Sunday, March 17, 2019
REV. ELIZABETH CUNNINGHAM
Stouffville United Church
Luke 13 and Philippians 3 – Lent 2
Thursday, our time, Friday, their time, 50 Muslims were shot to death as they prayed in their mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Many more were horribly injured by gunfire. The 28 year old killer is in custody. The 87 page manifesto circulated by the mass murderer on social media makes reference to other murders of Muslims, including the January 2017 killing of 6 Muslims in the mosque in Quebec City, our corner of the world.
On today’s text from the Gospel of Luke, a commentary reflected, “We live in a world obsessed with status and power, and consequently rife with political machinations.” That commentary was written ten years ago. ‘Rife with political machinations’, can now include the additional qualifiers of islamophobia, and the emergence of the alt-right, whose resurgence has been fueled by the rhetoric of then American political candidate, and now President, Donald Trump.
To my Canadian mind, Make America Great Again, was a campaign to close borders, shut down immigration, and clamour to the white establishment’s values. As Carol Anderson, author of White Rage, writes, “Trump … dangled a vision before his constituency where the vast resources of the nation would flow to whites, who in a few years would be a numerical minority, but whose comfortable lifestyle would be supported by a large but virtually rightless body of workers, cowed by threats of deportation and virtually unchecked police power in black and brown neighbourhoods.”
Diana Butler Bass, author of Grounded, and Grateful, reluctantly read the 87 page Manifesto produced by the mass murderer in New Zealand. In a series of tweets this week, she identified that the Manifesto was not about immigration but really was about protecting the ‘numerical minority’ of the white establishment worldwide. She tweeted: “The New Zealand murders have been called “anti-immigrant terrorism,” but there is something deeper at work. The manifesto begins with a refrain about the birthrate – and that seems to be the murderer’s main concern: the low birthrate of white European peoples.” In response to the manifesto’s message of hatred, she tweeted, “It is also important to understand that there are other threads of western Christianity (of which I am a part) that specifically challenge and reject these notions – that are religiously-informed visions of peace, equality, shared community, and hospitality.
We are in the middle of the Gospel of Luke – Chapter 13. In Luke 9:51, we read, “When the days drew for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The tension continues from Chapter 9, through 13 where we are today, up until 19:41, as Jesus draws near to the city of Jerusalem: “As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it.” Jesus, step by step, in these weeks of Lent is journeying to the cross that will be his death. The course has been set. There is no turning back.
Our text today, although brief, is a challenge to scholars, for it seems to be two different texts put together. Luke 13:31-33 speaks to the political ill-will of the region, as in Herod the fox, the slayer of prophets. It was this Herod who ordered the death of John the Baptist. This passage is highlighted by political ruthlessness and destruction while verses 34-35 contain the nurturing image of the mother hen, protecting her children, even at the cost to her own life. Both sections of this text are concerned with Jerusalem as they both confront the city and grieve its pain.
Jerusalem has always been front and center in our faith story. From the Old Testament, King David will bring the ark of the covenant home to Jerusalem, building a temple in which to place the ark. The temple will become the center of life and worship. Jesus will travel to Jerusalem, and after a triumphant entrance with palms and hosannas, will be arrested, tried, convicted, mocked, and crucified on a cross on Golgotha. Stephen and James will be martyred in Jerusalem (Acts 7:59, 12:2).
Jerusalem will also be the birthplace of Pentecost, when on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples were all together in one room, they were swept up by the Holy Spirit, spilling out into the streets to startled crowds who also heard the words of the Holy Spirit, in their own language. The Holy Spirit continued to be on the move, moving out from Jerusalem, to all corners of the Roman Empire and beyond.
And Jerusalem is front and center in this text today. And it seems to want to ask us, Where is your Jerusalem today? If Jerusalem was the ‘center of the world’ to the disciples and the pharisees in the text, where is our Jerusalem now? Do we have a center of the world? Ours is a global community, with no center, but rather works as an interconnected web of relationship that binds us together into community.
The Hebrew meaning of Jerusalem is related to the word for peace – shalom – the city of Peace. And yet, opposite to peace, Jesus stands in our text today, shouting, ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.’ (vs. 34). The political and religious powers and activities of the city were not protecting the people, as a hen protects her children, but rather were destructive and murderous.
The lament in this age cries for the same thing for which Jesus laments. Power structures are supposed to be protective. Faith groups should be able to worship, to pray, without threat of violence, and death. Immigration should proceed with fairness and justice. Racism should have no place in society. And yet, all of this is here in our Jerusalem.
Jesus is both fierce and vulnerable in his words. His anger is tinged by great sadness. If Jesus were to speak to us prophetically today, in the face of yet another massacre of innocents in Christchurch, New Zealand, what would his message be?
I wrote the Islamic Society of York Region on our behalf:
My heart breaks for the Muslim community, here in York Region, in New Zealand, and worldwide on the terrible news of the murders of Muslims as they worshipped in their mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. I, and my congregation of Stouffville United Church, are holding you and the Islamic Center of York Region in our prayers as you offer prayer and encouragement and support to your community.
Thinking of you in this very difficult time. I have always appreciated our friendship and will continue to cherish it, even more so in times when evil and hatred in this world would try to erase such bonds between people like you and I, who represent faiths that deeply believe in peace among all people.
In a time of mourning, may we share a prayer for peace.
And Zafar wrote back:
Thank you for your words of support and sympathy in these very troubled times. Your words offer great solace to our community that is not only grieving at the tragic loss of innocent life but have also become quite fearful for their safety.
We take great comfort in the fact that we have friends like you. I will share your message of sympathy with our congregation.Please convey our sincere gratitude to your wonderful and supportive community that we know we can count on to stand by us in our hour of grief. In peace and solidarity
Zafar Bangash Islamic Society of York Region
We live in our Jerusalem – a Jerusalem where violence asserts rights over others, violence that takes lives because they are ‘other’ than the dominant power group. There is no Kingdom waiting to be lived into but it is here now, asking to be lived into with values of peace, mercy, justice, and compassion. Jesus stands shouting at the injustices of the foxes in our midst, and lamenting that it can’t be experienced differently, where all people gather together, all people, regardless of faith, regardless of culture, regardless of race, regardless of language, all people gather together under the wings of Love, as one people.
But his Love lives on. For 2000 years, his love continues to live on.
As Martin Luther King Jr wrote,
“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil … Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.
1 FOTW, Pastoral Perspective, 68.
2 White Rage, 171.
24 Obery M. Hendricks, Jr., The Universe Bends Toward Justice, vii.