The Idea of All
March 20, 2011
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Reading from Swedenborg
We have life from the Lord, yet from heredity and from what we want to do we resist spiritual life. Once these have been renounced so completely that they no longer control us there is total submission. When we are being regenerated we come to the point where we no longer wish to be our own person but the Lord’s. Once this happens we would be sad if we were left to ourselves, but when we are brought out of that we have peace of mind. God needs our total submission so that he can make us happy; that is, he does not want us to be partly ours and partly the Lord’s, for then there are two masters who cannot be served at the same time. So, since love to the Lord comes from the Lord and not from us, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength must be the Lord’s, and they must be totally submitted to him.
(Arcana Coelestia 6138)
Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has, cannot
be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
The theme today is around the idea of “all,” which I think is probably the biggest theme in the gospels. It’s certainly one that keeps coming up, especially in Jesus’ words and teachings, this short threeletter word “all.” For example, Jesus and some of the disciples were once watching people going into the temple in Jerusalem, and just inside the entrance was the offertory box (just like ours here!). Apparently the box was a large brass basin which, if you banged it, would clang very loudly. So, the rich people would come along and throw a handful of gold coins into the basin, probably throwing them in very hard and from a bit of a distance and against the side of the basin, too, and anyone within earshot would know this person had given a lot of money to God. And as Jesus and the disciples watched, this poor widow came up and put in two mites—two tiny coins worth almost nothing—and went on her way. And Jesus said, “Do you see that? They came and put in from their abundance, but she put in more than all of them—she put in all that she had.”
This little word “all” is quite amazing because it covers some very profound ideas, and yet of course we use it without realising what we’re saying a lot of the time. You look at an advertisement in a magazine— let’s say it’s for a set of recipe cards that will be sent to you every month, which you really don’t need at all. Just underneath the glossy picture of glistening profiteroles that makes you drool but bears no resemblance to the ones you will turn out, it says, “All you have to do is send the reply form with your first down payment.” This is very clever, of course, but it is quite untrue. This is certainly not all you have to do or should do. It’s telling you to bypass considering whether you want this offer or can afford it or will in fact ever use it. All they want is your money.
So we use this word a lot. “All it takes is a bit of care.” “Stop doing that, you’re doing it all the time!” “Is that all you’ve done?” What about the “be-all and end-all”? A good one is “all in all”—“all in all, it’s a busy time when you have a young family.” That is the understatement of the year, but what you’re doing is summarizing how it is. We use that same phrase to describe God. God is the all in all of everything. You can’t improve on that. And it’s very descriptive, too. God is the all that is in all things. You could think about that idea all the time.
When Jesus uses the idea of all, it is nearly always in the sense of making a total commitment, as in the text for this morning: “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has, cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is putting it in the strongest words to get the point across. It’s called hyperbole—overstatement. Jesus does not actually want you to forsake everything that you have and walk out on your family who love you and depend on you. But what he does want is for you to know why you love and care and keep going with everything. It’s about putting God first.
If you love those who love you, Jesus says, what credit is that to you? If you love someone because they do things for you, it’s not the right kind of love. In fact, you shouldn’t really be using the word “love” in that situation; you should call it a “bargain.” If they stopped, would you stop too? You have to keep away from that kind of condition thing—in fact, that’s what Jesus really wants us to forsake—the self-interest and expectation we sometimes bring into things. “I’ll stay in my job so long as I’m paid enough and they treat me properly.” Hang on; what about “I’ll stay in my job because I want to do my best for the company and I think I have what it takes”? That’s what I said at the job interview and wrote on my application. Did I mean that?
So Jesus is advocating that we try and get our priorities right—in fact, that we do get our priorities right, because “trying to” is still putting a bit of a condition on things. “Look, I’m trying as hard as I can” is not really good enough, because there’s a bit of “me” in it still. It’s got to go further and be full-on, total, the idea of all. And we look at that idea of giving all and we even get that wrong too. People say you have to love until it hurts, and we all nod and say “Oh, how true, but if you really do love with the idea of all, it will actually stop hurting. It won’t hurt any more.” And someone pipes up, “That must be nice. Do you mean you won’t feel anything any more?” And you look at them and say, “You’re not really getting this, are you?”
