Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

Posts tagged “Islamophobia

Lament for Jerusalem and Genocidal Violence


Luke 13:31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Go! And get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘See here, I am casting out demons and restoring health today and tomorrow, and on the third I finish. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next, I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to perish outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you all were not willing! 35 Look now, your house is released to you. And I tell you all, you will not see me until the time comes when you all say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Let us pray:
In the name of the in whose image we all we created. Amen.

The sermon can be heard here.
The entire gospel of Luke can be described as facing Jerusalem. Where Luke deviates from Mark and Matthew, it is often in the sequence and geography of Jesus’s life building towards a single momentous trip to Jerusalem in contrast to multiple trips in the other gospels. Jerusalem for Luke is the place where God redeems the world in the resurrected death-canceling life of Jesus. But Jerusalem is so much more. Lent, like Luke, is taking us to the cross and the tomb, not just anywhere, but in Jerusalem.
The sacred geography matters. Jerusalem matters. The Rector of the historic African American St. James parish in Baltimore explained the saga, story, and significance of Jerusalem this way:
“Jerusalem was once a place where there was room for everybody. And yet as the years have gone by, human beings have refused to listen to the lesson of love. [He’s been preaching about love for a long time.] There have been more wars, more fighting, more chaos over the holy city than anywhere else on the rest of the earth…In 2500 BC, Jerusalem was a Canaanite enclave, inhabited by the Canaanite peoples…In 1000 BC King David came and he conquered the city and made it part of the nation of Israel…In 587 King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem and destroyed it and made it part of the Babylonian Empire…In 537 BC King Cyrus of Persia came, conquered the Babylonians and took over Jerusalem…In 392 the Selucids took it over. In 198 the Ptolomes took it over. In 63, Pompey from Rome came and conquered it. In 70 AD the Romans destroyed it. In 135 AD the Romans destroyed it again. In the 4th century, Constantine made it a Christian city. In the 7th century, the Muslims took it over. In 1099 Christians took it from the Muslims. In 1187 Muslims took it back. In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took it from the other Muslims. In 1870 the British took it over. 1949, the United Nations…” (I give him an A- and play this clip for my students.)
His recitation – without notes – doesn’t even include the time Jerusalem was subject to the Assyrian Empire or a Pharaoh picked his own king for Judah, more than once, or how Jerusalem and the rest of the word fell under the control of Alexander the Great. Stopping before the founding of the modern State of Israel and the forced resettlement of Palestinians or the resulting wars and continuing intifadas, (then Fr.) Michael Curry cried out, “How long O Lord?”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Jerusalem. The name fires the imagination, conjures up awe, holiness, and violence. It is a legendary place of sacred story and a thriving prosperous city, and a divided inequitable city, and a holy city, and a mecca for tourists and pilgrims. It is a legendary city and a real city. It is a place with a bloody history and a bloody reality. Jerusalem is the place where the stories of scripture are made real in stone and bone. Jerusalem is a place that Americans politicize, and Christians romanticize.
Some parts of what makes up Jerusalem have been inhabited since the Stone Age before there was such a thing as an Israeli or Palestinian, Israelite or Canaanite. As far as I’m concerned, everyone after the Natufians is a late-comer and an immigrant. Between the mighty empires of Egypt and those of Mesopotamia, Jerusalem and Canaan and ancient Israel were not just on the road to war and imperial expansion, they were the road to war and empire building.
Jerusalem is forcibly dragged into Israel’s story when David conquers it to provide a neutral base from which to rule so as not to show any favoritism to northern or southern tribes. We’ve been taught all our lives to read from the perspective of the Israelites and give no consideration to the Canaanites. A whole lot of us grew up cheering Joshua’s genocidal slaughter of the Canaanites and gave no thought to what it was like for the people of Jerusalem to be occupied by David for the convenience of a well-situated capital city. That kind of thinking made it easy to identify the native peoples of this land as the new Canaanites and attempt to eradicate them like the old Canaanites. That kind of thinking causes some to conflate the ancient nation of Israel with the modern state of Israel. They are not the same. They are connected. There is a largely direct line between them, but they are not the same.
Romanticizing Joshua’s conquest of Canaan and David’s conquest of Jerusalem leaves genocidal language unchallenged in the scriptures, our genocidal past unrepented, and, provides theological language, and sanction for those calling for genocides today. We saw a horrific, chilling, glimpse of that in the massacres at the mosques in New Zealand, a man who murdered children, three and four years old so they wouldn’t grow up to be adult Muslims and have and raise Muslim children. That is genocidal white supremacist violence wrapped up in a toxic empire of Christiandom shell. Jesus’s lament over Jerusalem must be heard in its ancient and our contemporary contexts.
The ancient Jerusalemites were people created in the image of God like the rest of us, both victims and perpetrators of violence. Their tiny home was invaded and conquered by a warlord in the name of a God they may or may not have worshipped. The shining moments of the Davidic and Solomonic monarchies were purchased in blood. Their Jerusalem passed into Assyrian control where it was squeezed for every shekel, including the silver on the doors of the temple. They were subject to wanton acts of violence like the siege and razing of Lachish where the Assyrians tortured Israelites by hanging them on only slightly sharpened sticks and cutting their still living bodies open down to the bone. Archeological sources record that when they took tribute and hostages from King Hezekiah, they even took his daughters–who are never mentioned in the bible, likely because of the shame.
