The following is a transcript of Pastor Ray’s sermon, delivered as a part of the Occupy Palm Sunday worship service with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church and Nuestra Señora De Las Americas on Sunday, March 20, 2016. The service was followed by a rally protesting the proposed replacement of 525 units of public housing with an equal number of market rate units at Lathrop Homes and an occupation of one of the 800 currently vacant units.
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
I love Chicago. No, I LOVE Chicago! I grew up “rural”—first in Kentucky where our closest neighbor was a mile away and then in Illinois in a small town of 600 people. But the city of Chicago drew me like a magnet, and I vowed that one day I would live here. I kept my vow. I still love this city. The view of the skyline from the Adler Planetarium on a crisp clear morning can still make my heart skip a beat. Sometimes, as I watch the sunset from my rooftop, the rays of the sun hit the skyscrapers just right, turning them into bars of silver and gold.
I’ve been told that something similar happens in Jerusalem. Most of the buildings are made of white limestone, a material that reflects the light and changes colors as the sun makes its way across the sky. So I can imagine Jesus reaching the crest of the Mount of Olives that first Palm Sunday and seeing the walls of the city and the temple aglow with the golden light of the late afternoon sun, and thinking, “Wow! That’s beautiful.”
But let’s face it. Just because something looks like gold doesn’t mean it IS gold. Jesus knew that beneath the golden glow was a diseased heart. The temple of Jerusalem—the heart of Jewish religious, economic and social life—was filled with greed and exploitation of the poor. Those who were most vulnerable—the widow, the fatherless, the alien, the disabled—were the victims of oppression and abuse. So when Jesus rides into the city of Jerusalem, his response is not awe and wonder. While everyone else is impressed with the magnificence of the stones, Jesus sees those stones as symbols of the injustices perpetrated against the poor…and he weeps. “If only you had recognized and followed the ways the peace. If only you had understood the year of God’s favor. But you have rejected it. You have chosen to be blind to God’s justice. The paths you have chosen are not sustainable and in the end, they will lead to your destruction. “
Yesterday, I decided to practice today’s Palm Sunday procession across the Diversey Ave. bridge over the Chicago River. I imagined Jesus crossing that bridge with me. As we came to the top of the bridge, my eyes were drawn to the south. There before me was a spectacular panoramic view of the iconic buildings of the Chicago skyline. “Wow!” I thought.
I have to show Jesus the sites. “Jesus, look over there. There’s the Hancock building. See how it boldly expresses its strength with the exposed X braces. It won all sorts of design awards. Isn’t it impressive? It’s named for a global insurance powerhouse. And over there is the Sears…I mean, the Willis Tower. It was the tallest building in the world for decades. It’s an engineering marvel—nine tubes of various heights bound together as one. Amazing, isn’t it? It’s named for Willis Holding Group, a multinational risk advisor. And there in the center—like an extended middle finger—is Trump Tower. See how the light shimmers off its multi-faceted glass skin. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s full of multi-million dollar condos, and it’s named after…. Well, you probably already know about him.”
And I look over at Jesus, and there are tears running down his face. I think, Yeah, it’s THAT beautiful. But then I realize that Jesus isn’t looking downtown. He’s looking east. I turn and look east too, and there laid out before me is the Julia C. Lathrop Homes public housing project.
And Jesus begins pointing at Lathrop. He points to make sure I see what he sees. He points to the chain link fences that surround and block access to apartment buildings. He points to the boarded up windows and doors. He points to the decorative shutters shedding their paint. He just points. And then he turns and looks at me with the dazzling downtown skyline as a backdrop, and says, “If only you recognized what would bring peace to your violent streets. If only you pursued justice. If only you understood the meaning of the year of God’s favor. If you did, you wouldn’t have turned this into a desolate place. Mark my words. Mark my words well. The day will come when YOUR place will be desolate. Then, what will you do?” Jesus’s words kind of sting, but I know what he means.
These vacant, boarded up apartments had once housed low-income families seeking the opportunity to improve their lives. Each building represented hope. Each row house represented the promise of a better future. But that promise had been broken. Instead, these same apartments now awaited transformation into a “vibrant mixed-income community”. These apartments now represent profit for developers at the expense of the poor. They now represent yet another betrayal of those who are in greatest need.
In that moment, I thought of all those families who continue to languish on housing waiting lists. (Pause) I thought about those people with disabilities who are forced to live in the indignity of shelters. (Pause) I thought about the tents under the Kennedy expressway viaduct. (Pause) And I understood why Jesus wept when he looked over the city. I wept too.