Internal Conflict

(Message given 1/6/13 at Newberg Friends, from Mark 10:17-31)

Read Mark 10:17-31

Just to reassure you, we aren’t talking about money today. We’re talking about something harder to find, peace. 🙂

This man-whom Jesus loved, it says-speaks what ought to be the universal question: how do we inherit eternal life? How do we live forever in peace and goodness? Jesus loves him. Jesus wants that for him. But something is in the way.

I’m not as concerned at this point that the thing in the way is money. I’m more focused on the fact I believe that something is in the way for all of us. Money. Or the desire to control our lives. Or our own comfort. Or accolades and accomplishments in the world’s eyes. Something.

I believe this is one of those encounters that can be universalized, that all of us could come to Jesus and say, “What must I do to live forever in goodness and peace?” And whether the conversation was long or short, Jesus would ask something of each of us that, just like this man whom Jesus loved, would cause our face to fall.

What is it for you?

What is the thing, or the issue, or the dream, or the comfort…what is it that if Jesus asked for it, would cause your face to fall? Take just a few moments in silence to think, pray, or write about that before we sing some more….

Our Yearly Meeting, our group of Friends churches in the Northwest, sets aside January as a time to look at our value of peace.

We’re joining with the rest of the Yearly Meeting this year-the things they’ve chosen to focus on among the wide range of peace topics seems pretty good for all of us to look at.

The focus for the Sundays in January will be on different areas of conflict in our lives. Conflict happens. It’s part of living with other people, part of living in our world. By the end, we will get to what we usually think about as our peace testimony, international peacemaking that avoids war. And we will probably have conflict over that, proving the point that conflict happens! 🙂

But first, we will look at smaller areas of conflict, ones that we all face. These are not intellectual exercises, but rubber-meets-the-road sorts of issues. How do we figure out how to live at peace with others and not live perpetually in conflict?

The heart of this week is recognizing that without a resolution to my inner conflict, I’m going to struggle to live at peace with others.

I will take this further: without recognizing our own resistance to God’s ownership of our lives, we won’t find the ability to live at peace with ourselves or others. And that’s exactly where this story from the book of Mark comes in. Let’s look at it again. [READ 17-18.]

Have you ever wondered why Jesus seems sort of confrontive here? I think it is because Jesus knows, in ways we don’t, how there is a fundamental conflict in place in the world. Many of us assume, as it seems this man assumes, that good, peaceable, eternal life is possible for any of us, that it is there for the asking.

Right off the bat, Jesus is setting the parameters. The good eternal life is connected with goodness itself, and there is no one good…except God. God is good, and we are not. That is the fundamental conflict in the world. We’re created good, God calls us very good-but our actions, our character, our choices do not naturally bring about the good, eternal life we all would desire. It is only God’s character that brings that about.

Jesus then offers an implicit challenge.

Why are you coming to me? Are you really ready for my answer? To make sure, I’ll tell you the things you already know, the path that Jewish law outlines for you. [READ v. 19-20]

I’ve done that, the man says, with the implied sense that he’s coming to Jesus because he believes Jesus has something more. There’s something more the man wants then his own attempts at keeping the law. Maybe all that he does really isn’t “good” enough. Jesus loves him, loves that response of honesty, and delivers the difficult word. You do lack something. Keeping the law isn’t enough. Your inner conflict is real. [READ v. 21]

You do lack something. There is something holding you back, something keeping you from following me fully. You can do all sorts of good things, but I want all of you, not just your good deeds. For you, it’s your money and wealth that are holding you back.

For you and me, it may be money as well, or it may be something completely different. But the same conflict is there. God loves us, God sees us as his good creation; but each of us has something we lack, something that holds us back from giving ourselves completely and totally to God. Something grabs at us, and causes conflict in us, keeps us from fully obeying and abandoning ourselves to God.

[READ 22]

For this moment, at least, the man cannot resolve the conflict. He goes away rather than comes to Jesus. He goes away rather than follow him. He can’t give up the one thing in order to follow Christ.

I think it’s good for us, from time to time, to remember how difficult and how high the stakes are to follow Jesus.

He demands everything! That insatiable demand will and must cause conflict inside us, conflict with something that we would rather hold on to. At the heart of our faith is a hard choice! [READ 23-25]

The inner conflict we have, whether we know it or not, is that we were made for eternity…but we can’t get there on our own. Not even people who do good, who have it all, make it.

This is no little thing. This is a gigantic conflict inside us-we’re made for something we can’t get, that is near impossible to get. And God is demanding every part of our lives. Is there any hope? That’s the disciples question. [READ v. 26-27]

I wish it said it explicitly, but I think Jesus looks at the disciples in love, too, just like he looked at the man.

Jesus loves them, loves us, and offers the most important good news to resolve our inner conflict. What is impossible for us is not impossible for God. In fact, more than that-ALL things are possible with God.

I feel like time and again over the last few years, I have had to wrestle with something I thought I had learned in Sunday School as a kid. All that I value in life is a gift from God. It really is all based on grace, on God’s gift, on God’s possibilities where we experience impossibilities.

Over and over again I try to follow all of the law and think that I can do it all. Or I feel that I deserve some good thing. And time and again, my face falls when I hear of something more that Jesus asks of me, or when I come face to face with the reality that I don’t really deserve anything. All of creation is God’s, not mine to be deserved.

My first reaction is a face fall-sadness or anger. But always there is Jesus, looking at me in love, saying come follow me. Always there is Jesus, looking at me in love, telling me that on my own, the good life, eternal life is impossible-but not with God. All things are possible with God! All things are possible with me! That’s why I want you to let go of what you hold so tightly that it keeps you from joining me. I want you to have the good possibilities, and they come by following me.

I sometimes wish it were different, but I can’t get around the fact that so many places in the bible speak of the need to sacrifice and give up in order to walk with Christ.

The cross of sacrifice and obedience truly is the best symbol for our faith. Peter speaks for all of us who are slow-to-realize. Hey…wait…this is good news. [READ 28-31]

I could argue the particulars of this…a hundred times more IN THIS PRESENT AGE? Really? I don’t see that.

I could argue the unfairness of it.

Or I can picture Jesus, still looking at me in love, saying: “You can trust me. I know this is hard to walk my path, to let go of things that are dear and important to you in order to follow me. You can trust that in the end I will make it worth your while. You were created for this.”

Peace with God depends on this trust, on this leaving things behind which we hold dear.

Peace with God depends on our ability to trust God’s love enough to let go of the things which we hold more important then obeying Christ.

Peace with others, resolving conflict with others, is going to require sacrifice as well. So much so, that I think peace with others is impossible on our own initiative. I don’t think we can do it. I truly believe that peace with others requires the impossible strength of God, which Jesus tells us only comes when we resolve the conflict between us and God by following Christ completely.

What’s holding you back from following him completely? Maybe nothing today! Good! You have the foundation in place to move on the way to peace. But even after we make the initial commitment to Jesus, there are other things that come up. Because Jesus asks for everything, we find more and more things which cause our face to fall as Jesus asks for them, too.

Is there something today? Is there anything making your face fall as Christ asks for it? Take some time in open worship to consider this question and to offer your whole self to God.

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