The Songs that We Sing: Privilege and the Gospel of Jesus

Homily, “The Songs that We Sing: Privilege and the Gospel of Jesus/
Los Coritos que Cantamos: Privilegio y el Evangelio de Jesús”
Ordinary Time, Proper 21, 2020
Online with Santa Fe Episcopal Church
San Antonio, TX

Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

I. Intro: The songs that we sing

In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
En el nombre del Padre, y el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo. Amén. 

Esta mañana, quiero hablar de las canciones que cantamos.
This morning I want to talk about the songs we sing.

Music has always been important part of my life, in fact I would go so far as to say the foundation of my faith came to me in the form of song. Having grown up in the Church, for example, I knew that Jesus loved me, because “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” How many of you sang that song when you were little? I remember the first time I experienced the felt presence of God in my life, was singing Psalm 42, “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul panteth after you.” La música tiene poder. Music has power. Music has a way of allowing words to seep into our skin and bones so that we not only comprehend their meaning but feel the weight of their emotion. Here at Santa Fe we love our songs. Nos encantan nuestros coritos. Like so many others, when I first visited this church, it was the music of Santa Fe that really captured my attention. And I know its the same for many of you here. Maybe there is a song that has meant something special to you. Or spoke to you in a time of need. Take a moment and think about it. What’s a song that holds a lot of meaning for you? Cuál es tu corito favorito? 

Los coritos que cantamos importan. The songs that we sing matter. And this isn’t a truth unique to us but one that has been known for centuries. We can look back at the early church and see that the songs they sang mattered. Las Escrituras están llenos de cánticos. Songs giving praise to God, expressing lament in pain, encouraging others to work for justice, and describing the faith the people had in God. While we don’t know what the music sounded like, some of these songs we still sing or say today, like the one Mary the mother of Jesus sang when she was pregnant and visited her cousin Elizabeth,

The songs we sing today are reflections—continuations—of the songs the church has always sung. 

We encounter one of those songs—one of the earliest songs of the Church—this morning in our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul probably didn’t write the song, but he sure enough was singing when he quoted it to the Philippians, 

II. The song that Christ sings 

In academic circles, this passage is simply called The Christ Hymn. Scholars love the passage because it displays some of the deepest christological convictions of the early church. The word christological, or christología, es el estudio de Cristo—the study of all things Christ. It comes from the Greek word, Cristos, meaning Christ, and the Greek work logos, meaning word. So Christology is simply what we say about Christ. So this hymn is a Christological hymn. It’s a Christological description of who Jesus is. 

If you want to know who Jesus is, if you want to know what song Jesus sang, this is the passage to go to. And while scholars over the centuries have obsessed over this passage because it says Jesus was equal to God, the real radical part of this song, is that it says Jesus humbled himself to walk with people—and not just any walk or any people, but to walk the risky walk which accompanies the poor and the oppressed—the walk that would eventually lead to his own execution by the powerful who felt threatened by the Good News he proclaimed. Jesus accompanies and stands by those rejected by society so that often he himself is overlooked. Me recuerda a nuestro corito,

Jesús cantaba una canción de liberación. Jesus was singing a song of liberation—continues to sing a song of liberation. A song which flips the world on end. It’s a song his mother sang when she bore him in her womb, “He cast the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” It’s a song Jesus sang continually throughout his ministry: Mt. 20:16-“The last will be first, and the first will be last.” Luke 6:20-26- “Blessed are you who are poor,…but woe to you who are rich.” San Marcos 9:35- “Si alguien quiere ser el primero, deberá ser el último de todos, y servirlos a todos.

This early song of the Church, this Christ hymn, shows us that Jesus not only talked the talk, but he walked the walk. It shows us that in his privilege, in his power, he humbled himself, and in his humility—in his humiliation—he was empowered and lifted up. This is the shape of the gospel, this is the shape of Christ: the mighty are cast down and the lowly are lifted up. The oppressor is disempowered, the oppressed is empowered. The prideful are humbled, the humble are given pride. Esta es la forma del evangelio. This is the song Jesus sang. 

