Sometimes we are most afraid of what we most need. It’s one of the more perplexing mysteries of the human heart. Happiness, peace, healing and all the other elements of fullness of life can be right in front of us, but instead of embracing them, we back away in fear.
Some years ago I worked in central London with an organization that reached out to people living on the streets. For most, all we could offer was food, clean clothes and a listening ear, but every now and then we met someone who wanted to find a new life. We ran a halfway house with a simple rule of life where a few people at a time could relearn how to live indoors.
Jesus called the young ruler to a new kind of material life, a life given to serving the poor with the “materials” of tears, blood and sweat. Clearly, this life is not marked by the kinds of happiness used to sell goods. But we do honor Jesus’ call in our culture when we honor volunteers and all those who serve others.
"I cannot come to the banquet; don’t trouble me now. I have bought me a wife; I have married a cow.” The guffaws and catcalls of the preadolescent boys as they improvised on a familiar song were designed to attract the attention of the girls at the religious retreat. We girls pretended annoyance as they sang. We knew that we should be insulted, but were secretly amused by their twist on the words.
There are moments when you just know what’s coming next. No one has to confirm it for you; the feeling in your gut is confirmation enough. After I lay on the ultrasound table for two minutes, the technician left me alone while she went to find the radiologist. I knew I was in trouble. No one had biopsied anything. No one had uttered the word “cancer,” much less “lobular invasive carcinoma,” but I knew.
When Erik confessed his faith on the festival of Pentecost, the entire family of believers watched and strained to hear his confession. His chubby fingers were surprisingly dexterous as he signed the words, and he also spoke, as if what he was signing was bursting through the silence of his deafness. This is what he said on the day of his confirmation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have life forever.”