Sermon: Wednesday, November 28, 2018: RCL Texts for the Wednesday following Reign of Christ

The following sermon was preached in LSTC’s Augustana Chapel on the Wednesday following the festival of the Reign of Christ. Audio of the sermon can be found here.

Texts: Ezekiel 30:20-26  +  Psalm 76  +  John 16:25-33

I love Jesus. I love Jesus, and I long for the reign of Christ.

Earlier this week, as I listened to Samantha preaching that brilliant sermon on the texts for the festival of the Reign of Christ, as I listened to Doc’s exquisite improvisation on the Canticle of the Turning, I’m not ashamed to admit that I didn’t get all the way through the hymn without crying. 

“From the halls of pow’r to the fortress tow’r, not a stone will be left on stone. Let the king beware for your justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne. The hungry poor shall weep no more, for the food they can never earn; there are tables spread, every mouth be fed, for the world is about to turn.” (Canticle of the Turning)

Yes! Yes, I want to live in that world!

Yes! I long for the day when the hungry poor are fed first from the table of abundance.

Yes! I can even name my family’s self-interest in seeing that world come sooner, rather than later. I know that in that world, my sister will have access to work and housing with dignity, my family will have health care without conditions, my husband will be reunited with his incarcerated brother, and I will be able to walk arm in arm with my beloved without the fear of violence hanging over our heads. Yes! I want to live in that world — Come, Lord Jesus, come!

But I don’t think I’m ready to give up my Amazon Prime account.


Maybe you’ve heard. Despite the company’s recent move to raise the entry-level wage for its U.S. workers to $15 per hour, Amazon workers worldwide continue to protest the low wages and horrible conditions under which they are required to work. In cities across Europe last week, Amazon workers went on strike. It was barely a story here in the United States.

I’m not trying to make this sermon into an exposé on labor rights for Amazon workers, though that’s a worthy topic for further investigation, because to spend too much time here is to invite you to focus too narrowly on whether or not you can justify the Amazon Prime account that you may or may not have. The point I’m making is that I don’t think I’m ready to give the account that I most certainly do have up.

Or, to be frank, I must confess that I am often more motivated by narrow self-interest and fear of scarcity than I am by care for my neighbor and trust in God’s abundance.

In this morning’s reading from the gospel of John, Jesus nears the end of his lengthy farewell discourse with words that are unexpectedly troubling. After a ministry filled with allegories and cryptic sayings, Jesus now speaks plainly, “I came from Abba God and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to Abba God.” (John 16:28) If that’s not plain speech, I don’t know what is. The cat is out of the bag. Jesus is the messiah, the one sent by God as the ultimate sign of God’s love for all creation.

In response the disciples say, “Yes! Now you are speaking plainly, not in any figure of speech! Now we know that you know all things, and do not need to have anyone question you; by this we believe that you came from God.”

Yes, this is what we’ve been waiting for! 

Yes, we know! 

Yes, we believe!

It would seem that the whole gospel has been building toward this moment, this declaration of belief in Jesus by those who followed him. But Jesus immediately casts doubt on their belief.

“Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to their home, and you will leave me alone.” (John 16:32)

It is more than anticlimactic. It is disturbing. The disciples’ profession of belief is not convincing to Jesus, who rightly predicts that they will not keep faith with him in the moment of his passion which has now arrived. That they will scatter when confronted with the consequences of their association with Jesus.

This is not the first time that the word “scatter” has appeared in John’s gospel. It appears one other time, back in the 10th chapter, when Jesus was still using figures of speech. There he says, 

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” (John 10:11-12)

As Jesus approaches his eschatological hour, this previous figure of speech haunts the scene. The wolf is coming with death in its jaws, and the disciples will soon scatter, like both the hired hands and the sheep.

And, of course, the language of scattering goes even further back in Hebrew scripture. We hear it in Genesis in the famous story of the Tower of Babel. There, in a time preceding history, “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” In a bid to protect themselves from the divine imperative to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, humanity adopts an “us first” isolationist stance toward the future, preferring to build a tower and establish a uniformity of identity rather than participate in the unfolding diversity of human community. In response, God scatters them abroad “over the face of the whole earth.”

