THREATS AND PROMISES

Text: Luke 13:31-35

St Patrick’s Day, and we were all honorary Irish. Even in this former Orangeman’s church, most wore green. I was reminded of visiting New York City a few years ago, to see a million parade all day, and I worried about the street party on Ezra Ave with many college students partying to excess.

My worry this year was not simply prohibitionist temperance opposition to excessive alcohol abuse. It was that is risks association with ‘whiteness’, ‘Judeo-Christian values’, or ‘western civilization’, the great liberal myths. On this weekend after a young white supremacist killed 50 worshipers in a mosque, God forbid that we allow any unholy alliance with such Islamophobia.

I asked if you were scared today, and if so, of what, or of whom? What comforting certainties are disrupted by another terrorist, and by media news. Given ‘six degrees of separation’ can you identify with victims, or in this sanctuary, can you admit imagining a young adult child or grandchild of yours or of ours, committing such a crime.

The shooter posted 70 pages of text claiming a Christian mission against Islam, from online internet truth. Well travelled, with an Australian passport, in his 20’s, how unfamiliar is he as a type? Have you not suffered through such uncurated opinionated talk from a young man in your world? Are you paralysed, with your head in the sand, or disengaged, with yours up in the clouds?

In the early 1980’s, our subculture feared our kids joining cults. David Hallman, a UCC staff known more for ecological issues, the ‘live with respect in creation’ line in our revised creed, denied us comfort. He said cults are different in degree, not in kind, from our religion of belief, behaviour, and coercive norms. We need to address the spiritual hungers that drove our kids to the cults.

There was a vigil at Kitchener City Hall on Friday, with politicians and religious leaders repeating predictable, reassuring ‘love not hate’ talk. We all oppose such criminals. But our focus on ‘extremist’ and ‘radicalized’ religion misdirects our gaze, like in those days of cults, or of sexual abuse focus on predator ‘stranger danger,’ rather than the real risks in homes and communities.

At that very hour

some Pharisees came and said to him

Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you!

He said to them,

Go and tell that fox for me

Listen, I am casting out demons

And performing cures today and tomorrow

And on the next day I must be on my way….

Did it really happen? The story is only in found in this third gospel. The editorial choice of a ‘Luke’ voice selects this story, positioning Jesus, Pharisees, and Herod. Did it every happen? I doubt it – and in any event, I care more why it was repeated here. What might it have meant before Jesus’ passion and death, and what did it mean decades later, after the Temple was razed in 70CE?

Pharisees are always around Jesus, in the pre-passion stories of all the gospels, not as opposed to him as were Temple and civic officials. Pharisees were negotiating ‘oral Torah’ alongside the temple cult, under Roman rule. Post 70CE Pharisees led in Jamnia, writing Talmud and collecting Hebrew scripture for use in scattered synagogues. They were cautious, careful, reasoned, pragmatic,

long term strategists, literate, religious moderates. Why would Jesus argue?

Herod wanted to kill Jesus, and Jesus was not surprised. Herod, great Roman collaborator, knew how to ‘go along and get along’, a religious moderate, temple booster, from a successful family. Well meaning people told Jesus to run away

and save himself, and Jesus refused to be scared off. Was he an extremist, or radicalized? ‘Prophetic’ is the word we usually use for Jesus according to Luke.

Jesus stuck with his own agenda: exorcising demons, healing sickness and telling good news of a good God in a good creation. His limbic brain, facing fear, does not freeze, flee or fight. This model is presented as neither ‘head in the sand’, nor ‘head in the clouds’.

Jesus knew the consequences – he predicted his own passion. Prophets get killed: in ‘Jerusalem’, by the good guys, in the holy places. Prophets don’t need to fear the bad guys, in the evil places. We do our worst stuff to each other

when we are our most righteous. That’s ‘law and order’ in action, punishment by the righteous, according to the rules for the general good.

Moderation, following the Pharisees’ ‘interfaith cooperation’ approach, or civic virtue, collaboration with the Herodian temple fund, are both familiar and appealing to us. Jesus opts for exorcism, healing, and affirmations of a good creation of a good God, with good news of change. This Jesus calls Herod the ‘fox’ – a slur. This Jesus recognizes it – doesn’t like it, or flee it to avoid it.

Jesus weeps. Set in pre-passion context, he weeps for a people caught up in these dynamics, who need him but resist him. Set in post-70CE gospel writing, Jesus is presented as weeping for their grief and loss. This Jesus wishes that he could gather them under his wings like a hen does her chicks, either way.

Martyrdom sought, not resisted, is void. Masochistic victim-hood, suicidal ‘death by police’ just strengthens sadistic abusers of power. Some suffering is not redemptive – just tragic. We need not imagine heroic actions at the moment interrupting the shooter, or first responders ending the crisis – we simply need to learn the courageous habits of stubborn resistance.

