My ninth sermon / mi novena sermón: Breaking up with Stuff / Para Dios, Todo es Posible

(Both English and Spanish sermons can be found here)

Marcos 10:17-31
Iglesia Luterana San Andrés en West ChicagoSábado, 10 de octubre; domingo, 11 de octubre

PART_1444519311655_IMG_20151010_123014“Gloria a ti, Señor Jesús.” Creo que esta semana, más bien quiero decir, “¡Pero caramba, Señor Jesús!” ¿Qué hacemos con esto? Hoy nos toca leer otra enseñanza de Jesús que es un poco difícil, igual que su enseñanza sobre el divorcio en la semana pasada. “Anda, vende todo lo que tienes,” dice Jesús al hombre rico. Nosotros ni somos tan ricos, pero también nos cuesta imaginar deshacernos de todas nuestras posesiónes.

¿Por qué diría Jesús a este hombre que venda todas sus cosas? No vemos en el cuento que es una persona mala, y podemos presumir que ganó sus riquezas honestamente. Además, conoce bien los mandamientos de Dios y dice que ha cumplido con ellos desde que era joven. Le pregunta muy sinceramente a Jesús que debe de hacer para heredar la vida eterna. Pero la respuesta de Jesús es que será muy difícil para él entrar en el reino de Dios. ¿Qué tan difícil? Dice Jesús que le resulta más fácil a un camello pasar por el ojo de una aguja, que a los ricos – incluso este rico – entrar en el reino de Dios. ¡Caramba, Señor Jesús!

Los discípulos de Jesús se asombran mucho con esto. Lo que dice Jesús de los ricos es totalmente el revés de lo que habrían pensado que él dijera. En su cultura de ellos, se veía la riqueza material como una bendición divina. Para ellos, la riqueza era evidencia de que cierta persona o cierta familia hallaba el favor de Dios. Y creo que hasta hoy en día, nos influye esa idea. Queremos creer que nuestra virtud estará corespondida por ganancias materiales. Es un concepto que se llama “la teología de la prosperidad.” Dice basicamente que si soy buen cristiano y obedezco la ley de Dios, luego Dios me recompensará con riquezas. Hay muchos predicadores que se han hecho muy ricos por convencer a la gente que Dios es así. Han ganado fortunas predicando a sus oyentes que si les falta la prosperidad, es porque le falta la fé. Es una teología muy dañina.

Y además, es una teología falsa. Todos conocemos de algunos malos ricos y de muchos buenos pobres, ¿no? Jesús ciertamente no era un rico. Y además, Jesús enfatiza en nuestra lectura que es más difícil para los ricos entrar en el reino de Dios que para los demás. Entonces, ¿quiere decir que Jesús odia a la gente rica? Bueno, tampoco dice eso. La lectura dice claramente que Jesús miró al hombre rico con amor. Y además de eso, Jesús fue conocido por pasar tiempo con recaudadores de impuestos, como Zaqueo, que eran personas con muchas riquezas. Y después de su asención al cielo, los dicípulos de Jesús dependían del apoyo de personas ricas para financiar sus misiónes, como Lidia en Hechos 16. Jesús amó a los pobres, pero no era enemigo de la gente adinerada. Entonces, ¿qué quiere decir Jesús con esta enseñanza? (¡Caramba, Señor Jesús!)

De igual manera, sus discípulos están totalmente perdidos. Se asombran cuando Jesús comenta que tan difícil es para los ricos entrar en el reino de Dios; y se asombran aún más cuando Jesús repite que tan difícil es para todos entrar en el reino de Dios. Con esto, se desesperan un poco, y empiezan a preguntar entre si, “Entonces, ¿quien podrá salvarse?” Jesús los oye, y mirándolos, les dice, “Para los hombres, es imposible – pero no para Dios; de hecho, para Dios, todo es posible.” Para nosotros, los seres humanos, es imposible. No podemos entrar en el reino de Dios por nuestros propios esfuerzos. Pero Dios no tiene limitación. Para Dios, todo es posible.

Entonces, me hace pensar que tal vez el problema del hombre rico no fue necesariamente que tenía riquezas. Tal vez fue que hizo mal su pregunta. Se acerca a Jesús y le pregunta, “Maestro bueno, ¿Qué debo hacer para heredar la vida eterna?” “Qué debo yo hacer para heredar la vida eterna?” Su pregunta demuestra que él no sabe que para él es imposible. Para Dios es posible. Tal vez Jesús le dice que venda todo lo que tiene porque ya vió que él confía demasiado en sus posesiónes y en sus riquezas para salvarse. Tal vez Jesús quiere enseñarle que Dios le dará todo lo que necesita. En ese respeto, sus riquezas le impiden a entrar en el reino de Dios más que le ayudan.

