Exodus 3: 1-12; Psalm 103: 1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:25-2:5; Saint Luke 10:1-12, 16-20
Sermon by Amandus J. Derr, Interim Senior Pastor
In nomine Jesu!
“There is a river,” the psalmist sings, “whose streams make glad the city of God.”
There is a river, from which Moses was drawn, on whose banks Moses was raised, along which he discovered his true identity; from which he fled to meet God; to which he returned for the people of God.
There is a river, over which the Israelites led by Moses passed, led by Moses, freed at last from oppression, degradation; empowered to live a dignified, liberated life.
There is a river, in it, Jesus was plunged; from it, Jesus embarked on a ministry that flowed to its source in God’s presence to its goal at Golgotha’s cross until it emerged again as life-giving refreshment from Joseph of Arimathea’s borrowed tomb.
You were born on the banks of a river, Sergio — the Rio Grande, the Rio Bravo — in the valley and on the border, but it was into this river, the Rio Evangelio, that you were thrown and immersed; from which you drank and were refreshed; whose course you have navigated — never alone but surrounded by family and friends, colleagues, mentors, loved ones and well as candidacy committee members, Wartburg Seminary and the Lutheran Seminary Program in Austin faculty, beloved border ministry pastors, and peers who still drink from its water and traverse its courses with you.
There is a river; bubbling up in this place among these people, overflowing in this place; birthing new life; gushing with the Spirit; calling, gathering, refreshing, and sending us out from its streams “to make glad the city,” the places where we live.
There is a river, the Rio Evangelio, and that river has brought you here. Over the sound of its torrent, you have heard a still, small voice; the voice heard by Moses; the voice heard in Jesus; the voice heard by disciples, that voice of God that always proclaims: “I have seen the misery of my people; I know their sufferings; I have come to deliver them. The voice that you hear – that we rejoice that you hear — announcing “I am sending you.” The voice over the waters to which you have said “Yes!” and we have shouted “amen!”
There is a river, Sergio, we don’t control its flow; we can’t change its course; but we are compelled to announce its presence and called to proclaim its purpose: to make glad the city of God.
The city of God, or as we used to say in pre-woke days, the kingdom of God. Hear how your mentor, Jay Alanis, who, but for illness, would be in this pulpit, describes the rule, the kingdom, the city of God, channeling the words of the late Cuban theologian Ada Maria Isasi Diaz, a Roman Catholic nun who influenced by the people she served in Peru, who, like other liberation theologians coined the term understood that the kin-dom of God as an inclusive term who the term to refer to the rule of God as the space where everyone is kin to one another and no one rules unjust power over anybody else; it conveys the idea that all are kin to each other in this rule; conveying the spirit of Familia or Family. If you know anything about Latine or Latinx families, he says, let me give you a clue about us. We are loud, boisterous and insist that you sit at the table with us! We make familia out of strangers and are quick to call you: Primo, Cousin, or Pariente, Relative!
Sounds like a fiesta! Doesn’t it? Sounds like a place, a city, a people who can’t help but be glad!
This isn’t yet that city. Most of this city – not only Houston today, but the whole cosmos-polis: the whole global society — is not space where everyone is kin to one another and no one rules unjust power over anybody else; it is not glad because all its people do not know, and its power brokers don’t want them to know, that the Rio Evangelio, the river that makes glad the city, runs through it. Jesus walks that city. Jesus sent the 70 disciples in pairs to walk that city; Jesus sends you, Sergio, and you, Mike, and us, colleagues, and “ya’ll” – river-washed people of God to this (again in Jay’s words) cross-roads region … marked by cultural and theological difference… where power brokers (Romans then, you name ‘em now) rule and hybrid cultures and peoples meet. We, like those 70, he continues are called by Jesus to go before him and announce, “the kin-dom of God has come near to you.”
That’s our calling, siblings! That’s what the voice we hear over the Gospel river’s waters summons us to do. That what a pastor for community ministries is called to be and do. To speak, in Jay’s words, to those with “soul wounds,” wounds that cannot be seen outwardly but that are carried deep within the soul, heart and mind. …wounds created by rejection, by indifference, by isolation and unwelcome; wounds that know no distinction of country of origin or place of birth; …wounds that come in all forms and speak multiple languages; wounds that, in this diverse city, can be found every barrio, ‘hood and suburb; in every economic class and every political affiliation; … among recent immigrants who travelled across deserts and multiple borders to get to this promised land and are found by native peoples who found that the border had crossed them! And we, like the 70 disciples, are charged with the mission of healing; of announcing to all that “the kin-dom of God has come near to you!” That the river that makes glad the city of God is here for you!
When we commit to this charge, Jay, and I remind us, this is what happens: our neighbors experience no more isolation! There is no more estrangement from God and each other because all of our sacred spaces become spaces of healing and welcome for all who are left behind, the outsiders who speak a different language or experience different theological perspectives. In this city, this kin-dom, there is no intentional segregation because of differences of worldview or culture. Rather, this becomes a holy space where a place setting is prepared at the Table and where all are welcome and find healing of soul wounds.
“ .. a holy space where a place setting is prepared at the Table where all are welcome and find healing of soul wounds, that’s the distinguishing feature of the city of God. And a river runs through it.
“There is a river,” Sergio, “whose stream has carried you to this day. The Rio Evangelio, the river of life. Show us and the people of this city, that river. Lead us, and the people of this city to that river. Be immersed, refreshed, and renewed with us in those waters; until the day when the city of God on earth will be as it is in heaven.
“There is a river,” Sergio. It runs through the midst of this city. We’re all in it, all refreshed by it; we’re never alone, but always together. “There is a river,” Sergio, and on this day, in it and through it and with it, God through you, has made us all glad!
Amandus J. Derr
Interim Senior Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
in the City of Houston
with thanks to the Rev. Dr. Javier (Jay) Alanis, PhD, J.D. San Juan, Texas