The Good News from Solentiname
A sermon preached on July 31st at Grace Memorial Episcopal Church
I had the pleasure of going to Portland a couple weekends back and preaching in the building at Grace. I though you might enjoy the message.
The readings from this Sunday were:
The Nicaraguan priest and poet, Ernesto Cardenal, established a community of artists, writers, and peasants in the Solentiname islands in Lake Nicaragua in the 1970’s.
The community was eventually destroyed by the military, but before it was, Ernesto did something that was at once very ordinary and very extraordinary.
Ernesto gathered each Sunday with a group of the people, all of them poor by the standards of this world, and they reflected on the Gospel reading.
They did church, essentially.
But they did it in a way that most Episcopalians might not recognize as ordinary.
Rather than the theologically trained clergyperson standing before the congregation, sharing their one perspective, or expertly weaving in the voices of other theological experts, all with the assumption that the people will absorb their wisdom and inwardly digest it, Ernesto staged a conversation and recorded the theological reflections of the people.
He captured for posterity the perspectives of a group of peasants on the meaning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In a world that privileges the rich, recognizing the authority inherent in the voices of the poor, something that Jesus, himself, did, is extraordinary. Revolutionary, even.
Christ is all and in all!, Paul tell us, including, and perhaps especially, in the voices from the margins of the margins.
So, we will follow Jesus today in honoring the poor by receiving their wisdom, their witness, and their ministry. Here are a few excerpts from chapter 65, of The Gospel in Solentiname, a reflection on today’s Gospel reading from Luke 12.
One among the people said to Jesus: “Master, tell my brother to give me my part of the inheritance.” But Jesus said to him: “Man, who put me between you like a judge or a divider?”
ERNESTO: “Didn’t Jesus do badly by not wanting to do justice between those two?”
FELIPE: “He was coming to teach us love. If people carried out his teaching, the brother wouldn’t steal the inheritance of the brother.”
WILLIAM: “He didn’t come to distribute the riches; it’s up to society to do that. And the sharing ought to be done among everybody, not just between two. In that sharing they asked Jesus to do, the rest were left out. They ask him to sanction private property, the inheritance laws, the status quo. He refuses, he hasn’t come for that. On the contrary he’s come to destroy that social order.”
FELIPE: “Jesus was coming to divide all the wealth of the world among all the people.”
A PROTESTANT FROM THE OPPOSITE SHORE: “It seems to me he wasn’t coming to share material but spiritual things, and this man wanted him to share material things.”
OLIVIA: “Well, it seems to me he comes to share material things too, but not just to two people. Because notice that just with spiritual things, forgetting material things, you can’t live. And the spiritual and the material can’t be separated; it has to be one single united thing, but not shared just between two people. Because notice that if the only thing shared is spiritual, the people starve to death.
FELIPE: “If you want to achieve a spiritual life, you have to achieve it through material things. Because if I love God (‘I’m on the side of God!’), to prove it I have to do something for my comrades and share what I have, be brothers and sisters with everyone. If I don’t achieve it in material things, I’m not loving, it’s more like I’m hating.
Notice and beware of all greed; for people’s lives do not depend on the many things they have.
OLIVIA: Happiness doesn’t depend on riches. There are many rich people that are unhappy.”
MARIITA: “It’s the riches that make them unhappy. They have worries we don’t have.”
ERNESTO: “According to Jesus, it’s not just happiness; it’s life itself that doesn’t depend on the things one may have.”
TOMAS: “A selfish person is dead in the midst of life.”
REBECA: “The fact that some people have too much of a lot of things, that makes for lawsuits, wars, that also kills life.”
Then he gave them this example: There was a rich man, and his lands gave a great harvest. And he thought: “O, I know what I’m going to do: I’m going to tear down my barns and build other bigger ones, and in them I’ll keep all my harvests and all my goods and I’ll say to myself: ‘My friend, you have many things stored up for many years; rest, eat, drink, and be merry.’” But God said to him: “Fool, this very night you will die, and all you have stored up, who will get it?” That’s what happens to the man that piles up riches for himself, but who is poor in the eyes of God.
ALEJANDRO: “What the man in the parable did is what rich people do now: Keep the money in the bank and take it easy. They eat and drink and have fun like that man. They live in an endless fiesta. And they go on accumulating more, they go on exploiting and living happily off the work of the others. Like that man in the Gospel: because that man by himself couldn’t have gathered all those harvests that wouldn’t fit into his barns, he did it with the labor of others.”
REBECA: “The bad part about wealth is that it makes them poor in God’s eyes, poor in love.”
OLIVIA: “And they’re very unfortunate in the eyes of God, because the richer a man is, the more he has exploited. And then he owes all that money, that sweat that he’s stolen from the worker. Some are poorer than others in the eyes of God, and the richest are the poorest in God’s eyes.”
“The richest one is the one who’s devoted himself to screwing others, so he’s the worst for the poor people, so he’s the poorest in God’s eyes.”
“The ones that are the most miserable (those that are most lacking in love) are the ones that have the most riches.”
“But Jesus speaks of the one that ‘piles up riches’ for himself.’ He’s not against big harvests, he’s against piling them up just for yourselves. Like that man did: to keep them and rest and enjoy himself the rest of his life.”
“Neither of the two [S-O-B’s] had a right to that inheritance; all of it was the people’s money. Just as it was everybody’s wealth that the man wanted to store in his barns. Who says he could enjoy all by himself that great harvest, if he didn’t harvest it all by himself.”
“And even less inherit it.”
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by standing in the temple and reading this passage from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
And in the case of Solentiname, it is the poor who have come to proclaim good news to the world in the name of Jesus. So may the words their mouths and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God, our strength and our redeemer.