This sermon was preached at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington DC on March 28, 2017.
Sermon – On Oscar Romero: Between Life and Death – What to do?
Texts – Ezekiel 37:1-14 / John 11:1-45 – Texts after the sermon
May the peace of Christ be with you. I am so grateful to be here. It’s truly an honor to be with you all at this wonderful seminary! I want to thank Professor Debora Sokolove for the first invitation. My gratitude to Dean Robert Martin, Doctors Lucy Lind Hogan, Debora Sokolove and Veronice Miles for a wonderful dinner last night. To president David McAllister-Wilson, Gina Campbell, Lauren Jones, all faculty, students and workers at this place, I am grateful. I am also grateful for my friends Sandra Miller, Rev. Ashley Goff and some folks from Church of the Pilgrims for coming today to give me a hug. I am very grateful to you all!
I honor this seminary for holding a day and resources to celebrate the life and memory of Monsignor Oscar Romero. Oscar Romero is not only a historical figure of fundamental relevance for the church of Jesus Christ today but a prophetic symbol of love, persistence, courage and resistance to the entire world. A symbol not of an individualized courage, but of a seed among many others, mostly peasants and poor people! Somebody who is still a living interpretation of the gospel today. Somebody as big as St Francis, Martin Luther King Jr., Anna Pauline Murray, Fannie Lou Hamer, Mahatma Gandhi, Ambedkar, Dorothee Solle, Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chaves, Pedro Casaldáliga and many others.
Today we have two immense texts. Not only of size but of possibilities. And strict 15 minutes to preach. Both texts are about the vital energies of life and death happening at once, about the dead and the living, the dead living, and the living dead. In both texts, we have death before us! In both texts God places us before a moral and a spiritual challenge. In both texts, God is asking us what we see, what we believe and what we are to do with it all.
Since I cannot do justice to either of these two texts in such time, I will only mention few utterings in both of these texts that will lead us back to Monsenor Romero.
First, with Ezekiel at the valley of dry bones we have a vision of death and a demand of imagination, of faith. “Mortal, can these bones live?” God asks of Ezekiel. In other words, he asks “What do you see Ezekiel? Can these bones live?
Ezekiel’s answer is pretty good: “O Lord God, you know it.” Here is a mix of faith and doubt. Faith because he is saying “You only can know that because you have the power.” And doubt, because he avoids a categorically yes and offers a somewhat uncompromising reply: “I don’t know, you do.”
When God talks to Ezekiel, God shows a valley of bones where the Spirit is not present, the breath of life isn’t there. There is nothing there besides the evidence of death. Not even the possibility of alternative facts.
However, either they were dead or alive, the word of God to Ezekiel was clear:
“Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
We have so many people living like dead in our world today! Washington DC, the capital of the empire is filled with dead people! I sometimes wonder if this place is a current metaphor for the valley of dry bones.
What do we see when we look at Washington DC? For some people who are foreigners to this town, it is the city of money and power, greed, poverty and death. But also a city of great tourist places and fantastic museums. In fact, from this place we are led by national and transnational companies that is sucking the life out of us all, taking away the breath of life from our communities. Here we have representatives of the people who represent only themselves, who are concerned only with themselves. The financial market, the business sector and politics living in an orgy, never minding the lives of the poor and the destitute. For the last 400 years they have been sucking God’s air of life and prophesying death to our own people! Death to our rivers, death to our mountains, death to our forests, Death to all living creatures, death to the future of our children!
The financial/political capital of powerful companies are destroying our land! If you don’t think so, let me give you just one example: the agribusiness with the sanction of governments across the globe, are stealing all of the seeds of the world! Yes the seeds! Look how our fruits don’t have seeds anymore! They are stealing what is God’s that belongs to all! By enacting hunger and poverty to the world, they are prophesying poverty to 4 billion people across the globe.
They are replacing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the gospel of you care for yourself! If you don’t make it its your fault! They taking away words of comfort and placing anger into our ears, fear into our souls, panic into our bodies, lack of social support to our communities, while our eyes are manipulated to see that everything is going just about fine. Since the beginning of colonization…
That is why this vision is so fundamental for us today! We have to see what is going on, we must shake off the dust of death from all our eyes, bodies and souls and prophesy life! We have become ourselves dry land, we are filled with a destructive anger and little life! Even our churches are running out of the breath of God and breathing in death instead.
If you don’t believe just see how we are still supporting wholeheartedly the very few pastors who are makings lots of money while the majority of our pastors are going poor or without jobs. What matters today are the big churches. They are the ones to look for and after. Without knowing, we continue to confuse size with life, numbers with ministry, money with the Holy Spirit, budget with growth! For most of our churches if we don’t have money we don’t have church! Exactly the opposite of what happens with the poor. It is when we don’t have money that we begin to have church. Because we now need one another, and we can’t rely on our own. When we continue to associate budget with life is a sign that are looking at the valley of the dry bones and we don’t know what we are seeing and what to do!
We need the prophesy of a gospel that help us know the difference between equality and injustice, life and death, Jesus and Mammon. We need to relearn how to prophesy! We need to steal the seeds both of the gospel of Jesus and the earth back! Promised seeds of life to the dry land of our hearts, our churches and our communities!
But we must start with ourselves. Prophesy first to you! To your own breath! Tell yourself: Claudio what do you see? Are you alive? What seed is growing inside of you? Whose breath is this you are now breathing? What does it do to you? What does this Spirit make you believe? Prophesy to yourself first so you can believe! Plant a seed of God’s life in you! Then prophesy to the world! Plant a seed in the world!
