Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, May 15, 2016: Day of Pentecost

The following sermon was preached by Pastor Erik Christensen & Pastor Liz Muñoz at the bilingual, ecumenical worship service held by St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square (ELCA) and Nuestra Señora de las Americas Episcopal Church on Sunday, May 15, 2016.


title845264485Recently I’ve begun reading the daily reflections of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest in Albuquerque, New Mexico sent out by the Center for Action and Contemplation. This last week he began a new series on the relationship between action for justice in the world and the inner contemplative life. He quotes another American monastic, Thomas Merton, who wrote,

“[Those who attempt] to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening [their] own self-understanding, freedom, integrity, and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. [They] will communicate to [others] nothing but the contagion of [their] own obsessions, [their] aggressiveness, [their] ego-centered ambitions, [their] delusions about ends and means, [their] doctrinaire prejudices and ideas.”

Writing to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul contrasts two different states of being: the spirit of adoption and the spirit of slavery. Far too often Christians try to spiritualize the concept of slavery so that it stands in for any irritating personal habit or private struggle. To do so is to erase the real experiences of those in Paul’s day and our own who are fighting a life and death struggle for existence against the powers and principalities of this world that treat human beings as commodities that can be used to enrich a very few and then thrown away.

To those who feel thrown away by this world, and to those held captive by the dream of wealth, Paul reminds us that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Rom. 8:14) Because the first step to liberation from the shackles of poverty and the false illusions of wealth takes place inside the self, when we can look at our own face in the mirror and say with a confidence we may not yet feel, “I am somebody.”

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title406527677Antes de que esta tierra tenia forma, cuando todo er un mar profundo cubierta de oscuridad el Espiritu de Dios se movía sobre la superficie de las aguas. Este aliento de Dios, ruach en Hebreo, ha estado presente desde antes del comienzo de nuestra historia.

Fuente de toda creación y sabiduría nunca se ha mantenido indiferente a su bellas criaturas.  Los salmos elogian esta presencia en nuestra historia humana “si envías tu, Espiritu, tu aliento de vida, somos creados, y así renuevas el aspecto de la tierra” (Salmo 104:30).

Los profetas como Eliseo y Elias reconocían el poder de este espíritu. Se atrevían a profetizar y hacer milagros por medio del poder de este Espiritu (2 Reyes 2:9, 13-15). Cuando Moises no pudo mas con su carga el Espiritu compare su poder con los que son escogidos por el pueblo y con otros que no han sido escogidos por ese pueblo. Porque el Espíritu Santo no conoce limites (Números 11:17, 25-29).  Como Jesus dice en Juan  este Espiritu santo es como viento sopla donde quiere, y oyes su sonido, pero no sabes de dónde viene ni adónde va (Juan 3:8).

El Espiritu de Dios se movió entre esa primera generación de discípulos y se mueve en esta generación que encontramos en la lectura de Hechos. Desde el comienzo del tiempo el poder de ese Espiritu se mueve se siente en cada vision y hecho compassion y amor. Es un poder tan suave para sanar el alma herida y tan fuerte como para agitar y encender el corazón mujeres y hombres, jóvenes y viejos en todos los rincones del mundo para actuar en nombre de la paz y justicia de Dios.

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title845264485To be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4) and given a spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15) makes us “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” (v.17a) which sounds amazing — until we hear that word, “if.”  “If, in fact, we suffer with him, so that we may also be glorified with him.” (v. 17b)

“If” is conditional — if A then B. We feel set up. Are we only heirs if we suffer? Is suffering the condition for inheritance?

No. Suffering is the inheritance. Suffering is the consequence of being adopted by God and becoming “joint heirs” with Christ, which is another way of saying “sisters and brothers with Christ and, therefore, to one another.”

