Unity Lutheran Church + Christ the King Campus
17 March 2019 + Second Sunday in Lent
Luke 13.31-35; Genesis 15.1-12, 17-18
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
We trust in many things:
- Just this morning, all of us trusted in our cars — and the driving of those around us — to get us safely to church.
- I’m 100% not a morning person, so every night before I go to bed, I set my alarm and trust that it will wake me up on time… and that I’ll actually pay attention to it.
- Those of us who are dog or cat owners (or both!) trust our furry companions not to destroy our homes while we’re away.
- We trust our medical providers, that the medicines and treatments they prescribe will make us well again.
- You all put great trust in us, your pastors, to share your concerns, bear your burdens, and hold it all in prayer and confidence.
We trust in many things. You name it, and there’s probably an element of trust in it — everything we rely on and take for granted as true in our everyday lives.
But what happens when that trust is broken? Every week, we gather in this sanctuary for worship and community, and we trust this to be a safe place — and thanks be to God it always has been. The worshippers at Al Noor and Linwood Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, trusted their houses of worship to be safe places, too — until that trust was abruptly violated by an active shooter, killing 50 people who had come for Friday prayers.
We don’t have to go too far back in time or too far away from home to realize what happened in New Zealand isn’t an isolated event. We remember and we grieve the shootings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past fall and at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston only four years ago. Whenever I drive down I-94 and pass by the exit for Oak Creek, I remember, too, the shooting at the Sikh temple in 2012.
This week, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, I keep hearing the words of the hymn: “God, when human bonds are broken…”
What do we do when human bonds are broken? When human trust is violated by acts of violence and hate, acts that betray a sense of safety that we take for granted? When we’re confronted head-on by the brokenness and evil of the world?
What do we do and say in those moments? We echo the words of our presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, and we condemn hatred, bigotry, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and violence whenever and wherever it occurs. And we turn to prayer, to our communities of faith. We trust in God, somehow, to sustain us, to get us through, to mend us and make us whole again.
Earlier this past week, I stumbled across the words printed as the opening thought in your bulletin:
“I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love, even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God, even when God is silent.”
Those words were reportedly found etched on the wall of the cellar of a Jewish home in Cologne, Germany, during the height of Nazi persecution. During a time when human trust and human bonds had been broken, whoever etched those words turned not to despair but to their faith and trust in God, even in the bleakest of circumstances.
Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from the imam at ISM West, the mosque here in Brookfield. “I won’t lie,” he says, “our community is shaken. Angered. Scared.” And in that same email, he invited the community to gather Friday night for a service of prayer at his mosque. Where an act of hate and violence sought to separate and instill fear in a community, it only made that community gather more strongly, more faithfully, even defiantly — clinging to God and each other, in spite of devastating circumstances.
Whether at a mosque in New Zealand or Brookfield, Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, or Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, no community under attack has ever shut down over an act of hate and violence. Just the opposite: It only seems to drive people of faith closer to their faith, toward deeper trust in God.
There’s something to this trust in God.
Trust abounds in our readings today. Abram laments that he and Sarai, his wife, have no children and no heir. God’s response: an expanded promise! As many descendants are there are stars, if Abram can even number them! And Abram trusts in this God who promises, this God who makes a covenant with Abram and Sarai. Trust in God does not disappoint because making covenant promises and keeping them is what God is all about.
We lament, and we trust in God’s covenant promises. We trust in God’s tender, motherly care. The image from our gospel reading today of a mother hen, gathering her brood under her wings, feels timely. It’s an ancient image, in scripture itself and in the writings of the early church: Anselm of Canterbury, writing in the 11th century, speaks of Jesus as a mother who gathers us; and perhaps more famously, the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich writes of Christ, our true mother, who bears us for joy and life.
The words of another hymn from a Filipino writer expand on this image Jesus himself uses:
When twilight comes and the sun sets,
mother hen prepares for night’s rest.
As her brood shelters under her wings…
In the next stanza, the hymn-writer links that image to another: the scene of Jesus at the last supper with his disciples, caring for them even in a time of crisis, fear, and uncertainty.
That image feels appropriate especially today, as we mourn, again, the brokenness of our world, the brokenness of human trust, but also as we gather in the shelter of this place, the shelter of Jesus our mother hen, who yearns to gather us.
Trusting in God’s tender, motherly care is to trust in God’s ability to bear us to life, to nurture us, and to protect us. Trusting in God’s tender, motherly care, we take refuge in the covenant promise and care of God who does not, cannot, will not abandon us, ever.
Thanks be to God.