The Anti Matter

Jesus’ loving response to the man who asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is to tell him that there is one thing the man hasn’t yet done. If you were the man, what would be your one thing that you need to let go?

Mark 10:17-31

[1] How many of you have trouble threading a needle?  I have never had very good eyes, and getting that thread to go through that little, tiny eye seems just about impossible.  For me, when it does go through, usually after several failed attempts, it feels like a little miracle.

Some brilliant person, or more likely many brilliant people, have come up with this simple little device à for threading needles.  There are newer, fancier versions of this now, but this one comes free in little packets of thread. Did you know that the image that’s stamped into the tin is Queen Victoria?  That’s how long ago these were invented – the 1800’s.[2]

And voila! The needle is threaded and we’re ready to sew.

What do you think are my chances, using this little gadget, to get a camel to go through the eye of a needle?

[3] Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.  Entering the Kingdom of God simply means trusting in God’s power, and having faith in Jesus, and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus invites the man to come along with him, but the man goes away sad, because for him this feels impossible.  How can he let go of all that he’s worked so hard to accumulate?  Or maybe he inherited his wealth and he has worked hard to maintain the family legacy.  Whatever his situation, the man cannot imagine selling everything and giving all that money to the poor.  It’s too big of a change.

What is blocking the work of the Holy Spirit in your life?  What seems unchangeable, undoable, impossible?  Jesus tells us that with God all things are possible.

Two years ago I preached about trusting God and praying for impossible things.  We gave out these little books and I encouraged us to write down our impossible prayers in them.  I dug mine out this week to take a look at what I’d been thinking was impossible two hears ago.  Some of the things I wrote down have happened!  And in fact now looking back they don’t really seem impossible, even though I thought they were back then.

And other seemingly impossible things have happened that I didn’t even think to write down.  Two years ago if you’d told us that we’d be staying home on Sunday mornings and worshipping together on line, we’d have said that’s impossible, or at least highly unlikely.  Or that we’d be having all our meetings and small groups on video conference software.  I didn’t expect that very many people would be willing to figure out how to do that, and lo and behold we did!

There were some people on my list that I was praying for.  Sometimes praying for people to change seems like the most impossible thing of all.  But with God all things are possible.

When Jesus challenges the man to sell everything and follow him, it might seem like Jesus is throwing up roadblocks or being arbitrary.  But Mark says that Jesus saw that the man was sincere, and loved him.  Jesus sees what’s burdening the man and encourages him to let go of his burdens and become one of the disciples.  It’s a loving invitation to join the party.

If Jesus were standing in front of you right now, what would he encourage you to let go of?   If something comes to mind, write it down so you can pray about it.

All this talk about impossible things reminds me of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella.  Before the fairy godmother shows up, Cinderella thinks that attending the ball is impossible.[4] The fairy godmother sings:

[5] Impossible

For a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage!

Impossible

For a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage!

And four white mice will never be four white horses—

Such fol-de-rol and fiddledy dee of course is

Impossible!

But the world is full of zanies and fools

Who don’t believe in sensible rules

And won’t believe what sensible people say,

And because these daft and dewy- eyed dopes

Keep building up impossible hopes,

Impossible things are happ’ning every day!

The first time I heard that song was in the 1965 movie with Leslie Ann Warren as Cinderella and Celeste Holm as the fairy godmother.

Impossible things are happening every day. 

In Cinderella it’s the fairy godmother’s magic that makes things change.  But our real life changes happen because of God’s love.  With God all things are possible.  With God’s love, people’s hearts and minds change.  People’s lives change.

[7] It’s kind of like anti-matter.  Anti-matter is hard to explain and hard to understand unless you’re good with physics and atomic particles, but basically, if I got this right, anti-matter is the opposite of matter. When anti-matter comes into contact with matter, they annihilate each other and turn into pure light.[6] 

When God’s love comes into contact with our hearts, something equally amazing happens, and we find light.  Hard hearts are softened. Hurts are healed. Impossible things become possible.

Ezekiel 36:26 says that God turns our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.  God’s love softens our hearts.  As we go through life, hardness builds up in our hearts as we learn to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Hamlet calls them in Shakespeare’s play.

What are some of things that harden our hearts? [8]

It’s kind of like the plaque that builds up in our arteries.  We used to call that hardening of the arteries.  If that plaque builds up too far, the blood can’t get through and we have a heart attack and can even die.

I think maybe Jesus telling that man that he needed to sell all his stuff gave that man a heart attack. 

When Hamlet was talking about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, he was tempted to give up on life and its challenges.  We may be similarly tempted. In our scripture reading, the man goes away sad. But who knows.  Maybe after he had time to think about it, he did change.

Do you identify with that man and the difficulty of the challenge that Jesus gives him?

Or do you identify with Peter who says, “But Lord, we’ve already given up everything to follow you. What about us?”

Jesus assures Peter that their sacrifices have not gone unnoticed, and that God blesses us for doing the hard work of trusting and following Jesus.  But also that there will be persecution.  Following Jesus with all our hearts is not easy.

Maybe like me you identify with both.  Part of becoming a pastor has for me meant leaving behind people and places that were hard to leave.  There have been many blessings along the way.  And there are still challenges ahead.  As I was asking myself what Jesus was asking me to let go of, my answer was that I need to let go of my expectation that things need to be a certain way or happen at a certain speed.  God is working, in my life and in this church, and as I looked back over this week I can see that I was blessed to have some unexpected conversations and see God working in unexpected ways, and some of those ways I would have said were impossible.

