How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God says Jesus. How hard it is for us who are self-reliant and smug to accept how utterly dependent we are on God. How hard it is for those of us who don't actually need God to see God. How hard it is for us for whom comfort (material, financial and physical) insulates us from the daily bread reality of our creator. How hard it is for those of us who dedicate ourselves to being good social justice activists to surrender to a God who is likely unimpressed with our busyness. How hard it is for the powerful to see life abundant in giving away power. How hard it is to die and be re-born.
So who can enter the kingdom on their own? Who among us has done the hard things necessary to inherit eternal life? Who among us has sold all we have and given it to the poor? Who among us has, as the reading from Mark a couple weeks ago suggested, who has hacked off our own feet and hands to ensure our salvation?
If we try to read the discipleship texts from Mark as a personal salvation manual, then we imagine that it is we who must cut off our hands and feet, gouge out our own eyes, give away all our possessions and shrink our camel-sized selves down to needle eye size. But in fact it tends to be God who does this for us -- who prunes us, feeds us, cuts us and our bank accounts down to size and shapes us. It tends to be God and not us who does the impossible.
Crazy things go on when we are part of this kingdom of God. For instance, I never had any desire to befriend evangelical pastors. If I'd tried to figure out on my own how to get saved and Jesus had said, Nadia, for your personal salvation management program you must become friends with evangelical pastors... If Jesus had said, you must preach at their churches, collaborate on a prayer book, and develop fondness and respect for people whose theology and worship looks like it's from another planet entirely... If Jesus HAD said this to me I would go away shocked and grieving. For I have many snotty opinions about these people, and I'm honestly as comfortable with my opinions as that rich guy was with his wealth. I am perfectly happy not liking evangelicals.
I'm also quite happy to not like Missouri Synod Lutherans -- especially, for instance, ones who have radio shows in which they tear apart my sermons and basically call me a heretic for being a woman pastor. Who is exactly the guy I met yesterday at the conference where I was speaking; presumably he was there to get more fuel for his little radio show. I knew he was there and I did not want to engage with him. Why? He spent an entire half hour of a radio show picking apart my sermon on the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I had never met him, but I don't like him. Yet God paid this very little attention recently when, despite us both, my LCMS detractor/conservative Christian radio host and I had a 30 minute conversation filled with grace and honesty and in which twice he shed tears. We spoke of how desperate we both are for the gospel. Desperate enough to hear it even from each other. It's weird that beautiful conversation happened at all since it's basically impossible.
And yet God went ahead and did this for me -- put me and my enemy face to face. And in the past six months God has sent me a bunch of evangelicals to be my brothers and sisters, to have meals with, to love. This is what happens when God does the impossible and like the disciples, we get swept up into it. Our Small Catechism says that I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort come to my Lord Jesus or believe in him but the Holy Spirit has called me though the gospel and enlightened me with the spirit's gifts.
The impossible is what happens when the Holy Spirit calls us through the gospel and enlightens us with the Spirit's gifts. I believe that by my own understanding or effort I cannot sell all I have and give it to the poor. I believe by my own understanding or effort I cannot have beautiful collaborative collegial relationships with evangelicals, or have grace-filled conversations with my enemies. For me this is impossible; for you this is impossible; for God, not so much.
So like the rich man, what must we do to inherit eternal life? Still be alive after the other guy dies. In other words, in this life of discipleship, we will die and be reborn again and again in the death and resurrection of Christ as God sweeps us up again and again into the crazy impossible. So watch those bank accounts brothers and sisters, and those snotty opinions, and your so-called enemies, and those plans and management programs. Because seriously -- who knows what crazy thing's gonna happen.
This article is an edited adaptation of a recent sermon.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor living in Denver, Colorado, where she serves the emerging church, House for all Sinners and Saints. She blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television. This article is an edited adaptation of a recent sermon.