III. The song the Church sings

The genius of this passage though, for me at least, is that Paul flips this early favorite song of Christology and makes it about ecclesiology. Como Christología, ecclesiología es de dos palabras griegas: ekklesia (significa iglesia o asamblea) y logos que ya hemos aprendido significa palabra. Entonces, si la cristología es lo que decimos de Cristo, la eclesiología es lo que decimos de la Iglesia. If Christology is what we say about Christ, Ecclesiology is what we say about the Church. The genius of this passage is that Paul takes a Christological description and turns it into an Ecclesiological prescription. “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but humbled himself.” Here Paul is using this ancient song not just to describe who Jesus is, but who we as the Church are called to be. Este cantico antiguo no se trata solo de cristo, sino de la Iglesia. 

And doesn’t that make sense? We say all the time, we are the body of Christ. In fact its the song we sing, “Somos el cuerpo de Cristo, we are the body of Christ. Traemos su Santo mensaje. We come to bring the Good News to the world.” We are the body of Christ. 

Me recuerda las palabras de Santa Teresa de Ávila:

If we, as the Church are the body of Christ, then doesn’t it make sense that any thing we say about Jesus we should be able to say about us the Church?

We are called to sing the song that Jesus sang. The song of liberation. The song of a different kindom, where the powerful are brought down from their thrones and those who they exploited are lifted up. Como la Iglesia, estamos llamados a cantar el canto de la liberación

VI. What song do you sing?

So as we hear the words this morning to this ancient song of the Church, we are left with the question, what song are we singing? What song are you singing today? ¿Qué canción estás cantando esta mañana? As we see the shape of Jesus’ life, the shape of the gospel, what is the shape of our own lives?

Paulo Friere in his famous book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” used this term, “conscientization”—“conscientización”—to talk about the way we wake up to the role we play in the oppressive systems around us and begin to work for their dismantling and the liberation of those they oppress.

En este mundo, existen privilegios sociales. In this world, there are social privileges—social capital. Certain things many of us carry which give us a heads up in the world and certain things many of us lack which make it difficult to fit into the status quo. Some of us have many social privileges: light skin, being male, educación, having a job, a savings or investment account, access to healthcare, owning a home, speaking English, citizenship, a supportive community, the right to vote. Some of us have few of these privileges. And some of us might be somewhere in the middle. The process of concientización is the process of identifying which social privileges we have—de identificar qué privilegios sociales tenemos—and which ones we lack or have been denied—y cuáles nos faltan o nos han negado—and then learn how to engage in the work of liberation from wherever we are—y luego aprender a participar en el trabajo de liberación desde donde estemos.

For those of us with much privilege, a lot of this work will be the work of humility—of learning to let go of some of the things we have in order to better accompany those who have been denied those things. Of practicing repentance and offering reparations where we have used or weaponized our social privileges against others. To follow the path of Jesus of humility, of taking on the role of a servant by humbling ourselves, even to the point of self-sacrifice. Para aquellos de nosotros que tenemos muchos privilegios, gran parte de este trabajo será obra de la humildad.

For those of us with less privilege, a lot of this work will be the work of empowerment—of learning to reject the cultural lies which tell us we are not good enough and embracing the voice of God who says “you are my child, and I love you”—tú eres mi hijo, my hija, y te quiero. Of practicing courage to stand in the face of injustice, and not only survive, but thrive. To follow the path of Jesus of being lifted up, and being named as holy. Para aquellos de nosotros con menos privilegios, gran parte de este trabajo será el trabajo de empoderamiento.

And it’s not all or nothing. Some of us will have a lot of humbling to do and a little empowering. Some of us will have little humbling and a lot of empowering. Some of us will have equal work to do in both. But this is the shape of the gospel and the song which we are called to sing. Esta es la forma del evangelio y la canción que estamos llamados a cantar.

In the gospel of John Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it does, it bears much fruit.” Here again, we get the shape of the gospel. Some of us are being called to bury our grain—our seed—and to let it die. Some of us feel like we are already in the ground and we are being called to spring forth to bear fruit, to bear all of God’s beauty. What is the shape we are taking up? How are we embodying Christ in the world? What is the song we are singing?

To close, I invite us to sing this song as a prayer of self-examination. As a prayer to take up the call of Jesus to humble ourselves when we need humbling, and to be lifted up where God is calling us to be lifted up.