Suffering is the inheritance of love, as any parent will tell you. To love a child as they encounter all the hate and fear and misunderstanding that fills this world is a lesson in protracted suffering. God knows this suffering well, as God has both created us and adopted us (which, by the way, I love as a theological affirmation that God not only creates/births us, but then subsequently chooses/adopts us all over again. What do you think it would do for the state of interfaith dialogue if we replaced the phrase “chosen people” with the phrase “adopted people.” Would we hear it differently?).

To be adopted by God is to inherit what Jesus inherited as he came into the world — a family filled with suffering, a family that cries out for liberation from all the slaveries of this world. But a family! Which is what we are to one another whether we know it or not. Which is what we all are. Not the family which we were born into, which may have been wonderful, or may have been horrible, and was probably a bit of both. But God’s family, created by love and chosen for love, so that none of us might suffer alone.

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title406527677Seguimos este camino, aunque sea difícil a veces parece imposible, porque es aliento Divino esta la promesa de verdad y vida. Seguimos ese camino porque no es verdad que este mundo y sus habitantes están condenados a morir y perderse en el vacío.

We follow the way, difficult, at times seemingly impossible, because that breath of God is where truth and life are found. We follow the way because it is not true that this world and its inhabitants are doomed to die and be lost in the void.

No es verdad  que la violencia y el odio tendrán la última palabra, y que la inhumanidad, la pobreza, la guerra y la destrucción han venido a quedarse para siempre.

It is not true that violence and hatred shall have the last word, and that inhumanity, poverty, war and destruction have come to stay forever.*

No es cierto que tenemos que esperar a los que están especialmente dotados que sean los profetas de la iglesia antes de que podamos hacer nada.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted to be the prophets of the church before we can do anything.*

Y por eso me atrevo a profetizar: nuestros sueños para la liberación de la humanidad, nuestros sueños de justicia, de dignidad humana, de la paz son para esta época y esta historia. Y nosotros y nosotras somos los que somos llamados por el Espiritu para encarnar el rugido de la justicia, la fiebre del amor, el susurro de la paz y la compasión, que lleva las palabras de esperanza y alegría a un mundo quebrantado y angustiado.

And so I dare to prophesy: our dreams for the liberation of humankind, our dreams of justice, of human dignity, of peace are meant for this time and this place in history.  We are the ones that are called by the Spirit to embody the rush of justice, the roar of love,the whisper of peace and compassion, that carries the words of hope and joy to a broken and grieving world,

Así que me atrevo a pedir que se atreven a compartir su sueño, visión y la profecía conmigo de los días de gracia del Señor para toda la creación.

So I dare to ask you to dare to dream, vision and prophesy day of the Lord’s favor will mean for all of creation.

Yo profetizo/I prophesy that…(Church responds)

Y todo el que invoque el nombre del Señor será salvo.

Y todo el que invoque el nombre del Señor será salvo

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Amen.


1.  Prayer adapted from prayer written by Alan Boesak found in Holy Ground: Liturgies and Worship Resources for an Engaged Spirituality, pg 65
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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, January 24, 2016:Third Sunday after Epiphany (Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)

[The following are portions of a sermon that was jointly preached by Pastor Erik Christensen (St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square) and Pastor Liz Muñoz (Nuestra Señora de las Americas).  Because Pr. Liz’s portions were preached extemporaneously, only Pr. Erik’s portions are provided here. Missing from this transcript are the moments of improvised interaction between the two on what was an entirely delightful Sunday morning of bilingual ecumenical worship celebrating a new partnership between the two congregations.]

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Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into the one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13)

This is the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  All around the world, in Roman Catholic cathedrals and Protestant college chapels, in citywide ecumenical prayer services and Sunday morning gatherings just like ours, Christians are coming together to acknowledge the fact that — although Christ has prayed for our unity, that we would be one as Jesus and the one he called Father are one (John 17:21) — we, the body of Christ, the church, have not been unified in our witness to the forgiveness and the love that defined Jesus’ ministry.

