Sunday, October 14, 2018

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

The First Shall be Last and the Last Shall be First

         I’d imagine some days Jesus got really frustrated.
         In the last few days he’d been hammering on one point and one point only
The First Shall Be Last and the Last Shall be First.
         He’d pointed to the humility involved. He’d confronted his disciples—they’d been asking who got to be first—who gets to be at his right hand and left hand once everything was turned upside down by Jesus. Who would be his Secretary of
State and Vice President? And he made them all tumble down with his answer
—The first must be least and last.
And as we shall see, when Jesus is enthroned at his right and left hand are two criminals dying on crosses with him.
         Jesus had been impressed with that humble confession—one I’m sure we all have uttered at time or two,
“I believe, help my unbelief.”
This pointed to a religious piety that wasn’t about being filled and being first, but about acknowledging our emptiness—a humility that allows us to say, “help me Lord!”
         And if that was not enough, he commanded the crowd to cut off hand or foot or eye, if it would keep them from the Kingdom.
If your leg would give you a leg up on the least and last—goodbye leg, right?
         And then Jesus noted whowere the last and least and how to protect them. He ruled against divorce, because divorce was being used to abuse women—used to leave them off to the side of society, to transform them from the least to even less than the least.
         And he proclaimed that children
—literally considered itsinstead ofpeople,
what’sinstead of who’s
—he proclaims that welcoming them is welcoming him
—that the act of blessing children—these little Last Ones, is the key to the Kingdom of God.

         Yes, he’s hammered home that the least and last are first in the Kingdom of God—and then this guy shows up.
You know the type, the one who sleeps through class and then asks everyone what the assignment was,
the one who didn’t study for the oral exam because believes he can BS his way through…
         He tries to schmooze and butter up the teacher, calling him good, and then asks for a repeat of the entire course up to this point, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Let us pray

         What must I do to inherit eternal life?
         He’s clearly not read the syllabus, or the cliff notes, or the Readers Digest edition, or even the Wikipedia page.
         None are good but God—in fact that’s the first half of the 10 commandments, all warning against idolatry in one way or another
—and the second half are about treating one another well
—love God, love Neighbor.
         Apparently, this man was quite the guy, he’d done the Love Neighbor thing well his whole life long—talk about humility.
         So Jesus says, “give it all up and follow me.”
Come to God, not with visions of completed commandments, your check-list fulfilled
—come to God destitute,
come to God empty,
come to God with the words, “I believe, help my unbelief” on your lips!

         Jesus gives him such a stark opportunity
—a terrifying opportunity.
“What exactly is keeping youfrom a full life in God now and forever? How may you be rid of it?” 
And the man is incensed and saddened, he saw what ailed him, and turned away…
God help him… God help us…

         Wealth can attach itself to us like a limb—we can love it just the same. It can metastasize onto us and hold us enthralled.
For the love of money we often make decisions that go against our best interest, against our own values and convictions, against the will of God.
         Think of ancient Israel. They had a stated value of valuing the lives of the poor and acting rightly, righteously, justly, but as Amos points out, they sold it all away for great houses and pleasant vineyards—but that wealth was fleeting, it was all stripped away.
         We don’t enter God’s presence with our wallets
—in fact, if you’re doing it right, no friendship, with God or neighbor or anyone, should be based on your wealth.
No, we come to God empty, crawling onto God’s lap like the children blessed by Jesus.
         We do not wear a garment of dollar bills in order to be present with God
—no we wear our baptism.
         When we reach that position that the disciples do, “Holy cow! Then who can be saved?”
When we’re emptiedlike that, recognizing nothing we do, nothing we have, saves us
—when we are, to quote the letter to the Hebrews, “naked and laid bare”
then we are able to see how God makes the impossible possible, how God saves us.

         And recognizing that radical dependence we have on God—we can run away like the rich young man
—or look around and see what it means,
-how it transforms our life,
-how it re-orders existence.
         The last and the least receive this salvation first, able to see the protection and blessings of Jesus in a way the wealthy and first cannot, able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven while the wealthy dither at the gate. The last and least are first!
In the Kingdom, those who claim the kind of authority and power only God the Father has, are gone
—don’t believe me? Look.
Look at Mark 10:29 and 30, you give up everything and get back everything, but with two changes
—you lose father and you gain persecution…
because you only have one Father now, the one revealed in His son Jesus Christ—in the Kingdom everyone is a sibling, even fathers to their children. 
—and that makes those who once saw themselves as God-like go after you and persecute you!
Inheritingeternal life means life looks different, isdifferent
—we inheriteternal life from God the Father,
our family is the family of Jesus.
Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.

…But, perhaps I’ve written off that man who came to Jesus, sometimes called the rich young ruler, too soon…
because when you read Mark’s Gospel you find an unnamed young man at the Garden of Gethsemane following after Jesus. The young man has only one possession, a single linen clothing which he wears, and then when Jesus is taken away the Romans tear even that possession from him
—he runs away naked.
         And again, at the tomb in Mark’s Gospel, the two Mary’s and Salome find an unnamed young man alone at the tomb, clothing in a white robe.
         It is my hope, if not my conviction, that this is the same young man
—grief broken and repentant, giving away all that he had, chasing after Jesus, finding our resurrected Lord.
Transformed so that he too enters the Kingdom of God. Maybe last among a new family, but there, co-heir of God with and through Jesus Christ.