After whatever words came out my mouth following the reading of the gospel last week, church members sent me two things related to my sermon. One was a video from CBS News about “real wealth.” The other was a graduation speech by George Saunders in which invited the youngsters in the audience to ask the “old people” around them one useful question. That question: Looking back, what do you regret?
In that same speech, he then goes on to cross of a list of things that he doesn’t actually regret until he lands on the thing that he really does. He explains:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then – they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn’t. End of story.
Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still. It bothers me.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
That’s what is stolen from him. When the thief in the night comes, the treasure robbed of him his that kindness. That is his regret. And that’s all that is happening here. This isn’t really about figuring out the time and place that Jesus is going to come back and preparing for that one moment, but realizing that these moments appear all of the time. Christ is all around us — all of the time. Christ is always appearing in each and every hour. It seems so unexpected, but can’t you see it? Can’t you feel that love in your heart? Don’t you know it’s always there?
Well, no. You don’t. It’s OK, you can say it. I don’t either. There are times that I really struggle to believe that Christ is here in the middle of whatever situation seems totally and completely devoid of kindness. Most of us trip over this. We have a really hard time believing that it’s God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We are convinced that there is something more that we should have done or still need to do before the kingdom comes. And that weight rests square on our shoulders so that if it hasn’t come, it’s all my fault. I didn’t sell my possessions. I didn’t give alms. I screwed up. Or as it often happens in most churches I have ever attended, when these sorts of words appear, those good church people that show up to worship every Sunday don’t see this as a criticism of anything that they have or haven’t done. They hear these words and turn to the preacher after the sermon to say, “You know, you should really make sure that so-and-so hears that message.”
But, Jesus isn’t speaking to any one of us. He isn’t speaking to so-and-so or that person you started to think about when you read those words. He is talking to all of us all at once. He isn’t telling me to sell my possessions, but wants us to hear these words together so that somehow God’s good pleasure is realized when we see that kindness. That there is indeed something to regret when I value my possessions or my wealth over the people that I get to share this life with. And that’s when Christ comes. When you are no longer so worried about yourself, and what you need and want, but realize that you don’t need to be afraid and simply remember where your heart is. Remember that good pleasure that is within you. Because that is where Christ will be. That is where Christ always is. When you are ready, you’ll find that Christ is right there. It will feel totally unexpected, but treasure always does. This is God’s good pleasure — and in this, what could you possibly regret?