When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth, he was writing to a community that was being torn apart by its differences. He writes, “for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. He’s not talking about minor differences. He’s not talking about some of us being Lutherans and others of us being Episcopalians; some of us enjoying incense, others not so much; some of us singing hymns in four part harmony with gusto, others not so much. He’s not talking about the little things that divide us. He’s talking about the big things that divide us. Jews or Greeks: Race. Slaves or free: Wealth.

The church at Corinth gets a bad rap, often being described as the most dysfunctional congregation in the New Testament. But, you know what they had going for them? The had both Jews and Greeks in their congregation — people of different ethnic backgrounds. They had both slaves and free people in their congregation — people of different class backgrounds and levels of wealth. Of course their community was full of conflict! They were trying to create a society completely different from anything they’d ever seen before, the kind of community where people who’d been told their whole lives that they had nothing to do with each other could come and be washed in the same waters and eat from the same table and drink from the same cup and bear the same name: child of God.

As dysfunctional as they were, at least the church in Corinth was still trying to live out the full implications of the vision Jesus had cast for the world that was coming into view: a world of good news for the poor, and release for the captives, and sight for those blinded by racial privilege and wealth, and freedom for those who’d endured oppression. Today we know that Sunday morning worship remains one of the most segregated hours of American life (and that even includes the Oscars). Today the body of Christ rarely even tries to bridge the gap between Jew and Greek, slave or free. Anglo and Latino. Rich and poor.

But Paul says, “we were all baptized into one body … and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13) We share the same sacraments as a sign that we remember, however old and dim the memory, we remember that in Christ we belong to each other. And we have gathered this morning, at the beginning of a new day, at the dawn of a new partnership between our two congregations, because we know that our future together needs to be better than our separate pasts. Because we need each other the way the eye needs an ear, the way a hand needs its feet.

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IMG_9261“But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the parts may have the same care for one another.” (1 Cor. 12:24b-25)

[Pastor Liz Muñoz preaches on this verse in Spanish.]

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“Now you are the body of Christ and individually parts of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)

My first inclination is to read this verse with the emphasis on the word “you.” “Now you are the body of Christ …” But I wonder what it would mean if the emphasis were on the word “now.” Now you are the body of Christ …

We are the body of Christ, because we are God’s baptized people. We are the body of Christ whenever we eat at the table of God’s forgiveness and mercy. Now, already, we are the body of Christ. The body of Christ that rose from the dead but still had pierced hands and a gash in the side, so that Thomas could touch them and know that his suffering Lord brought life and healing to even those wounds everyone thought could never be healed. Even racism. Even classism. Even nationalism. Even sexism. Even heterosexism. Even ablism. Even the ways we kill each other that we’ve not yet learned to name. Our God brings life and healing to people and places left for dead, now. Not someday.

We don’t become the body of Christ once we finally solve all these problems. We are the body of Christ now. This is what God’s promise of shalom, what God’s peace, looks like. First attempts. Awkward efforts. Nervous energy. Joyful noise. Surprising gifts. Delightful discoveries. Renewed enthusiasm. Shared mission. Disappointing setbacks. Hopeful dreams. A new creation.

And we each bring something different, something necessary and unique, to God’s plan to save the world. God is not bringing to birth the kind of world where every person and every place is the same. God is not bridging the gap between Jew and Greek, slave and free, so that we can remain segregated, keeping the gifts God has placed in each of us to ourselves. Paul calls us “members of one body” to remind us that we each have beautiful, necessary gifts that find their purpose only when they are shared. Christian unity is not Christian uniformity. There is room in our worship for the Book of Common Prayer and the new red Lutheran hymnal. There is room on our walls for the paraments that have draped our altars and the Virgin of Guadalupe. More importantly, there is room in our shared life for trial and error, for the benefit of the doubt, for generous hospitality and shared wisdom and a willingness to experiment.

We are already the thing we wonder if we might become. Now we are the body of Christ, and individually parts of it.

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“But strive for the greater gifts.” (1 Cor. 12:31a)

[Pastor Liz Muñoz preaches on this verse in Spanish.]