Then the Babylonians came, and Jerusalem was subject to more violence than they had ever experienced or could ever had imagined. So much so that when Cyrus of Persia defeated Babylon and allowed the Israelites to return home, he was hailed as God’s messiah in Isaiah. (There are multiple messiahs in the bible, but that is another sermon.) Alexander’s conquest was relatively mild, but those who followed him were savage. And then Herod got Jerusalem and Judea in part by knowing which backstabbing Roman general to back.
Jesus’s Jerusalem had a bloody history. But it wasn’t just conquerors, colonizers, and occupiers who were spilling blood. Like all other peoples they shed their fair share of their own blood. And among the most notorious crimes were the murders and attempted murders of several prophets. It wasn’t just that the prophets were preaching a word of God that the people didn’t want to hear, but that the prophets were also preaching highly political words that that challenged the power, authority, and sometimes competence, of civil and religious leaders. Prophets and preaching have always been political. These prophets preached against Jerusalem. They preached against their puppet-kings and their puppet-masters. They preached against the inequities in Jerusalem among her own people. And they proclaimed the inevitable fall of the holy city where God dwelt and which God had previously protected from invading armies, because not even in Jerusalem could those systemic institutionalized inequities stand.
And so the prophets were targeted rather than heeded. One of those puppet-kings, Jehoiakim, sentenced the prophet Uriah to death, and when he escaped to Egypt, had him killed there and his body brought back to Jerusalem, Jeremiah 26:20–23. When Jeremiah preached the fall of Jerusalem, after beating him and throwing him in jail, the people of Jerusalem called for his death, and Zedekiah, the last king of Judah appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, let them have him. Jeremiah was only saved because someone remembered the prophet Micah–whom everyone agreed was a trustworthy prophet unlike Jeremiah, who wasn’t believed until after his death¬–Micah had said virtually the same thing, Jeremiah 38:4–6. And then there was the infamous murder of the prophet Zechariah, not the one who wrote a book of the bible¬–everyone, including Matthew and Jesus mixed them up–Zechariah was murdered on the temple grounds, in the court, in sight of the altar, 2 Chronicles 24:20–22. Jerusalem’s reputation as a place that kills prophets even makes it into the Quran five hundred years later:
We gave Musa, Moses, the Book, and followed up after him with the messengers, and We gave Isa, Jesus, son of Marium, Mary, clear signs, and supported him with the Holy Spirit. (But) whenever a messenger brought you what you yourselves did not desire, you become arrogant, and some you called liars and some you killed. Sura 2:87
According to New Testament scholar Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, when Jesus said, “it is impossible for a prophet to perish outside of Jerusalem,” he was saying, “it is not destined that Herod will kill me, but that Jerusalem will,” (Anchor Bible Commentary on Luke, p 1032).
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
I am struck that Jesus’s response to the threat from Herod and murderous history of Jerusalem was not to resort to a toxic masculinity, call for force of arms, or even call down fire and brimstone. Instead he portrayed himself as the most ridiculous of animals, the very image of protective motherly devotion, almost mindlessly so. I imagine mother hen Jesus wanting to gather all of the disparate chicks of his, her, Jerusalem under her, his, wings: Not just Israelites, but Geeks and Romans, and Syrians and Libyans, and everyone else from everywhere else. Jesus wasn’t distinguishing citizens from immigrants and refugees; he wasn’t even distinguishing between the oppressed and their oppressors. He just wanted to hold them all to his heart, and like a mama hen, sit on then when they looked to get out and get up to trouble. Some will see in this image a call for mass conversion, certainly that is how the church has operated, often to its shame. But I want to point out that Jesus didn’t lay any requirements on those he wanted to embrace in the city for which he lamented.
The City of Peace has never known lasting peace. Neither have the rest of us. There is still blood in the streets of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is still a city of many peoples from many nations with many faiths; there are still those who are occupied and those who occupy. And there are still prophetic voices crying out against inequitable governing structures and policies that cannot and will not stand. Now those prophetic voices are Palestinian, and sometimes Israelis, and sometimes, other voices. Those voices crying out against the occupation of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, and the targeted shooting of unarmed protestors, and the continuing eviction of Arab residents of Jerusalem to hand their houses over to Jewish citizens is not anti-Semitic. Critiquing the policies of state of Israel is not anti-Semitic. That’s a lie that has to be prophetically called out because there is real, vile, lethally violent anti-Semitism in the world.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia are the both the spawn of white supremacy as we have seen acted out in blood in the Linwood Islamic Center and Masjid al-Noor in Christchurch, New Zealand, and at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg PA, and at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston SC, and at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple in Oak Creek WI, and at the Overland Park Jewish Center in Kansas City KS, and at the Islamic Center of Quebec City, and, and, and… [h/t @Michael Skolnik https://twitter.com/MichaelSkolnik/status/1106534709302042624]
In the Lenten season we are called to the holy practices of self-examination and study of and meditation on scripture. Today that means reflecting seriously on the stories we tell and the stories we were told. This Lenten season I bid you join me in repenting for the violence of Christians against Jews and Muslims, for Christian complicity in the occupation of Palestine, and for those of you who have white privilege, for silence and inertia in the face of the rising tide of white supremacist violence, in word and deed.
Let us teach and tell new stories about Jerusalem and all of her peoples and those who love her. I will begin by praying Psalm 122 in a new way.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,
and pray for the peace of Palestine:
May they all prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers,
and may the walls that divide be torn down.
For the sake of my Muslim and Jewish relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of all the houses of God,
I will seek your good. Amen.


