Wednesday, February 18, 2015

What's your bungee cord?

   I was at a county fair once where they had some fun games set up for kids and adults to try that involved various structures of vinyl filled with pressurized air (like bouncy houses).   One of the games had a structure that resembled a bowling alley with two lanes in which participants attached a bungee cord to their waste via a belt.  The object was for 2 people to race down their alley as far as they could go and place a small block of wood with Velcro on it to the wall between the two lanes.  The winner was the one who could go the farthest before the bungee cord snapped them back to their starting point.  It was very challenging and a lot of fun to watch contestants reaching as far as they could to beat their opponent. 

    In life, we all have various bungee cords attached to us that hold us back from where we want to go in life.  It could be fear, sadness, depression, anxiety.  It could past experiences and us not wanting to relive those moments over again.   So we sit the game out not wanting to play it again.    But this blog is not just about reaching your "potential" or some form of "self-realization".   Instead I want to look at this from a Christian perspective.   Today, much is made of homosexuality and how Christians respond to it.   To those outside the church we are seen as rigid or uncaring for our stance on gay marriage and the gay lifestyle in general.  Maybe too much focus on just one aspect of life has been written and discussed without opening up the dialogue to a much broader discussion of sin and its hold on our lives.

    Jesus was once approached by a person who is only described as a "rich young man" (some versions use "ruler" instead of "man").  He comes to Jesus and asks an interesting question.
"Good Teacher!  What must I do to inherit the Kingdom of God"
   This is a very puzzling question when you think about it.  First of all, he is a rich man so he understands the need for a will and determining who your heir is.  For the Jew in Jesus day, this was normally the first born son who got it all.   So for this man to ask what he "must do to inherit" is interesting.   Did his father put requirements on his inheritance?  Maybe.  Normally it was just who you are and not what you do that determines your eligibility for an inheritance. 

   Jesus responds first by calling his attention to his use of the word "Good" by saying there is only ONE who is good and that is God.   This sets the stage for the rest of what Jesus has to say as it lets the man know what the standard is for good.  It's not, "a little better than average" or "relatively good or better" but instead it is PERFECTION.   Next he asks the young man, "What does the law say?".  At which the young man quickly quotes commandments 4 through 8.  Don't steal, Don't commit adultery, Don't murder, Don't lie, Honor your Father and Mother.  Then he ends with the following statement
"All these I have kept since I was a boy!"
   Does Jesus get angry with him?  Does he say "Oh yeah? ... Really??".   Does he call him names?  No.  Instead it says,
"He looked at him with love and said to him, 'One thing you lack.  Go and sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor.  Then, come follow me!"

   The gospel writer then says, "the man's face fell and he went away sad because he was a man of great wealth".  It was like watching a person making a tall house of cards when one of the cards is pulled out and the whole thing collapses.   Of course Jesus could have shown him any number of ways he broke the other commandments he listed for he undoubtedly did.  Instead Jesus brings to his attention the one commandment he didn't give much weight to.  Maybe this was his one "pet sin" that seemed miniscule in comparison to other more destructive sins like murder and adultery.  (In this respect we are all like the rich young man too). 

   I was often puzzled why Jesus put this extra requirement on him.   It seemed awfully harsh.   But the answer is in Jesus reply.  When he said, "one thing you lack", he was bringing to the mans attention that he stopped short in his list of commandments.  He failed to mention the last 2 commandments that deal with coveting.  Coveting is sometimes misunderstood.  It differs from stealing as it deals more with the heart than with the action or item taken.  Coveting is about our desire for worldly wealth and how we spend our time and energy trying to acquire more and more of it.  You can obtain these items from the world legally, but it does not mean they should consume you.   

   In this story the man has GREAT worldly wealth and it owns him rather than the other way around.  Jesus knows this and he wants the man to cut the cord before he sets off to "follow" him.  Like the bungee cord attached to your waste it will pull you back with ever increasing force until you must relent and give in to its power and allow you to be pulled back to where you started.   All the energy exerted for nothing!  A complete waste of time!   Jesus doesn't want that to happen to him.  He is not challenging him or putting a extra restriction on him.  Instead he is trying to LIBERATE him from his bungee cord of wealth by showing him that his wealth controls his time and his life.  Jesus request also serves to show this man how truly far he is from God using his own righteousness as the vehicle to God's kingdom.  Here he came thinking he was not far and just needed a little more to put him over the top but only to see that he had only climbed a small hill, and a mountain 100 times larger than Mt Everest loomed in the distance. 

    But the "rich young man's" story is not just his story but all of our stories as well.   You can fill your  adjective for "rich" (or "rich young") in any way that suites you.

  A ________    man/woman
  •    Rich
  •    Gay
  •    Intelligent
  •    Famous
  •    Politically powerful
  •    Sexy
  •    Popular
  •    Strong/Tough
  •    Self-made
    Whatever it might be that you hold more dear to you than following Jesus is what will snap you back and away from him in the end and so it HAS TO BE ADDRESSED FIRST before you do anything else otherwise you are just wasting your time.

    Is it UNFAIR to ask a person to walk away from their gay lifestyle?

    The answer to that question is a resounding: NO

     Oh yes, I can hear the replies already.  Surely God can't seriously ask someone to give up their sex life for him... can he?   It's too much to ask a person to put an invisible God ahead of their own physical needs that they are born with!  This is just too much to ask!

   But it's just as fair as Jesus requesting that this man sell all of his possessions or a another to leave their political seat of power, or their popularity in Hollywood or high school or their towers of ivory college institutions or their popular daily 30 minute TV show to follow him.   Difficult?  Yes.  But not impossible.

   After this conversation, Jesus says,
"It is easier for a camel to enter through the eye of a needle than fro a rich man to enter heaven"
    This blew the disciples away because it ran counter to all they had been taught.  The thought it was easier for the rich and than for the poor because poverty often caused people to steal, lie, cheat and even become prostitutes.  They may have also felt as we often do, that wealth was a sign of God's blessing and a reward for following his law.  But Jesus turns this upside down on them.

     Note, also, that Jesus talking about "eye of a needle" could have referred to a gate in Jerusalem
that was very small and so called  the "Eye of the needle".  It was large enough for people to walk through but getting a camel through was very hard because you would have to first unload the camel completely.  Then you would have to get the camel to get on its knees and crawl though to passage way.   A difficult trick, but possible with training and patience.   So also for a rich person, entering the Kingdom of God would mean leaving it all behind and be will to part ways with it and crawl. 

    Crawling is not a commonly used word in our American language and especially in regards to how we see ourselves spiritually.  It runs counter to our view of ourselves that God should be happy we are on this earth and "being ourselves".   Crawling is seen as beneath us and we feel no one should be belittled in that way.    But that is what God demands of us.  He wants us to lay those burdens down and enter his Kingdom of rest and peace.   But as sinful people (which we all are) we all too often leave his kingdom and pack it all back on and tie our bungee cords to our wastes and try to serve both masters again and again. 

      But thanks be to God he daily offers us the same request again and again to cut our bungee cords and come to him
"Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest"
Through God's love and forgiveness that he offers because what he did through Jesus on the Cross he cuts those cords and removes that load that holds us back.  All we need to do is ask.

So as in the Capital-One commercial where they ask "What's in your wallet" let me finish here by asking you:

"What's your bungee cord made of?"

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