The following sermon was presented today at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis IN through July 12.
SERMON – JULY 10, 2012 – Remembering Bartolomé de las Casas: Tireless Advocate for Justice (MT 10:26-31) – The Rev. Albert Cutié, Diocese of Southeast Florida
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am so blessed and so happy to be here. While this is only my second General Convention, I have to tell you that I feel like I have been a member of The Episcopal Church all of my life. My wife and I have received so much love from all over the church. I just had to begin this sermon by telling all of you – especially those who are particularly interested in church growth that my wife and I just became the proud parents of a “little boy” – he is five weeks old. He will be baptized this Sunday. We also have our little 17 month old girl and our 17 year old son who decided on his own he wanted to be confirmed by our bishop this past Spring. So we are doing our part in contributing to church growth… Think about it, just with us at home, we have five new Episcopalians!
In the gospel we just heard proclaimed Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” - “No tengan miedo…”
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with “The Turtle Family”… One day the Turtle family decided that they were going on a picnic, and because they were turtles, it took them about three months to figure out what park they were going to. Then father turtle announced it was time to leave and they took about five days to get to the park. Once they arrived, it took mother turtle about one week to spread the picnic cloth on the ground and place the basket on it. It took the Turtle family about a day to say grace before eating – they really sped through their prayers. Eventually they were ready to take the first bite from their sandwiches when little boy turtle told everyone “Wait!” I forgot to bring the salt… I have to go back home to get it. So they all waited one day, two days, three days… Until little girl turtle announced to the family, “ I am so hungry, I am going to take the first bite”. The whole family insisted she wait for her brother, but there was no way. She just had to eat! So just as the little girl turtle was about to take the first bite, the little brother who has hiding nearby behind a tree said, “You see, that’s why I didn’t go get the salt, I was so afraid you would begin without me”
The tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew has always been very appealing to me! It begins by giving us the names of “the twelve” and then presents us with a number of instructions and peculiar warnings Jesus offers to the disciples as they are sent on their mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Yet, in this particular passage we just heard, three times in just a few verses we hear Jesus say: “Do not be afraid”. If you pay close attention to the context of this chapter, one clearly sees that the disciples had every reason to be afraid. Jesus tells them they will be persecuted, rejected, even “flogged in the synagogues” – yet he assures them they should not worry and he tells each of them it will be the Spirit of God who will “speak through you” (Mt 10:20). The most important instruction and advice Jesus gives his disciples is not be afraid…
Fear paralyzes. Speaking from personal experience, as one who was ideologically and somewhat spiritually paralyzed for some time, I can attest to the fact that fear is often our worst enemy. Fear does not allow us to see things with clarity and often makes us seek what is comfortable and what we have grown accustomed to, avoiding doing the hard work of discovering the will of God, which brings us true freedom and lasting peace. I am convinced that fear is ultimately responsible for keeping us from doing the work of the Kingdom; that kingdom of justice, peace and love which Jesus challenges his disciples – both then and now - to proclaim and make real in this world.
In my own faith journey, not unlike a good number of the members of our church who have come from other communions, one of the things that attracted me most to The Episcopal Church and our Anglican way is this sense of belonging to a spiritual oasis where we can “agree to disagree”, where there is room for ambiguity, where people can be heard, accepted and loved regardless of the popularity of their varied and diverse positions; a place free from the constant imposition of ideas and the rigid demands of dogmatism – which provide such little room for reason and simply do not value our God given ability to make personal decisions regarding what God may or may not be asking of us as individuals and as a community of faith. Indeed our church is a spiritual oasis for many – and must continue to be that unique place - where the people of God and their leaders cannot be threatened by our rapidly changing world, but on the contrary, wish to embrace it with God’s unconditional and beyond-all-boundaries type of love! “Do not be afraid…” Jesus says.
Bartolome de las Casas is a great example of what it means to be radical in following the Gospel and in the balancing act between dealing with the status quo - required of him due to his political and ecclesiastical position - and being truly unafraid to live the fullness of the gospel and work for justice, even when those he answered to, were systematically oppressing the native peoples he defended. Those unique political abilities and capacity to negotiate with the powers that be led him to be known as “The Protector of the Indians”; I believe these qualities would have made him a huge asset to our own General Conventions. Yet, like so many of us, God surprised Bartolome in calling him to ministry, since he originally came to America thinking he would just be another “conquistador”, but God had other plans – eventually he would become a priest and later a bishop that would offer his life in fighting against the grave injustices that Native Indians all over the Americas suffered.
