A Race Worth Running

A Race Worth Running


Scripture: Ruth 1:1-18, Mark 10:17-22

Have any of you ever been homesick? Have you ever experienced that deep yearning to be in your own familiar surroundings close to those you love? I know I have as a young girl at Girl Scout camp and even now as an adult whenever I travel on my own or even go away for our Confirmation retreats. I miss home. I miss my family. I miss my regular routines and rituals. I feel nervous and a bit off kilter as I encounter and experience something new. And even though I may be engaged and enjoying myself there is also that tug to return to the safe and familiar place called home. That is why the little story of Ruth is so remarkable and the story of the unnamed rich man so understandable. Ruth left everything she knew; her country, her family, her friends, the familiar sights, sounds, smells and rhythms of her day to follow Naomi into a strange new land. The rich man, on the other hand, simply couldn’t do it. He really did want to know, experience, and inherit this eternal lifethat Jesus talked about. He tried to be a good person. He followed the commandments. But when Jesus asked him to give it all away and follow, the price just seemed too high and so the man walked away with a heavy heart. Letting go to follow Jesus. Easier said than done.

And don’t we know it! We, too, approach Jesus with hope and longing. We reach out to him. We ask how we can truly be alive. We see Jesus look deeply into our eyes. And hear him say to us the one thing we don’t want to hear. You need to let go of that one thing in your life that is keeping you from fully giving your heart to me. Let it go and follow me. Jesus loves us enough to tell us the truth about our lives. Jesus loves us enough to demand this of us that we might have life. This letting go is different for every person.

“Emily goes to church every Sunday. She teaches a class of 4 year olds how much God loves them. She serves on the mission committee and raises money for both local and international projects. She serves on the Board of Habitat for Humanity and works hard to run her own business wisely and fairly. Last year, Emily’s mother became ill. Though her mom only lives a half-hour away, Emily went to visit only once in the last six months. Though Emily was able and willing to help all sorts of people, she felt emotionally paralyzed and incapable of responding to her own mother’s needs. Events from the past kept her from helping, even though if it had been a neighbor she would have been free with her assistance.”

Letting go to follow Jesus. Easier said than done.

“Some people know Bob as a guy who is generous with his money. He helps out many in quiet ways. When Bob’s church put out an appeal for help for hurricane survivors, he gave half his salary for the month. When an old friend who had fallen on hard times comes by Bob gives him a loan. Bob gives money for toys, food, emergency aid, and funds a Christmas party for the nursing home down the street. But even though Bob has plenty of spare time in his life now and is in great health, he never responds to requests for volunteering. He has said “no” to helping at the Christmas party, to delivering meals, to working a fund-raiser event for hurricane survivors. He even avoids extended conversation with his friend in need. Bob’s point of view is that he doesn’t have to give his time because he gave his money. He has his own pursuits and interests, and he just likes having his time at his own disposal, without demands from others. Writing a check is easy, giving up a Saturday – that’s another thing altogether.”

Letting go to follow Jesus. Easier said than done.

“When Bill and Marge discuss their retirement, they realize they will be very comfortable. They plan to travel to Europe and Asia. They want to buy a lake house and a boat. They have good health insurance and long-term care insurance, so they don’t worry about their future. They have good relationships with their family members and friends. They work hard at their jobs and are respected in them. They feel they have earned every penny they’ve made and they’ve invested wisely. But they decided long ago to stop giving to charities and those in need. They love to read accounts of churches and not-for-profits who have handled money poorly and illegally; these incidents give them additional reasons never to trust their contributions to any organization. And individuals they say, like the homeless they pass on their way to work, will just use the money to buy drugs and alcohol. So, they enjoy the financial rewards of their labors and plan how they will spend their retirement income” (stories by Melissa Bane Servier, The Minister’s Annual Manuel, 2006-2007, p. 86-87).

Letting go to follow Jesus. Easier said than done.

