On Sunday, before we got in the van headed for worship across the border in Piedras Negras, I made a last-minute decision to include a visual aid in my sermon. Worship at Cristo Rey often feels loud and hectic, with clunky fans brining some respite from the desert heat. The last couple weeks, I’ve been trying to invite children into worship, instead of having them kick the futbol or fly on the swings outside. I’ll tolerate some fidgeting, wiggling, and the occasional stray dog entering the sanctuary. Perhaps having something to look at during the sermon may help the congregation (and the preacher) focus.
Just the day before, another pastor in the synod had loaned San Lucas some of his collection of multicultural religious art for us to put up in a sort of traveling exhibit. They were mostly prints by John Giuliani, inspired by Native American cultures, and mounted onto foam board. Thus, it was impossible for me to know the titles because the descriptions on the back were covered up by the foam. This traveling exhibit seems like a creative idea. I love the possibility of thinking about God across cultures. Much of the religious artwork I find at San Lucas is from a previous generation, and from a Eurocentric perspective. More often than not, Jesus looks like Dan Fogelberg in drag.
Sunday’s Gospel was from Mark 9:30-37, and features Jesus with his own living, breathing, human visual teaching aid—a small child. I planned to tie the Mark text to the first lesson from James about submitting yourself to God. I reminded us to trust less in our human achievements and our earthly pride, and more in the promises of God. I had a great line about ignoring the letters after your name and remembering the cross on your forehead. “Hijo de Dios, has sellado con el Espíritu Santo y marcado con la cruz de Cristo para siempre. Child of God, you are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” In the pile of art prints from my colleague was this gorgeous picture of a haloed figure surrounded by cute children in Andean garb. I thought, “What a great image of Jesus welcoming the children! And He’s Peruvian! Beautiful!”
I started off the sermon by showing the picture and asking the congregation what they see. “Martin de Porres,” one woman quickly responded.”
I hesitated. That wasn’t the answer I anticipated. “Bueno. Tell me what you see.”
She responded, “He’s surrounded by all the children that he’s helping.”
I tried to get back to my homiletical roadmap. “As I look at this picture, I think of today’s Gospel, where Jesus points to a child to point out values of the reign of God—humility, peace, reconciliation, instead of the competition, conflict, and argument that the disciples are into…”
I get home and get online, checking out the titles of the paintings. Oops.
I get to admit that I was wrong. Maybe I need to hear my own sermon.
[A footnote to this story: During the service, a few families got up and left mid-sermon. I thought I had said something controversial, and they were boycotting me. That actually would have been better. A few people got phone messages about cartel violence in their neighborhood. They left to be with family. Apparently some of the escaped prisoners from last week were trying to find somebody. Last I heard, everybody from church got home safely. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers…]
Over 100 prisoners escaped today in Piedras Negras, just across the river from where I live and serve.
In the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-mexico-jailbreakbre88h02p-20120917,0,7340023.story
Even in Aljazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2012/09/201291832317635217.html
Is this what Jesus was talking about in Luke 18 about release of the captives?
for victims of violent crime,
for the scared ones who live in fear,
for those longing for justice and hoping for redemption,
for an end to danger,
for the peace that only you can bring,
let us pray to the Lord…