One of the great blessings, or curses, of my life is that I have attended many events and conferences in which I have been asked to “share a little bit” about who I am.
Often these moments of sharing follow some icebreakers… silly games designed to get people who previously don’t know each other very well to feel comfortable sharing more personal things about themselves.
Without fail, one of the first questions that arises once the ice has been broken has to do with one’s family.
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
When I was much younger, I had no problem responding to this question and quickly.
I am the only child of my parents. Period.
However, as I got older, I began to answer the question with a little more hesitation.
Perhaps it was because each time I revealed to others I was an only child, I got responses that ranged from outright pity—Oh honey, it must have been so lonely for you growing up—to a snap judgment of my character—Hmmmmmmm only child….ahhhhhhh (with the implication that all only children are spoiled brats).
And because I learned to anticipate these responses, I developed a way to shield myself from them.
When asked “How many brothers and sisters do you have” I found myself delaying the reveal as long as I could…I would ask people “Well how many brothers and sisters do you think I have…” and I would inwardly beam when people would guess that I had some and I told them that I didn’t, and they remarked, “Oh but you don’t act like an only child!”
The reality is that I loved growing up as an only child.
I was blessed with a neighborhood of kids to play with, and remember our shadows growing long as dusk fell heavy upon our games of tag and ghosts in the graveyard.
I never was bored being alone, and I loved being with kids and adults equally.
I lacked for nothing… wanted for nothing.
And because of my parents’ deep involvement in the church, and the quality of the friendships they cultivated as a result, I was taught that through the love of Jesus Christ, I had a whole horde of brothers and sisters.
But that is not the kind of thing that is easily explained in two minutes at a conference following icebreakers.
And it wasn’t until relatively recently that a different side of being an only child entered my field of vision.
One of my “sisters” mentioned to me, “You know, you are the only child… the only inheritor of all your parents’ wealth.”
To be honest with you, it was not something I had considered before, but it struck me that as much as I considered this friend a “sister in Christ” it was true that there was a big division in the inheritance that we would receive.
How could I weigh the wealth of the relationship we share against the worldly wealth to which she was referring?
The truth is that this is a central question of the gospels.
What value do we place on relationships… with other people, with creation, and with God?
The reality is that as I have grown, and especially as I have been serving as a priest in this church, my sense of the familial relationships we share through the Holy Spirit has only deepened.
Whether we want to use the terms brother and sister, or whether the more community based term “neighbor” is employed, it is clear that the kingdom of God reorders the way we relate to one another.
Those relationships are at the core of today’s Gospel reading.
I love this scene from Mark.
A man approaches Jesus and asks a question that I believe he sincerely wants answered.
Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?
Unlike the Pharisees questions that are meant to trap Jesus, this young man’s question seems honest enough.
However, as is often the case, something in the way he asks it seems to keep his from the answer he truly seeks.
It is clear that he has done all that he can to be the obedient and dutiful son to the good Father Jesus references.
He has kept the commandments as far as they relate to the treatment of other people, and honored his mother and father.
And yet he lacks one thing.
What could a man who has kept all the commandments since his youth lack?
Most commentators I’ve ever read focus on his wealth and talk about it being a barrier between him and others.
In fact it is the possessions that he can’t give away to the poor that seem to trap him and prevent him from following Jesus and entering into a greater life.
But I wonder if part of his hang up isn’t also the conception that God’s kingdom can be inherited the way an only child might inherit wealth from his parents?
Like the older son in Luke’s famous parable of the prodigal son and the forgiving father, he has put in his time…done the right things, and expects that the reward he has anticipated will be his after the death of his father…the older brother who has no more younger brother to worry about anymore.
In that parable and also in this scene in Mark, the wealth of relationships is what seems to be lacking… and Jesus makes it clear in both the famous parable and this scene from Mark that these relationships constitute the real wealth of the kingdom of God.
So at the end of the scene today, when Peter announces that he and the other disciples HAVE DONE the one thing that Jesus instructed the man to do, Jesus responds by telling him that they can expect to inherit the real wealth that God has intended for us all.
Infinite brothers, mothers, fathers, sisters and children all bound together because they share in the inheritance of the life that has come after the death of one who loved them with a brother’s, mother’s, father’s and sister’s love.
The inheritance we can expect isn’t all roses people.
But that family… that community… that cloud of witnesses… pick your metaphor and let it give you life… it is all that matters.
It is the one thing we all lack.
And yet each of us has different barriers that can keep us from getting there.
For the man in today’s gospel, it was his possessions.
For Peter, it was his denial and shame and his hang up about what was clean or unclean.
For Paul, it was a narrow vision of who the people of God were.
And so on and so on.
Each of us need to spend serious time in prayer, reflection and honest soul searching, with God’s help, exploring what that one thing is that keeps us from the fuller life of the kingdom that is our rightful inheritance as children of God.
Do you know what the one thing you lack might be?
Spend some energy and time this week finding out.
For me, I never felt any lack by being an only child.
And yet what I need more than anything else are the brothers and sisters, and mothers and fathers and children that I have through this wonderful, sometimes frustrating, but always faithful body of Christ that is not mine alone to inherit, but mine to share freely with others.
The wealth I seek is in you and you and you…not unlike that iconic scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when the stock market crashes and George Bailey tries to explain that the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan is a shared network of reliance that doesn’t work like or compare to Mr. Potter’s bank.
We are the wealth God passes on to the next generation.
Rich and poor, undocumented and documented, male and female, gay and straight, all are welcome to the inheritance.
No matter who your daddy is, no matter what language you speak, and no matter what one thing you lack.
God’s reign and wealth is yours to experience, to enjoy, and to give away so that others may be free, may rejoice and may know the peace that passes understanding.
We claim this birthright together, and we do so by giving away whatever bars us from community… from the fellowship that is the very nature and fabric of our Triune God… and by following Jesus as many members who are one body.
Feel your family this week people.
Identify what one thing you lack and give it up to God in prayer and move forward in faith.
Because if you do, you may still face trials and tribulations, and you may yet feel the harsh fires of persecution, but you will never do so alone.
A cloud of witnesses, a community of faith, and fields rich with an abundant harvest will be yours for eternity, and you will inherit the only kingdom that really matters.
The one where resurrection, truth and life abound.
The kingdom we know through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The one that has no end.