This is our task in our world: to prophesy the breath of God to ourselves and to the world, so we and the world may live! Prophesy the breath of God as seeds to the world so a new life can begin!
“Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
The text from the gospel of John is so beautiful. An unusual long story of Jesus interacting with his friends. Jesus seems to have had a larger circuit of friends and some of them were very close friends. Lazarus was one of them. In this passage, we see similarities with the text from Ezekiel. In this text, Jesus is presented to a dead body and asks Martha what she thinks of it:
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again… Take away the stone.” Martha, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.
I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Martha is like Ezekiel, she truly believes and wants to believe but who could believe her brother would resurrect? She is us, believing, wanting to believe but actually, not believing. When I think of us Christians in this day and age, I think we are rationalist believers. The spiritual world is to be understood phenomenologically only. Who can really believe things can be changed?
However, Jesus did! He knew the power of the prophecy. More, he knew the power of God! He had in himself the very breath of God! So he prophesied the breath of God to Lazarus in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Jesus’ words were the breath of God back into Lazarus nostrils! Jesus’ cry was like a seed thrown into a dry weary land. The result? Lazarus comes out with his life back! Alleluia! Lazarus comes out with his life back! He is alive!
This is the kind of power source we have! We might not have any idea but this power can change things in so many levels.
In this so-called democracy, if we really believed that we could change things, we would devote ourselves to this change. You all live at the heart of the powers that be. Your faith must be expanded, strengthened here at the seminary and then you must prophesy the will of God to this world! With no fear! With no apologies! Always learning with other breaths of life who are also prophesying life into the world!
In our theological task, we have the power of God to change the lives of our churches. If we believed in the Jesus who says “come out!” we would NOT have salary differences, we would have pastors treated equally in any church of this country. Poor churches would receive more resources than the rich ones.
In our own lives, we have the power of God to change ourselves. If we believed in the God who demands us to prophesy, we would turn our fearful souls into courageous spirits, fighting for the dignity of each other, the earth, and every living creature!
If we only believed… If we could only see…
Concluding, it is time to return to Monsignor Romero.
A similar event happened to him. He was taken by God to his own land and was shaken by what he saw! Romero was a shy and very conservative priest until he saw the valley of dry bones of his country where his mentor and best friend priest Rutilio Grande was killed. He saw his land being desecrated and his people bleeding. Perhaps even against his own desire he had to change. He had no choice but to respond to the Spirit of God!
There, before the valley of dead bones he was called to prophesy! There, in front of the dead bodies of his people he had to cry out loud: “Come out!”
He had to prophesy life into a destitute land! To prophesy life into a political system organized around interests of the rich and supported by CIA. To prophesy life in a country that was turned into a place of violence. To prophesy life to the peasants and poor of his country. And to plant seeds of peace, reconciliation and transformation.
However, the ability to prophesy life didn’t automatically make him a courageous man. I don’t know if you know but Monsenor Romero was a fearful soul. He confessed to his friend that he was afraid of dying. Many times, he hid inside of the sacristy and prayed, so afraid he was of losing his life. He was what Cardenal Lorscheider called “a timid courageous man.”
However, fear didn’t conquer his heart! Even when trembling, he prophesied God’s courage to his own heart. He breathed God’s breath into his own heart so he would be able to continue! He had to keep seeding the soil of his heart with the seed of God’s courage as not to be overtaken by the approaching desert of fear and paralysis.
He did all he could to prophesy life to his country and his people. He went to the president of US, he visited Pope VI, he tried to do networking in order to stop the massacre of his own people. Nobody listened to him. They were all on the side of the army.
So he used what he had: he used his sermons, his teachings, his visits to support his people, the campesinos abandoned by the government, and to keep them alive! He wanted his people to create a levante, an uprising of people to respond to the military coup in resistance. He told people to say out loud what was happening. In his words: “Everyone must be a microphone of God!” Prophesying life in the acoustics of our own voices against the loud noises of death!
At every spoken homily, dead bodies were risen!
At each celebrated sacrament, somebody was called out and resurrected!
At each mass, the seeds of the gospel bringing life to desert lands!
At his last Eucharist, he raised his hands and prophesied God’s life into the world!
No wonder the breath of God in his life can still be perceived in us all 37 years after his death. He said that when he died he would be a seed that would resurrect in the midst of his people. We are the dry bones valley resurrected by the breath of Monsenor Romero blowing in us!
We are the breath we breath! Romero is Jesus’ breath in our faith today! God’s seeds in our weary lands.
What do you see my friends? What do you see?
Another way to ask this questions via a Wesleyan Spirit: what does warm your heart?
And more? What are you going to do about it? With it?
Prophesy! Prophesy! Said the Lord!
Lazarus come out!
May God bless us all!
Ezekiel 37:1-14 /
37:1 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.
37:2 He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.
37:3 He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”
37:4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
37:5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
37:6 I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
37:7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
37:8 I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.
37:9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
37:10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
37:11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’
37:12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
37:13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.
37:14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.
11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.
11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”
11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,
11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”
11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.
11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”
11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”
11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”
11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.
11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.
11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,
11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.
11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.
11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”
11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,
11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”
11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”
11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.
11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.
11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
11:35 Jesus began to weep.
11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.
11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.