600px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_ProjectWhen read in light of the Babylonian exile, the story of the Tower of Babel has been interpreted as representative of Jerusalem, scattered in captivity. This theme is especially prominent in Ezekiel, as in the passage assigned for today, where God promises to scatter the Egyptians among the nations (Ezek. 30:23,26) in language very similar to the story of Babel. A few chapters later, in the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, the language of scattering reappears in a prophesy against the shepherds of Israel that offers a stark contrast to Jesus’ image of the Good Shepherd:

“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts … My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” (Ezek. 34:2b-6)

This is the world as it is. The weak left to struggle, the sick left to die, the injured left to suffer, the straying and the lost left alone. This is the world I was born into, yes, and that I have had a hand in maintaining. This is the world that is required if I want to continue to enjoy cheap gas and cheap clothes and cheap airfares and cheap food and cheap labor. This is a world that cheapens life itself. It is the world that my Amazon Prime account creates and requires, and I’m still not sure I’m ready to give it up.


Dr. Gail O’Day

In her article “Preaching as an Act of Friendship: Plain Speaking as a Sign of the Kingdom” Dr. Gail O’Day, who was my faculty advisor at Emory University and who died earlier this fall, offers a context that helps make sense of Jesus’ stinging words to the disciples following their statement of belief. She writes,

“In their quick and easy assent to his words, [Jesus] recognizes the behavior of a flatterer instead of that of a friend. Jesus’ rebuke suggests that he suspects the disciples are saying what they think Jesus wants to hear, not what they really believe. To prove they are flatterers and not friends, Jesus links their false words with what seems to be a much more serious offense, their abandonment of him at his hour.”

This is what I want to avoid. Being a flatterer. Saying one thing in my sermon and living another truth with my life. What does it mean for me to say, “Jesus is Lord!” or “Come, Jesus, come!” when my life actively demonstrates my half-hearted allegiances and my scattered loyalties? When I abandon my espoused values the moment they become inconvenient? When I denounce the political rhetoric of “America first” nationalism, but continue to pursue a “me first” consumerism?

What it means is that I am human, which is to say that I am a sinner, just like you. My best efforts are inadequate, and my worst mistakes are tragic. And ironically, while my knowledge of my failures often leaves me feeling painfully isolated, it is actually proof of my membership in the human family.

Jesus knows that his followers will abandon him, that they will scatter before the consequences of their association with him. Just as we do. Yet, even as he is abandoned, Jesus remains a part of the divine community which is the inner life of God. “I am not alone,” he says, “because Abba God is with me.” This is the same God whom Jesus assures us loves us, is accessible to us, shelters us, calls to us, forgives us, encourages us, saves us.

“I have said this to you,” Jesus explains, “so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution,” he acknowledges. “But take courage; I have conquered the world!” It’s precisely the kind of thing a good shepherd might say, or a good friend, the kind willing to lay down their lives for you, the kind who will keep loving you through all your fears and betrayals. The kind who will gather up the scattered fragments of your life and call you home to yourself. Peace, take courage, I’ve got this.

Have I told you how much I love Jesus, and long for the reign of Christ?


Sermon: Sunday, March 29, 2015: Palm Sunday

Texts:  Isa. 50:4-9a  +  Ps. 31:9-16  +  Phil. 2:5-11  +  Mark 14:1-25

The following sermon was delivered by Pastor Erik Christensen of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square (ELCA) and Pastor Liz Muñoz of Nuestra Señora de las Americas (Episcopal Church, USA) in advance of the 4th Annual Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance public witness for justice in our communities.

title845264485There may be a riot among the people. (Mark 14:2)

About three years ago a group of interfaith labor activists — and by “interfaith labor activists” I mean people like you and me, people of faith from congregations and synagogues and mosques who care about the treatment of laborers in our communities — got together to present the Chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which had just received a $109 million gift from city and state tax coffers to pay for cosmetic upgrades at the Chicago Board of Trade with a golden toilet as a way of dramatizing the stark contrast between the kinds of corporate welfare that big businesses get and the kinds of treatment average Chicagoans have come to expect. The tactic was effective, and $34 million was returned to the City of Chicago.

