What must I DO to GET what I want?
What do I have to DO to GET what it is I want?
It is absolutely the wrong question to ask
a Wisdom Teacher and Prophet.
The rich young man, not surprisingly,
is asking an economic question –
or more specifically, it is a consumer question.
He asks a production and supply question
instead a meaning and mission question.
For Jesus the question is:
“What must we GET in order to DO?”
What is it that you and I need to GET
so that we can do
what it is we are supposed to DO?
It not an economic question,
because it is less about resources
and the means of production
than it is about character and will.
It is a question of meaning and mission.
And the answer to the question,
at least the one intimated in today’s Gospel story,
is that we need a partnership with God
in order to DO what God has invited us to do.
Or to put it in slightly different language,
we need to be in relationship with God
in order to live into God’s best dream for us.
That is a very different orientation to life,
a radically different perspective,
than “what must I DO in order to GET?”
Now there is a big fat assumption
at the bottom of the idea
that God has a dream for us that we have been invited to live into.
The assumption is that we can in fact,
enter into partnership with God
and that our partnership has a purpose.
The more common assumption is that
we are the sole proprietors of our life
and that our purpose is to get
whatever we can get.
These are two really different assumptions;
like wearing two very different lens prescriptions
that will totally alter what we see in front of us.
What do I need to do in order to get
leads to a very different life than
what must we get in order to do?
What I have noticed about people I know
who are practiced at living
in partnership with God
is that their priorities change
and they get better and better
at narrowing the distance
between what they say they value
and how they actually live.
In other words, they become more connected
to the values at their core
and then they somehow make those values
come to life all around them.
For example, as soon as I left the house,
being the youngest of five kids,
my environmentalist dad
got rid of their second car
and started taking the bus to work.
Another example is a friend of mine
who spent ten years pastoring a church in Harlem
when Harlem was still in a nosedive.
Then he moved to Buffalo
where he bought a house in a neighborhood
where none of his peers in ministry would live
but it was close to his new church.
He discovered that just being a pastor
in a tough neighborhood didn’t seem to be
making the difference he felt the Gospel
was calling upon him to make,
so he also became a community organizer
and did both jobs for decades.
Someone else I know, is a woman who lived
in one of the most affluent
and least diverse cities in her Midwestern state.
She was quite busy with four children
but got it in her mind
that the Gospel was calling upon her
to love her neighbor.
So she adopted a high needs bi-racial baby.
The adoption agency called her again a year later
because they had another baby no one wanted.
She brought that baby home too
and eventually adopted her.
I lost count, but I’m pretty sure they adopted
at least four additional children
and now they also are caring for grandchildren with special needs.
She hasn’t discovered the limit
for her love of neighbor
and so she just keeps going.
It’s not always that dramatic, of course,
and you know such people too –
they are the ones we admire and look up to
even as we secretly shudder to imagine
what we might have to give up
in order to be like them.
But it is not about giving up,
it is about getting in order to do.
Such people get hold of a kind of core strength
that pulls them into their most cherished values
and says, “Look, you can do it this way.”
Typically they do not begin with the question,
“Can I really do that?” –
which often really means, “I can’t do that!”
They begin instead,
with knowing their values
and allowing those values
to lead them into action,
and then they ask the question,
“HOW can I do that?”
What we must “get” is an umbilical connection
to our core values
and those values will lead us to “do”
what God has invited us to do.
No one gets to start out
with the knowledge
of what God has invited him or her to do.
Only crazy or deeply narcissistic people
have an absolute and clear vision
of what God is calling them to do.
The rest of us
have core values
and that is what leads us
into God’s best dream for us.
What we need to get
in order to do
is a deep and abiding rootedness
to our core values.
What we will do with those values
will come as a consequence of living them out.
It isn’t magic
or hocus pocus
or any kind of supernatural revelation
at the end of a vision
or on the notes of God’s voice.
It is way more ordinary than all of that –
which is how we can trust it.
When we live into our core values
and allow them to lead us in our decision-making
then we will discover, sooner or later,
that we have been led
into God’s best dream for us.
We may stop and turn around
and think to ourselves,
“Well this isn’t what I expected!”
We may even feel a little cheated
that God’s best dream for us
didn’t have a lottery bonanza at the end of it.
And it is possible that God’s best dream for us
is nothing like what we dreamed of
and even feels more like a nightmare.
But the doing of God’s best dream for us,
or our meaning and purpose
if you prefer more secular language,
requires that we get rooted in
and much closer to
our core values.
The disciples were amazed because they,
like everyone else,
assumed the young man’s riches
were the product and sign of his blessedness.
He could not have had all that good stuff
without having been blessed by God
in the first place.
Some people still hold such magical thinking.
But Jesus makes clear
in this story and elsewhere,
it is not about what we have
and faithfulness is not about what we can get.
It is about getting closer to our core values
and allowing them to lead us into
what God has invited us to do.
It is a choice not a conditional threat.
There is nothing in the story to suggest
that the rich young man
goes off to hell and damnation
because he felt the need to cling to his affluence.
Rather, he goes off to grieve the loss
of the other things he wanted.
He wanted it all
because clearly, his core values were economic.
Jesus seems to feel affection and sympathy
toward him, even as he refuses to be
an enabler for the young man’s current lifestyle.
We get to choose.
They are our core values, after all.
God does not inflict unwanted values upon us.
They are ours.
The big question is whether we will live by them.
My assumption is that we ARE
living by our values.
What we do,
how we live,
the choices we make,
the people we vote for,
the way we spend our money…all of it
reflects our values.
It is an important element of our spiritual practice
to stand back from time to time
and look at what we do and how we live
to see if indeed, it reflects the values
we like to imagine we cherish most.
There is nothing to say that the rich young man
didn’t change later on.
How far is the distance
between what we say we value
and how we actually live our lives?
It is in narrowing that distance
that we will stumble into God’s best dream for us.