This Sermon was preached at the Hispanic Summer Program
Oblate Theological Seminary in San Antonio, TX – June 20, 2016
John 1: 19-28
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’
20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’
21 And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’
22 Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’
23 He said, ‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” ’, as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.
25 They asked him, ‘Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?’
26 John answered them, ‘I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,
27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’
28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
May the peace of Christ be with you!
I want to start our first worship service thinking about our light and our wilderness. The Biblical text is about John the Baptist who comes out of the wilderness with a light that wanted to illuminate somebody else.
A light that witnessed about somebody else, not to his own condition or ideas. As we learned yesterday, John the Baptist had the mission to prepare the way for others to see the light of Jesus. He didn’t care for himself, he didn’t feel pity about himself, he didn’t say how unjust this world is to me. Instead, he was ready to say: This is not about me but about somebody else! But like John the Baptist part of our calling is also to live in order to prepare the way for others to be able to see the light, to find justice, to encounter healing, to find solace, to encounter other forms of connection. We are like John the Baptists preparing the way for new generations of latinxs as the ones who came before us prepared the way for us.
When John testifies to the light of Jesus he is also engaging the shadows. For there is no light without darkness, one is part of the other. I wonder how often we are both the opposite and the same of John the Baptist. We are the opposite when we can only witness to our own light as Dr. Machado said yesterday, forgetting we are to shine the light of Jesus in somebody else. But on the other hand, we are also like John the Baptist when we witness to somebody else’s pain and shine the light of someone else whose light have been extinguished by the forces of the shadows of death.
In that sense, when an event such as Pulse happens, with 49 precious lives taken away and so many others injured, it is especially important that we testify as black or white, brown or yellow, straight or queer, conservative or liberal, because there is an imperative in the gospel that compels each of us to bear witness to the pain of the LGBTQI communities after these killings.
Like John the Baptist we testify as we learn to pay attention to those whose light needs to be fully lived or remembered!
Like John we bring our light not to show our light but actually to testify to the light of others. In this way, we shed light in the lives of our 49 brothers and sisters so that the light of God in us can meet the light of God in them.
As we shine our light on others we also must care so our lights are not extinguished by the shadows of the wilderness we live in. Like John, we live in the wilderness, in borderlands. These borderlands can be seen in so many places and ways of being.
The wilderness of being right here in San Antonio as if in an occupied land as Dr. Cuellar mentioned that used to belong to our ancestors and was stolen from them.
The wilderness of living in a place where the richness of the knowledge and the true historical accounts of our ancestors were stolen and rendered invisible and without value. A cycle of suffering that interconnects all of our lives: life stolen from the blacks, latinxs, asians, indigenous people, children, women…
The wilderness of non-recognition, neither by those who are different from us nor from those who are part of our communities in our schools, in our textbooks, in our discourse, in our politics.
The wilderness of us being so few in every major theological education in mainline churches, even though we are so many in this country, or given a choice of lifetime indebtedness as an entrance fee.
The wilderness of always having to have our knowledge authenticated by somebody else.
The wilderness of not only having to cross borders but to have borders crossed over our lands, have borders crossed over our bodies and have borders crossed over our hearts.
The wildernesses of always have to make a case for a thought, for a form of scholarship, or even a song and always have to explain why we want to do or to use some things, when our people have needs for it but our Master are not so sure they need it.
The wilderness of having to speak somebody else’s language in order to survive and make a living.
The wilderness of learning how to think in ways that are not the ways we learned or grew up.
The wilderness of a certain rationality, composed by certain thinkers, sources, and even definitions of what to be human is all about that are not ours; and to go around the entitlement of this universal logic and reason.
The wilderness of managing faithfulness to many conflicting institutions and people!
The wilderness of having to fake our way through life.
The wilderness of having the law, or theology, or liturgy condemning our ancestral ways of living.
The wilderness of never been proper in what we do, how we think and the way we move.
The wilderness of being feared by someone as if we are the enemy that will destroying the live stock of their faith and the economic security of their beliefs.
The wilderness of being liberal in conservative places. And the wilderness of being conservative in liberal places, and the wilderness of categories that describe others, but not ourselves.
The wilderness of being queer in a normative society. The wilderness of having to explain and expand different notions of sexualities and identity orientations for others.
The wilderness of our precious LGBTQI people at Pulse that were killed and when police go to visit their families to talk to them, they discover that these families were undocumented.
The wilderness of suffering racism, hatred, suspicion and anger while having to create a counter-discourse of sustenance, hope and strength to our communities.
The wilderness of never feel like we are in a safe space.
The wilderness of filling up the gaps of the white supremacy when they cannot hold it together, to be pushed to situations where we are to restore their respectability and save their asses and positions and institutions. Dr. Machado was telling some of us yesterday how some white folks expect Latinxs to clean up their messiness, it doesn’t matter where, either as a maid… or a dean.
The wilderness of being pitted against Blacks and Asians and First Nations and ourselves so we fight among ourselves for the crumbs that are thrown to us.
The wilderness of having to be grateful when the crumbs are given and how we must then obey a certain ethic of the crumbs so that the crumbs will continue to come!
The wilderness of having to do more than anybody else in order to succeed, the wilderness of being exhausted just to hold on to many shadows and lights of our own plural identities in public spaces.
