Sermon for Sunday, March 17, 2019 || Lent 2C || PSALM 27; LUKE 13:31-35
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” These words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are the only adequate ones I can find to say this morning in the wake of the white supremacist terrorist attack on two Muslim mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on Friday. After writing that sentence yesterday morning, I stared at my computer screen for a long, long time because I had no adequate words of my own to add. All I have left are the inadequate ones, written through the fog of my own tears.
The beautiful lyrics of Psalm 27 seem so far away today after our faithful Muslim brothers and sisters were slaughtered while kneeling at prayer in their houses of worship. How can we pray these words today after that?
One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;
To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter…
There is so much hate festering in our world right now that these “days of trouble” keep happening. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have scrapped my intended sermon to address race- or religion-based terrorism. I’ve lost count of the number of times a house of worship has been targeted. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have groped my way back to God when the darkness of fear and hate and violence has closed in.
Here we dwell in our house of the Lord, this beautiful little church in Mystic, Connecticut. But after the horror of Friday in New Zealand, I see our house of the Lord differently. The Psalmist speaks of the house of the Lord – the temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed twice during biblical times. The temple in Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish faith. People gathered together in their own towns to pray and learn, but the temple was the beating heart of the religion. That’s why conquering armies destroyed it twice – to break the will of a people who would not be subdued any other way. But it didn’t work because what the conquering armies did not understand was that God did not live in the temple. God was everywhere, and the people of God continued to find God everywhere, no matter the horrors their enemies subjected them to.
When the house of the Lord in Jerusalem was destroyed the second time, the people of God remained. They built new houses of worship, and different styles of worship appeared; different understandings of God, different ways of organizing, eventually distinct religions, but all still united by the belief in one God and the practices of love, service, and charity. And so now as I look out at our lovely little church, I don’t just see this distinct unit called St. Mark’s. I see the house of the Lord transcending both geography and religion. I see the house of the Lord fusing every community of faith together into one great family of witness to God’s light and God’s love.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” The darkness of the attack on the mosques darkens this place too, for we are connected to them through the love of God. But that also means the light of our witness that promotes the worth and dignity of all people no matter what shines on the Muslim community of New Zealand. It works both ways, and we all know in our very bones that the darkness cannot fully extinguish the light.
Indeed, the witness to the radical welcome of God’s love was on display moments before the shooting when the greeter at the mosque hailed the shooter with the words, “Hello, Brother.” If that man, who was twisted by hate and fueled by the corrupting influence of white supremacy, had arrived at the mosque empty-handed and open-hearted, he would have been invited into the community. I have no doubt about that. He would have witnessed the love of God nourishing a people to acts of goodness and devotion. And maybe, just maybe, he would have allowed the peace and hope and love of God to renew his heart.
Do hundreds of speeding bullets and fifty people of faith lying dead in the mosques negate the vision of God’s light and love defeated darkness and hate? By no means. Not if people of faith continue to join God and join each other in promoting a vision of this world that is built, not on fear of the other, not on violent tribalism, but a world built on the love of God that brings people together, celebrates their diversity, and works for justice and peace.
The only way we can participate in this vision of the world is by keeping our hearts open to God’s love even when our hearts and God’s heart are in the midst of breaking. Jesus teaches us an image for such courageous hearts in this morning’s Gospel lesson.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says, “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!”
Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem includes this striking, even strange, image of a chicken, a hen gathering her brood under wings. Imagine what that looks like: the hen with her wings outstretched, not protecting her own heart, her own vitals, but keeping her babies safe. Now imagine those wings as arms of love stretching out on a cross gathering the whole world into a saving embrace.* We can follow Jesus’ image of the hen by reaching out our arms of love, not seeking to protect our hearts, but allowing ourselves to feel the sting of pain and grief in order to remain in solidarity with all hurting people, especially on this day the Muslims of Christchurch. And by remaining in solidarity with other groups, we can disrupt the violent tribalism and the rampant hate that seeks to dominate the world.
Remember the words of Dr. King. They come from his book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (published in 1967). Make these words your mantra as we join God in spreading our arms of love to help heal this world’s brokenness. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
* From the Book of Common Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)