I don’t know how you hear Jesus’ words in the scripture we read today, but Mark tells us that Jesus was looking at that man with eyes of love.  Jesus invites him to come along on the adventure of a lifetime.  Jesus loves us and invites us on the same adventure.  It comes with blessings and it comes with challenges. 

We might say, “I’m here, I’m already at church, I’m listening, I’m reading my Bible, I’m serving.”  Yes, that’s wonderful.  That man was doing all the right things too.  But what still had his heart were his possessions, his wealth. 

We might say it’s fine for him to hold on to that.  He earned it.  He deserved it.  But how did he earn it?  We don’t know if he was intentionally cheating people, but nobody has wealth without having it affect other people.  We want to pay as little for things as possible, but sometimes, for things to cost less, that means someone got paid less to make it or to transport it.  It’s been easy to just buy things and not think about that until recently.  One of the ways the pandemic affected us is that our supply systems broke down, and one of the ways they broke down is that people became less willing to work for poverty level wages.

[9] Maybe you’ve seen the TV show called The Good Place.  It was on originally a few years ago, and now it’s available on Netflix.  The basic premise is that the four main characters have died and they wake up in the afterlife in the Good Place instead of the Bad Place.  Along the way, and this is a bit of a spoiler, they discover that the point system by which people are assigned to the Good Place or the Bad Place is actually impossible, the people who thought they were in the good place might actually be in the bad place, and everyone is getting assigned to the Bad Place.  It’s impossible because it takes into account all the ramifications of our actions and their affect on the world and on people. 

If we’ve been going along thinking everything is fine, it’s really hard to discover that even if everything is fine for us, it’s not fine for everybody, and some of the things we do and say that we didn’t think mattered that much might actually be making life harder for someone else.  The hardest part is that we don’t know what we don’t know.

For example, when my son Tristan started working at Dillons here in town he would get upset with us whenever we would do our shopping at the bigger Dillons in Hutchinson because it turns out that Dillons keeps track of where we shop and where we live and if more of us are going to Hutchinson than are shopping here in Sterling and the store here in Sterling doesn’t make enough money to sustain its existence, then they’ll shut down the Sterling store.  So we started putting in orders at the Sterling store for the things they didn’t stock here in Sterling.  And I’ll confess that it was much easier to do that when Tristan worked there, and we’re not as good about it now, especially now that we’ve started using Instacart to shop for us.  But there are different ramifications from using Instacart because of how they pay their workers.  The more we try to pay attention to and care for our impact on other people, the more things can get complicated, to the point where we might be tempted to give up even trying.

And we start to see how Jesus was right when he said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  And yet with God all things are possible.

What are we holding on to that’s keeping us from loving God with our whole hearts or keeping us from loving our neighbors as ourselves?  The man who came to see Jesus said he’d been keeping all the commandments.  Peter said, “Lord, we’ve left everything to follow you.”  Both of them were holding on to their understanding of how things are, and neither of them had fully grasped what Jesus was offering them – a new life in the kingdom of God where you can’t earn God’s favor because nobody can be good enough to earn God’s favor, and yet God loves us so much that God doesn’t give up on us.  Any of us. No matter who we are or what we have or have not done.

All of us have messed up in some way, and our messing up has likely not just hurt us, but also other people, maybe without our even realizing it.  One of the hard realities that I run into when people are telling me their faith stories is that so often the church is connected with hurt, sometimes from this church, sometimes from other churches.  Sometimes it’s from words that have been said, or actions that have been taken, or actions that weren’t taken.  There was a thread on Twitter just this past week in which people were talking about how they avoid driving by the church that caused them pain because it brings up that pain again.[10]  It makes me sad.  I know what they mean, though, because I have places I avoid that have painful associations.  Maybe you do too.

[11] It makes me sad because I know that Jesus loves all those people and the church.  And this institution that was meant to bring the good news of God’s love and grace to people has been better sometimes at bringing rules and judgment. 

One of the challenges is that we hold tightly to our traditions because they have been a source of comfort to us, and yet some of those traditions have been a source of pain for people.  As a representative of the church, I’m sure I have said or done things that perpetuated some of those problems, as I am only gradually becoming more and more aware of the ramifications of those.

This is why our denomination says that we are reformed, and here’s the key part, and always reforming, as we continually seek to learn how to bring the love and grace of Jesus Christ and to let go of the things that get in the way of that.

If you are someone who has been hurt by the church, this church or any other church, on behalf of the church, I’m so sorry that has happened to you.  I hope you know that Jesus loves you and so do we.  I would love to listen if you want to talk about it and help you know that Jesus loves you.

Letting go of all the ways we try to earn God’s love is hard.  Letting go of the ways we have tried to make other people earn God’s love is hard.  It’s like trying-to-get-a-camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle hard.

But with God, all things are possible.  Grace is possible.  Reformation and renewal is possible.  Healing love is possible.

Thanks, God.


[1] Photo by SUNBEAM PHOTOGRAPHY on Unsplash

[2] https://www.ehow.com/info_8577598_history-needle-threader.html

[3] Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

[4] https://rodgersandhammerstein.com/song/cinderella/impossible/

[5] Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash

[6] My explanation comes from Physics Girl’s explanation at about 4:10 in the video here: https://www.labroots.com/trending/chemistry-and-physics/16810/antimatter-most-expensive-substance-earth-2

[7] Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

[8] Photo by Ryan ‘O’ Niel on Unsplash

[9] Photo by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

[10] https://twitter.com/laurchastain22/status/1446102274758135819?s=20

[11] Photo by Ante Gudelj on Unsplash

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