Welcome, Brother

Episode 26 – March 17, 2019

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Referenced Articles & Websites

 ‘Hate crimes have no religion’: Newmarket mourns Muslim terrorist attack victims,again by Amanda Persico (YorkRegion.com)
A Sanctified Art

Featured Musicians

Sami Yusuf  “Salaam”



Bri-anne Swan – “This Land is Not My Home”


Reading No. 1

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 God’s covenant with Abram
Read by the Rev. Dan Hayward, of South Stormont Pastoral Church, Ingleside, Ontario


Reading No. 2

Letting Go by Sarah Ayre of A Sanctified Art


Prayers by Imam Muhamned Berhat of the Newmarket Islamic Centre


The reflection is an adaptation of a sermon offered to the congregation of York Pines United Church on March 17, 2019

Last week was March Break, which is always a busy week for my family and me.  Day camps and work meetings avec small children. On Thursday, I piled both kids, our Dog, and a whole lot of Captain Underpants books into our car to visit my mother in Stratford.  For my kids, visiting Grandma Rap is a whole bunch of super awesome fun times. The rules are different. She buys all the sugary cereal that we were never allowed to have when I was growing up.  She lets them play on her ipad, which they never get to do at home. She lets them stay up just a liiiiitle bit longer than normal. One more show. One more story. One more snuggle. Life…it’s pretty good at grandma’s.

And me…I just watch it all happen.  It means a lot to my mom to get to spend time with her only grandkids.  It means a lot to Isaiah and Simon to spend time with the only grandparent they have within driving distance.  I get to spend time with my mom and my two brothers. So when I went to bed on Thursday night…I was feeling all warm and fuzzy.  Life is pretty beautiful, I thought, with so many people I love are here in one place.

But then I woke up on Friday morning.  I made a coffee. I turned on CBC Radio.  And then the news: 49 people dead. 49 people wounded.  In two mosques. Shot. Adults. Children. Killed. As they gathered to worship.  To pray. To speak with, and listen to God, just as so many of us do in places of worship around the world

And honestly, not so unlike where we find Abram in our story from Genesis today.

God is present and Abram is listening and speaking.  Actually, it sounds a bit like he might be complaining.  “God…you have given me everything…all the things. And yet, I don’t have the thing I want most of all.  Everything I have will be handed over to my slave when I die. When are you going to give me a kid of my own?”

And God does give Abram a child.  In fact, God gives him TWO. Remember, Abram and his wife Sarai are very old at this point in their story.  Sarai gives Abram her Egyptian slave, named Hagar, as a second wife. She conceives a son, and his name is Ishmael.  But then, God gives Abram, now Abraham, a second son, named Isaac, born to Sarai, now Sarah. But after a quarrel, Abraham casts Ishmael and his mother Hagar, out into the wilderness.  Isaac goes on to be the second Patriarch and the grandfather of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Now I know, that many of you know these stories.  They are some of the foundational stories of the Christian and Jewish tradition.  But I’ve been thinking this past week about the differences in fortunes for Ishmael and Isaac.  I don’t mean to insinuate Ishmael doesn’t come out okay in the Torah account – God promises to take care of him.   But traditionally, Judaism and Christianity have not treated Ishmael kindly in their folklore, with Isaac being the heir to the Abrahamic covenant.

But in Islam, Ishamael is revered as a prophet and patriarch of the faith.  According to the Quran, while Hagar and Ishmael were wandering in the desert, Ishmael became faint with thirst.  So Hagar placed him under and bush and began running between two hills searching for water. An angel appeared to her and told her to pick Ishmael up.  As his heel grazed the ground, water sprung from the earth. The place where this occurred is traditionally understood to be where Mecca now sits – the holiest of cities – and the act of providing water is commemorated with Muslims running between the hills of Safa and Marwah during the rites of Hajj, an annual Islamic pilgrimage.  It is held that Muhammed, a prophet and founder of Islam, is a descendent of Ishmael.

Three Abrahamic faiths with differing views about these heirs of Abraham.  And as time moves on and on, the divisions between these faiths have grown.  We’ve circled around our tribes, declared who’s in and who’s out, all the while forgetting, that we come from much of the same places, though our stories have been formed and refined in different times and in different contexts.

