The Beginning Is Now

I don’t post all my sermons here, but the occasional few that I think are worth sharing widely as they connect with other issues of importance that I do share here. This one was preached March 17th. Go here for audio and for texts I reference.

During Lent I am taking the lectionary texts and placing them next to selections from Thomas Merton’s 1966 book, Raids on the Unspeakable. I don’t know why I am doing that exactly. It is just that Thomas Merton is on my mind. The unspeakable is on my mind. Jesus is on my mind. Hussain is on my mind. Martyrdom is on my mind. And of this weekend Islamophobia and the mass murder of Muslims while praying in their mosque in New Zealand is on my mind.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you murder the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her own chicks under wings but you wouldn’t let me. Can’t you see your house is being abandoned?”

I would like to say all of this is on my heart as well as my mind, but as Thomas Merton points out there is no room in our hearts, not because our hearts are full but because they are void.

The Pharisees warn Jesus that he had better run. Herod is about to kill him. That isn’t news. Herod already killed John the Baptist. Some people talk too much. John the Baptist was one of those. So is Jesus. Not that anyone listens to either of them. That is not completely true. There are a very few who found both of them intriguing enough to hear.

Jesus responds,

“Go and tell that fox, ‘Look here, today and tomorrow I’ll be driving out demons and healing people, and the third day I’ll be finished. Still, today, and tomorrow and the day after, I have to move on, because it’s impossible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem.’ Luke 13:31-35

Herod can do whatever he wants, but I will do my work until I am finished, says Jesus. The third day could be as mundane as the day after the day after tomorrow. It also brings to mind the resurrection. A hint, perhaps, nothing more. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. That is where prophets go to die. You tell the truth. You cast out demons. You heal. Then the powers of this world, the devil who tempted Jesus in the Wilderness, who claimed that it all belonged to him, kill you.

Why? Because you are a threat to their power. In the wilderness, the devil offered the kingdoms of the world to Jesus if he would pay him homage. Jesus is not going to be making any deals with the devil, with the powers that be, with the economics of destruction, that house of cards.

Jesus is going to battle the devil. A battle he will lose as all prophets lose. The devil has the machinery: the media, the intelligence, the money, the military, the religion. The only way to defeat that kind of power is to die to it. It is to say this power means nothing.

Jesus had a pure heart. Just like Thomas Merton. Just like Hussain. They don’t care about anything except telling what is true. They give voice to the unspeakable. They tell of the unspeakable evil in high places.

They tell us, these prophets, that we don’t have to live this way. In fact, we cannot live this way much longer. There is a way out of this but it requires letting go of some massive illusions, particularly, the myth of our own innocence.

Let’s talk about Islamophobia.

Islamophobia did not just happen. This unhinged fear and demonization of Muslims. It was engineered. Muslims are the most vilified group in Hollywood. These negative stereotypes have embedded themselves in the consciousness of Hollywood’s target audience, American non-Muslims, mostly white Christians and white atheists. The result? So the American people will not object to endless war against a manufactured enemy. Because endless war is an end in itself. This is the end to which we are headed. Endless war against each other and against life on Earth itself for control of resources.

Islamophobia is the price that Muslims pay for a crime they did not commit. If you would like to know why I care about the truth behind 9/11, and why I am a member of religious leaders for 9/11 truth, it is because we have allowed false witness against Muslims to be spread. The ninth commandment reads: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

There are two ways to bear false witness. Actively bear false witness and passively bear false witness. Both have the same end result. We can actively lie about others or we can passively do nothing while lies are spread. We can actively promote the lie about 9/11 that supposedly Muslim terrorists attacked New York and Washington or we can passively promote the lie by refusing for whatever reasons to learn the truth for ourselves.

Meanwhile, Muslim nation after Muslim nation is destroyed in the Middle East to satiate the war machine that spends a trillion dollars a year. For what?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You murder the prophets and stone those sent you.”

“Washington, Washington. How often I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her own chicks under wings but you wouldn’t let me. Can’t you see your house is being abandoned?”

Here is the deal. This is what the gospel is about.

They killed Jesus. But that is not the end of his story. He is risen. On the third day he completed his work. The work is a new creation. A new beginning. It is dying to an old way of living and being born again to a new way of living.

It is dying to the destructive way of living and being born to a new constructive way of living.

Merton wrote:

“To leave the city of death and imprisonment is sure not bad news except to those who so identified themselves with their captivity that they can conceive no other reality and no other condition.”

Merton goes on to say that what is needed is grace and courage to see that “The Great Tribulation” is also “The Great Joy” when it is seen as the Victory of Life over Death.

It is a new way of living that we all want. There was no one I met from Iran in my trip this past fall who wants war. None of us wants it. So why do we have it? We don’t want to destroy Earth to dig up petroleum as fast as we can, burn it and trash the place. None of us wants that. So why do we allow those in control to do it?

O dear friends, I don’t know what to tell you. You are nice people. You would do well with a nice minister. Here I am telling you about 9/11 truth and endless war and Islamophobia.

I don’t know why God put me here, if that is even the case.

I have a lot to figure out. Maybe I can’t even do that. It has nothing to do with you.

You know this past year has been life-changing for me.

The Christian atheist minister found God in Iraq. I don’t think God has been more real for me than now. Oddly enough I have more hope than previously about what humanity can become.

I don’t know how this all plays out with you.

There is a lot going on with me.

Right now, this morning, it is a lot of lament.

But tears must always lead ultimately to joy.

In that I put my trust.

Amen.