When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem some two thousand years ago he staged a bit of street theater to attract the attention of the crowds. On the other side of town Pontus Pilate was also entering the city astride a warhorse of some kind, I’m sure, intended to remind the Judeans as they gathered to celebrate Pesach, the Passover, who was really in charge. The leaders of the Temple establishment were worried that Jesus would disrupt the delicate arrangement of power that had been worked out. They were right. As Jesus moved through the city streets he put big money on notice, he stood in the public square, before all the powers and principalities of the empire, and declared that in God’s reign the last would be first.

title406527677No sea que se amotine el pueblo.

O mejor dicho no sea que se encienda el animo del pueblo.  Eso era la preocupación del Imperio Romano, el mismo de todas las principados y potencias que quieren mantener un control absoluto.

Por eso llegó Pilato con sus tropas en Jerusalén.  Vino para desanimar el pueblo y mantener la paz del Imperio durante estos tiempos turbulentos de la fiesta de los Panes sin levadura.  Eran tiempos turbulentos no sólo porque un grupo de personas oprimidas se reúnen para comer y tal vez beber un poco demasiado. Turbulentos hasta peligrosos para Roma porque la propia fiesta celebra un momento en que estos Pueblo de Dios fueron liberados de la esclavitud y la opresión. Esta fiesta podia despertar en el pueblo la memoria de que el mismo Dios que los liberó de un régimen opresivo los liberará de nuevo.

Así que Pilato llega montado sobre un caballo de guerra. Trompetas, tropas, banderas y armas, símbolos sangrientos de intimidación y guerra anunciando su llegada.   Entra del oeste al Templo de Jerusalén, un espacio sagrado de Dios,  con todos los los símbolos de intimidación y brutalidad anunciando su llegado.

Desde del oriente llega un pequeño grupo de disidentes con su líder en un humilde burro. Y ellos, tienden sus mantos en el suelo, alababan a Dios, todo un espectáculo de su alianza con el que viene en nombre del Señor.  Este es el anuncio de un reino con un tipo diferente de poder ha entrado en nuestra historia humana.  Jesus anuncia una paz que sobrepasa todo entendimiento una paz envuelta, integrada en justicia  a la cual toda la creación tiene derecho.  Una paz donde los benditos los mas oprimidos y los fieles que trabajan por la justicia de Dios. Todos los que las potencias y principados consideran los pobres pero que Dios reconoce como los herederos del cielo.

title845264485You always have the poor with you.  (Mark 14:7)

So often we hear Jesus’ words “you always have the poor with you” spoken in resignation, as if to say that even Jesus recognized that we will never deal adequately with the problem of poverty.  But listen to what he really says, “You always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me.”

Jesus points to the persistence of poverty, it is always there, and then immediately to our capacity to do something about it, “you can show kindness to them whenever you wish,” as if to say, “if you are so concerned with the poor, what’s stopping you from doing something about it?”  That is precisely the right question, especially for those of us who delight in holding the right opinions on the pressing justice concerns of our day, but struggle to take action. In the face of growing gaps in income between the world’s richest and the world’s poorest, when corporate giants like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart knowingly pay their workers unlivable wages and then refer them to federal food assistance and Medicaid programs, Jesus says, “you can show kindness to them whenever you wish.”

The precious oil poured out on his head was done in acknowledgement of the fact that by confronting the powers, Jesus had set his face toward the cross. But weren’t our brows also anointed with oil on the day of our baptisms, anticipating the many confrontations to which our baptisms calls us? What dangerous kindnesses will we show?

title406527677A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes

Los pobres siempre los tendremos con nosotros.  Unos lo toman como una declaración pesimista.  Si los pobres siempre estarán con nosotros entonces para que trabajar para hacer cambios.  Tal vez lo único que se puede hacer es aliviar su sufrimientos un poco…cuando me queda tiempo.  O para que hacer el esfuerzo, mejor invierto mis esfuerzos en mi propia supervivencia.  Pero escuchen lo que dice Jesus: “Los pobres que siempre han estado con nosotros podrán ayudarlos cuando quieran.”  Jesus nos esta diciendo que en nuestras vidas tendremos la oportunidad de hacer algo inesperado, profundo, que puede cambiar no solo una vida pero la historia humana.  Podemos hacer algo que puede transformar el centro de nuestro ser.

