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, March 8, 2015: Third Sunday in Lent

Texts: Exodus 20:1-17  +  Psalm 19  +  1 Corinthians 1:18-25  +  John 2:13-22

Nancy has worked at McDonald’s full-time for the last ten years. She makes $8.25 an hour and has never received a raise, which means that even working full-time she lives below the poverty line. As the mother of two, to say it’s difficult to make ends meet is an understatement. It’s nearly impossible. So when Nancy noticed the help line advertised in McDonald’s employee newsletter, she called looking for resources for her and her family.

We’re all familiar enough with how big business operates in this country to not be shocked by what happened next.  Nancy described her situation to the help line operator, saying that she’d begun rationing food because there wasn’t enough to feed her family. The operator offered to connect her to a listing of all the food pantries in her community and asked if she was on SNAP, the federal government’s food assistance program for low-income families. When Nancy said that she also needed help paying for medical bills, the McDonald’s helpline suggested she enroll for Medicaid.

SQhjQKwGWe’re not shocked by these stories, not because they’re not shocking, but because they’re so common. We’ve heard the same story at Wal-Mart and other national chains. In the interest of creating a business friendly economy we’ve created one that is hostile to low-wage workers. An economy where a person can work full-time at minimum wage and still not be able to feed themselves and their family. Where one medical incident could make the difference between keeping things together and complete disaster.

What does it mean that we live in a society where the value we assign to the labor of our lowest paid workers isn’t enough to live on? Where 52% of fast food families are forced onto federal assistance to make ends meet? Where hard-working people are required to rely on the charity of their neighbors and corporations are allowed to grow richer and richer by passing along labor costs to the rest of society, which ends up subsidizing those cheap burgers and other products of the low-wage economy to the tune of $7 billion each year?

Throughout the season of Lent we have been talking about the covenants God has made with God’s people; beginning first with Noah and the flood, then last week with Abraham and Sarah.  This week we hear the story of God giving the law, what we call the Ten Commandments, to Moses at Mount Sinai.  The law was one more covenant, one more sign that God was binding God’s self to God’s people.

The law comes to a people who are in the process of reclaiming their freedom after generations of slavery in Egypt. Unlike Pharaoh’s laws, which establish regimes filled with physical and economic violence, God’s law is established in the context of the ongoing covenant between a loving God and a free people. It is a law that recognizes our tendency to make idols out of wealth and to treat people as objects in the pursuit of all that we desire. It is a law intended to humanize us rather than oppress us.

0806656050hWe have been given the law as a way to order and structure our life together, to tend the distribution of God’s good gifts among all of God’s people, and yet we deform the law and twist it to suit our own needs and ends without regard for the other.  God tells Moses to tell the people, “you shall not murder” and “you shall not steal.”  Luther, commenting on the fifth commandment (you shall not murder)  in his Small Catechism writes, “what does this mean? [that] we should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”  And, of the seventh commandment (you shall not steal) he writes, “we should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.”

And yet, we have created and sustained an economy of scarcity that rewards greed and violates both commandments in that it does not help and support our neighbors in their physical needs, nor does it help and improve their possessions and income. The situation is completely outrageous – reminding me of the bumper sticker that reads, “if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”  The only thing that prevents us from acknowledging our anger and the injustice of the situation is the fact that we have become so accustomed to it.  But not Jesus.

When Jesus goes up to Jerusalem in the gospel reading from John we hear this morning, he enters the temple – the place where the people have been commanded to go to receive the blessings of God’s covenant of love – and sees that between the entry to the temple and the foot of the altar a marketplace has sprung up.  Merchants in the temple, acting with the knowledge and consent of the religious establishment, are taking the wealth of the people and converting it into “acceptable” gifts for offering in the temple.  Jesus is enraged – the temple should be a place where God’s people see and taste and experience God’s free and unconditional love, and yet even that gift has become commodified.  And so Jesus drives the money-changers, the profiteers, out of God’s house saying, “destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

Sisters and brothers, you are the beloved people of God – along with everyone else.  Your lives are sacred and holy, they are a gift from God – and so are everybody else’s.  It’s not just the needs of our fellow Americans that we are called to address, but today we are challenged to look at the systems of power and privilege that we are a part of and that we have the power to change.  We are challenged to do this regardless of whether we consider ourselves liberals or conservatives, whether we vote Democrat or Republican, whether we voted for the current President or not.  We are called to do this because we are a part of the nation that stood at the base of Mount Sinai when God made an eternal covenant with us that requires us to care for the life and livelihood of our neighbors.

At the center of our low-wage scandal there is a cross. Like the cross that bore Jesus, the low-wage cross is a sign of the world’s disregard for life, a sign of the empire values of profit and expansion over God’s values of dignity and compassion.  As Christians we have a relationship to the cross that looks foolish to others, but to us is the wisdom and power of God.  Where the world sees shame, we see dignity. Where the world sees despair we see hope. Where the world sees death, we see new life.

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul puts it somewhat polemically, “For while the Jews call for miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, here we are preaching a Messiah nailed to a cross.” What I hear Paul describing is a third way between the poles of fatalism and rationalization. Rather than declare that “it would take a miracle to get us out of this mess” (a straw man characterization of Jewish political and ethical thought, to be sure) or philosophizing that this failed under-regulated free market experiment is the best of all possible worlds (though acknowledging that there are plenty of political and philosophical traditions that very effectively critique the corruption of capitalism), the Christian response to the scandal of the cross is to affiliate, to associate, to allow ourselves to be nailed in solidarity to those who hang with Jesus in places of unjust suffering.

And this is a consequence of our baptisms, in which we are joined with Christ and called to take up his ministry of clearing away anything in church or society that stands between the doorway where we sing “all are welcome” and the altar where we say “the gifts of God for the people of God.”  Whether we chose to be baptized or were brought to the font by our parents, our lives have been dedicated to the service of a living God that stands against every idol that would reduce us to mere cogs in the machine, mere servers on the line. Who liberates us from every oppression, and gives us a law that calls us to participate in the liberation of our neighbors. Whose covenant love is not just for us, but through us.

Amen.

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