Learning to Go With the Flow
Text: Luke 18: 15-24
15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
Recently Heidi and I had the chance to get out in the woods for a day and we found ourselves near the little town of Elk River. If you have been there you will be familiar with how beautiful it is and you may be familiar with the Elk Creek Falls trail. This hike, which is a little over 4 miles by the time you complete the loop, takes you past three fairly spectacular waterfalls. The direction that we took had us come by the lower falls overlook first, and it was pretty great. Then we moved on to the middle falls. You have the view this falls from a distance, that is if you are going to stay on the main trail, but the surrounding setting for this waterfall looks like some kind of painting. If you were to imagine the most beautiful setting and artistic waterfall your imagination could produce, I think it would look something like the middle falls of Elk Creek Falls.
Every once in awhile I run across an article somewhere that outlines all the dire predictions about the limited water supply we have here in the west. They talk about the tremendous growth in areas like Arizona and California and the front range of Colorado. According to their calculations, we are using water faster than it is being replaced and we stand the risk of complete depletion of the aquifers that service this part of the country. They say we are running out of water! It is a little hard to believe after seeing the lush green forests around Elk River and the raging falls of Elk Creek Falls, and yet I know there is some truth in what they are reporting.
I understand what they are saying, and for the most part I normally agree that we need to pay attention and take steps now to eliminate that possibility for the future. But I’m always left with a sense of frustration, because I seldom hear the idea that there is the same amount of water that we have always had, and what we suffer from isn’t the amount of water, what we suffer from is a distribution problem. It may seem like a small point, and it may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but this is an important concept for us to that flows through us. We receive it while it is here, and then it moves on and becomes a part of the water cycle all over again.
Another important part of the water debate is always about storage. Some say we need more water storage; and that may be. But what I want you to imagine in your minds is a reservoir that is completely full. There isn’t any more room for any additional water. Obviously, some water would have to be let out of the reservoir to make room for the new, right? I believe that is something like what the text I read a few minutes ago is trying to say as
If we go through our lives completely full all the time, there isn’t room for anything left to enter. We need to find ways to distribute more evenly that which we have, and in so doing, we make room for new things to enter. This is, in part, the function of a community. A community is in charge of distribution.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I wanted to give you some background on the text I have chosen before we relate it to community. There are a couple of interesting things about this particular section of scripture that I believe are important enough that we take a look at them.
The first item of importance is the fact that these two stories, the story of the children and the story of the rich young ruler both appear in all three of the synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke. They also appear in the same order, in other words, the story of the children first, and then the story of the rich young ruler.
Another interesting point is that very often the second story is referred to as the parable of the rich young ruler, and yet there is not a single gospel that refers to him in that way. If I remember correctly, it is the story in Luke that describes him as a ruler, and the gospel of Matthew calls him young. Of course at the end of the story we are told he had many possessions in all three accounts, so we can make the assumption he was rich. But the terminology of the rich young ruler is really a compilation of all three stories.
OK, I have a few blank stares out there and you are wondering where I’m going with all this and how it relates to our previous discussion about water. Let me try to tie this all together where it makes some sense.
I believe the story of the children is related to the story of the rich young ruler. They have the same basic message. That is one of the reasons why in all three gospels, these two stories appear in the same order and with very similar language. They are a matched set, a pair; and the authors recognized this and kept them as a duo for us to
Remember the statement Jesus makes about children; he says that unless we can receive the kingdom of God like a little child, we will never really experience it. Some will tell you this means we need to have child-like faith, and whatever the question is, we just accept it and go on. Sort of like how children accept the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. But I resist that interpretation. We have minds, we have an intellect and they are gifts from God intended for us to use.
What I do believe to be true about children is the fact that their minds are spacious, they are empty, to a large degree and there is lots of room for new things to enter. Have you ever heard the analogy of a child’s mind being like a sponge that just absorbs everything? I believe that to be pretty accurate. And children are in that state
But when we become adults, we begin to hang on to things, we begin to hang on to ideas and it become more and more difficult for us to entertain a new thought, because we are so full of the old thoughts; and in that way, we need to become like children. This was the problem with the rich young ruler. He was full of his possessions, he was full of his wealth, and he didn’t have any more room in his life for anything else. Obviously, he was searching for something more, obviously he felt like his life was lacking or he would not have sought Jesus out in the first place. As a matter of fact, there are some translations that have the man ask Jesus what he must do to really live, rather than inherit eternal life. Here is a man that is very full in a worldly sense, and yet very empty spiritually.
This is very important. Listen carefully. I believe the spirit of God is very much like our water example. There is lots of Spirit around, but sometimes we suffer from a distribution problem. Remember when I said that we don’t really use up the water as much as it is something that flows through us? We have it for a time, use it, and then we give it up to re-enter the water cycle and be used again. The Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God is the very same. We use it, the Spirit flows through us, and then we give it up to be used again somewhere else in another way. But we have to have room. We have to have some storage capacity left; our sponges cannot be full. Our minds, like the minds of children, must have room for the Spirit to enter. Our lives must have room for the Spirit to
What did Jesus tell the young ruler? He said you lack just one thing; you are too full. Go and sell all your fullness and give away the money to the poor, distribute the wealth, and then you will experience new life. We need to serve, we need to give, we need to distribute, and in so doing we make room for more Spirit to enter. If we clog up our beings with possessions, with unchangeable ideas, with stress, with too many commitments, too many places to be at the same time – there isn’t any way for us to make room for the Spirit to enter. In order for the Spirit of God to really work, it needs to flow into us and out of us. It just passes
I believe that is one of the functions of the church. It provides the opportunity for people to give so they can receive. It is a distribution mechanism. We have a means by which people can serve and be served. That is community, that is the church and that is what we need to do. Amen.