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Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, September 15, 2013: Second Sunday in Creation — Fauna Sunday

Texts:  Job 39:1-12,26-30  +  Psalm 104:14-23  +  1 Corinthians 1:10-23  +  Luke 12:22-31

A plot of the Lorenz attractor for values, a visual representation of chaos theory that looks remarkable like ... a butterfly.

A plot of the Lorenz attractor for values, a visual representation of chaos theory that looks remarkably like … a butterfly.

You’ve heard of the butterfly effect, right?  Aside from being the title of a mediocre Ashton Kutcher movie from a decade ago, the butterfly effect is the popular name for a phenomenon described by the field of mathematics known as “chaos theory.”  The butterfly effect refers to “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” or the observation that even minute variations or fluctuations in a system can produce vastly and powerfully different outcomes at a later state. The effect gets its name from the now well-known example of a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere on the coast of South America resulting in a hurricane across the Atlantic.

The point, of course, isn’t whether or not the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, or even a preacher’s lips, can produce significant changes in weather (or behavior), but the idea that systems are deeply interconnected on levels that we can barely begin to understand.  That even small changes produce significant outcomes, but most importantly that we can’t know or forecast what those outcomes will be.

This is a challenge to our hubris as human beings.  Despite the fact that our knowledge of the world’s workings is constantly changing, that we are constantly replacing old ideas about how the universe works with new ones on the basis of new information, humanity generally tends to act as though it already knows all it needs to know to go traipsing off into God’s creation, crashing through the rain forests or drilling into the ocean floor, making not just small changes but massive ones at every step of the way that have created massive disruptions in the world’s climate and ecology and threatened the ecosystems for virtually every species of life on this planet, including our own.

So, the butterfly becomes a symbol of the power of something small, something frail and fragile, to effect great change in a system.

But as our preacher last week, Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo, pointed out to us, there is a difference between knowing facts about something and having a relationship with it.  In his beautiful sermon about the ocean, he reminded us that 70% of the world’s population lives just miles from the sea, and that people who live close to the sea develop a relationship with it, not just ideas about it.

The same is true for the world’s fauna, its creatures.  Certainly people with pets understand the kind of bond that can emerge between human beings and domesticated animals.  Farmers and hunters can have a profound respect for their inter-dependence on the breeds of animals they raise and hunt. Biologists and preservationists help us all to understand the marvel and mystery of species that exist beyond our experience, that we relate to in the most abstract manner — like the massive, 11 ton whale sharks that live in the warm equatorial seas and live off of plankton, but have become an endangered species because of the unintentional damage done to them by boat propellers.

But the truth is, we don’t even know what we don’t know about the incredibly diverse array of creatures, of fauna, of species that fill the earth.

When God speaks to Job, in response to Job’s preoccupation with his own plight, God asks,

“Who has let the wild ass go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass, to which I have given the steppe as its home, the salt land for its dwelling place? It scorns the tumult of the city; it does not hear the shouts of the driver. It ranges the mountains as its pasture, and it searches after every green thing. Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib? Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes, or will it harrow the valleys after you? Will you depend on it because its strength is great, and will you hand over your labor to it? Do you have faith in it that it will return and bring your grain to your threshing floor?” (Job 39:1-12, 26-30)

The Book of Job reminds us that human arrogance has imagined ourselves as the center of God’s creation since the beginning.  In the invitation issued in the Garden of Eden to join God as stewards of God’s creation, we misunderstood the mandate that came with our vocation, and have treated the earth and all its creatures as if they exist solely for our benefit.  Even as Job laments his own deep losses, God reminds him that creation does not exist for his benefit.  The wild ass becomes emblematic of all God’s creatures who did not come into being simply to serve humanity, to be farmed, or yolked for labor.

This season of creation, which we are now celebrating for the third year in a three-year cycle, is very new.  It grew out of the Lutheran Church of Australia, but has become a global, ecumenical movement that intentionally interrupts the Revised Common Lectionary we share throughout much of the Church in order to draw our attention to the urgent, unprecedented ecological crisis in which we now find ourselves.  A crisis which threatens our climate, and therefore every species on earth in one form or another.