As we look around our world today - in the United States and beyond – we sense the need for a renewed discipleship and commitment to justice – contemporary voices that are willing put fear aside and “shout from the rooftops” that we must “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (Baptismal Covenant – Book of Common Prayer). Our sermons, even our tweets and posts – our daily work in church and especially in the larger community – must clearly express that we are not afraid and that every form of prejudice, injustice, inequality and bigotry are not compatible with that Kingdom which Jesus expects us to help build. We have work to do and we cannot allow fear to paralyze us or keep us from moving forward.
Cuando Bartolomé de las Casas llego a las Américas, me imagino que seguramente se enamoro de la comida mejicana – que es mi comida favorita - de los volcanes de Centro America y de las Palmas de Cuba; donde nacieron mis padres. Pero con el paso del tiempo su verdadero amor, fueron los pueblos indígenas – las personas nativas de las tierras de America que el mismo junto a otros vinieron a “conquistar”.
Las injusticias que encontró de las Casas, tuvieron un impacto tan profundo en su vida, que le llevaron a entregarle su vida a Jesús – convirtiéndose en sacerdote de Cristo y locutor de quienes no tenían voz ni voto antes las autoridades coloniales.
Hoy Jesús nos dice en el evangelio “No tengan miedo” y “grítenlo desde las azoteas”. Al igual que se lo dijo a sus primeros discípulos, hoy el Señor Jesús nos lo dice a nosotros – No tengan miedo. El reto de los cristianos de hoy es no caer en la tentación de siempre caer bien a todos – eso es imposible. Anunciar y denunciar es parte de nuestra labor profética como Iglesia de Cristo. Algunos se ofenderán y otros nos seguirán, pero el mensaje del amor incondicional de Jesús hacia todos es nuestra primera obligación como iglesia.
No cabe duda que Bartolomé vivió en tiempos de gran injusticia. Seguramente era más fácil quedarse callado y ser uno más del montón. ¿Para que preocuparse con todo eso de denunciar injusticias y luchar por los derechos humanos de un grupo de personas que realmente casi ni conocía? Eran de culturas muy distintas a la suya, de otras razas y con idiomas que el tuvo que luchar por aprender con gran dificultad. Pero Bartolomé tenía corazón de Pastor – y el que tiene corazón de Pastor lucha por sus ovejas – sin importarle las diferencias que puedan existir.
Hoy, tú y yo, como mujeres y hombres – clérigos y laicos – hemos sido llamados a hacer realidad el reino de Cristo entre nosotros. Nuestro compromiso con la justicia en nuestra sociedad es una parte esencial del cumplimiento del evangelio. Hace unos días el presidente de esta gran nación decía que somos un país de leyes, pero que también somos un país de inmigrantes. Si eso es así, ¿Cómo podemos seguir refiriéndonos a seres humanos como “ilegales”? – Para Dios no existen ilegales. Tú y yo tenemos que luchar para que las leyes de nuestra nación – y de todas las naciones en las que nos toque trabajar y luchar – respeten la dignidad de cada ser humano. Nos tenemos que quitar el miedo y revestirnos de fe y valor para promover la justicia en medio de una sociedad que aunque es muy sofisticada para la tecnología y la ciencia, es aun muy muy pobre en su trato de las personas más vulnerables entre nosotros.
Mas alla de nuestras fronteras… No podemos tener miedo de dar a conocer lo que sufren nuestros hermanos en países donde aun no existe libertad de expresión, donde el hambre y la pobreza son extremas y donde la injusticia y la corrupción parecen no tener fin.
Por eso, al escuchar las palabras de Jesús en el día de hoy, pienso que nosotros – su iglesia – tenemos que gritar desde las azoteas: Que se acabe la división familiar por las deportaciones. Que se acabe la discriminación y la falta de entendimiento entre personas de distintas lenguas y razas. Que se acabe la lucha absurda por excluir y menospreciar a quienes no piensan como nosotros y a las personas que muy a menudo maltratamos por nuestra propia ignorancia Que tu yo renovemos nuestros esfuerzos y “no tengamos miedo” para poder hacer y cumplir lo que exige el Evangelio de Cristo en nuestros tiempos. ¡Que así sea! Amen.
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