Sermons

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”

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, November 23, 2014: Reign of Christ

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24  +  Psalm 95:1-7a  +  Ephesians 1:15-23  +  Matthew 25:31-46

I woke up yesterday morning and noticed that it wasn’t freezing outside, and I was so grateful. It seemed like the kind of day when it might be nice to be outside, the first day in a week or so when I could imagine going for a walk in the park next to our home. But I’d committed to attending the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance’s event at Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, Connecting with Our Neighbors: Uniting Congregations for Social Justice.” I’m so glad I was there.

In the eight years that I’ve been working with the pastors of Humboldt Park United Methodist I’ve been to their building and have sat in their meeting room many times, but until yesterday I’d never been in their sanctuary. It’s smaller than ours, but with the same traditional architecture: the chancel in front with a high altar, rows of pews in the nave and a rear balcony. Like ours, it’s showing its age. Something about that made me feel right at home, the way you can walk into almost any sanctuary and understand the architecture and its function. It teaches you how to relate to each other.

So when people began to arrive, one-by-one or in clusters, I happily welcomed them and made a choice to sit next to people I didn’t already know, wanting to get to know who these neighbors of ours who worship so nearby and who care so deeply about our calling as God’s people to work for justice in the world.

We began with worship led by Humboldt Park United Methodist’s new pastor, the Reverend Paula Cripps-Vallejo, a young woman (also from Iowa) who’s been serving there for about half a year. Again, we’ve sat in plenty of meetings together already, but this was the first time I’d seen her lead worship. I was so impressed with the fluidity with which she moved between Spanish and English, effortlessly guiding us all through a sequence of litanies, songs, testimonies and prayers in both languages so that everyone in the room could be equally engaged in what we were sharing with one another.

41B3S5MR90L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_One neighbor, Leslie Willis from Kimball Avenue Church, recited Langston Hughes’ heartbreaking poem, Let America Be America Again, which unfolds around the central refrain, “America never was America to me.” She spoke of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Trayvon Martin in Sanford, and her longing for racial justice not only in our nation, but right here in our neighborhood.

Another neighbor, Flori Rivera from Humboldt Park United Methodist, shared her story of coming to the United States with us including how she came to be a member of that church. She was drawn to them because of the work they were doing with immigrants like herself, but she remained because her skills as a social worker were engaged as she and other women in the congregation built a ministry to and for families experiencing domestic violence that has been a mainstay of that congregation’s service to our community for decades now.

The stories continued, one woman speaking through tears about the struggle to keep her family safe and together through our nation’s broken immigration system. Pastor Eardley Mendis from our sister parish, First Lutheran on Fullerton, talking about the challenge of ministering to a congregation in which many of those gathered for worship are homeless and hungry. Between each story we sang and we prayed and I could feel it happening, that thing that happens when we enter into the familiar pattern of worship with unfamiliar people: we were becoming a community.

10425365_697224310373547_6689628125051795348_nAfter we’d worshipped we moved from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall and gathered in small groups around tables, a familiar liturgy all its own. After another round of introductions we were asked to share why social justice mattered to each of us, and here’s the thing I find unremarkably remarkable: no one said that they do the work of justice because they are afraid of hell.

Not one of these Christian neighbors named as their reason for their good work a fear of hell.

I call this unremarkably remarkable because to us, who gather here for worship week after week, I don’t think this is much of a surprise at all. You know each other’s hearts. You share each other’s motivations. You, like the people gathered around those church basement tables yesterday, are all engaged in the work of caring for your neighbors in a variety of ways. You share your time, your skills, your money and all your other assets feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, welcoming the strangers in your workplaces and on your block, visiting with those imprisoned by illness or otherwise incarcerated. You take action on behalf of the unseen, the unwanted, the unknown year after year, and I never get the sense that you do it from a place of fear, of hell or any other punishment.

You do it for the same reasons I heard offered around yesterday’s tables. You do it out of gratitude, recognizing all that others have already done for you. You do it out of love, for the friends and family members who need your help. You do it out of passion burning in your heart for the environment, for children, for people living at the margins with their backs to the wall. You do it out of duty, honoring the memory of parents and those who’ve gone before you, showing you the dignity in a life of faith. You do it because you’re acquainted with grace, having been on the receiving end of it, and you simply want others to experience what you have come to know — that in God’s good economy all are welcome and there is always enough.

This work of yours is unremarkably remarkable however, because for many people outside the church the message they have heard is one of condemnation and damnation. Go to church, or else. Acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, or else. Walk the straight and narrow, or else. Do right, or else. We may shake our heads at this fear-based, punishment-oriented caricature of Christian faith but we should not marvel at its ubiquity, after all it is simply the liturgy of the world wrapped up in religious language. Go to work, or else. Respect the authorities, or else. Follow the rules, or else. Conform, or else. Our souls rightly rebel against this deforming way of life, and against any institution that imposes it on us. Yet, it is very difficult to resist the spirituality of conditional belonging when your housing, your food, your economic wellbeing are governed by it.

In today’s gospel Jesus gives us an image of God’s judgment in which all the nations are gathered together and then people are recategorized, not on the basis of what nation, or what race, or what class, or what club they belong to, but on the basis of whether they have been turned in upon themselves or turned outward toward the needs of those around them. The deep irony in our all-to-common reading of this story is that in our anxiety about God’s judgment we begin to turn inward once again and begin the process of drawing the lines that separate us, sheep from goats.

But in God’s story, the sheep don’t know they’re sheep and the goats don’t know they’re goats and all of them are watched over by a shepherd who promises to seek after the lost, to bring back the strayed, to bind up the injured, to strengthen the weak (Eze. 34:16). I don’t know if you’re a sheep or a goat, but I can promise you that if you are lost, lonely, injured or weak, God is reaching out to you with food and drink, a warm welcome and safe lodging, healing and accompaniment. I know this because I’ve seen it, I’ve watched you reaching out toward one another, huddling together the way sheep do in a field.

Amen.

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