Este verano, conocí a un hombre que aprendió esta lección por fuerza. Era un paciente en el hospital donde yo trabajaba como capellana. Antes, era el director de un negocio muy exitoso. Tenía varios empleados y una casa bonita, y podía comprarle cosas buenas a su familia. Pero la presión de mantener todas las cosas que tenía eventualmente le agobió. Y después de un ataque de nervios y un intento de suicidio, llegó a la unidad de psiquiatría en el hospital.

Fue ahí que le conocí. Y me dijo algunas cosas muy profundas. Dijo que se dió cuenta que necesitaba rendirse a Dios. Tenia que acceptar que no podía hacerlo todo por su cuenta. Él había trabajado tan duro por tanto tiempo para ganarse la vida que ya estaba en peligro de perdérsela. Su preocupación por el dinero y por las cosas materiales literalmente le estaba volviendo loco. Quiso aprender a someterse a la voluntad de Dios, porque ya reconoció que su propia voluntad le estaba matando.

Para los hombres es imposible, pero para Dios, todo es posible.

“¿Y qué de nosotros, que lo hemos dejado todo y te hemos seguido?” le reclama Pedro.
¿Qué de nosotros, que hemos sacrificado de nuestro tiempo y de nuestros recursos para apoyar al ministerio de Jesús en esta iglesia? ¿Qué de nosotros que tal vez ni tenían tantas cosas para dar en primer lugar? ¿Qué de nosotros que hemos cruzado fronteras, que hemos dejado casas, familias, y vidas, y que ya servimos a Dios en terrenos ajenos?

“Les aseguro,” responde Jesús, “que todo el que por mi causa y la del evangelio haya dejado casa, hermanos, hermanas, madre, padre, hijos, o terrenos, recibirá cien veces más ahora en este tiempo.” ¡Wow! ¡Que promesa! Casas, hermanos, hermanas, madres, padres, hijos, y terrenos. Hasta cien veces más de lo que teníamos. Y Jesús no dice que estas cosas serán para algún futuro distante. No, dice que es para ahora, en este tiempo. Todos los que confian en Dios y dejan de preocuparse por las cosas del mundo recibirán mucho más de Dios.

Pues, ¿dónde están nuestras casas, entonces? Ya se estarán preguntando. Bueno, aquí estamos en una de ellas. Y cada casa que nos da la bienvenida ya es casa de familia también. Aquí estamos, hermanos y hermanas apoyándonos unos a otros. Aquí estamos madres y padres, enseñando y criando a la nueva generación. Aquí estamos, hijos todos de Dios, deleitando el corazón de nuestro padre celestial.

Este es el tesoro en el cielo del cual habla Jesús. Es el amor. No es la riqueza del mundo que solo da preocupación y ansiedad y que no permanece y que nunca nos puede dar la vida. Dios quiere librarnos de nuestras cadenas materiales para darnos la vida eterna. Quiere hacer por nosotros lo que no podemos hacer por nosotros mismos. Yo, por ejemplo, estoy bastante segura que tendré que rebajar un poco antes de pasar por el ojo de esa aguja. Pero aunque para los hombres es imposible, para Dios, todo es? Posible.  Amén.

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Mark 10:17-31
St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago
Saturday, October 10; Sunday, October 11

PART95144451906844395IMG952015101095121403“Praise to you, O Christ.” I’m with Erin – I think this is another “What the heck, O Christ?” kind of week. Today, we read another one of Jesus’ really difficult teachings, like the teaching last week on divorce. I think it’s safe to say that most of us identify with the wealthy man in this story. Even though we may not think of ourselves as rich, we still have enough money, possessions, and stuff that this word from Jesus cuts us to the heart. “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor,” Jesus says. We hardly even hear the words “treasure in heaven” after the shock of that first invitation.

I mean, it’s pretty clear that the man in the story isn’t a bad guy. He knows God’s law and has done his best to keep it since he was a boy. And his question sounds very sincere: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It sounds like this guy loves God’s laws so much that he’s asking for even more of them to obey! But Jesus says to his disciples that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for this guy to get into the kingdom of God.

What the heck, O Christ?

Even the disciples can’t catch a break with Jesus in this gospel reading. They are shocked when Jesus declares that it is especially difficult for the rich to get into the kingdom of God. This is the exact opposite of what they expected. In their culture, material wealth was seen as a divine blessing, as evidence that a particular person or family had found favor with God. And, honestly, this habit of linking material wealth with divine favor is something that still influences the way we ourselves think about wealth and personal righteousness.

This is what is known as the “prosperity gospel”: “If I am a good Christian and do what God wants me to do, then God will reward me with riches.” Dozens of televangelists have made a fortune convincing people that God works this way – that God really wants to make them rich and that the way to get there is by being super extra faithful. And, of course, by sending all your money to the televangelists.