Where are you standing, what are you feeling, and what will you do, in relation to Christchurch New Zealand mosque shootings? We look like the shooter’s people. God forbid we produce another, as bystanders, enablers, or absentee allies. Next time, will people ask ‘what didn’t you see it coming’?

Fear can define and dominate our lives. Herodians thrive in a security surveillance state. People freeze, flee, fight, with heads in sand or sky, trusting in the false order of policed rules. Ultimately you can’t escape sin and death –

you can simply live well and die well.

Courage, without fear or favour, is a powerful character trait and virtue. These days, we confuse virtues with values: whatever beliefs, opinions, attitudes, conventions, feelings, habits, preferences, prejudices, idiosyncrasies one or some of us happen to ‘value’ at any time for any reason.

Who do you want by your side, when your health turns, or finances collapse, or a war comes: a values clarification consultant? For my part, I prefer the courageous company of crudely committed people with habits of the heart, hard to scare into freeze, flee or fight. There is an aphorism among recent immigrants:

‘In the old country, nothing was permitted, and everything mattered.

Here, everything is permitted, and nothing matters.’

Each of us, and all of us as a church have a response to make to Christchurch. We address bad dynamics, and heal hurts, and affirm a good God.

Yesterday, Susan Aglukark sang and spoke at WLU. This year’s Religion in Public Life Conference was called “(Un)Just Religion”, and she was a keynote, along with an Islamic scholar speaking or reading Quran. Aglukark spoke and sang of retrieving the story of Inuit in Inuktitut, a story of 5000 years on land bridge, and of 5 generations from traditional life to today.

Aglukark asked that we give the Inuit time to reclaim their story and identity, without cultural appropriation, and suggested we do the same for our own story and identity. She spoke of her born-again Christian parents resisting her attempt to reach further than their official modern faith. They share iliruq or fear, and need ‘permission to choose to believe’. Meanwhile, they are stuck in toxic, unhealthy versions of religious life. Is there an alternative path?

What might your ‘deep dive’ into your own story and identity find? A Japanese congregation, 25 years ago, showed me the contrast between having an intergenerational memory and identity, as they did, and having none, as I did. The first four generations in Canada are called Issei, Nissei, Sansei, Yonsai. Each had a different response to seeking apology and reparation for internment in the 1940’s, and each generation informed the other.

Challenged to locate my ancestors’ graves, I found ‘Issei’ immigrants from potato famine and land clearances. We need to deconstruct ‘white’ or WASP to find the great Victorian invention of British imperialism through English use of Irish, Scots, and Welsh troops and citizens.

Education has not been an assumed privilege among us for 5 generations. Egerton Ryerson won ‘public’ schools as Protestant alternatives to parochial Anglican and Catholic ones, but very few of us matriculated to high school, and even in the 1950’s most stopped by grade 10. Grade 6, 8, or 10 was common among our church members, and most clergy had no degrees in 1960’s.

Aglukark recommended a film ‘The Experimental Eskimos’ about extension of residential schools to promising Inuit high school students in the 1970’s. My grandfathers were a dentist and an accountant, from a time when that did not require college but practical apprenticeship. Then mine was the first generation to have a majority enter college direct from high school, the first in our families, who learned banking, nursing or teaching with short training courses.

Now we are schooled, we may not be smarter. Professor Asma Barlas from Ithaca College New York, originally from Pakistan until her resistance to General Zia, was the other keynote speaker at yesterday’s Religion in Public Life Conference called “(Un)Just Religion”. She objected to the fixation on half a dozen verses of Quran, of the 6,000 verses, to justify or defend misogynist behaviour by selective interpretation and application.

Professor Barlas insisted that we engage the whole of Quran in daily devotional practice, to test the allegations of an unjust God, an unjust book, or an unjust people. She argued that perhaps the readers are the problem, and our practice of ‘reading’, rather than the text itself. She pointed out that the text caused a revolution in gender equities in the 7th century CE Arabia, and ever since, with moral and legal protection for all people in concrete guidance to communities.

At Trinity through Lent, we are pursuing a daily and weekly devotional study of ‘Heretics Like Us’, from the first 6 centuries of the common era, culminating in Holy Week with the 7th century in which the Quran was given, and Islam rose. Each Sunday, we hear an ancient affirmation of faith from an early century, then each weekday, meet different heretics from that century. Try it with us!

Today was a day for mourning a tragedy and a crime. It was a day for courage in resistance against fear, not simply feelings of love rather than hate. We owe a ‘deep dive’ into our own story and identity, to feed the spiritual hunger of young adults vulnerable to uncurated nonsense claiming our name online.

We owe exorcisms of unhealthy toxic family systems in our communities, and healing of the hurt too often inflicted in our supposed sanctuary safe space, so that we can celebrate, and show and tell good news of a good God’s creation. Today we can echo the cry attributed to Jesus in this gospel:

How many times

I wanted to put my arms around all your people,

just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,

but you would not let me!

35 And so your Temple will be abandoned.

I assure you that you will not see me

until the time comes when you say,

"God bless him who comes

in the name of the Lord.' "