Miren hermanos y hermanas no hay garantías absolutas en nuestras vidas. No garantías  para el bienestar completo de nuestros seres queridos ni de trabajo ni de relaciones estables.

Pero con lo que si contamos es la promesa de Dios, que es fiel y amoroso que ha hecho maravillas con y para su su pueblo.  Los pobres siempre estarán con nosotros y también la bendición y responsabilidad de abrir nuestros corazones y vidas al reino de Dios, a una nueva realidad.  Entonces así como la mujer derramo ese  perfume sobre la cabeza de Jesus nosotros podemos derramar bendiciones sobre este mundo.  Es en ese contexto que Jesús dice que siempre tendrán los pobres. No voy a estar aquí, pero ustedes serán mis testigos, mis manos, mis pies, mi cuerpo, mi corazón.

title845264485Take, this is my body. (Mark 14:22)

Knowing that he would soon be leaving them, trying to prepare them for that loss, Jesus sits among his friends sharing a meal and takes an ordinary loaf of bread, blesses it, divides it, and calls it his body. Hoping that every time one of them handled a loaf of bread, or sat around a table, they would remember him, his words, his teaching, his courage, his confrontations, his life. Take, this is my body, this is what I’m made of, food shared among friends who become family. Dignity shared among neighbors who become community. Nothing fancy, just a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. Ordinary food for ordinary people.

But also something more than that. Because we take it into ourselves over and over again, week after week, year after year, digesting it and allowing it to reconstitute us. Words baked into these loaves of bread to fortify the mystery of faith, words like “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17)  Words sung, like, “as the grains of wheat once scattered on the hill were gathered into one to become our bread; so may all your people from all the ends of earth be gathered into one in you.” Words pronounced, like “holy food for holy people.”

Christ, hidden in bread just as he was hidden in a manger and hidden on the cross; Christ in the most ordinary, the least likely location, these loaves of bread.  What body, what hands and feet, does Christ have but mine and yours?

title406527677Tomen; esto es mi cuerpo

En este Domingo de Ramos no nos limitamos a escuchar las Buenas Nuevas.  En este Domingo de Ramos vamos a participar en el drama del: lo bueno y lo difícil de proclamarlo.  Vamos a vivir nuestra tradición como lo hicieron nuestros antepasados y toda la comunión de santos de todas naciones y las fes que proclaman paz y justicia. Vamos a reunirnos con otras iglesias de Logan Square a proclamar el reino de Dios en un servicio Eucarístico en aire libre.  Lo vamos a celebrar con First Lutheran Church, Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, Kimball Avenue Church, San Nuestra Señora De Las Americas, San Lucas UCC y St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.

Hoy tomaremos el cuerpo de Cristo para compartirlo con el mundo.  Así como Jesus enfrento las injusticias de su realidad, nosotros siguiendo su ejemplo, vamos a McDonalds para apoyar a los trabajadores allí en toda la nación que trabajan en comida rápida que aclamen por justicia.  Que solo exigen suficiente salario para proveer alimento y refugio para sus familias y respeto para su dignidad humana.

Lo hacemos en nombre de Cristo y por nuestra propia liberación.  Como dijo Nelson Mandela, el gran profeta y santo

“Para ser libre no es sólo de deshacerse de las cadenas de uno, sino vivir de una forma que respete y realce la libertad de los demás.”

Vamos a McDonalds testigos,manos, pies, manos, cuerpo, voz de Cristo guiad@s por las palabras de Jesus en su primer sermón.  Vamos por las calles “PARA PROCLAMAR LIBERTAD A LOS CAUTIVOS, Y LA RECUPERACION DE LA VISTA A LOS CIEGOS; PARA PONER EN LIBERTAD A LOS OPRIMIDOS; PARA PROCLAMAR EL AÑO FAVORABLE DEL SEÑOR”