I’ve learned there’s a second half of that sentence that often gets left out. I’ve learned that while God loves us as we are, God loves us too much to leave us exactly where we are. There’s always that gentle yet prodding love which proves to be the equivalent of Jesus’ words: “there’s one thing left…”
Calling us individually to our better selves.
Calling us collectively to our better selves, as well.
There are many churches out there that might hear that call and ignore it. Churches that, like the rich young man, are comfortable with a status quo that accepts violence and bloodshed as inevitable. Churches that go one step further and embrace things like just-war theory and use militaristic terms like battles and conflicts to talk about their faith.
Not Woodland Hills Community Church. The people of this church stepped out of their comfort zone in order to set aside just-war theory and militaristic imagery and embrace an identity as a just peace church. In doing so, this community made the pursuit of peace one of its foundational goals.
There are churches out there who are convinced that there is only one way to embrace God. As such, they proclaim a Gospel that suggests people of other faiths who do not embrace God as revealed through Jesus are doomed. “Turn or burn,” would be their only message to people of other faiths.
But when the people of Woodland Hills established a relationship with The Center for Progressive Christianity, they said the love of God they experience through Jesus is such that it expands – not narrows – their understanding of God’s love of all people!
There are churches out there who are convinced that the only path to God lies through one’s works. Anyone stepping outside those bounds of propriety as they define them place themselves outside of God’s love.
Not the people of Woodland Hills. In adopting their Open & Affirming Statement last June, the people said with a clear voice what matters is the sacred worth of every individual. It is that principle that will guide each aspect of our ministry.
Time after time, the individuals in this community have rejected the comfort of the status quo and listened to Jesus nudging call – “there’s one thing left”. You have made the tough decisions and affirmed your willingness to be the kind of disciples of which Jesus talked. You courageously, fearlessly, and faithfully went to the places God called you – no matter how difficult it was to get there. That’s why today we can celebrate our identity as a Just Peace, Progressive, and Open and Affirming Church.
I have just one word of caution about how we celebrate these momentous decisions. In celebrating those decisions, we must do so not with a spirit of arrogance – as if we are better than those churches that have not yet made these declarations. As if we’ve already done all our work in adopting those three resolutions, thank you very much.
Rather, we should celebrate these decisions with a profound spirit of humility. For no matter how far we might have already come, there will always be those four words before us – words that continue calling us to our better selves:
Woodland Hills Community Church - “there’s one more thing…”
May we listen to and heed that call as we continue on our journey to become the individuals and the church that God would have us be.