Season of Creation commentaryOne of the features of the theological work being done by these eco-theologians has been the development of a “hermeneutic of creation,” or a way of reading scripture that attempts to dislocate humanity from the center and to recognize the subjectivity, or perspective, of all of creation. In their introduction to the preaching resource that accompanies this season, theologians Norman Habel, H. Paul Santmire, and David Rhoads, the emeritus professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, write,

“We are seeking to read the relevant Bible texts also from the perspective of Earth and of members of the Earth community. We have become aware that in the past most interpretations of texts about creation — Earth or our kin on this planet — have been read from an anthropocentric perspective, focusing on the interests of humans. The task before us is to begin reading also from the perspective of creation.” (“The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary,” p. 11)

With that hermeneutic of creation in place, we are encouraged to hear even texts like Paul’s letter to the Corinthians with new ears.

 “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’  Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:10-13)

Paul is addressing himself to the problem of privilege and prejudice in the Corinthian community.  Some members of the congregation have come to imagine themselves as more important, more central, perhaps even more blessed, than others because they were baptized by Paul himself.  It is the basic human sin, to distance ourselves from God by distancing ourselves from one another, to harm our relationship with God by harming one another.

The hermeneutic of creation isn’t only applied to texts about wildlife, or the environment, but all of scripture. So when we re-read this passage from First Corinthians, we are encouraged to ask not only how we may be creating false distinctions between ourselves and the people sitting next to us in the pews, but also between ourselves and the species that surround us, between ourselves and the rest of creation.  Do we imagine that our commissioning at the dawn of creation, the dominion God gave to the first people over Creation’s fauna, has not only set us apart from, but above, the needs of all that God has created and that God loves?

That may, indeed, be the wisdom of this world, where corporate entities consolidate our individual appetites for consumption into engines of expanding markets that treat everything like a commodity to be purchased, packaged, and sold for our pleasure.  It may well be the wisdom of this world that says that environmental degradation is the necessary evil, the price that must be paid for human progress. Nevertheless, Paul speaks to us as Christians, as people saved from the powers of this world by the foolishness of the cross, the saving power of God, which makes itself known in the frail and fragile things of this world.

The cross teaches us about the folly of empire, the foolishness of placing our trust in systems of power, production and consumption that, in the end, will only enslave us, consume us, and destroy us.  In fact, aren’t they already?  Don’t you already sense that so much of our modern life has diminished our ability to enjoy what it means to be truly human?

Do you really think we were created for fifteen-hour work days, or weeks without sabbath?  Do you really think we were created for canned vegetables and powdered potatoes when the earth is erupting with fresh fruit in its season? Do you really think that reality television and the never-ending parade of digital distractions on your smart phones and tablets are any substitute for what is actually happening in God’s reality, for the waves of Lake Michigan crashing against the lakeshore and the wild play of children and animals and sunshine and trees?

Waves of Lake Michigan

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Jesus said to his disciples,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body about more than clothing … And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:22-23,29-31)

Sounds like foolishness, doesn’t it?  How are we to stop worrying about our lives, our next meal, our shelter and our clothing? Still, there is wisdom in this foolishness. Imagine the sabbath the earth and all its creatures would experience if we could curb our unceasing appetites and live lighter upon the earth.

Monarch ButterflyConsider the beautiful monarch butterfly, another of Creation’s endangered species.  It neither buys nor sells, but through the innate wisdom implanted in it by God its creator, it migrates unimaginable distances from the United States to Mexico each year, traversing national boundaries to make its home among people divided by wealth, ethnicity, language and power. Consider the monarch butterfly, in its frail, fragile beauty, which enters the tomb of its cocoon as a caterpillar and emerges ready to flutter, to fly, to become more than it had ever been. If God so equips the monarch butterfly for its future, how can we imagine God in her infinite compassion, would do anything less for us?

Amen.

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