But Jesus throws cold water over that whole idea in today’s gospel reading, by saying that the rich will have a particularly tough time entering into the kingdom of God. So, does this mean, then, that Jesus hates rich people? Well, this passage isn’t really saying that either. It specifies that Jesus looked at this man and loved him. And besides this, Jesus was also known for hanging out with tax collectors, who were some pretty well-to-do individuals. Even those like Zaccheus, who gave away half of his wealth, were probably still pretty wealthy at the end of the day. And even after Jesus ascended into heaven, his closest followers depended on the support of wealthy people like the purple-seller Lydia, in Acts 16, to help them fund their missions.

So again we’re left asking, what the heck, O Christ?

The disciples are also totally confused about what Jesus means by saying these things. They ask among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus hears them, and then he turns and looks at them and says, “For mortals, this is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.” Coming from Jesus, that’s actually a pretty straightforward answer. For mortals, this is impossible. To enter into the kingdom of God, for us, on our own, is impossible. But for God, all things are possible. Up to and including passing a camel through the eye of a needle. This answer casts a new light on the wealthy man’s question about eternal life. He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man has obviously done well for himself in life, since he has accumulated a lot of wealth. He claims that he has followed all of the commandments since he was a boy. So it’s no wonder that he assumes that eternal life is just one more thing that he will be able to earn by his own efforts. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus says clearly to the disciples that that’s not how it works. For mortals, this is impossible.

The wealthy man actually reminds me a lot of someone I met just this past summer, while I was interning as a chaplain at a hospital. This man was a patient at the hospital where I was working. I had the chance to sit with him a while and hear about his life. He was the CEO of a very successful company that he himself had founded. He had dozens of employees and a nice house and nice things for himself and his family. By all appearances, he was doing extremely well for himself in life.

However, he had begun to feel overwhelmed by the demands of his job and his lifestyle. Each new success was accompanied by more worry and anxiety about protecting the things he had earned. Eventually, it all got to be too much, and after a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt, he ended up in the hospital’s inpatient psych unit.

This is where I met him. And what he said to me was incredibly profound in light of these experiences. He said that he realized that he needed to start giving things up to God. He had tried so hard for so long to make it on his own that his material concerns and efforts toward success were literally driving him crazy! He wanted to learn how to live by God’s will, because his own will was killing him.

Thinking about this man’s experience, it makes me think that Jesus didn’t tell the wealthy man to get rid of his wealth to shame him for being rich or to say that riches are evil. Instead, it makes me think that Jesus saw that this man’s wealth was killing him, that his wealth was getting in the way of his entering the kingdom of God, and so Jesus told him, out of love, to get rid of it. Jesus wasn’t adding the burden of another command. Jesus was trying to set him free.

I want to take a moment to really let this difference sink in. Let’s make it personal. I want you all to think for a moment about your material concerns – I’m sure you’re all doing it during this sermon anyway. (You can close your eyes, if it helps) Think about the bills, the mortgage, utilities, car payments, insurance, rent, grocery bills, debts, and other expenses. Think about what it costs to keep this beautiful building up and running!  Really feel the weight of those worries pressing down on you.

Now I want you to take those worries and just set them to one side for a minute. This time, I want you to think about the two or three people who are most important to you. Your children, your grandchildren, your spouse, your parents, your friends – all those people who are dearest to you in the world. I want you to see their faces before your eyes. Remember the first time you saw them… the first time you held them in your arms… the first time you told them, “I love you.” Notice how your heart lifts. Feel that difference in you. That is the freedom that God wants to give you.

In the face of all that love, material concerns simply can’t stand. At the end of the day, our stuff just can’t give us the life that our love does. So in our gospel reading for today, Jesus isn’t trying to shame his hearers into giving up all that they have; rather he’s trying to move his listeners past that roadblock of material concerns and into the freedom of the kingdom of God. And love is the key. Notice that when Jesus tells the wealthy man to sell his possessions, with love, he doesn’t just leave it at that. He says, “Go, sell everything you have, and give it to the poor. And then you will have treasure in heaven.” Jesus is inviting this man to broaden the reach of his love. He’s inviting him to choose love for others over his material wealth. This is what it looks like to enter into the kingdom of God – camels, needles, and all. This love is the real treasure in heaven. And it’s treasure that Jesus also invites us to share today and every day, in this age and the next. Amen.

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About Day Hefner

Day Hefner is a seminarian at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), going through the candidacy process to become an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Before moving to Chicago for seminary, she worked teaching English and job skills to refugees and immigrants in her native state of Nebraska, and also spent a year on staff at the Nebraska Synod office. Prior to that, she served for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Currently, she works part-time as an itinerant preacher. Her interests include Latinx ministry and immigration activism, as well as interfaith and development/redevelopment ministry. She also has a degree in music, loves cats, and is an avid crafter.
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