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Immersed in the World (March 18, 2018)

Last week, I said that Christian faith is not so much about becoming a better person, or believing something, or even doing something. Christian faith has to do with learning to see differently. God transforms our lives, God transforms our hearts, God transforms our eyes so that we learn to see the world with the heart of God.

I told a story about Dorothy Day reaching out to a woman in the psych ward, a woman wracked by her internal pain, a woman whom others saw as a threat. Dorothy Day saw her as an infinitely precious child of God.

Today, I want to tell you about Oscar Romero.

Latin America was a dangerous place during the 70’s and 80’s. There was an enormous gap between rich and poor. Guerilla movements sprang up to challenge the corrupt governments of the day. It was a time of revolution, with Sandinistas and Contras grabbing the news headlines.

The sad reality was that the hierarchy of the church was clearly on the side of the rich and powerful. Bishops and cardinals curried the favour of those in power. The poor felt abandoned by the church, as if they were of no account.

But there were some priests who spoke out against their church. They stood side by side with the poor. Those in power, in the church and in the government, saw them as a threat, and many were brutally murdered. It was a dangerous time.

On February 23, 1977, Oscar Romero was appointed the Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador. He was a compromise candidate. As a pious, bookish priest, with no history of political engagement, no one expected him to pose a danger to the powerful ruling elites of El Salvador. Neither would he threaten the cozy relationship between the Church and the government. He was the safe candidate.

Three weeks later, Romero’s friend Rutilio Grande, a progressive priest, was assassinated because of his work with the poor. Rutilio’s death had a profound effect on Romero. He began to speak out tirelessly and courageously against the brutal government. “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”

Romero became known as the bishop of the poor, and the poor flocked to him. He rallied the campesinos and gave them hope. His weekly homilies were broadcast through the country, and Romero assured the people not that the atrocities would cease, but that the church of the poor, themselves, would live on.

Romero was a surprise in history. No one expected him to change so radically. His voice became a powerful cry for justice and peace. “I have been learning a beautiful and harsh truth, that the Christian faith does not separate us from the world, but immerses us in it. The church is not a fortress set apart from the city; the church follows Jesus who loved, worked, struggled and died in the midst of the city.”

Brother Oscar became a threat. He was vilified in the press, attacked and denounced to Rome by Catholics of the wealthy classes, harassed by the security forces and publicly opposed by several fellow bishops. Death threats began to multiply against him

In 1980, at the end of a retreat day for priests, Romero was celebrating the mass. He lifted up the chalice. He spoke the words, “This is my blood.” A shot rang out, and Romero fell behind the altar, dead before he hit the floor. Saturday marks the 38th anniversary of Brother Oscar’s assassination on March 24.

Just recently, Pope Francis has fast–tracked the process for Oscar to be named a saint.

The fifth baptismal question is this:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

This question flows naturally from our fourth question, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourselves. When we learn to see Christ in all persons, it becomes a much more natural thing to respect the dignity of all persons, and to work for justice and peace.

What this question prompts us to do is to get immersed in the world. Brother Oscar learned to see in a whole new way. His eyes were opened. He began to see the horrors perpetrated by the rich upon the poor. He began to see the brutal oppression of the powerful over the powerless. He began to see …

… his vision was transformed … and his life was changed. He could no longer retreat, but had to become immersed in the suffering of the poor which he saw all around him.

He began to understand in a new way that the call of the gospel was to strive for justice … to work for peace … to respect the dignity of every human being.


Because we are all made in the image of God.

Because we are all God’s infinitely precious people.

Because each one of us is claimed and loved and embraced by God.

This is what Jeremiah points to: God is making a new covenant with us, a covenant written on our hearts. God’s love for us and for the world is internalized. We are transformed from the inside out. And then God’s grace flows through us. God’s compassion fills us, and God’s justice rings out, and God’s peace comes alive in us.

We won’t just know about God. We will know God.

This is who we are.

We are God’s people, marked by God with the sign of the cross in our baptism.

We are the church for the sake of the world.

Therefore, we reach out in love; we strive for justice and peace; we respect the dignity of every human being. Every person.

For brother Oscar, to be faithful to God literally cost him his life. He was the grain of wheat that fell into the earth and died in order to bear fruit. And his martyrdom bore great fruit.

It likely won’t cost us our life. I’m actually pretty happy about that.

But it is going to cost us something.

We give up some of our wealth so that others might share more equitably in the blessings of the universe.

We give up some of our energy so that God’s good news might be made real in the world through us.

We give up some of our time for the sake of gathering with God’s people to be encouraged, renewed and inspired so that we may go into the world to tell the story of Jesus and weave ourselves into the pages of that story.

We give up our insistence on our own rights so that we may serve others who need to be loved.

We give ourselves.

And then, like a grain of wheat, we understand anew that death is not the end. For a grain of wheat, death is the beginning. For Jesus, for the church, Good Friday was not the end. It was the beginning.

And we respond, “I will, with God’s help.”

It’s not an easy answer. Not by a long shot. In fact, this response blows all easy answers right out the water.

We claim that this is the way we want to live. This is the disposition of my heart. I long to be one of God’s people. I will live so that God’s gospel priorities become the guiding star of my life.

And as we do so, we become that grain of wheat which is sown and bears much fruit. It is the beginning of new life.

So let me ask you:

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

Thanks be to God.

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

March 18, 2018 (5th Sunday in Lent)

Jeremiah 31: 31–34

John 12: 20–33

Hebrews 5: 5–10