Campers, Camels, and Calculations

This past summer my husband, daughter and I embarked on an adventure we had never before tried as a family. Camping!

Actually the grand adventure was the journey to the campsite in Custer, South Dakota…a round trip of 4,000 miles in a car…together…for many days. But we were set. We had purchased our 1993 Coleman’s pop-up camper. We had our family car looked at by the mechanic. We packed all our essentials (and more) and we hit the road. Our phone with its map apps led the charge and day by day we were on the way. Closer than the day before.

The last leg of the trip to Custer, South Dakota we checked the message from the campground manager, and his message included a stern warning. The warning began with: As you come close to your destination, do not follow the path of your GPS for it will lead you the wrong way and may very well get you into trouble on the Needles Highway. Follow my instructions below for a safe arrival.

Yikes.

We almost always follow our phone’s GPS…in fact it’s sometimes become our Gospel…our Bible for getting places. But being pilgrims in a foreign land, we decided to trust the manager. It was good that we did. We arrived safely to Custer, South Dakota and set up camp.

The next day we took a tour around the scenic area to see Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and the Needles Highway–known for its tight turns and rock formations. There was one rock formation called the Eye of the Needle–so small and tight that cars no bigger than an SUV could fit through it.

During our tour we encountered what could happen… a big RV tried to go through the tunnel and got stuck. Nowhere to go forward. Nowhere to go backward. Angry tourists piling up on either side yelling and honking.

While watching the cacophony unfold, I looked up and saw a mountain goat staring at us foolish humans in our jam…the goat looked unphased. My guess is that he’s seen this needle get stuck plenty of times before.

Now… confession is good for the soul… there was a small part of me that was a little too giddy upon hearing of a big RV getting stuck in the eye of the needle. A part of me that thought, “Hey hey…I bet that rich driver feels a little foolish in their vehicle that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars that is currently no better than a vehicular lemon in a big squeeze!” Not too charitable thinking on my part. And I was quickly reminded that our used 1993 pop-up camper that we got for a cheap song would have gotten the squeeze too had we not heeded the manager’s warning.

The eye of the needle.

It is the great gate image, is it not? Jesus uses the image of the eye of a needle and the rich man–and it captures our imagination (Mark 10:17-31). I’ve heard some Biblical historians try to explain that the eye of the needle was a small gateway and the rich had to unburden their stuff before getting their camels through… but I think Jesus was really talking about the eye of a small needle and the eyes that belong to all of us who value our treasure.

When compared to the trappings of billionaires in our culture, I would not consider myself rich, however I know that compared to much of our world and global neighbors, I would be right alongside our Biblical rich brother.

I think the only time I didn’t try to squirm away from the all seeing eye of that needle was when I was first hearing these words of Jesus as a kid. And Jesus’ words of giving everything away didn’t phase me because I was a kid–and I had my parents there to worry about house, home, food, clothes, medical attention, and future. But I can tell you the first time I got a monetary gift over $100, I began to squirm with Jesus’ words. Because for the first time I had a monetary treasure to lose.

And it’s been squirm city ever since then. For two thousand years preachers and listeners alike have tried to get away from Jesus’ words. Give everything up?
Give it to the poor?
Getting camels through eyes?
Surely these words don’t refer to me, Lord?
Or the phrase we hear at the last supper, “Surely not I, Lord?!”

Our treasures. We treasure our treasures. It’s a reason they are our treasures. And sometimes they can get us into trouble. Sometimes they can get us stuck in tunnels of life. Sometimes treasuring our treasures can cause us to betray the very one who gives us life.

And whether we like it or not, we all share something with that rich man. He asks Jesus how he can inherit the kingdom. In a way, he’s asking for his piece of the pie. Whether that’s pie in the sky or having his cake and eating it too–he wants a piece.

And when we’re honest with ourselves. We do too. We want a piece of the pie. We want the things that we value. Or as an overbearing attendant at a yard sale said to me once, “Everybody’s got a treasure! What’s yours?!”

Jesus words’ tunnel into our hearts as we are caused to pause and ask, “what are we holding onto that may keep us from the way?” The way of the Lord. What do we value that we are clinging onto? What calculations are we using that add up to life well lived? What guiding systems are we using that may actually get us stuck?

And yet the aspects of life that we most value are often so tied up into our identity that it is hard to know where they end and we begin. Giving away money is giving of ourselves. In many ways our money is us. It is the tangible form of our time and our energy.

I knew a small business owner in who was very aware of how his time was money. In fact, he had one of those calculator watches and everything he did he calculated what it represented in dollars and cents. It seemed like not only were business decisions calculated with cost benefit analysis, but community projects workers engaged in, time off for sick days, and even his own family’s vacations were examined through the same eye. He would calculate his time and money and deem it worth while. That is till one day his wife gave an ultimatum…it’s the watch or me. You decide!

But money is a big piece of our identity. It’s a big tool that is used to purchase food, shelter, education…you name it. And we also know that this is not the only treasures that are embedded in our identity.
The job.
The kids.
The look.

And church leaders are no better. Around this time of year with budget formation and church reports–I sometimes don’t hear Jesus’ call to follow, I only see dollars and cents.

I think for us all, our treasures and what we value and calculate transform from being part of identity to being the guiding system to our path–till we get tunnel vision–and become a big ol’ RV stuck in the eye of the needle tunnel of life.

How very hard it is for us to give up what we treasure for the sake of walking the way of God? How deep does our dependence on our treasures run? Are we sick and not even know it?

Sick. Just like the rich man.

When we first encounter him, the rich man runs up to Jesus, kneels before him for help to his plea. When the Gospel writer Mark writes of anyone kneeling before Jesus, it is almost always because they are in need of healing. Whether it’s the rich man who has the burden of treasure, or infirmed little children who come before him to be blessed, the leper who kneels to be made whole, the church leader who just needs to hear that they are doing good and faithful work, or the person in the pew who just feels stuck.

We are in need of healing–we who on the way can’t give up our treasure or the piece of the pie.

We need God’s grace given by Jesus who on the way gave up his life for the sake of peace–the peace between God and all of creation, the peace that Jesus bestows on all of us. Especially we who are in need of healing.

Jesus is looking upon you and me with love, and inviting us to be healed.
What treasures…what pieces of you is Jesus inviting you to lay down and let go, in order that you may feel a little peace on the way?

Amen

Rev. Sarah Teichmann

Rev. Sarah Teichmann

Pastor of Christian Formation

I love working in a staff where we are able to use each other’s strengths for the glory of God. I am energized by the lay leaders of the church and the creative ways they can extend the mission of Jesus to congregational members and our community.

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