If you were the one coming up before Jesus that day, what would he demand of you? What would be that one thing at this time in your life that keeps you from wholehearted discipleship? Material goods and wealth like the unnamed man? Letting go of the past like Carol? Letting go of your time like Bob? Letting go of pride, a self-critical voice, a need to control, fears, judgment of others, unrealistic expectations of yourself or others, old habits extreme busy-ness, and unhealthy or destructive relationship? What is Jesus asking YOU to let go so that you might be freer, so that you might be more open to love, so that you might experience joy, so that you might follow him into life? Stepping onto the path of love, the path of discipleship, the path of life with Jesus is costly. We are called again and again throughout our lives to let go. Like the leaves and acorns and pinecones that drop from the trees each Fall. We need to let go so that new growth might happen. We need to let go so that others might be fed and nourished. We need to let go so that we might be freer to follow Christ and live a life of love.

In her book, Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp notes that “Autumn is a wondrous metaphor for the transformation that takes place in the human heart each season. When we notice a subtle change of light outside our windows, we know the dark season is near. Everything is being prepared for winter. Autumn calls us in from summer’s playground and asks significant questions about our own harvest: What do we need to gather into our spiritual barns? What in our lives needs to fall away like autumn leaves so another life waiting in the wings can have its turn to live?” (Joyce Rupp, The Circle of Life, p. 168).

“Each of us, no matter how faithful we are, has the potential to hold something back. We have the potential of keeping one door of our hearts closed to God. We have the potential to love one thing too much to allow God to use it, because only we know how best it should be used. We have the potential of letting that one thing – small though it may be – grow in importance to such an extent that it overshadows our faithfulness. But we also have the potential of learning to let go of that one thing, of making small beginnings to be more faithful and more open to God and others. We have this possibility because all things are possible with God.” (Melissa Bane Sevier, p. 87-88).

We hear the story of Ruth and Naomi. We hear Ruth’s words to her mother-in-law, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” We hear all this and wonder at such love and commitment that she would let go of everything she knows to follow Naomi, to worship God. We hear and we wonder and we dismiss the story. Ruth is in the Bible. She’s special. She’s stronger. She’s wiser. She’s more trusting. She has more courage. She has greater faith than I do. And yet Ruth was an ordinary person, like you and I, who faced obstacles, suffering, and disappointment in her life. She was an outsider, a foreigner, a woman, a widow. She had no wealth, no power, no privilege, no social security system to care for her. What she had, though, we each can have, TRUST. Trust that with God all things are possible. With God, we can let go of the things that bind us and deprive us of the life we seek in Christ. With God, we, too, can follow Jesus, with as much commitment, perseverance and love as Ruth.

From our very first breath to our very last God calls us home. God is constantly working and moving through the ordinary people, places, and events of our lives to call us into relationship. God comes to us in the person of Jesus to show us the way, to challenge us to let go of those things that prevent us from giving ourselves fully to God, to invite us to follow.

I close with a prayer by Joyce Rupp entitled “Invitation”.

Standing before me at the door,

Calling to me from the beach

gazing at me across the fields

walking toward me near the church

turning to me on the mountain.

Over and over, my Lord, you reach out to me

With the power of your heart

With the might of your love

With the force of your fidelity

What is it that you ask of me?

What is it that you offer to me?

To come? To follow? To belong?

To leave all? To let go? To be freed?

Over and over, my Lord

You invite me to yourself

You extend wholeness to me

You welcome me to your people

The invitation is there

I know it in my heart

I believe it in my being

I catch it in my prayer

I breathe it in my life

Your welcome

Your waiting

Your very self is there

Wanting me to come

Desiring me to respond

O my Lord, I accept your invitation.

O my Lord, I return the greeting.

O my Lord, I want to see where you live.

O my Lord, I will go where you will.

Letting go to follow Jesus, easier said WHEN done. With God, all things are possible. Thanks be to God!!! Amen.