Greetings from LSPS
It is so good to be with you this morning! It’s great to be an LSTC alumnus and LSTC faculty serving and representing you in the heart of Willie Nelson country! I’m fond of Willie and with this visit he makes me feel like singing, “On the road again” Today I visit with you and tomorrow I leave for Princeton where I will attend lectures on the Reformation in light of the 500th anniversary by my good friend and mentor, Dr. Justo Gonzalez. I want thank Dr. Cheryl Pero and the dean of the chapel, Dr. Harvard Stephens, for the invitation to deliver the Word on this special Indigenous People’s Day. I am also grateful to Lydia Hernandez who recommended me. ¡Gracias Lydia y que Dios te lo pague!
I am especially grateful for the opportunity to lift up and affirm the first people nations who today remind us that the struggle for clean water and respect for sacred lands in North Dakota is also our struggle. The Lakota greeting, “meta kuye oyasin,” reminds us that “we are all related:” to each other, as the clear fountain waters in this sacred space remind us, and to Pachamama, to mother earth who bore us, who carries us, and who will claims us as her very own at the end of our journey.
Today I come to you with both gratitude and humility for I am the son of both Spanish and native peoples. I claim both cultures as my inheritance from a violent conquest that led to the formation of a new people: the mestizos and mulattos of Mexico and the Caribbean, the Boricuas of Puerto Rico and the native peoples of this tierra santa who continue to remind us of our obligation to each other and to future generations.
Allow me to address the issue of Identity which our Gospel text addresses in the encuentro between Jesus and the ten lepers.
But before that, let me ask: How many of you have taken the AncestryDNA test? Any surprises like in the T.V. commercial? My test confirmed what I knew, that I am a mestizo, a person of Spanish and indigenous history, but the test also traced my DNA to our shared roots in Africa, Europe, Asia, to the Jewish Askenazi community and to the first peoples of Mexico. I’m a a Global Heinz 57 and a Latino indigenous mestizo in the particular. All of these descriptors are as Dr. Pete Pero would say, identifications, because our true identity is “child of God!” Can I get an Amen?
All of us can trace our spiritual DNA to the Spirit of the mestizo/ mulatto/ universal and particular son of Hebrews of Galilee whose mixed ancestry, according to Matthew’s account, included the DNA of Ruth the Moabite and Rahab the sex worker of Jericho who ends up in the Hebrew Hall of fame. Applying a Texan hermeneutic we would say that Rahab ran a chicken ranch, but that’s a story and a movie for another day. The renown theologian Virgilio Elizondo of San Antonio makes a good case for Jesus’ mestizaje as a theological construct in his book, The Galilean Journey. Latina scholars make the case for Jesus’ mulatez, or mixture of African and other. Together with Elizondo they affirm the truth of the goodness of our mixture in our creation. Richard Rohr puts it this way: our DNA is of divine origin. May I have an Amen?
I’m sure we all question our identity at some point in our lives.
Today’s Gospel reading reveals the role it plays in the story. Jesus has an encuentro with ten lepers in the “region between Samaria and Galilee.” I read that to mean a border region and I know all about borders because that’s where I was born and that’s where I serve: The U.S. – Mexico borderland. We call it a “third country,” not quite Mexico and not quite the U.S. but something else, something different. It’s a liminal space of ambiguity where folks from the global south encounter folks from the global north and something new emerges in that encounter. Texas is a land that was inhabited by many native peoples. Then Spain sent missionaries to build missions. Then other foreigners arrived from Tennessee and other states to occupy and claim the land that in truth belonged to others. When we remember the Alamo, we recall it from a place of conquest and colonization. Then the Germans arrived in the 1800’s and ever since then many native peoples and folks who look like me have been called foreigners and I daresay “illegal aliens” because of our accent or our genetic makeup. You get the picture? The one redeeming aspect of this story of displacement is that the German Lutherans entered into a treaty with the Comanche nation to live in peaceful co-existence and to foster trade between them. The treaty is still honored today and is one of the few treaties that was never broken.
I know how difficult displacement can be for folks. Social stigma is not uncommon. If you don’t have documents to prove you belong there, papeles we call them, you end up with a form of leprosy, a contagious disease by association. You and your family can be held in detention centers, children separated from parents, wives separated from husbands, everyone locked up in freezer like containers as a form of domestic terrorism and containment. “Unclean, unclean.” You can almost hear the shout coming from outside our seminary walls. A lack of papeles causes a stigmatizing illness. It carries within it psychological trauma.