It’s like a shift, a shift right across. You can’t get there by pushing yourself hard. You’re either there or you aren’t. Do you remember Peter Pan? The children went to Never-Never Land, but they wondered where it was. And Peter said, “It’s second left and straight on till morning.” And even that’s a bit short on truth, because it suggests you go there. You don’t go there. You are there while you’re washing up and mending a fuse.
Back in the Old Testament it says that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. By now, I think you have gotten the idea of that in the right kind of way. Shift across into that kind of love with the idea of all, and goodness, how easy it then becomes! We really like the idea of easy, but we get it wrong. Not easy as in “nothing left to do.” Not easy like “now I can take it easy.” That’s the same as pushing too hard, but now we’re taking it backwards. Just…easy. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy.” All you have to do is drop everything else. Do you mean…? No, don’t go there!
What we’re really getting with this is a glimpse into the way that God loves us. We’ve already said that God is the All In All. Keep hold of that as much as you can…no, just keep hold of it. “God loves us very much.” But that’s not a good enough description. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” Well, it’s biblical, of course, but, again, it’s awkward and using a measurement. Try “God just loves us.” Nearly … but don’t use “just,” because it suggests that God could love us like this or like that, but in the end He just loves us. Say “God loves” and leave it at that and don’t go into how much.
Think about people for a moment. People are fascinating. I knew a sweet lady once who said that people were her only real hobby. She just enjoyed them and being with them and looking at how they are. One of the things you often get from people is that they seem to have something you can’t really put your finger on, but golly, is it there! And some people don’t have that something at all, at least as far as you can tell, and you know, you can usually tell, can’t you?
Some people just seem to be naturally good at what they do and make it all look so easy, and then you wonder whether they’re born like that or whether they’ve practised or trained so hard to get it so good that it’s become second nature. Like a ballerina or a teacher or a nurse. It’s wonderful to behold, and yet, while skill and talent oozes out of them, they will have things they aren’t so good at. The ballerina may be a bit of a drama queen; the teacher may be a bit of a control freak, the nurse may always be running late because when she isn’t nursing she’s a bit disorganized. But you don’t see that. You see their consummate skill.
Now, think about people who always seem to be up against something. It goes from this to that. I’ll let you come up with your own examples. You probably feel for them having to cope with it all. And, if we’re not careful, we start making our comparisons and wondering why God in His wisdom has made it like that. “So unfair,” we say. The strange thing, though, is that any of all these people I’ve been mentioning may have made that shift across to allness or totally being in it and know what they do and why. How it is for them really doesn’t come into it now. Something about them never changes, and you could trust them with your life.
This is something of the idea of all. The widow put in all she had, but she was still a widow and all that that involved. Jesus says, “I need all of you, you as a whole.” Not to slap a label of Christianity on us… simply to allow us to live so that at least something in us isn’t tossed around but is all in place, all set, and always there to hand. Amen.
My Father, I abandon myself to you. Do with me as you will.
Whatever you may do with me, I thank you.
I am prepared for anything, I accept everything.
Provided your will is fulfilled in me and in all creatures, I ask for nothing more, my God.
I place my soul in your hands.
I give it to you, my God, with all the love of my
heart, because I love you.
And for me it is a necessity of love, this gift of myself, this placing of myself in your hands without reserve, in boundless confidence,
Because you are my Father.
- Charles de Foucald, 1858-1916
Stay with me, Lord, and then I shall begin to shine as thou shinest, so to shine as to be a light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from thee. None of it will be mine. No merit to me. It will be thou who shinest through me upon others. O let me thus praise thee, in the way which thou dost love best, by shining on all those around me. Give light to them as well as to me; light them with me, through me. Teach me to show forth thy praise, thy truth, thy will. Make me preach thee without preaching—not by words, but by my example and by the catching force, the sympathetic influence, of what I do—by my visible resemblance to thy saints, and the evident fullness of the love which my heart bears to thee.
- John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
When I am down and helpless,
when lies are reigning,
when fear and indifference are growing,
may your Kingdom come.
Into our churches,
into our praying, into our singing,
may your Kingdom come.
- from Czechoslovakia
Betty Wiberg - Rockport, MA
Rev. Julian Duckworth