Message by Rev Jenny Carter
March 17, 2019
(Based on Luke 13:31-35)
I cried on Friday. If you watched the events unfold from Christchurch, New Zealand, you may have also wept. Another mass shooting by yet another white supremacist. This time targeting Muslims as they prayed in their house of worship. Forty nine dead, 39 injured – the death toll expected to rise. Men, women, and children (some as young as 3 and 4), gunned down as they gathered in peace to worship God who is love.
To borrow the words of Waleed Aly (a prominent Muslim academic, journalist, and broadcaster from Australia) I too am “gutted, and I’m scared and I feel overcome with hopelessness.” I wonder if this insanity of hatred and violence and targeting people for death, will ever end.
Mr. Aly continued by saying of all the many things he was feeling – shock was not one of those things. You see, it is not the first time Muslims have been shot during worship in this world. It is not the first time that a domestic terrorist spouting white supremacist nonsense entered a house of worship and, armed with a semi-automatic weapon of war – opened fire with the intent of killing as many people as possible, This is not the first time I have stood up here after a mass shooting, and have talked about how hatred kills, and how we are called to the way of love and peace and compassion – and how violence is antithetical to our faith.
Yet nothing much changes. We all hope that the latest mass shooting will be the last – but it never is. Globally, there is a rise among alt-right terrorists who want to make their countries white, “Christian”, and ultra conservative. Which means if you are a social liberal, a member of the LGBTQ community, an immigrant or refugee, a Muslim or Jew, or a person of colour, then you become a target of their hatred. They want to deny rights, at times even the right to draw breath, to those among their citizenry that look, worship, love or vote differently than they do.
Their movement of violence and hate is growing worldwide. Their hateful rhetoric is promoted through suspect social media sites, and their members are finding sympathetic protectors in various right wing leaning governments. Even here in Salmon Arm, there is a growing level of intolerance that cannot be ignored. Every Saturday for the past 3 weeks I have seen people standing on the side of the highway, armed with signs saying, “Canada for Canadians.” Whatever that means.
We live in an age of terrorism. While I cannot skate over the fact that there have been terrorist groups that claim affiliation with the Muslim faith, those people have as much to do with the true Muslim faith as those alt right terrorists that claim to be “Christian” (as they kill innocent people) have to us and what we believe, as Christians. Terrorists are not people of faith, regardless of what they claim. And Muslims are as committed to peace and justice and love as we are. But the rise of Islamophobia globally has led us to this place of violence and heartbreak. So, like Waleed Aly, I am not shocked that this happened. But I am, like you, feeling gutted and hopeless about the state of hate in this world.
Our reading this morning from Luke is, I believe, helpful for the way many of us are feeling. Jesus was feeling gutted and perhaps even hopeless. The Pharisees come and warn Jesus that he best run because King Herod is out for his blood. We don’t know these particular Pharisees, or what motivates them, and it doesn’t really matter. We just know that they tell Jesus to run in order to save his life, and that he refuses to do that. Instead, he turns his face towards Jerusalem, and is determined to go there and to do what he can in order to show the people that there is a better way to be in this world. They do not have to follow the way of violence or fear – they do not have to forget about helping and caring for the lost, the lonely and the little.
It is so interesting to me that before he sets off for his final trip to Jerusalem, Jesus weeps. He isn’t crying because of the hard road ahead of him. He isn’t crying because he knows that he might very well die at the hands of the religious elites, and by the violent arm of Rome. He is weeping at the state of his world. He is weeping that violence and power and money have so much to say. He is weeping because people know that the way to live, is to live lives of love, where there is room for all, but that the society of his day has refused to live this way. That is why he cries. That is why he uses the divine image of God as a mother hen who wished to just shelter the people under her wing, in order to keep them safe.
This story, where Jesus’ life is threatened, and thinking about his world he weeps, yet still sets his sights on Jerusalem is a story of courage. Courage, as Jesus models it, is not about being right, or telling people what to do. It is about living differently and doing what one feels called to do, to better the lives of all people. What strikes me most in this story is how vulnerability plays such a critical role in this kind of courage. To anticipate challenge and suffering and not look away, is by definition, to make oneself vulnerable for the sake of others. While our culture doesn’t often equate vulnerability with courage and strength, as this story shows us, they are all integral parts of one another.
The connection between vulnerability, courage and strength, is where we enter into the story. If ever there was a time we humans needed to have courage, it is now. If ever there was a time where we needed to understand how to embrace who we are, how to be with others, and how to work together to fix what is horribly broken in this world, it is now.
Few writers have taught me more about courage and the power of vulnerability than Brene Brown. Dr. Brown invites us to recognize that while allowing ourselves to be vulnerable inevitably opens us up to feelings we might want to avoid, it also spurs us to be more authentically human, and more caring, compassionate and courageous than we would be otherwise. Brown reminds us that the word “courage” comes from the Latin “cor” – which is the word for heart. And so courage is a living from one’s heart – it is the willingness to embrace our vulnerability in order to be our authentic selves.
Christian courage then becomes a kind of whole hearted living that comes from believing that as God’s children we are enough, and that those around us are also God’s beloved children and therefore deserve our love, empathy, and respect. In this passage Jesus was not just acting courageously but embracing who he was called to be for the sake of those he loved. In turn, we are being invited to embrace who we are called to be on behalf of those around us as well – we too are being called to live whole heartedly. Called to live whole heartedly as individuals, and whole heartedly as a community.
I began this by speaking of how gutted and hopeless I felt in the face of the massacre in Christchurch. Yet I find hope and strength and courage in the reminder that we are to live wholeheartedly. That when we work from that place of vulnerability and openness – when we work from the place of believing that we are enough no matter what hard thing we are facing – then we stop running away, we stop screaming and we start listening. We become kinder and gentler to the people around us as well as kinder to ourselves. When we remember that imperfections are not inadequacies, but are simply reminders that we are all in this together and we are not alone in our common quest, we become strong and courageous.
Living from the heart is a courageous and marvelous way to live, but it isn’t an easy place to live. It demands things from us. We cannot hide our eyes from hatred and other evil things. But we do not need to be cowering in fear either. We can choose to act in faith. We, like Jesus, can be moved to respond in empathy where we seek to hold others under our wings – Muslims, Jews, people of colour, those who are poor – so that we might keep them safe. We can follow Waleed Aly’s call to change by not allowing hateful language to continue in our presence.
As Brene Brown reminds us – courage – or living from the heart is contagious. Every time we are brave with our lives, others around us become brave as well, and our institutions and our world change for the better.
Finally, as people of faith, as people who follow the one who wept for love of the broken world in which he lived, yet walked on to Jerusalem anyway – we too have a hard job in front of us. But our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending of that story. Instead of giving in to how things are, to rise strong and recognize our story for what it is – and to rumble and struggle with the truth until we get to a place where we think “yes”. This is what happened, and we will choose how the story ends. By living from the heart, we get to choose how the story ends. May it be so in your life and in mine. Amen.