Jesus is traveling in that kind of border region where the disease of the unclean is everywhere and contagious. The Samaritans were unclean by nature, by virtue of who they were, mestizos and mulattos, an impure mixture of Hebrew and foreigner. These mestizos and mulattos had been colonized by the Assyrians and these conquistadores had brought five people groups with them to colonize the region. If Jews from Galilee wanted to go to Jerusalem, they would avoid Samaria at all costs. They would cross the Jordan River to the trans-Jordan, al otro lado we say I Spanish, the other side of the river, so as to avoid contact and contamination.
That’s what border regions are like. Border regions are a place of insiders and outsiders, clean and unclean, documented and undocumented. You either belong or you don’t. Even the language and the accent will reveal whether you are one of us or not. It can be dangerous to live there because it’s a place where your identity is constantly questioned. You can be deported to the other side of the river, al otro lado, if you don’t have your papeles in order. This happened to a Chilean Lutheran pastor friend who was deported for that reason. My father was a Mexican citizen until his dying day and every time we crossed the border al otro lado from Mexico to the U.S. after visiting our relatives he would show the border agent his green card to prove that he had a legitimate right to cross the border and live peaceably on this side of the Rio Grande River. I still remember the heightened tension in the car knowing that we were going to face an authority figure who would ask us for our papeles.
So to find Jesus going through Samaria rather than around it shows some intentionality on his part. Maybe it’s a shortcut because he knows he needs to get to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission, a violent one at that. But what I find interesting in today’s text of the healing of the ten lepers is not so much the giving of thanks by the Samaritan, as important as that is, but the fact that Jesus calls the Samaritan the foreigner! Now wait a minute Jesus! In my reading of the text You Jesus, you’re the outsider, not the Samaritan! The Samaritan is in his native liminal space. You are the one who has chosen to enter that space, that borderland of the unclean and undesirable to get to where your going; in fact, your lineage is just as suspect as the Samaritans. Check your papeles, Jesus! I think you’ll find that the outsider/insider binary depends on what side of the border your standing on! You see, I can banter with this Jesus because he knows me. He has been with me at every border crossing. And he crosses the border with every refugee that makes it to this country. So, people of God, how you read the text often depends on what space you occupy. And where you’re standing or sitting is always an other’s sacred space. The Sioux nation taught me that lesson on the Pine Ridge Reservation when I was a student here.
Today we see the indigenous people’s sacred land partly bulldozed in North Dakota by outsiders who want to supply the rest of us with the oil we need to run our economy. Our contagious affliction is our addiction to oil. We need to be healed from that dependency because “we are all related” and what injures one part of the creation injures all of us for ALL are created in the image and likeness of the Creator. The Great Spirit affirms that in the Word.
In the sacred texts of indigenous peoples, both the land and the people are one, inextricably linked; and both require healing of a historical memory of genocide, displacement, diaspora from sacred lands and a suspect humanity. Today on the Day of the one Human Race, in which we commemorate the history of indigenous peoples, we ask our brother Jesus to remind us that the healing that he extends comes with an honest appraisal of our addictions that cause injury to mother earth and to one another. We ask him to help us see with his eyes the peoples of the third space in all of our places of service, the folks sin papeles, without papers, who have left their land of origin to seek shelter and refuge in a land that does not welcome them. We ask him to help this church, the ELCA and all of its synods and congregations and seminaries and seminarians, to grasp the decolonizing and liberating vision of its sacred texts which emerged out of exile and diaspora. Of the ten lepers it was the mestizo Samaritan who came back to give thanks, realizing along the way that he had been made whole. What can we learn from his act of gratitude? Giving thanksgiving to God is always right and proper and the equivalent of a giving of praise. We can all do that! But let us do more. Let us be counted among the mestizos who keep coming back to the Source of all Thanksgiving for healings we receive and healings done in his name. Let us be counted among the mulattos who work to heal the divisions between insiders and outsiders and who insist on seeing every one as a child of God regardless of what side of the border they’re from or what third country they inhabit, or what language they speak or what DNA they carry. We have been commissioned, people of God, to be the curanderos, the healers of the sacred ground for all that the Creator has made is sacred. Let us run back together over and over again to the clear waters of our baptism to renew the promises that made us one people en Cristo Jesús. Meta kuye oyasin. We are all related. Amen.