Preached FCCW, September 30, 2018
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard my wife Sue, instruct her yoga classes to find the “steady edge of their stretch,” when getting into a yoga pose. But, I do know that the “edge” she wants us to find, is the threshold of sensation each person encounters as we stretch the muscles, tendons and joints of our bodies to the edge of what they’ve been accustomed to. You might say that the steady edge is the moment of truth when your body tells you what is, and is not possible for it to accomplish.
Your steady edge is also your growing edge. Because with time and practice most people find that going to their steady edge eventually enables them to progress beyond their steady edge; to discover that they are stronger, more flexible, and more balanced than they once were. Or, even dreamed they could possibly become. Beyond their steady edge lies the possibility to do things that had been impossible for them before.
As I read the gospels, it seems that much of Jesus’ ministry looked a lot like guiding people to the steady edge of their lives, where they are given a new perspective on their life and a vision of what is possible.
Just as the steady edge in yoga is discovered by paying attention to the discomfort you experience when your body reaches the limit of its strength or flexibility; the steady edge of your life is the place where your relationship to God brings you to the edge of your comfort zone where you can either step back to a place that feels surer and safer. Or you can take a step forward in faith.
It’s a choice that Jesus always leaves it to us to make. It’s the choice that was at the heart of the encounter between Jesus and a man who approached him with a question that cut to the core of his life.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
It was an odd question to ask. This was a man who was financially secure, and in his culture, wealth was taken to be an indicator of God’s blessing. He was also a morally virtuous person, who faithfully kept all the commandments. He had every reason in the world to be confident in God’s favor, already. Yet, here he was, face to face with Jesus, still burdened with doubts about his standing before God and the significance of his life.
It says that Jesus looked at him, and loved him. You might say that Jesus not only saw him, he also saw through him. He saw through the man’s outward wealth and public piety, saw clear through to the thing that he lacked — but needed– if he was to ever know the peace he was seeking. Jesus saw, in other words, where the steady edge of the man’s life lay. And when Jesus spoke, it was to gently help this man see it for himself.
I don’t know what sort of answer this man was hoping to hear when he asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Whatever he hoped to hear, I don’t think it was what Jesus had to say to him. Which was, “Go, sell all your possessions – everything you own – and give the money to the poor.”
Hearing that, I wonder if the man regretted asking the question at all. And I wonder if we, too, wish he had just left well enough alone. Because we just know, don’t we, that Jesus was not only speaking to this man. He was speaking to you and me. We naturally put ourselves in that man’s shoes and confront the limits of what we would be willing to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus.
And that twinge of discomfort you are experiencing when you hear those words as though they were spoken to you? That, my friends, is what your steady edge feels like.
What are we willing to risk letting go so that we can make room to receive something even greater in return? What are we willing to invest so that we can experience the different kind of treasure Jesus offers?
Jesus’ issue is not with wealth, or power, or status, per se; but in how those things get in the way of our really following him, and how it gets in the way of better things he wants to give us.
The problem is not what we have, but what we are doing with what we have been given. And what that which we have been given is doing to us! Are we using what we have as God intended? If we aren’t, then our trust in what we possess becomes a barrier, to our more fully trusting God.
If it’s any relief — that doesn’t mean that we each should take what Jesus says literally and go empty our bank accounts and sell our possessions. Jesus doesn’t need, or want, all of what we own. But, he does want all of who we are. He also knows that giving ourselves fully to him can’t happen if we have already pledged our heart and soul to something else.
The traditional interpretation of this story is that the man went away in sadness because he was unable to do what Jesus asked of him. Jesus led him to the steady edge of his life, which was his dependence on his wealth and good name to give his life meaning, and what he discovered in that moment of truth was that he wasn’t ready to go beyond that steady edge.
But… what if that is an incorrect assumption?
What if he DID decide to take Jesus’ advice, and his leaving was to go and follow Jesus’ instructions by giving away all his wealth. Does that mean he would he have walked away with a smile? Would obeying Jesus be an easy, painless decision for him to make?
I know it wouldn’t be for me, if I was in his shoes. I know, because this story compels me to reckon with the steady edge of my own life. It urges me to give some serious thought to what I am willing to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus. What am I willing to surrender in order to love my neighbor as I love myself? How generous am I willing to be with what God has blessed me?
Going beyond the steady edge of your life is never easy. Jesus sure didn’t make it sound painless. He said it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Giving our all to God always involves letting go of something that is standing between us and God. Usually, it is not letting go of everything all at once, like it was for this man. Typically, it works more like going to your steady edge in yoga. You challenge yourself to move beyond it in small increments. Eventually you discover that you have more flexibility and better balance in your life.
Which sounds like exactly what the rich man was looking for when he came to Jesus.
Do you hear in Jesus’ words an invitation to you? An invitation to identify the steady edge of your life?
What do you need to let go of – or take up – to cross the steady edge of your life and experience the life that Jesus gave himself for you to possess?
As you and I struggle to find the faith and the courage to stretch beyond the steady edge of our lives, Jesus looks at us and loves us, the way he looked lovingly into the heart of that rich man. And that love is made known to us in his invitation to follow him more deeply and surely than we did yesterday. To consecrate what we most value to his use. Which really means consecrating ourselves.
Throughout all this, Jesus reassures us, that what is impossible for you and I, on our own, is totally possible when we surrender it to God.
You and I get a taste of the eternal life Jesus offers us even now, even in small ways, as we make choices which involve giving away part of ourselves for the sake of the fullness that is only found in a deeper relationship with him.
At the steady edge of our lives we can see clearly what Jesus already knows about us. That each of us, no matter how faithful we think we are, has the potential to hold something back. To fail to be as generous as we might be with what God has provided. We harbor the potential of letting that one thing – whatever it may be – grow in importance until it becomes almost impossible to let it go.
But we also possess the potential of learning to release our grip on that one thing that we are convinced we could never let go of; of taking small steps toward being more generous and more faithful with what God has given us. We have this potential, not because it is any easier for us to cross the steady edge of our lives than it was for the rich man. We have this potential only because all things are possible with God.
And when we surrender what we have and who we are to God, who knows what might become possible through us?
Copyright 2018 Ray Medeiros