Sunday, October 12, 2003

science fair

When I was in sixth grade, and my brother Dave
was in fourth grade, we came up with a project
for the school science fair. Each of us had a pet
rat and we built a maze out of cardboard, put
cheese at one end of it, and then set them in the
other end. My rat, Herman, needed a nudge. Dave's
rat, Henry, would race through the maze to the
other end and get the cheese. Eventually Herman
got the message and he'd go racing through too.
By then Henry figured out he could jump up on top
of the maze and scamper across it and then
descend on the cheese. They got their cheese --
and we got first prize.

A few years ago a friend recommended a management
book, by the author of "The One Minute Manager",
entitled "Who moved my cheese?" In it, he took
the experiment a step further. What if, once the
rats had learned the maze, you moved the cheese?

In his management fable there were also two rats.
When they ran through the maze and got to the end
and found that their cheese had been moved, they
had different reactions. One rat just hunkered
down to wait for the cheese to come back. The
other had the gumption to accept change and move
on: he went looking for the cheese in a new
place. The author extolled the virtue of the
second rat.

[I remember when I was in Boy Scouts a couple of
years after the science fair, on my first campout
I wanted to cut some wood. But they told me, you
have to have a totin' chip. A totin' chip? A card
that certified that you'd been checked out on the
equipment for safety, and maintenance, and
handling. Then they'd sign off on a card, called
a totin' chip, and then and only then you could
use an ax. So I took the training, got the chip,
and got the ax and cut some wood.]

Years later, after college, I applied for the
ordination process. They gave me a checklist of
the things I had to do before I could see the
bishop. I made my way down the checklist and got
everything done. Then I wrote to the bishop
requesting an interview with him in his office in
San Francisco.

Well, let me tell you. His answer surprised me.
He wrote back, and he said, we're splitting the
diocese and you'll need to go see the new bishop
of El Camino Real down in Monterey. They'd moved
my cheese 120 miles!

Jesus tells us a story this morning (Mark
10:17-27) of a rich man who had kept all the
commandments, and went to Jesus. He felt he had
earned his cheese. What must I do -- what more
must I do -- to inherit eternal life? he asked.
What else do I have to do to enter the kingdom of

Well, let me tell you. Jesus' answer surprised
him. He said, it's not about the cheese.

Why don't you give away the cheese, and come and
follow me. The rich man went away, shocked and
sad. He figured he had a lot of cheese coming.

In those days wealth was seen as a sign of God's
blessing. There are even references in the
gospels to "the pharisees who were lovers of
money" (Luke 16:10-15). But Jesus admonished
them, do not become a slave to your wealth.

And so, this rich man, who thought he had
everything, with the possible exception of a
gold-plated Hummer, was ready to cash it all in
for the big prize. And Jesus told him what he
sought wasn't the prize at all.

What he thought was the prize was instead a
provision. It's not about the cheese.

It's not even about the bread and the wine. Those
are provisions for us in our new life in Christ.
They not only feed us but they transform us.

The bread and wine become for us the body and
blood of Christ. We become through them the body
of Christ, God's faithful people acting as his
hands and arms and eyes, in the world. We are
made new creatures, members now of that heavenly
kingdom, an inheritance which we have not earned
but which we receive as a gift. Eternal life
starts now, when we give up the cheese, and open
our hands and hearts to receive something better.

Notes for a Sermon for St Patrick's Church, Kenwood, Calif.
Sunday, October 12, 2003
Year B
18 Pentecost (Proper 23)
Mark 10:17-27