The wilderness of having 11 million of undocumented people sustaining the good life of the majority of the white people in this country! The wilderness of supporting a black president now who has broken more families and deported more people than anyone in history.
The wilderness of having our own people working in the fields under miserable circumstances so many people can have a healthy diet and a solid economy.
The wilderness of BEING a people who will never have access to most of the things we prepare and produce.
The wilderness of BEING 11 million of undocumented people living under the edge of fear plus fear plus fear plus fear.
The wilderness of centuries of colonial oppression in our back!
The wilderness of public lying and having to hear daily political candidates make their career at the expenses of cheap stereotypes of our own people, cursing and demonizing ourselves. The wilderness of scapegoating.
The wilderness of being accused to be the problem of this country when in fact we are the biggest benefactors of this empire.
The wilderness of having to prove with sometimes ridiculous stories, how our latinos are bright, how latinas can be able to succeed.
The wilderness of an unsurmounting anger when Trump and other candidates call us “Mexicans” as if this is a de-negrated word, or calling my people as people filled with illnesses, calling my family as stupid and uneducated, calling my father a rapist and calling my mother a whore.
The wilderness of being called cucarachas when in fact, not even a nuclear bomb can destroy us!
And I could go on…
But I will stop here hoping that the painting of a very short part of our living landscape in this country can make us aware that we must hear the voice of John the Baptist in these days, here and now. We must have each other’s back in order to survive. Our work must be relational and our theologies real, liberating. We cannot forget most of our people who are out there in the shadows of our societies, people who live under the edge of exploitation.
Echoing Dr. Machado’s sermon yesterday, I believe that God is calling us to be witnesses in this wilderness. To be fully there in the wilderness and not forget those who are in pain and misery. To be fully here in the wilderness and to hear the one who is a voice heard crying ONLY IN the wilderness, “Make Straight the Way of the Lord!”
For even though we are in the wilderness we are a strong people;
even though we are in the wilderness we know how to sing;
even though we are in the wilderness we have our own stories;
even though we are in the wilderness we have our popular beliefs, rituals and healing;
even though we are in the wilderness we are preparing the way for other generations.
In this way, we are the new John the Baptists to prepare the way of Jesus, in the midst of our people! For Jesus lives right there in the wilderness with those who are abandoned and excluded. There, we must bear witness with them and on their behalf.
The same way that John’s light was necessary to bear witness to the light of Jesus, so our light is only worth if we bear witness to the light of our precious latinxs poor people.
If we are not doing our theologies under the light of the poor we are using the fake light of Lucifer!
If our light does not shine the light of the poor, our light will shine the light of Mammon.
If our light cannot be found in the midst of our suffering people, our light will only serve this colonial empire.
If our light does not bear witness to the abject conditions of how our immigrants have been treated, our light does not worth shining.
If our light does not bear witness to the death of 49 LGBTQI lives in Orlando, our light is not necessary.
For the light of Jesus will continue to shine from the wilderness, from those places of suffering, pain, injustice and death! There, right there where the light of our people is shining and continues to need the oil of the Holy Spirit, is the only place we can bear witness to the light of Jesus!
The wilderness is not our choice. We were thrown into that borderland place!
But in the wilderness we hear words we can hear no where else, and we see truths we can see no where else, and our wilderness experience prepares us as no where else to hear John the Baptist, to be John the Baptist. I echo Dr. Machado’s invitation yesterday: Can we get a wilderness witness to shed the light of Jesus Christ in this place?
May God bless us all.
The following was the beginning of the service that I decided not to place in the body of the sermon because it was done mostly for and about the HSP community:
Enjoy this time with mutual learning, challenges and a lot to share with one another: thoughts, songs, prayers, doubts, abrazos, conocimiento y sabeduria. And in the midst of classes, charlas, readings, walkings and meals, we will get together to worship God every day at 11:30 am. We hope this place and time will also bless you. We hope this space will be a place for you to encounter God and one another, a place where we are in charge of building our community, a place where we will find things that are common and not so common. This is a truly precious assembly that we must not miss!
Here you will have to offer your love to somebody else. Here you will have to deal with differences that might expand you or worn you out, differences that might make you be thrilled or will frustrate you. I hope your evaluations on our worship services will be less about “what you like” or “don’t like” and more about how you have been moved by the gospel, bothered by the gospel in the theological thoughts and ideas, the liturgical gestures, the issues present and absent, the ethical stances and the pastoral movements.
Our chapel has a group of chapel ministers who will be running around during these two weeks ready to listen to you and to ask for your participation. Let us know if you have a prayer, a song, or a theme that we need to say, sing and share in this place. Talk to the chapel ministers, talk to me. Please do not hold grudges about what happens here. Talk to us. And be open for the many movements of God in this place. For God might come to you in ways that you were not expecting or perhaps in plain sight.
Let me say again that the next two days our chapel will be devoted to respond to the tragedy that happened in Orlando. Tomorrow we will have a chapel filled with testimonios from you. Testimonies about the ways in which the killing of 49 LGBTQI precious people have impacted you and your communities. What did it do to you? How did you respond? How did your community responded or is responding to this tragedy? The Christian community, our community, must respond in ways we may not see in media representation. The broken body of Christ – what does that reality mean in these days? On Wednesday we will be lead hopefully by LGTBI friends.