Today we hear some Pharisees warn Jesus: Careful, Jesus, you better take off because Herod is looking to catch you and kill you. And Jesus tells them: Well, you go and tell that Fox I’ve got work to do: healing, casting out evil, making folks whole and well, I will not be distracted. I’m gonna keep doing me.
According to Jesus, Herod, the person with the power, the one who has authority, who rules through the laws, Herod is a Fox. And Jesus refers to himself as a hen. This is not a slip of the tongue, but a deliberate message to the ones listening and to us today. For the hen, after all, is a chicken—the prey of the fox, the one foxes eat for breakfast. And, interestingly enough, in that patriarchal culture, Jesus identifies himself with a female image because God is neither male nor female—a Truth we still struggle with today since so very much of our language for God is not gender-neutral, but male dominated.
Jesus presents himself in this female image---the one who is meant to be seen as weak and vulnerable in the picture---and declares that it is this “vulnerable and weak” way of being that he trusts with his entire life. Jesus makes clear that his role is to gather the even more vulnerable ones under his wing---to place them there for protection, for healing, for refuge….to insure they have a future with the Fox lurking around every corner.
And Jesus laments: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…..you will not see me….. Jesus laments that God’s beloved people do not see him for who he is, that God’s beloved refuse to be gathered in, that God’s beloved allow themselves to be the people of the Fox instead of the people of the One who Saves.
Beloved: we need to hear this Gospel today. The Fox is prowling all around us. This past week, the Fox declared himself in a Great manifesto with the claim that the Internet contains all the great truths, and the truths this Fox believes, the truth this Fox acted upon this past Friday in New Zealand are the lies of “an Internet subculture of extreme anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, white supremacist ideology” (the Washington Post, 3/15/2019). And because of listening to this rhetoric of hate, separation, and division, Brenton Harrison Tarrant decided that nobody was doing enough to stop immigrants, to stop what he called “the genocide of white people,” so he decided to take violent action, and now 49 people have been gunned down while praying in their mosques. Our muslim siblings have been killed, and many have been wounded, and all of them have been terrorized.
And we woke up on Friday morning and heard the news, and we lamented and shook our heads and asked: What are we to do? When will it end?
Beloved, let us hear and see Jesus today. Jesus has been going around healing, praying with folks, bringing in the outcast, sharing meals with all kinds of disreputable folks, building relationships and putting himself and God’s truth and love out there. And when they told him the Fox was prowling, Jesus says: I am going to keep doing what I do. I’m gonna be me. I am not going to run or hide or become afraid to do what I do. I’m going to heal, I’m gonna pray with folks, I’m gonna bring in the outcast and eat meals with anyone who will come to the table. I’m gonna build relationships and put God’s truth and love out there. Because this is how we silence the Fox. This is how we gather all God’s people under the wings of the One who saves.
Beloved, Brenton Harrison Tarrant is not some incomprehensible anomaly. Brenton was born like the rest of us---a baby who is a sponge for learning. And somehow, in Brenton’s life, he learned that white people deserve to be privileged, they deserve to be the ones who hold the power, they are the ones who deserve to have all the stuff. And Brenton also learned that those who are not white: the immigrant, the Muslim, the brown, the black, the Asian--- these ones are a threat to Brenton and to all white people, simply by being, by breathing. Brenton concluded that if we are not going to be smart enough to separate ourselves from these non-white people, then Brenton’s work was to wipe them out from society.
Beloved, if Jesus is our Yes, then we must provide the Brentons of this world a different vision and understanding. We must, like Jesus, live our truth that all God’s people, all the Created, are equally valuable and worthy of having enough. And we must do it loudly, and in every public square and arena. The volume needs to be turned up, and the volume must come from sources other than “good Christians” simply reciting it in our prayers, or declaring our Creeds, or renewing our Baptismal vows. We must live this truth with our words and our actions. We must live it with our laws, with our institutions and our systems. We are being called to take a long, hard look at what has always been and to recognize where and how we privilege those who are white. Our systems, our laws, our economic system, our housing situation---all of it bends in favor of those who are white and those who have economic advantages. We are being called to consider how that sense of “white privilege” lives within us.
Even though we have been taught and we take pride in America being a “melting pot,” there are numerous signs around us that many people in our country are afraid of the truth that America is, and indeed has always been, multicultural with different hues and different languages, different beliefs, and different customs. Last year, the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh also lamented what he called the “white genocide.” And this xenophobia---fear of the ones different from us---this xenophobia is literally killing us. And it is not just a national problem; this is a global problem as was sadly made clear this past week.
Beloved, if Jesus is our Lord and our Yes, then we also must be ready to say NO to anything that doesn’t look like Jesus. Anything that declares some are less valuable, that some are to be separated from us, anything that smacks of Nationalism or White supremacy and American exceptionalism. Even when that way or that law or that system works for us. And that’s the hard part; that’s how the Fox gets us---by making it easy for us to turn a blind eye and to harden our hearts toward the injustice. When it doesn’t touch us, in fact when it benefits us, it is so much easier to follow the Fox.
Because Brenton’s hate wasn’t shaped solely from extremism. Brenton’s beliefs and truth upon which he acted were born in the everyday soil of the rhetoric around him. The rhetoric and the laws and the systems all around him reinforced and fed him the fear upon which he acted. And let’s not fool ourselves, we are not immune to this rhetoric, these laws and systems; we create them and vote for them and speak them ourselves. In fact, sometimes this divisive rhetoric claims itself to be Christian; it declares it is love which gives them the authority to condemn. Oh, Beloved, the Fox is a sneaky creature. Jesus knew who the Fox was and recognized the fear-mongering rhetoric and systems when he heard and saw them. And we must too.
Last Ash Wednesday, several leaders from many Christian backgrounds, wrote their own manifesto of a type. It is titled: Reclaiming Jesus, and you can find it at ReclaimingJesus.org. This letter is a call to all of us to recognize that if Jesus is Lord, then Jesus is the one who has top authority over our lives: over our choices, our words, our actions, and our behaviors. Jesus is the Yes that leads us to know what we must reject---Our Yes defines our No.
The very first article in this letter, this manifesto, states: “We believe each human being is made in God’s image and likeness….Therefore, we reject the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts….” Our belief determines our actions; our Yes makes clear our No.
Beloved, in the Old Testament reading today, God told Abram an impossible, unbelievable, almost crazy thing; and Abram believed God. His belief, which he then acted upon because that is what a belief is: a Truth lived out: Abram’s belief led him to be in right relationship with God. The word used is tzadakah (righteousness); tzadakah in Hebrew is always connected with executing justice.
Today God is asking us to believe something that may seem equally impossible, unbelievable and almost crazy. God is asking us to believe that there is another way to live in this world: that we do not have to succumb to the Fox’s way, that we need not be afraid, that all God’s people are equally deserving of having enough, of living next door, of being welcomed wherever we find ourselves to be. God asks us to believe, and Jesus, the One who saves, models our way forward: Live our truest identity by refusing to be scared away from living God’s way of love. Be the ones who gather the vulnerable under God’s wings. Live your yes through actions and words of healing, building relationships, sharing meals and declaring the outcast as worthy, valuable and beloved. Do not be afraid; God is our shield. Jesus gathers us in. Beloved, go and tell that Fox: Listen, I’ve got work to do; I’m gonna do me. And then, Beloved, let our “me” look just like Jesus.
Jane Johnson is the pastor and priest of the Beloved Community of Intercession Episcopal and Redeemer Lutheran.