I was going to preach about the three animal metaphors for Biblical characters. I thought I’d throw in a little St. Patty’s Day and talk about how he supposedly drove snakes out of Ireland to round out the menagerie. But then another mass shooting happened in another holy place of worship. This time in peaceful New Zealand. We again send thoughts and prayers off to the wounded in body and in soul.
There is something terribly wrong with our world that such a thing can happen. The common denominator is that the killers are white men. Norway, Charleston, Sandy Hook, Quebec City, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, an Amish school in Pennsylvania, a Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a concert in Las Vegas, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, a school in Littleton, Colorado, a government building in Oklahoma City. They all have this same common denominator. This is the real national/international emergency.
A college buddy of mine, Randy Hollerith, is now the dean of the National Cathedral in Washington DC. He wrote the following words on Friday:
We have to remember that people consumed by hate want to inspire hate. What happened at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is a tragedy beyond words. My heart breaks for all those who were killed and for their families. God watch over them. It is important to understand that one of the aims of the white supremacist movement is to create a race war or a religious war. To this end, they use their hatred to arouse hatred. Therefore, we must not succumb to hate ourselves, we must stand against it in all its forms.
We need to continue to be the good people that we are and inspire people to do good in the face of hatred. To offer light in the darkest nights of our souls. To bring a ray of hope in the bleakest of moments. That’s why we are gathered here. We are gathered here to commit to a different kind of narrative, one that counts us among the peacemakers, the justice-seekers the hope-mongers, the life givers.
It means recognizing beauty and diversity as hopeful evidence of a creative God.
The mosque shooter wanted to inspire fear and hatred. What if instead, he inspired love, understanding, courage and solidarity? That’s how we faithful people respond. You go low, we go high. We saw this yesterday at the Dar Al Farooq Mosque in Bloomington, where people of all faiths gathered to denounce violence and race-based prejudice. The Godly response is solidarity.
Today’s scripture is actually an astute analysis of the world in five short verses. And it tells us how we ought to act as children of God.
About halfway through Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is upsetting the powers that be. He is not listening the reason of his advisors. He’s healing on the Sabbath. Not only that, he’s healing the wrong people—the untouchables. He’s consorting with the enemy. He’s breaking rules and norms. He declares that God wants us to have life and have it abundantly. He reminds people to remember the stranger, to feed the hungry, to visit the prisoners, to study war no more. He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
The Pharisees, the Jewish reform party who want to make the Jewish world pure while not upsetting the Roman occupation power structure, give Jesus a warning. “You better get out of Galilee, for Herod is trying to kill you.” The Pharisees want Jesus to lay low, to not make so much waves. It might even implicate them since they too are Jews.
But then Jesus gives his analysis of allegiances. Jesus refers to Herod as a fox. Think about that. A fox is a cunning predator, who looks cute and harmless, like a house cat. And just when you think it’s safe, it will leap up and devour its prey. Why name a news channel after a sly predator? Whom does it seek to devour?
I have had my share of fun listening to late-night comedians take down the latest antics of the current occupier of the white house. It’s kind of cathartic. I almost feel righteous that I believe as the comedian does. I can see that the emperor has no clothes. What I don’t do is find a way to connect with those who are on the president’s side. I don’t really know how to bridge the gap between me and the people with whom I disagree. We are comfortable in our little bubbles. It’s a lot of work to go outside of your bubble. It might not even be safe. But Jesus says that safety is overrated.
Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being in league with Herod. Not so much by their actions, but by their inability to speak truth to power. After all, Herod’s dad had ordered the killing of Hebrew babies in a form of ethnic cleansing around the time of Jesus’ birth. Jesus said, “You go tell that fox Herod that I am casting out demons and doing it on the Sabbath and that I am going to Jerusalem where the prophets are always killed.”
Jesus said, I am not afraid of Herod. I am not even afraid of death if it comes in the pursuit of righteousness. I will continue to do my work.
King Herod, the fox, if he wanted to find Jesus, would find him in Jerusalem where Kings had a habit of killing God’s prophets. After all it was Herod who had called for the beheading of the prophet John the Baptist. Then, Jesus did something which we don’t often see prophets do after they condemn others. Jesus wept. He wept for the city, the great city of Jerusalem, the capital of a country not much bigger than from here to St. Cloud.
Jesus wept for the city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning the messengers of God, how often would I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.” You who had been so drunken and perverted by the powers and principalities of this world.
What would Jesus lament today: “Jerusalem, Washington, Bogotá, Managua, Baghdad, Moscow, Christchurch, St. Paul, you kill the innocents in the name of God or the name of your false sense of superiority, you demonize the poor, the immigrant, the people of a different religion. When will the killing stop?”
And then God in Jesus will lament once again, “How I would have loved to gather you all together as a mother hen gathers her chicks.” This mother hen is like God. The hen protects the chicks from the predators. Hear this, God is a lot more like a mother hen than like a foxy predator. And until we recognize this discrepancy, we will continue to try to conquer each other instead of protect each other.
The book of Revelation sees Jesus as a vegetarian lamb, not as a predatory beast. Evil, we know, has a way of imploding and sucking us down into its vortex. Our job is to swim against that current, not by ourselves, but with others by our side who can help us make sense of it and point us in a better direction.
This weekend across the world, people are gathering to worship and pray. Some of our Muslim friends are praying in mosques surrounded by Christians and Jews and people of good will with no religious faith. They are standing there like hens keeping at bay the predators. The Biblical life is a risky life. But it is also a life worth living because it helps us know how to respond when all hell breaks loose. What you do is, you resist the temptation to go it alone. You resist the temptation to hide in your own safe space. You seek out others who might also be lamenting. You seek out others who might give you some ideas about how to respond. You seek out others who might give you some hope. And you look to God who, like that mother hen, has gathered us all together.
And together we pray.
We consider scripture and put ourselves in the larger story of fighting between powers and principalities. We lift up our voices in song knowing that even when all hell is breaking loose, we can make a beautiful joyful noise together. “The Lord is my Light and Salvation. Of whom shall I be afraid?” It’s not only an act of beauty. It’s an act of defiance. When the foxes are out there, remember that we are called to be the hens protecting our brood, reproducing and loving well. And we lament and we pray together.
As the bell choir comes up here. I’d like us to consider the innocents who have been killed and our place in lament and solidarity with all victims of violence. May we do everything in our power to create a world where peace reigns and violence is a distant memory of a brutal past.
The piece we are going to play was written after the shooting in June of 2016 at the Pulse night club in Florida. Forty-nine people lost their lives that night. Michael Helman, the writer of the piece says,
This piece is dedicated to the 49 individuals who were killed at the Pulse Night Club on June 12, 2016, as well as to their families, friends, and loved ones. However, this piece is also dedicated to students and teachers who have been killed and injured in what they thought was a safe haven; college students who thought their campuses were secure; people shot or bombed in their houses of worship; families maimed and killed in airports, shopping malls, and on busy streets by people with bombs strapped to their bodies and all those who mourn their loss. It is also dedicated to you and me, because a little bit of us dies every time we hear of another shooting or bombing on the news. This is a “Prayer for the Innocents” all across the world.