Sermons

Sermon: Sunday, March 20, 2016: Palm Sunday

On Sunday, March 20, 2016 members of Kimball Avenue Church, Nuestra Señora de las Americas, and St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square met for worship at Diversey River Bowl before a joint procession with palms to the rally for public housing at Lathrop Homes. At that worship service Pastors Liz Muñoz, Bruce Ray, and Erik Christensen team preached a sermon on Luke 19:28-48, drawing parallels between Jesus’s dramatic entry into Jerusalem, lament for the city, and disruption of Temple commerce with the planned action for public housing planned by the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance (LSEA).

For the text of the #OccupyPalmSunday sermon at the LSEA blog, click here.

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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, April 13, 2014: Palm Sunday

Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a  +  Philippians 2:5-11  +  John 12:20-43

On a morning when so much has already been different than usual — the earlier start time (ahem!), the blessing of the palm branches, the gathering with our neighbors — I feel obligated to share with you one more way that we’ve departed from the usual this day. Most Christian congregations, at least those that follow the lectionary, have heard a different gospel passage than the one we’ve just heard. They’ve heard the account of Christ’s passion on the cross from Matthew’s gospel, the tale of Jesus’ arrest and trial, suffering on the cross and death, and his burial in the tomb. This tradition of reading the passion story the Sunday before Easter is an old one, and comes from a time in the Protestant churches when our observance of the Three Days of Holy Week was less established. The logic was that in order to understand the meaning of Easter and experience the joy of the resurrection, we needed to witness Jesus’ death on the cross and consider its meaning for each of us and all of us.

Over the last few decades though, as Christians of all backgrounds and denominations have gradually recovered the ancient church’s keeping of the Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, the lectionary’s logic has made less sense. The story of the arrest, crucifixion and death of Jesus is told on Good Friday, and many of you began to ask why that story needed to be heard twice in one week. The fact that you were asking the question was an indication of just how fully the traditions of the coming Three Days had taken root. So, at this, the beginning of Holy Week, I want to invite you once again to the discipline of these days. I want to ask you to clear your calendars, to make space in your busy lives, to enter fully into the passion of our Lord as he moves from the hopeful crowds of Palm Sunday to the intimate gathering with his friends on Maundy Thursday, to the agony of the cross on Friday, and then the gathering around fire and water and story and song at the Easter Vigil on Saturday. It’s a lot of church, to be sure, but as with so many things, the more we invest ourselves into the coming week, and one another, the deeper the rewards to our shared faith.

Having made the decision to save the remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion and death for Good Friday, however, the question of Palm Sunday remained. This is the day when we wave our palm branches and sing our hosannas, welcoming Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem. It is a day full of pageant, in the scriptures and in our own assemblies. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, and in Matthew’s gospel on a colt as well, in order to signal that he is the fulfillment of ancient Israel’s expectation of a messiah that would save them from their oppression. That is, in fact, the meaning of the word that marks this day, “hosanna.” It means “save us” or “rescue us.”

Why did the crowds that greeted Jesus in Jerusalem expect that he could save them? Throughout his ministry, Jesus had taught with authority, healed the sick, cast out demons, and even raised the dead. As he moved through the countryside, among the people, he was not afraid to name the powers and principalities that held the people captive, that kept them oppressed. For their part, the people had long expected that God would send a messiah, one who would serve as their champion to liberate them from those who occupied God’s promised land. As we wave our branches this morning, we must ask, how are we like those who gathered on the streets of Jerusalem when Jesus, at last, came to town? Who have we been waiting for? From what powers do we long to be set free?

But his disciples, perhaps, weren’t so happy to see Jesus turn his face toward Jerusalem. Perhaps you remember last week, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was ill and decided to turn around and head back to Judea.  The disciples were afraid for his safety, saying “Rabbi, the Temple leaders were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”  Thomas seemed to know precisely what they were headed for, as he goaded the rest of the disciples to follow Jesus saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  They must have wondered, as we do, why Jesus walked willingly toward his own death, toward the cross.

In the passage from John’s gospel we read this morning, Jesus addresses precisely this question. It is full of sayings that have become so familiar, they almost overshadow everything else in the story: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” and “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  These remarkable declarations, however, are in response to something mentioned only briefly at the beginning of the passage, something easy to skim over.

“Now among those who went up to worship,” the passage begins, “were some Greeks.” Jesus, who had met with Pharisees and Samaritans alike, at this late hour in his ministry is now being sought out by Greeks, people whose religious and cultural backgrounds could not have been more foreign. They approach Andrew and Philip, who were among the first to follow Jesus when he spoke to them, saying “come and see” (John 1:39). Now these foreigners declare that they want to see Jesus, carrying echoes of that first meeting with Jesus across the Jordan where John had been baptizing (1:28).

