Reflections from the Pulpit: Hard? Yes. Impossible? NO

After a string of average grades, my mother would say, “That’s all right, you get the same diploma as the person who got all of the ‘A’ grades.” It was some comfort and, as I realized, there was a certain truth in what she said. I had no explanations about why I wasn’t an “A” student and my father would always say “It could be better.” He was right, too. Every now and then, a teacher would have the ability to make a topic appealing, and I’d get turned on. Then, the studies and grades would follow. As I matured, I realized that not every subject held the potential to become fascinating for me, but the various disciplines each had their own reason for being and then I learned that many, many things were fascinating once you got into them. One of my friends, a former mechanic who had to retire when his health let him down, spent his time volunteering at a local zoo where he and his family had moved. We’d talk on the phone and he’d tell me with excitement in his voice about the animals and their personalities, their characteristics, what it took to deal with them and he’d add, “There is a whole world in here that I didn’t know about.”

We hired a secretary for a grant program when I served on the research faculty at the university where I graduated. She told me she used to drive by the buildings every day while working elsewhere and didn’t realize there was a whole world of activity and fascination going on inside of them. As I have listened to the life stories of people, I find many human conditions which require dedication, mastery, perseverance, meeting challenges and a great deal of willingness to keep at it. Their stories become fascinating and demand my utmost respect.

Somewhere along the way, there was a shift in my life from finding some things interesting and fascinating to realizing that everything out there has something to give to us and it’s up to me to find it. One of my professors wrote his doctoral dissertation on one of the English theologians, Jeremy Taylor, and he said, “I got to the point one day that I’d want to walk down the street and grab people and say ‘Why aren’t you interested in Jeremy Taylor?’” He knew, of course, that not everyone would be interested in his area of study, but his following something in great depth led to his realization that each of us has something to offer and each of us has to find our place in life by great devotion to what it is we find fascinating.

My contacts with professionals and my own experiences have made me give great respect to the researcher who has devoted a life to overcoming cancer, or learning new techniques for helping addicts, or who has come up with an innovation to save an employer money, or takes the time to study the child in the family who is causing all of the problems and finding a solution. The creativity of people is something I see as a gift from God and what makes our contributions to His world.

There is a vignette in Mark’s gospel (10:17-31) about a man who encounters Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him “You know the commandments…” and the man replies, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus then tells him “You lack one thing, go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in Heaven; then come, follow me.” This was too much, Mark tells us “he went away grieving.” Jesus then told others, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” His followers heard this and ask, “Then, who can be saved?” It was a good question, and the answer was, “For mortals it is impossible but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

The passage concludes by noting, “Many who are first will be last and the last will be first.” As I thought about the man who posed the question to Jesus about inheriting eternal life, he affirms that he has kept all of the commandments. This struck me as something very special; that was no small feat of accomplishment! The person has found and committed to values of faith; has disciplined himself to live by them and put aside many of the temptations of the world, and is in many ways an example of a life to be admired. Jesus places before him a challenge, “one thing you lack …” and it brings despair. The man was “shocked and went away grieving.” My thoughts were that he wasn’t up to the challenge placed before him … yet. Keeping the commandments took an exceptional person and shows quite a capacity to do what God asks of us. Given his nature, I can foresee the day when he will also see Jesus’s admonition as a possibility and then worth exploring, then doing, and grow into the next step of his salvation. I note also that Jesus does not rule out those with wealth; His comment is, “How hard it is … (but not impossible!) …” and in the inheritance of eternal life, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first,” but they all make it! Hard, yes; impossible, no. It takes the realization that there is something out there that is fascinating and worth our pursuit, and maybe we’re not there yet but one day will make the change and realization. God’s grace helps us along the way. “For with God all things are possible.” Of course, some haven’t taken the next step, and God understands that. That’s one great loving and wonderful God!

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