“Thanks for nothing!”

Text: Mark 10:17-31 (give everything to the poor)

“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” This is what Kris Kristofferson wrote in a 1969 song called “Me and Bobby McGee.” Today’s Gospel reading, in which Jesus says it is hard for rich people to enter God’s kingdom, reminds me of his sad song.

In the reading, Jesus tells an admirer to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. The admirer leaves feeling sad because he is not willing to part with his many possessions. Although he is attracted to Jesus and his community of love, he is not yet willing to give up everything for God.

Today’s story comes just before Jesus’ third and final prediction of his suffering and death. In the first of these predictions, Jesus had said that to follow him we must take up our own cross. In all three, he says that in God’s realm, the first will come last and the last first.

So, following Jesus is not only about giving away one’s wealth but also about losing our very lives. This is the “good news” of death and resurrection – a call to die with Jesus and to rise to a new life beyond ego. Those who try to hold onto their life will lose it. Those who give up their lives on a path of faith, hope and love will enter into God’s eternity of Love.

In saying all this, Jesus wakes us up. He reminds us that our attachments are fleeting and that our individual bodies and egos are mortal.

True, we might say, but isn’t it all a little harsh and difficult to swallow?

Perhaps, but I don’t want us to leave here today feeling sad like the rich man. To prevent that I try to remember that it is possible to give thanks for nothing. This Thanksgiving, I pray that we will be glad to know that freedom and love are ours when we wake up to the fact that we already have nothing left to lose.

Two books that I am currently reading are helping. They are reminding me that the spiritual path is about more than just waking up.

The first book is called “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self” by Stephen Cope. I picked it up in preparation for a four-part study on Hinduism that I am leading with the ministers from Knox-Metropolitan and Spirit West starting on October 22.

Yoga, as you probably know, is a spiritual and physical practice from India. Earlier this year, the United Church’s Theology and Inter-Church, Inter-Faith Committee published a study document called “Honouring the Divine in Each Other: United Church-Hindu Relations Today.” Because of the large Hindu population in Mill Woods, I agreed to help with a study group based on it. There is more information and a link to the document on our website under “Adult Education.”

I am enjoying Cope’s book. In it, he suggests there are two main pillars to support the process of waking up within yoga. The first he calls clear seeing – being aware of what is actually happening in our bodies, minds and world. The second he calls calm abiding — a well-rooted sense of self in which one feels supported and safe.

He argues that it is hard to bear spiritual awakening without also being grounded in our bodies, families and communities. And so we need calm abiding as well as clear seeing; compassion as well as wisdom; equanimity as well as awareness; and heart as well as mind.

Waking up to our delusions can be liberating but painful. To withstand the pain, it is helpful to have a certain amount of strength from physical practices and from loving relationships with families and friends.

Cope’s ideas about the two pillars of spiritual practice are similar to ideas about spirit and soul discussed in the other book I am reading. It is called “A Religion of One’s Own” by Thomas Moore, and we have a study group on it as well. The first of six discussions on it is on Wed Oct 21.

As he did more than 20 years ago in his bestseller “The Care of the Soul,” Moore writes that Spirit is fiery, future-oriented, and soaring while Soul is romantic, traditional, and deeply rooted.

He argues that Spirit without Soul can lead to anger and that Soul without Spirt can mire us in the past. But when both are present, we might find the strength to wake up to spiritual truths.

Applying this two-pillar approach to the Way of Jesus might mean being awake to the reality of death and resurrection while also experiencing in our hearts God’s abiding support and love. In the church, we experience this support at the Communion Table where we remember and give thanks with the Risen Christ.

For many of us, the good news of death and resurrection only become palatable in a faith community that regularly gathers at the Table and in which we care for one another in times of both loss and joy.

In the October issue of “The Observer,” former Moderator David Giuliano compares thanksgiving to breathing. With each breath in, he says, we can remember our blessings, and with each breath out we can remember to connect with others. On the in-breath, we feed our bodies and souls. On the out-breath, we are reminded that “we can’t take it with us” and so might be moved to give everything away.

Gratitude and generosity: the two-sides of breathing. Thanks and giving.

In some understandings of the Gospel, Jesus’ words that we sell our wealth and take up our cross are seen as moralistic commandments. But I disagree. No matter how rich or powerful anyone is, our bodies eventually lay us low. Given that death awaits everyone, I see Jesus’ words as ones that help us wake up to the fact that at a deep level we are already stripped of our possessions, and hence we can enter God’s eternal love right here and now.

All of us experience moments of beauty and unconditional love in which we temporarily forget our egos and their attachments. In such moments, we are free because we have nothing left to lose. If only for a moment, we have entered God’s eternity because our small self has dissolved into God’s Great Self.

If we don’t have enough compassion or balance in our lives, waking up to such truths might seem like too much to bear. But when we have strength derived from a soulful life, we can better remember with joy that even when we lose everything, Love welcomes us home.

On the eve of the greatest crisis of his life, Jesus ate a last meal with his friends. There he gave them bread and wine as symbols of God’s abiding presence. He didn’t just leave them with a stark message about their mortality and the brokenness of society. He also gave them a sacred meal in which God’s presence could be felt again in their very flesh and blood and in the company of their friends, who were as broken and blessed as themselves.

When Jesus’ friend heard of the steep requirements to enter God’s healing realm, they despaired. But Jesus reminded them that with God all things are possible, and then showed them in his Last Supper that God is with us always.

When we give thanks for this Grace, we are sometimes moved like Peter to leave everything and follow Jesus. And when we do so, we find not only the freedom that comes from having nothing left to lose, but also a realm in which those who have nothing — which in the end includes everyone – stand first in God’s eternity of love.

Thanks be to God.


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