4068603688_94b17a345cIn response to the news that these Greeks want to see him, Jesus offers a cryptic metaphor, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (12:24). This, for the gospel of John, is an image of salvation. When you imagine a stalk of wheat, you can see the staff that bears the kernels at the top, almost woven together by the husk that surrounds them. Each of those kernels, of course, is a seed that carries within it the code, all the information needed for the earth to produce another stalk of wheat which will produce enough seed to multiply the crop again, and again, until the stalk of wheat becomes a wheat field. A grain of wheat is nothing, Jesus reminds us, a field of wheat is everything, it is enough to feed the world, but only if the seed falls to the earth and the cycle of multiplication begins.

For the last six weeks, the adult education forum has been “making sense of the cross,” studying the theories of atonement that Christians have used over the centuries to explain to themselves and one another why Jesus’ death and resurrection makes a difference for the world. Some theories focus on a cosmic struggle between God and Satan in which all of humanity is held ransom. Some theories focus on a sense of debt that must be paid for the weight of human sin. Some theories emphasize the way that Jesus’ life and death provide a model for our own human living. In her commentary on John’s gospel, Professor Gail O’Day suggests that none of these theories of atonement quite matches up with what we find here in these verses from John. She writes,

“It is important to begin by remembering that theologies of atonement are in actuality theologies of reconciliation — that is, they attempt to explain how God and humanity were reconciled to one another in Jesus’ death … Sacrifice is one way of understanding reconciliation, but not the only way. Jesus’ sayings in John 12:23-36 suggest an alternative model of reconciliation, one that is built around the restoration of relationship … Jesus’ death is described as both necessary and life-giving because as a result of it community is formed. The discipleship teachings (vv. 25-26), which in [Matthew, Mark and Luke] define discipleship exclusively as taking up one’s cross, instead define discipleship as serving Jesus and make clear that the goal of such service is restored relationship with God and Jesus. The passion prediction (12:32) also focuses on relationship, that through Jesus’ death all people will be drawn to him … Throughout the Gospel, this new relationship to God and one’s fellow human beings is described in metaphors of new birth and new or eternal life … Jesus’ death has this effect, not because it is a sacrifice that atones for human sin, but because it reveals the power and promise of God and God’s love decisively to the world.”

When I think of atonement, or reconciliation, like this — as an act of love initiated by God, multiplied as it takes root in each of us and grows into lives of loving service to our neighbor that result in more kernels planted, more wheat grown, more bread baked, more lives fed, more love shared, more life lived — then I think I understand better what Jesus means when he says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  It’s not so much about loving and hating, as clinging to versus releasing. We might hear it as “those who cling to their life lose it, and those who release their life in this world will see it live on forever.”

Earlier this week I was with an ecumenical group of parish pastors, seminary professors, and judicatory leaders (meaning, people who serve the church at the synodical or national level, or their equivalents in other denominations) at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  We were asked to work together to try and define what we mean when we talk about “people of faith,” and to identify what conditions allow these communities to thrive. Our definitions were muddled, I think, shaped as they are by constructs and institutions that are, themselves, dying in so many ways, great and small. Over and over again however, those gathered returned to this idea, that the church need not be afraid of its own dying, of the things that are lost along the way, because we know and have always known that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain.” We know, and have always known, that what we cling to, we lose; but what we are willing to release for the sake of the world, we will have forever. Gail O’Day sees in these verses from John a much clearer definition of “people of faith.” She writes,

What is striking about [this passage from John] is that the connection between Jesus’ death and the life of the believing community is repeatedly stressed. The faith community consists of those who redefine the meaning of life on the basis of Jesus’ death. The faith community is the fruit of Jesus’ death; it is what shows forth Jesus’ love to the world.

In essence, the answer John’s gospel gives to the question of why Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem, why he led his disciples to a place where he knew he would die, why he was greeted by the throng seeking salvation, is us.  Not just us, but all of us.

The answer to the question of why, is that it accomplished what it set out to do. It created a people of faith who each carry within ourselves the seeds of a love that starts and ends with God. Not a cosmic war, not a debt, not a job description, but a love that created the world and everything in it so much that it took on flesh and blood to get closer to us and bring us closer to one another. A love that saves us over and over again.

Look! Here it comes again, riding on a donkey and a foal just as we expected. Let us prepare once again this Holy Week, to be saved by love.

Amen.

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