In 1989, the people of New Zealand came together to create a prayer book. It is called the New Zealand Prayer Book and it is full of beauty, in part because it speaks honestly about a world that is full of wonder and joy, but also full of sorrow and pain.
Here is one such prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that I found particularly important during the last few days. Friends, let us open this time together with a word of prayer from our siblings in New Zealand:
God of hope, we come to you in shock and grief and confusion of heart. Help us to find peace in the knowledge of your loving mercy to all your children and give us light to guide us out of our darkness into the assurance of your love. Amen.
While that prayer was written in New Zealand 30 years ago, the shock and grief and confusion of heart describes the horrific terrorist attack in New Zealand last Friday.
When I first saw the news about the shooting on my Facebook feed late that night, I quickly shut down my computer and went to bed. I didn’t want to know any more about the shock and grief and confusion. I didn’t want to know where the attack took place or how many were killed. I just wanted to be safe from the horrors of the world and so I went to bed.
Tragically, that was a luxury that 49 people and their families will never have again.
There’s a book in the Bible called the Psalms. It’s an ancient book of prayer that is full of raw honesty. The emotions in the Psalms are often so raw that it makes me uncomfortable. One of the repeated themes in the Psalms is to cry out to God and ask, “How long, O God? How long will our enemies prevail over us? How long will we suffer from political rulers who don’t care about the poor but only about amassing more power and wealth for themselves? How long will hatred and greed and envy rule the world?”
We could ask similar questions today. We could ask, “How long, O God, will America worship the god of white supremacy that continues to infect our nation? How long will the hateful ideology of white supremacy be allowed to spread around the globe so that someone in New Zealand could write a white supremacist manifesto with the same language that a white supremacist uses in the United States?”
And how long will our political leaders support white supremacist ideology? The shooter in New Zealand is a self-professed white supremacist. He wrote a manifesto where he called the Muslims living peacefully in New Zealand “invaders.” Hours after the shooting, our president called immigrants from Latin America “invaders.”
And what do you do with “invaders”? You either keep them out or you kill them. Make no mistake, that’s where the dangerous language of white supremacy used even by our political leaders will lead our nation. How do we know? Because the white supremacists in New Zealand were not merely deranged. Their actions were the result of an ideology of hate, bigotry, and white supremacy that is spreading throughout the world.
And in times like this, when our political leaders use the language of white supremacists, I am prone to despair because I know there will be Christians who will support that kind of garbage.
Well that’s not happening in my name. And I’m not going to let that pass in the name of Jesus, either.
In our passage from Luke today, Jesus called King Herod a fox. King Herod held on to his supremacy and power through acts of violence and violent rhetoric. For example, Herod thought Jesus was a threat to his power, so Herod sought to kill Jesus.
And Jesus called Herod a fox. He said to some people who warned him about Herod’s plans to kill him, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.’”
Jesus was undaunted by Herod’s violent rhetoric. He didn’t live in fear of Herod. Instead, he continued in his mission to heal people from their pain, their anger, and their fears.
You may wonder about the word “fox.” We generally think of foxes as sly and clever. But that’s not primarily what a first century Jew like Jesus would have thought. Foxes were seen as second-rate predators. To be a fox was to act tough and mean, but really to be a fox was to be a coward.
King Herod held onto power like a fox. But the fox always lives in fear of bigger predators, like a lion. Herod was no lion. He was a cowardly and opportunistic fox.
And Jesus refused to pander to the political cowards of his day. He named them for what they were – fearful politicians who held onto power by directing hatred within his supporters against scapegoats. But here is the point: Jesus didn’t allow the fox of his day to get in the way of his mission, which was to love and heal people in mind, body, and soul.
On Friday I went to a prayer vigil at a Mosque. The Mosque invited Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and people of no faith to come and be together in the spirit of solidarity. The Imam welcomed us by saying, “Today we choose love and we refuse to be enemies. It’s important for us of goodwill to say enough is enough and that we choose love.”
