Benediction Online

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Secret Teaching: Open Hands

There’s nothing in the ten commandments that says you can’t be rich, so why did Jesus make such a big deal about it? Why did he say that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the reign of God? I’m sure you’ve all heard that the text is unclear here and by the needle Jesus may have meant one of the gates of Jerusalem - or the camel could be a nautical rope – however you read it, it’s still the same picture – something thick or fat trying to squeeze through much too small a space.

It’s hard for a rich person to get into the reign of God.

We need to take that very seriously because even the poorest person here is rich by the standards of the global community. We are among the 16% of the world’s population who are consuming 80% of the world’s resources. And it’s difficult to stop.

I wonder what the rich man expected Jesus to say. He runs up to him, kneels down and asks his big question, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" I wonder whether he felt that Jesus’ public words weren’t sufficiently clear, whether he was looking for a special teaching just for him, or whether he thought there was some hidden message that he had missed.

We often long for a special teaching, a hidden message. Each Sunday we listen to the readings and we participate in the liturgy but still we wonder, is this all there is? Isn’t there something more, some hidden path, some hidden truth? That’s part of the attraction of books like The Da Vinci Code or the book some of us are reading together on Tuesday nights, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene.

The Christian mystics offer us glimpses into a deeper, more intense contemplative path, but whether it’s the interior castle of Teresa of Avila or the bridal chamber of the apocryphal Gospel of Philip, every Christian teacher and mystic is just expounding what it truly means to love God with our whole selves and our neighbors as ourselves. That is at the root of every path to God. That is the riverbed.

So why is it so difficult for a rich person to get into the reign of God?

I think it’s for the same reason that a millionaire I once worked with always made sure to get the exact change when he took a cab. He always made sure he had what was his, down to the last penny.

The rich man of the gospel reading was unable to give away what he had. He was holding on to it. We can’t come into the reign of God with our hands clenched shut, holding tightly onto what is “ours.” We can’t come into the reign of God holding tightly to anything, because the very essence of God is to have open hands. The very essence of God is open hands.

We open our hands when we greet someone else. We open our hands in gestures of welcome, of hospitality. We open our hands to caress. We open our hands to give, and also to receive.

That is the secret teaching. God is radically free and we too were created to be free but we constantly weigh ourselves down by holding on, by keeping our hands tightly closed. We hold on to grudges, we hold on to old patterns, we hold on to stuff, we hold on to those we love. Holding on stops the flow of energy.

When I was in my twenties there was a popular spiritual saying, “If you love something let it go – if it’s yours it’ll come back.” Good advice, but hard to keep especially when you’re in your twenties and searching for a mate. It wasn’t long before a poster appeared which said, “If you love something let it go – if it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it!”

If you love something, let it go – that’s exactly what the rich man couldn’t do.

I want to be very clear that when I talk about letting go of what you love, I’m not talking about a cold detachment. I don’t for a moment think that having open hands means not passionately loving, not making deep attachments to other sentient beings – to people or companion animals. But I do think it means coming to a place in yourself where you are so at peace and so confident in God’s incredible and abundant love that you don’t have to cling.

When we have open hands we can allow other people to be fully themselves and to make their own journey through the world to become the Christ-like beings they were created to be. When we have open hands we are open to the flow of God’s abundant love in and through us. When we have open hands we can give generously and remain confident that all is well.

I think this is the way we truly experience God’s abundance -- in having open hands which can both receive and give generously. There are those among us who have taken the adage “it is more blessed to give than to receive” to heart and who close their hands to the gifts of love that others would give them. Some of us have been wounded early in life and find it difficult to trust, or even to know that we are loved. It is as though the hands of our hearts have been slapped so many times that we have closed them in fear.

There are others who are caught in the fear of scarcity. The fear that if I don’t hold on tightly to what is mine then it will be taken from me and I won’t get anything more. There won’t be enough to go round. But the reality is that when we live with open hands, we are receiving even as we are giving and the flow of God’s resources moves through us, blessing us and all around us.

It is not easy for a rich man or woman to enter the reign of God, but it is certainly not impossible. For God all things are possible.

We will be gathering again this morning at the table of God, to participate in the banquet which she prepares for us. Between now and then we will be preparing ourselves to receive that great outpouring of love which is symbolized in the eucharist. Let us use this as a time to practice opening the hands of our hearts.

As we respond to the proclamation of God’s word by affirming our faith, let us open to the truth of our connection and trust in God;
as we pray for others let us do so with an attitude of open giving;
as we make our confession let us be especially aware of the times we have held back, the times we have held on;
as we exchange a sign of God’s peace with one another let us practice allowing each other to be -- being especially careful not to honor those who only wish to shake hands;
and then in our offertory let us offer ourselves to God, asking that we may learn to give generously with open hands to the work of God’s reign and to his people throughout the world.


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