Exorcising America’s Murderous Demons

The Creation of Adam by Harmonia Rosales

 

[In an earlier version the title was misspelled as “exercising.”]

In the Name of the God who loves we who are hated, those who hate, and those whom we hate. Amen.

Forty-nine. Forty-nine lives cut short. Forty-nine people murdered. Forty-nine souls martyred. Forty-nine of God’s children executed for living and loving out loud as gay, trans, bi and lesbian human beings, and for loving them, being with them, dancing with them, serving them, entertaining them, and protecting them. They were targeted on Latin Night at the Pulse Nightclub one year ago, an evening that was known to draw in the Hispanic gay brown and black community.

They were killed because a man decided they didn’t deserve to live, that they weren’t deserving of God’s gifts of life and love to them. Who was he to say who was worthy of God’s love, worthy of life, worthy of being created in the image of God? He was someone who chose an image of God to worship that was as broken and twisted as he was, a god who hated what he hated and feared, perhaps even what he hated and feared about himself. We may never fully understand all the reasons why he chose a god who hates over the God who loves.

Here I do not speak of Allah or al-Islam. Allah is one of many names for the One true God whom we share with Muslims and Jews—in spite of Trinitarian arithmetic. Allah it is the name in which Arabic-speaking Christians have always prayed because it is God’s name. Islam like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and even Buddhism, has followers who choose the most hateful and violent texts and traditions, interpretations, misinterpretations and misunderstandings of their religion. The hate cult to which the murderer pledged allegiance is as far beyond mainstream Islam as the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan are beyond mainstream Christianity.

Nine. Nine lives cut short. Nine people murdered. Nine souls martyred. Nine of God’s children executed for being black in a Charleston church two years ago this week.

Our nation and our world are full people who choose hate and death for others, and sometimes for themselves. The Alexandria shooter who hated Republicans for being sexist and racist also chose hate and death. He too took it upon himself to decide who should live and who should die because of his personal and political beliefs.

