Weve talked about things we treasure this morning, things which we value, things that are important in our lives and in many cases have become symbols for what we value most.
And we heard a story from the Bible about a man who had a lot of worldly treasure, a lot of money, and found it difficult to part with it.
Now Id like to share one of my treasures with you, a memory of an event that Ive come to understand as one of the most important experiences in my life and that of my family and that I feel has some bearing on the story of the rich man.
In the winter of 1995 when we lived in the central part of the Netherlands in the heart of the Rhine Delta the water in the two big rivers that flowed on either side of the village where we occupied the manse rose to an unusually high level. We knew that some of the dikes werent as strong and well maintained as they should have been, but nobody expected anything dramatic to happen. I can still remember the unbelief with which I listened when a radio broadcast at two oclock on a Thursday afternoon told us everybody would have to leave the area before 8 oclock that night because it was not deemed safe to stay.
In just a couple of hours we and 400.000 others, had to move, leave most of our possessions behind not knowing if it would be safe or if we would, in the next couple of hours or days lose it all. We did not know how long we would be gone, we did not know where to go.
What happened next was extraordinary. On the one hand a very strong instinct at self-preservation took over. Later I was, and others with me, shocked by the primitive force of that feeling: to save your own skin and the skin of your family first. But after that there was the cool assessment of what was absolutely necessary to take and what would fit in the car. Farmers who had to move their livestock as well apparently never got to that stage and often left with only the clothes on their backs.
We all had to let go of what most of us would have, a couple of hours before hand, considered things of great value. And most of us discovered in those few hours and in the week that followed them that in the end there are only a very few things that are really important.
People helped each other. Farmers from all over the country came in during the night with their trucks to take out the cattle. My assistant minister arrived within the hour from her home outside the area to take over the pastoral care for the people in the old peoples home urging me to leave with my family. People for an unspecified length of time took people in they hardly knew. And so on .
In the end nothing happened. Or rather, a lot happened to all of us, but we were able to talk comfortably about it on the Sunday 10 days after it all started, with our homes still dry and all our belongings still intact. But for a couple of days we had all felt what it was like to lose everything. What it was like to let go of all our earthly belongings.
The story of the rich man always reminds me of that experience. He comes to Jesus and asks what he can do to gain eternal life. What he can do to gain a life that would be really worth living that means.
He is rich and has always followed all the rules. Paid off his mortgage I assume, taken out a good life insurance and paid all the premiums, has all eventualities covered, given to charity, his whole life nicely organized. Done what most of us do really. But left with a feeling that something is lacking, that there is something not quite right.
What can he do?
Jesus looks at him and knows what is lacking him: Let go, he says, let everything that provides you with certainty go. Give it away and it will be easy to enter the Kingdom of heaven.
The man then turns away, sadly, because there was a lot that prevented him from doing just that.
After the flood people told me they never felt quite the same again. And how that experience had made them realise in a very profound way that money and worldly goods are not anywhere near the top of the list of things that are really important in life.
Most of us were moved, amazed and filled with gratefulness by what had happened when people started sharing generously from what they had. In a lot of cases throwing caution to the wind, some of them taking considerable financial and personal risk to help others. To discover that both parties gained by it, the helpers as well as the helped.
Perhaps if something like that would have happened to the rich man he would have understood what Jesus meant. How letting go and sharing can actually improve your life, and that of others beyond measure.
In the text it says Jesus loved this man, from the very first moment he lays eyes on him. Even with all his riches. And he still loved him when hed turned away. In Jesus place we would find that difficult if not impossible to do. To still love someone that would turn their back on us.
But for God it is not. He keeps punching our safety bags with words that work like really sharp swords (or pencils). Words that try to startle us into action: Go, give everything to the poor and follow me. Go, get your priorities straight, share and miracles will happen. Go, let not what you treasure control you, but let love and the readiness to share control your treasuring.