For my summer pastoral internship, I was required to put together a four-part sermon series on the marginalized of society. I preached the first sermon in the series last Sunday, which provided a christological framework or orientation of sorts to begin the whole series. It was quite the experience. The only other time I have ever preached is as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital. Despite these obviously unique experiences, I found the responsibility of preaching in front of a congregation to unexpectedly offer even more challenges and fears. I guess this is due to the fact that I'm faced more than ever with increasing doubts and questions. I'm constantly asking myself why any of this matters (or should matter) to the random person in my congregation. Preaching always provides the occasion to question the value and purpose of theological reflection, especially for the common layperson that rightly has no interest in the obscure and technical theological texts that I might find interesting. I keep asking myself what the Gospel has to say and must say to the single mother, the addict, the elderly, the recovering alcoholic, the low-income struggling and tired father, the average teenager, or anyone else who happens to show up in the pew. And I can't help but remember that the only thing that needs to be preached and constantly be proclaimed is a theology of the cross that has a singular meaning for all humanity regardless of one's particular life situation. This singularity of the Gospel is only possible because the Gospel proclaims one Lord, one revelation, and one message of liberation, redemption, and reconciliation for all.
So I'm preaching again in two Sundays on the third part of the series regarding what it means to have solidarity with the marginalized of society and if such solidarity is even possible. And questioning the possibility of solidarity becomes all the more pressing for myself as one who has only known privilege. As I prepare, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the sermons and lectures of Ernst Käsemann found in the extraordinary book On Being a Disciple of the Crucified Nazarene. It seems that Käsemann understands in a way that I have not found before the real urgency of the Gospel message and what this means for the suffering, forgotten, and marginalized. More than this, his work reminds me of something I recently read in Beverly Gaventa's book Our Mother Saint Paul where she writes that "Paul's theological horizon is nothing less than the cosmos itself which is in need of deliverance, not merely from human misdeeds but also from the grasp of the powers that are aligned against God" (x). Käsemann's work is written from this Pauline cosmic perspective that understands the Gospel as a word of liberation not limited to the individual, the church community, Israel, the marginalized, or even for all of humanity, but rather it is a reality that involves the crucifixion of the entire cosmos in the Crucified Nazarene. I'm coming to believe that anything less than this cosmic vision can't really have a word to say to the marginalized of society because anything less would fail to recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord over all earthly powers that continually enslave us. Here's some sections that were meaningful to me as I continue to write my sermon on solidarity (emphases mine):
"It seems to me that a Christian in our days can only be a nonconformist, someone who resists the dominant powers in state, society, and economy and declares oneself in solidarity with the damned of the earth. It do not know how we can all help and do it together. But I know that we must revise our thinking, our habits, our conduct of life if our children and grandchildren, to saying nothing of the crucified Nazarene, are not one day to judge us as fellow travelers and as guilty. Today, everyone must declare for solidarity, voluntarily and consciously or not. The only thing up for debate is which side we are on. The entire Bible and all of Christianity become unintelligible to me if I do not hear the call with Abraham, the people of the wilderness, and Jesus' first disciples to move into an unknown future under the command and promise of our God. Currently, it is assumed to be realistic when we sue for and increase our own rights and privileges. Whether or not by doing so we have chased after illusions and idols is a question we may scarcely put or discuss if we do not want to be suspects as subversive and revolutionary. Christians dare not allow themselves to be intimidated by this. At least, to put this question loudly and sharply is their present duty and the expression of their solidarity with those who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, whom their Lord has sought and consoled.
... Our Lord became solidly united with his Father's creatures, and was so up to the cross. He descended from the glory given him into what had to appear to him and all the abandoned as a hell and thus became light and truth in the midst of earthly darkness, the Savior of the lost, the Liberator of the oppressed, the Revealer of the divine love. He says to us, 'Follow me.' Solidarity with all who need help is only another word for discipleship. We cannot be disciples of Jesus if we are not on the way to the other as the Master before us. ... No one who belongs to him lives and dies only for self. Because we belong to him, we belong to the others thrown at our feet that we might lift them up. In Christian terms solidarity means to be free for humanity, since God came to us in Jesus Christ in the solidarity of grace" (244-245).
"There is no more revolutionary book than the Bible, if only we read it with open eyes and alert minds. It proclaims as Lord the One who was most despised and died among criminals, derided by religious and respectable society. We must search for our God in earth's inferno before we meet him in his glory. It is not by accident that the Gospels report that he frightened off the demons and breaks into their kingdom to free their victims from their violence. How little we know of him who shapes his creation from out of chaos, promises resurrection to those who come from and return to dust, and descends to the lowest parts of the earth so that once and for all the humiliated and crushed see light in the midst of the darkness daily surrounding them! Whoever does not begin to study with the Nazarene what salvation means will never learn it. He will rather dance around the golden calf, be occupied with desire, greed, and the despising of neighbor, though wanting to be pious and to belong to respectable society. The history of Christianity ... has been defined by an exodus from Egypt that ended with dancing around the golden calf, imagining it serves our God, though all the devils rejoice over it. The Nazarene breaks into this bustle. He sets the enslaved and possessed free" (276).