Amos 5.6-7,10-15; Psalm 90.12-17; Hebrews 4.12-16; Mark 10.17-31
Awe is an incredibly important part of our lives and our faith that we don’t seem to talk about enough. We all know what it is when we feel it – something that makes us stop and leaves us speechless, we get lost in time and space, our mind or our senses totally consumed by one fantastic thing. The dictionary says awe is a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder. But I think it is more. It is a serendipitous, unanticipated experience of the holy. It interrupts all our assumptions and reveals the holy and sacred. It is a fundamental celebration of being alive.
And if a sense of awe comes from experiencing the holy, then it can come to us whenever, not just when we are standing on Mt. Rainier. But perhaps we in this country have watered it down a bit too much. It was all over the news this past January that about 1 out of 4 Americans believe that God decides the result of the Super Bowl. We credit God for our good parking spot, the lack of traffic, or catching our connection on the other side of the airport. And while it is true that everything we have comes from God, this picture of a God of parking lots and traffic lanes seems pretty shallow and un-awe-inspiring. It turns God into a great vending machine in the sky, dolling out treats when all the right buttons are pushed.
Scripture instead points us to a much more awe-inspiring God. When we think of stories of awe in the Bible, we likely think first of stories such as creation, the parting of the Red Sea, a blind person given sight, the resurrection. Yet I think today’s gospel story, even though it may not seem like it at first, is a great awe-inspiring story.
At the beginning we have the question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is not a question put to Jesus to test him or trick, as sometimes happens. But instead this question seems to be coming to Jesus in all earnest. Yet it is an odd question. It is odd because of the way inheritance works. There is no work that can get it for you, nothing to be done. People receive an inheritance because they belong to a family, simple as that.
But Jesus answers the question, and asks this man to do something that is so difficult, he goes away despondent and grieving. And then Jesus continues the lesson with his disciples, emphasizing how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God, to receive eternal life, driving them to the point where they finally ask (and I imagine them asking it with some level of exasperation), ‘then who can be saved?’
And here we are handed the point Jesus was driving at - he looks at them and says that in fact it is impossible, no one can…at least, without God, for with God all things are possible. What a wonderful, awe-inspiring thing! All things are possible with God. Even when I can’t quite give up that treasure I love – with God I can inherit eternal life. Even when I refuse to acknowledge that thing I lack, the thing that is keeping me from living into the kingdom – with God I can inherit eternal life. Even when I stubbornly refuse to let go of the things I prioritize above God - with God I can inherit eternal life. What an unexpected experience of the holy. The disciples were caught up in a culture that taught that if you were wealthy, it was a sign of God’s favor bestowed on you, hence their question when Jesus tells them that in fact, being wealthy makes it harder to live into the kingdom. We too get so wrapped up in our assumptions about being good and holy, that we are swept off our feet by this declaration of how grace works. We are left in awe, gaping at the reality of the fact that anything is possible with God. We have a million questions, God has one answer – don’t worry so much, I’ve got it!
Kallistos Ware, a bishop in the Eastern Orthodox Church, says it well when he says “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”
Asking questions and searching for answers are incredibly important parts of our lives, vital parts of our faith. Those questions lead us to understanding what God wants us to work for here on this earth. But we also must be open to awe and wonder and remembering that we cannot work for or earn what is NOT of this earth. For in moments of awe and wonder we cannot deny the powerful presence of God in the world. We cannot deny that God is far greater than ourselves. When we live a lifestyle of awe we live a life focused not on ourselves but our creator. We are driven to generosity in the face of a world that tells us to hoard all of our things. Instead of being stagnant we are inspired to use our skill and creativity to make good things. When we accept that there is nothing we can DO to inherit eternal life, when we accept that God has welcomed us into God’s family free of any requirement while reaping all the benefits, when we accept that for God, all things are possible, suddenly we find it not quite as difficult to follow Jesus, to be disciples, to live in awe.