Today we tried having a discussion rather than a whole sermon. It worked very well and we had a very interesting discussion as a congregation about 'what is sin'?
As you can see from the sermon, it was a sermon for the launching of Christian Aid Week. The discussion was inspired by the Gospel reading that Oscar Romero read on the day he was murdered: John 12:20-26.
Who knows who Oscar Romero was?
Oscar Romero was born in El Salvador in Central American in 1917. When he left school, he apprenticed to a carpenter but soon started thinking about becoming a Roman Catholic priest - against the wishes of his family. He trained for the priesthood in two cities in El Salvador and then went to study in Rome. He was ordained in Rome in 1942, during the Second World War.
Romero returned to El Salvador and worked as a parish priest and as the head of a theology college before becoming the Archbishop of the capital city of San Salvador in 1977. He was murdered, in his church by the army, on 24 March 1980 because he continually spoke out against the government’s murder of the poor people.
Does anyone remember why the government was killing its own poor?
The right-wing government said that it was trying to defeat communist guerrillas and the government’s murder of its people was funded by the United States.
Does anyone want to have a guess how many of its own people the government of El Salvador was killing every month during the late 1970s and early 1980s? 3000 people per month.
When he first became Archbishop, nobody expected Oscar Romero to speak out against the government and to take up the cause of the poor. He was actually elected to be bishop of the capital city San Salvador because he was seen as being a ‘conservative’ - as someone who wouldn’t rock the boat and give support to the poor (and to the guerrillas)
But all that changed when a priest in Romero’s diocese was killed by the army along with two of his parishioners. The priest was killed because he defended the peasant's rights to organize farm cooperatives. Romero went to see the body of the priest as well as the old man and seven year old child who were killed with him, and he was changed forever.
On the day before his murder by the army, Romero spoke out and said that it was a sin for the government to murder its own people and that, because of what the army was being used for, Christian men should not feel that they had to obey the draft. Romero said that Christians were free to disobey human laws which went against God’s law.
As I said earlier, Romero was shot down in church the following day, whilst leading worship. The Gospel reading that morning was the one we heard earlier: ‘…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’
I’d like us to listen to some quotations from Oscar Romero and I’d like to have a chat about whether or not we can see any connection between his thoughts and the Gospel of Christ. Before we start, I also want to say that you may disagree with some of the quotations and that’s perfectly OK. I’m not saying that Romero got everything right or that we can’t question him. I am not elevating what he said to the status of God’s word. I simply think that, in light of the witness of his deeds, that some of his thoughts might be worth us thinking about this morning.
1) ‘The Church, like Jesus, has to go on denouncing sin in our own day. It has to denounce the selfishness that is hidden in everyone's heart, the sin that dehumanizes persons, destroys families, and turns money, possessions, profit, and power into the ultimate ends for which persons strive. And the church has also to denounce what has rightly been called 'structural sin:' those social, economic, cultural, and political structures that drive people onto the margins of society. When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to the misery from which the cry arises.’ — Oscar Romero, 6 August 1977.
2) ‘To try to preach without referring to the history one preaches in is not to preach the gospel. Many would like a preaching so spiritualistic that it leaves sinners unbothered and does not term idolaters those who kneel before money and power. A preaching that says nothing of the sinful environment in which the gospel is reflected upon is not the gospel.’ Oscar Romero, 18 February 1979.
3) ‘The church is obliged to demand structural changes that favour the reign of God and a more just and comradely way of life. Unjust social structures are the roots of all violence and disturbances. How hard and conflicting are the results of duty! Those who benefit from obsolete structures react selfishly to any kind of change.’ Oscar Romero, November 1979.
[Reading of the Gospel again]
‘Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ, will live like the grain of wheat that dies. It only apparently dies. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies… We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses; that God wants; that God demands of us’. Oscar Romero, 24 March 1980
We are still in the Easter season and I think that the grain of wheat which dies is a fantastic picture of resurrection. The picture that Romero paints is also a very challenging picture of what the church is about. There is a very real sense in which Christ lives on in the world through the church. That’s why we’re called the body of Christ.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that Jesus’ resurrection or our future resurrection is only about planting seeds. I don’t think that the resurrection is a mythical morality tale. It’s not that we plant the seeds of God’s love or do what is right because these are the only ways for resurrection to happen. It’s that we plant the seeds of God’s love and we do what is right in the eyes of God because Jesus rose from the dead.
In Jesus, God became human. He lived with us, he experienced our joys and our sorrows and he taught us God’s ways. He taught us to love one another as he loves us, because our love is the way that other people experience God’s love on earth. Our love is also the way that others can hear, see and experience the good news of Jesus.
Today is Christian Aid Sunday, the beginning of Christian Aid Week. It is part of our discipleship to support the work of Christians who are called to work full time to bring relief to those in need – whether at home or in other parts of the world.
So, as we come to communion together in a few minutes, we remember that we are Christian brothers and sisters together with Christians in Latin America and in all parts of the world; and we thank God for groups such as Christian Aid. We remember that, at his table, we are united together with Christ who was crucified for our sins, rose triumphant from the grave and reigns with the Father through all eternity.
We ask that God will strengthen all people who suffer and that he will bring all creation into his Kingdom. And we pray this in the name of Jesus, our risen Lord and Saviour. Amen