To choose love is our great task.
Jesus called Herod a fox. And we are not called to follow the fox. We are not called to be like a fox. We are called to follow Jesus. And Jesus never compares himself to a fox or even to a lion. No, in fact, in our passage, Jesus compares himself to a mother hen.
And this is the great flip that Jesus makes in our understanding of God. You see, I want God to be a lion and violently protect me by killing my enemies. But that would just make God into bigger, badder killer than my enemies. No, a God who uses violence is simply a more violent terrorist.
But Jesus reveals that God is more like a mother hen than a fox, lion, or even divine warrior. When Jesus says he wanted to be the hen who brings all of Jerusalem under her wings, Jesus used nonviolent imagery. God doesn’t protect us through more violence. God loves and protects us like a mother hen who protects her chicks by putting herself in harm’s way. The fox will likely get the mother hen, but the hen will, hopefully, save her chickens.
And I want you to know that Islam has the same message about God’s motherly love for us. 113 of the 114 chapters of the Qur’an begin with this phrase, “In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.” In Arabic, the words mercy and compassion come from the same root word, which is pronounced “Rahim.”
“Rahim” means womb. The Qur’an repeatedly tells us that God is “Rahim.” The Qur’an wants us to know that God is merciful and compassionate like a mother’s womb.
And here’s the thing: there are good mothers and there are mothers who are abusive. If we were to run a poll here, I’m sure we would find a mixture of experiences with our mothers. Some of us had wonderful and loving mothers. And some of us had mothers who could have done a lot better.
But the Qur’an doesn’t simply imply that God is like a mother. It says God is like a mother’s womb. And how does a womb act? It automatically acts to provide warmth, protection, and nourishment that life needs to exist. A womb doesn’t stop to think, “Does this life deserve this? Does it believe in me correctly?” Those questions don’t matter to the womb. And they don’t matter to the all merciful and all compassionate God because God is Rahim.
The Qur’an invites us to imitate God’s Rahim of mercy and compassion with one another. For example, the Qur’an states that God created humankind into diverse “peoples and tribes so that you might know one another” (49:13).
God gave us this radical diversity – different colors, different genders, different nationalities, different sexualities – not so that we would fight one another, or have power over others, but so that we would know one another.
Jesus and the Qur’an worked to transform the political, economic, and religious power structures that block our attempts to show mercy and love to one another. They didn’t pander to oppressive systems that kept power through violent acts or violent language.
That’s is why we have to struggle against hatred and white supremacy. White supremacy is seen in a white man going to mosques to kill Muslims. But that’s just one overt example. White supremacy seeks to divide people. It’s seen in calling people “invaders” who are trying to escape violence in their homes in South America in search of a better life. White supremacy is seen in racist educational, economic, and political policies that benefit white people and is either indifferent to the plight of others or flatly claims that other people don’t deserve the same privileges.
But God seeks to protect and nourish all of her children just like a mother hen seeks to protect her chicks. God seeks to provide nourishment and sustenance and life for all of her children just like a mother’s womb.
As the terrorist entered the Mosque last Friday, he was welcomed by a greeter. The greeter said to this stranger, “Welcome, brother.” And those words of brotherhood, of welcome, of acceptance of the stranger, those were the last words that man will ever speak. For me, they are words of hope. That is the true face of Islam. It is the face of God’s mercy, compassion, and love.
And it’s how the Imam at the mosque encouraged us to fight off evil. Not through more evil, but as the Imam said, “Today we choose love and we refuse to be enemies. It’s important for us of goodwill to say enough is enough and that we choose love.”
And so in the name of Allah, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, our Eternal Mother, or whatever you want to call Her,
May we imitate the God who is like a mother hen and who responds to us like a mother’s womb.
May we rise up with our Muslim siblings as we seek to end Islamaphobia and the evil of white supremacy.
And may we continue to choose love over hate, now and forevermore. Amen.