The Pulse shooter represented a particular ultra-conservative ideology and the Alexandria shooter an über-progressive one, and what they have in common is the self-righteous justification of their own lethal violence. They share a belief that other human beings with whom they don’t agree have neither a God-given right to life nor a constitutionally protected right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They both chose hate and death, but God offers us life and love.

God proves God’s love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. [and]…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:8, 5)

We have the Spirit of God within us. She breathed us to life with our first breath and she was poured into us at our baptism. And the defining characteristic of that Spirit, of God, is love. God is Love. And God loves. God loves all, without exception. God loves those who hurt and hurt others and God loves those who hate. God loves those we do not yet know how to love, those we do not want to love, and God loves those we hate. Some of us hate. It’s hard not to in the crucified and crucifying world.

Love is a choice. In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony we ask if the beloveds will love and they answer, “I will.” The real question is not “do you,” today, but “will you,” next week, next year, in some cases, once all the guests leave. Will you love? Will you love when it’s hard? Will you love when you don’t want to? Will you love? That question is not just for those who take vows of love, marriage and life-partnership.

The question is for us as well. Will we love? Will we choose life and love?

The choice to love is a difficult one. Have you met people? They’re horrible! But… God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We are not on our own. God’s Spirit, God’s Love, is with us and in us and among us. And that love comes with responsibilities. It is not for us alone. It is for the world, for the healing of the world’s hurts and hates.

Some of those hurts and hates have been baked into our American bones.

Philando. Philando Castile. Sitting in his car with his baby girl and her mother. Live on Facebook. Like many here in Texas and across the US, legally exercising his Second Amendment rights with a licensed handgun tucked away in its holster. He even notified the officer so there would be no misunderstanding. But he was black. Black like me, black like Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd and 6 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, shot in her own bed, black like Walter Scott who was running away unarmed when shot in the back by a police officer and blackness is terrifying, in part because this nation was founded on the idea that to be black is to be inhuman and there fore not entitled to life, liberty or justice.

We have to talk about how this culture inculcates fear of blackness because it is killing us. Some of us more than others. It is not simply racism, biased opinions. It is a white supremacist structural system that infects all of us including black and brown police officers and jurors who believe it is so reasonable to be so in fear of blackness that no one should be punished for killing unarmed black folk because they too share that fear. It is the unholy communion[1] of the American enterprise. [American religious scholar Candace Benbow puts it more strongly: “Black bodies and Black blood. The holy communion of Whiteness.]

There is a deep-seated loathing of blackness and black people in this country. It is at best a disease, at worst a demonic affliction, perhaps both. It feels overwhelming but we are neither helpless nor hopeless.

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. (Matthew 10:1)

Jesus has authority over death, disease and demons and that includes white supremacy, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia and all the hatreds and hurts that infect and plague our world, including toxic masculinity that batters at home then terrorizes in public. (The two things most mass-shooters and perpetrators of domestic terror have in common is being men and having a history of domestic violence.) And Jesus has given that authority to us. Jesus called his disciples, empowered his disciples, then he sent them out to do the work of the reign of God. That work is now ours: Proclaim the good news, ‘The reign of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.

That is our work, the dismantling of white supremacy, systemic racism and the hate and fear of non-white peoples and cultures that are behind them. Those are the demons that bedevil us. Those are the diseases that sicken our nation and the church. We do this work by accepting our calling to it, by identifying the demons and diseases, cutting the infection out of our society and its systems—educational, health and justice—and where it cannot be cut out or cut off, let it die. For we are also called to raise the dead and some of what is broken in this world simply needs to die and be raised to new life in Christ Jesus, and that includes the Church.

The gospel is that the reign of God is among us, the love of God is among us, the antidote to all that is broken and diseased is among us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. The work is ours. It begins in earnest when we go out of these doors. Our gospel less says that Jesus first sent his disciples to his own people, their own people. The work of dismantling all of these structures and the hatreds on which they are built begin at home, in homes and families, and friendships and congregations and classrooms, move theatres and surgical theatres. Every place that we are, we must affirm the human dignity of all God’s children and call out and stand against every indignity and every injustice.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Amen.

 

[1] Martha Simmons, modified “holy” to “unholy” in response to Candace Benbow, Facebook, 16 June 2017.