What Must I Do?Posted: October 11, 2015
What Must I Do?
SLIDE 3: GO SELL WHAT YOU OWN
The story of Jesus and the rich young ruler has been considered difficult by some New Testament commentators. I mean after all Jesus says, “Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. And come follow me.” Was Jesus saying that in order to follow him, we have to sell all of our possessions and take a vow of poverty? Wow, who among us is willing to give up our homes, our cars, our clothes, or our well stocked refrigerators?
SLIDE 4: A CAMEL THROUGH THE EYE OF A NEEDLE?
Even Jesus’ disciples thought maybe he was out of his mind. So for good measure Jesus added: “You can’t imagine how difficult it is for people who have it all to let go in order to enter the Commonwealth of God. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
“Then who has any chance at all,” we might wonder with Jesus’ disciples?
And then Jesus says to us, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” What does Jesus mean? On the surface, he doesn’t make any sense. So this morning let’s take a few minutes to explore, “what must we do?”
SLIDE 5: DIFFERENT ANSWERS FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE
First, let’s acknowledge that several people in the gospels ask Jesus a similar question: Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, the rich young ruler, the unnamed Pharisees, disciples of John the Baptist. In each case Jesus gave a different answer.
To the woman at the well Jesus said, “Go call your husband. For you have to drink of the living water of truth, the truth about your life, if you want to connect with the divine.”
To the rich young ruler he said, “Your money and possessions are standing between you and God. What do you think you have to do?”
To the Pharisees he said, “You have substituted obsessive compulsive rule keeping for a genuine relationship with the divine.”
To the Disciples of John the Baptist he said, “Don’t keep looking to the future, for the Commonwealth of God is here and now. God isn’t about punishment, God is calling us to love in the present moment.”
SLIDE 6: STOP, BREATHE, EMBRACE THE JOY OF GOD’S PRESENCE HERE AND NOW
So Jesus didn’t necessarily have a one size fits all answer for everyone. Instead he tried to discern the spiritual longings and hungers of each person’s heart in order to help them find their way into the life of the spirit. So what must we do? Well, if our money and our possessions are standing between ourselves and God, maybe we need to down size and simplify. If we are obsessed with rules, maybe we can learn the way of no rules and become free. If we don’t like the truth about ourselves, maybe we can look in the mirror and begin to claim ourselves as much beloved children of God. If we are collecting good deeds to try to get into heaven, maybe we can let go of our “do-gooding” and rely upon God’s grace. If we are putting our faith in a punishing God, maybe we can embrace a divine presence that forgives all no exceptions. And if we are focused on pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye, maybe we can just stop, breathe and take in the joy of God’s presence in the here and now.
SLIDE 7: FOR EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON
If you have been reading with us Rabbi Rami’s book Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent you may already have discovered some helpful wisdom to answer the question, “What Must We Do?” Allow me to offer some insight into the wisdom of the spiritual independent by beginning with the famous poem from Ecclesiastes (Rabbi Rami’s translation):
Everything in this world has its moment,
Moments of birthing and moments of dying;
moments of planting and moments of reaping.
Moments of killing and moments of healing;
moments of demolition and moments of building.
Moments of weeping and moments of laughing;
moments of mourning and moments of dancing.
Moments of scattering stones and
moments of gathering stones;
moments of embracing and moments of distance.
Moments of seeking and moments of losing;
moments of clinging and moments of releasing.
Moments of tearing and moments of mending;
moments of silence and moments of talking.
Moments of loving and moments of hating;
moments of warring and moments of peacemaking.
SLIDE 8: NOW IS THE ONLY MOMENT WE HAVE
This is the poem of the awakened sage. This is the realization toward which we are all moving. Everything has its place, it’s purpose, and its time. Everything is ripening and falling away. Nothing is discarded and nothing is kept. Everything is allowed to come in its time. You are never closer or farther away from “now,” because “now” is the only time in which realization can happen.
SLIDE 9: TRUST RATHER THAN CONTROL
When we trust what is rather than seek to control what is, everything happens in its season; everything ripens as it must in its own time. There is nothing we need do to make things right. Things are as they are because they cannot be other than they are, and this is true of us as well. And so we can come to rest in the presence of God.
SLIDE 10: LETTING GRAVITY DO WHAT IT MUST
Rest in this sense is what the Chinese call wei wu wei, non-coercive action. This is the quality of swimming with the current and cutting with the grain. The rest isn’t non-doing, but doing in harmony with Reality as it presents itself moment to moment. . . Too many of us turn spiritual practice into serious work, when in fact it is nothing more than letting gravity do what it must.
SLIDE 11: EARNING OUR WAY INTO THE DIVINE PRESENCE
And so we return to the question of the rich young ruler: “What do I have to do to get into heaven?” And Jesus says, there is nothing you can do. There is nothing you have to do, it is all grace. But for those who want to earn a place in the Kingdom of God this is not good news. They don’t like the answer that living life in gratitude with open hands of generosity loving God and life is enough. For they want to measure out exactly what they have to do, in part because they want to be able to limit the claims that life can make upon them. They want to know, when they have done enough, so that nothing more can be asked of them.
SLIDE 12: ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE ACCEPTED
Once we cross the threshold of trying to measure out our salvation and simply accept our need for gratitude then life is changed forever. Sort of like the observation of the great theologian Paul Tillich:
“You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.
SLIDE 13: THERE IS ALWAYS SOME NEW GOOD WE CAN DO
If there is nothing we can do, what is the next step on our spiritual journeys? There is no arriving on our spiritual journeys. There is only this step and the next. Awakening to God isn’t the end of the journey, just another turn in the road. Keep walking. There may be nothing new to learn, but there is always some new good we can do.