A sermon by the Rev. Craig Lemming
Sunday, October 10, 2021
In the name of God who sees us, loves us, and liberates us with hard truths. Amen.
Every day I miss my best friend from seminary. He, his wife, and family now live in Montreal and my heart aches for those four wild and wonderful years when our acquaintanceship became a cherished friendship that over the years deepened into a spiritual brotherhood. We are each other’s chosen family for a particular reason. He is one of the few people who know how to speak the hardest truths about me directly to my face. And I know that no matter how painful it is to hear those truths about myself, they have always come from a place of deep and abiding love and a mutual reverence for the tender and sacred gift we share in true friendship. Novelist Dinah Craik expressed this truth more eloquently when she wrote,
But oh! the blessing it is to have a friend to whom one can speak fearlessly on any subject; with whom one’s deepest as well as one’s most foolish thoughts come out simply and safely. Oh, the comfort – the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.i
I hope, trust, and pray that each of us, finds that one friend who truly sees who we are and speaks the hardest truths to us in love, so that, in the words of Saint Francis de Sales, we can be who we are and be that well.
In today’s Epistle we hear that,
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.ii
The Rich Young Man in the Gospel is seen, loved, and receives that Word of God. That hard truth spoken in love, so painful to hear because true love always requires us to stretch ourselves. That living and active word of love, sharper than any two-edged sword cuts right into the intentions of his heart and challenges him to take a long, hard look at himself; to grow in spiritual maturity. James Baldwin wrote,
I conceive of God, in fact, as a means of liberation and not a means to control others. Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.iii
Knowing that the Rich Young Man wants so desperately to be seen and thought of as good, Jesus allows him to congratulate himself on not murdering, committing adultery, stealing, lying, defrauding, or dishonoring his parents. Jesus intentionally leaves The Great Commandments unspoken until the Rich Young Man gets out of his own superior, ego-centric, imperial, self-important way, and is ready to hear the painful truth: that his possessions are what he truly worships. Jesus does not need to speak the words because they are echoing in the deafening silence of that hiatus: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ And ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”iv Today’s Epistle tells us that Jesus, fully human and fully divine, truly sympathizes with our weaknesses and in every respect has been tested as we are, so he knows that the Rich Young Man’s heart, soul, mind, and strength are entirely enthralled by possessing, owning, taking, conquering, enslaving, extracting, exploiting, and ruling, so Jesus speaks the truth to him in liberating love, with grace and mercy:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When [the Rich Young Man] heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
In his book To Have or To Be? psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm describes those who suffer from the colonizers’ obsession with the Mode of Having. This Mode of Having prevented colonizers and their descendants from living freely in the Mode of Being. Fromm writes the Mode of Having means that
I want everything for myself; that possessing, not sharing, gives me pleasure; that I must become greedy because if my aim is having, I am more the more I have; that I must feel antagonistic toward all others… I can never be satisfied, because there is no end to my having; I must be envious of those who have more and afraid of those who have less. But I want to repress all these feelings in order to represent myself (to others as well as to myself) as the smiling, rational, sincere, kind human being everyone pretends to be.v
Today’s Gospel liberates us from that demonic and deluded Mode of Having, so that we can be free to live in a Mode of Being. Being who we are and being that well. Being the beloved family of God whose extravagant worth is not determined by what we have or possess or own, but is defined by belonging to one another and to God and sharing the abundance of God’s love freely in genuine togetherness.
Circle of the Beloved’s fellows – Kat, Megan, and Sha-niece – are visiting St. John’s this morning. Servant leaders who are dedicating a year or two of their lives to building Kinship Across Lines of Difference. As an intentional community dedicated to service, prayer, living simply, and seeking justice, each fellow shares their presence and their God-given gifts to build Beloved Community in North Minneapolis and across our post-George Floyd Twin Cities. St. John’s has been a ministry partner with Circle of the Beloved since its founding in 2016. I believe the hard love-work of building kinship across lines of difference that Kat, Megan, and Sha-niece are living together is exactly what Jesus blesses in today’s Gospel.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
Circle of the Beloved and St. John’s, by continuing to share our lives generously as agents of reconciling love we can indeed bind our Twin Cities together across all races, genders, sexualities, abilities, ages, nationalities, and classes so that we can become God’s chosen family with and for each other. May we listen to and speak the hardest truths in love; love that liberates us to grown up, leave the colonizer’s idols that try to kill and possess us, and be free to be God’s chosen family. Amen.
i Dinah Maria Mulak Craik, A Life For A Life (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, first publish 1859, 2004), 270.
ii Hebrews 4:12
iii James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket: Collected Nonfiction (Boston: Beacon Press, 2021), 241.
iv Mark 12:29-31 (NRSV)
v Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015), 5.