Sermon: “Diamonds in the Rough”

Round brilliant polished diamonds.

Round brilliant polished diamonds.

Earlier this week, I came across a story about Swiss company that has pioneered a process resulting in a very particular kind of product.

It seems that, for a fairly significant sum, you can release the physical remains of a loved one, and have the body flown to Switzerland, where over a six month process, involving dignity and decorum at every stage, that body will be slowly transformed into an actual diamond.

They’ve been at it for a few years now and can report that there is most certainly a market for what they offer. People all over the world send inquiries, and they are currently looking to expand their facilities due to demand.

I learned also that many people go on to incorporate the diamond into a ring or some other piece of jewelry, which they genuinely prize as a treasure and a testament.

But you know, there are hiccups.

It turns out that whatever it is inside us that becomes a diamond has its own color, its own hue, and so there are times when the family receives their new diamond with great excitement, and they open the tasteful box, only to be immediately crushed by what they see.

Because instead of something the color of sunlight through water, sometimes the diamond is yellow or purple or smoky, and they take it hard.

They don’t see it as a revelation of what was in someone’s bones. They take it as a commentary on what was in her soul.

It is also hard to predict the size of the diamond, and when the diamond turns out to be quite small, some seem to feel that this is also an form of unkind spiritual commentary.

Happily, though, most are delighted, and those who are not seem to come around, eventually.

So…I’ve been thinking about this.

I will admit that it does not particularly speak to me.

But I do think that it speaks to something that most of us do feel.

I think it speaks to our hope that something of our goodness, something of our hopes and out benevolent intentions will shine throughout our lives.

We hope that the diamond that is inside us somewhere will be visible, at least to some.

And I think when you put it that way, the idea that when we die, someone will step forward with that diamond and hand it to our loved ones for their safekeeping, suddenly doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

It makes me think, also, about the rich young man in Mark’s gospel this morning.

He approaches Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, as Jesus and the disciples are slowly working their way toward Jesus’ own final confrontation with the powers of his world.

Nobody knows that, of course, except for Jesus, but I wonder if he doesn’t have it very much in mind.

There they are: the disciples and Jesus, walking along in their dusty jeans and t-shirts, engaging the people they’ve encountered in this whistle-stop of a place.  Then it all seems to freeze when the young man in the Bitter End Yacht Club cap and the fresh polo shirt expertly works his way to the front of the crowd to ask his question–his question about eternal life and what it takes to get one.

And there are some who say that what Jesus is doing is trying to take this preppy kid down a peg or two, but I’m not so sure.

I think part of it might just be that Jesus is thinking about eternal life a fair bit himself, just then, and so, truth be told, the question is a particularly good one.

Also hovering over their encounter is the young man’s hope–his utterly earnest hope–that somehow this rabbi in the dusty t-shirt will see the diamond that shines within him, and let him go forth from this encounter, not just a little bit more sure about his place in Heaven, but more sure of the person he is inside. More sure that his goodness, his hopes, his benevolent intentions are shining through.

We don’t know why he is worried that they might not be. The line between genuine humility and nagging insecurity is not always plain to the naked eye.

I mean, let’s be honest: isn’t there a part of you that so wants to meet this guy’s dad?

It is so hard to read this young man. And not just for us. I think it’s hard for the young man, himself, which is so much of the issue here.

Maybe that’s why he has come out on the road to find Jesus–Jesus, who seems to see below the surface, and into the very heart of things.

But he comes to ask his question at a strange and unsettled time.

Because what Jesus knows, what he really knows for sure just then, with Jerusalem ahead of him…what he knows for sure just then is that faith is not just a matter of claiming something, but a matter of letting go, too.

And the young man just isn’t ready to hear that.

Sometimes. we have to let things go in order to claim new and better things.

Sometimes, we hold onto the wrong things for all the right reasons, or the right things for all the wrong reasons, and it is only in learning to let go that what needs to happen or the good that might happen can finally happen.

The Apostle Paul speaks the truth when he says that the word of God is like a double edged sword that cleaves the joints from the marrow.

Letting go can sometimes feel that way, as if you’re being split in two.

And the more used to being in charge we are, the harder it can be to let go.

I have a dear friend who’s father was an 80s Wall Street guy, and he recently came across a box of old papers, and in the box was a folder of all the agendas that his father had prepared for their family vacations.

And what he found amazing was not only that his father had prepared agendas for their family vacations, but also, that he, as a young boy, had seen fit to file them in some kind of appropriate place.

Come to think of it, it would be interesting to get his take on the story of the rich young man, right?

But the more immediate question is, how is it that we can learn to let go in the moments when we need to?

How do we respond when God challenges us with the truth that letting go is the only way forward into the abundant life he promises we will find in him?

If you ask me, the hard thing about this story isn’t what it says about wealth. The hard thing is what it says about control.

And what it says is that if the brilliant diamond that is in us is truly going to shine at last, if we’re going to take on that new life that Jesus promises, then we will surely have to give up some things that are hard to give up–and by this, I don’t think he means merely giving up all of our possessions. He means something much harder: he means giving up some of our most cherished ways of being.

Do you remember that awful old t.v. show “Gilligan’s Island”?

Some of us do.

There was the millionaire. Thurston Howell III, who it seems wouldn’t even go on a three hour boat tour without carrying suitcases full of money just in case, but who now found himself just one of a group of castaways on a deserted island, and in fact, in that context, he had relatively little to offer.

If you watched the show regularly, you’ll remember that no matter how dire the circumstances, Mr. Howell found it hard enough to give up the money in those suitcases. But the real point, which was the ongoing joke about his character in the show, was that he couldn’t give up his old identity. He couldn’t give up his cherished ways of being.

And in this morning’s gospel, neither can the rich young man.

Giving up our control, our cherished ways of being, and seeing into the superficialities we cling to, is what Jesus is inviting the young man to do.  And it’s what he invites us to do.

That said, if we take its message to heart, it doesn’t take long to notice that while Jesus tells us what to do, he doesn’t tell us how.

Maybe this brief roadside encounter came too early.

After all, it came as Jesus was still wrestling, too…wrestling with how even he would find a way to honor God’s control above his own.

We know that later in the story, Jesus wrestled even in the Garden of Gethsemane itself, with the sound of Roman marching getting louder and louder every second.

Wrestling is an important part of faith. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

So in our story today, if there is no guidance as to the “how,” perhaps the point is that there is nothing as simple as one sure fire way to do it.

God is not looking for one kind of life, one kind of service, one kind of response to his Word.

Each of us has to seek God’s help to find our own way, our own life, our own understanding of how we are called to respond.

Each of us has to wrestle with our cherished ways of being and ask what use God wants to make of them.

We need to ask who it is that God is inviting us to be now…today.

For all the rich young man’s insecurities, that kind of wrestling is not his thing.

When push comes to shove, he is comfortable just where he is and just how he is, and what he’s come for, what he’s pushed his way forward to receive, is certainty. He wants a measure of confirmation. He wants to know that the love of God shines down on him.

It does. Jesus looked at him and loved him, says the text.

But in the very next breath, Jesus says that’s not enough.

It’s not enough because he challenge of faith is to ask how it is that the love of God shines through us.

Faith challenges us to live lives that point, not to us and what we have done, but to God, and to the ways he calls us to live.

Faith challenges us to give up anything that would get in the way of that kind of life.

Look to God, says Jesus, the one in whom all things are possible.

And as we learn to follow him, through his grace, our lives might even come to shine like diamonds.

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