This week, churches following the Revised Common lectionary would also have heard a story about Jesus meeting up with the Pharisees in the 13th chapter of Luke:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Whenever I hear this passage, I always think of a song I used to sing in Vacation Bible School when I was a kid.  It goes:

I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa
I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa
To praise the Lord my soul to keep
I just wanna be a sheep, baa baa

And then, there’s a second verse

I don’t wanna be a Pharisee
I don’t wanna be a Pharisee
‘Cause they’re not fair, ya see
I don’t wanna be a Pharisee

Oh boy.  Christians, we really give Pharisees a bad rap, and that happens I think because most of the stories we have in the Gospels set the Pharisees up as a foil to Jesus. They are always debating.  But most accounts have them debating in the style and manner particular to the Jewish tradition of the time. We hear about the Pharisees so much, because they were actually accessible. The Rabbinic tradition in Judaism evolved from the Pharisees. The Sadducees were holed up deep in the Temple.  Because for the Sadducees, the Temple was necessary for the worship of God. For the Pharisees, as long as one kept the law and commandments, the Temple was not fundamentally necessary. So you can understand then, after the Second Temple was destroyed in 70AD how the tradition of the Pharisees was able to survive.

So, we have the Pharisees warning Jesus.  “Dude. Get out of here!” they say. “Herod wants to kill you!”  The Pharisees and Jesus aren’t actually that far off from one another, they just think Jesus is going too far.  Ruffling too many feathers. And he’s going to die for it. It’s a bit like the opening scene of Jesus Christ Superstar, where Judas is begging Jesus to listen to him because he’s getting to be just a bit too much for the powers that be. The Romans and Judean Leadership will only accept so much.

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud.
And they’ll crush us if we go too far.

And he’s right, of course. We know how this all ends.  And yet, from Medieval Art to my VBS camp songs, Christians have demonized the Pharisees, and by extension, often the Jewish people, for almost two thousand years.  I grew up, in a United Church, being told that “The Jews” killed Jesus. Our supercessionist roots run deep…so deep that I still catch myself using language suggesting Christianity as a more evolved form of Judaism.  It’s subtle, but it’s wrong. That is the tradition I come from. I push back, but I am not perfect.

Christians and Jews.  Christians and Muslims.   Muslims and Jews.

We are one dysfunctional set of siblings, my friends.  

As I listened to, read and watched more reports of the Christchurch attack, my heart began to break open…wider and wider, until I could barely take it anymore.  One man being interviewed by a reporter said that when the gunman walked in the door as people were gathering to worship, the first thing they would have heard were the words, “Welcome, brother.”

“Welcome, brother.”

And that if maybe he had paused, just for a second, to really hear those words, this tragedy might have never happened.

There was a great Twitter thread I can across last night while rewriting this reflection. Rami Ismali found it strange that the media kept referring to the mosques targeted in Friday’s massacre as “Peaceful Mosques” as if most every mosque isn’t peaceful. It’s like insinuating we need to point out the peaceful churches.  ISo, he asked Muslims to talk about all the ordinary, mundane things that go on in their houses of worship:

“At my local mosque, the third floor has been abandoned and completely taken over by pigeons”

“The battle of the thermostat in the ladies’ prayer room. We compromised and the menopausal women now have a fan blasting in front of them.”

“For Eid once, this mom was trying to pray as we all were and her two little girls were using us women as posts to hide behind while playing tag. Everyone was trying so hard not to laugh, keeping their heads down. Poor mom was furious and embarrassed. It was great.”

We are moving through a theme this Lent. Cultivating and Letting Go. This week, I think I pray to let go of “othering” – to place people into categories, set apart, and set up for conflict.  I don’t mean in the big ways, with entire religious groups. But even in smaller ways. As I mentioned earlier, I am not perfect, nor am I immune to othering. I do it with fundamentalist Christians. To be honest, they drive me bat shit crazy.  I don’t understand how they believe what they believe, so I other them, and that’s not helpful. I mean this honestly. It is not helpful for me to shut down…to shut off.

And so, I wish to cultivate dialogue. Dialogue with those who are different, who make me angry, who push all of my buttons.

This whole exchange with Abram and God…it’s a dialogue. Abram is annoyed. He is questioning God and God’s promises to him. But what is beautiful here is that God does not respond in anger. God does not dismiss Abram or abandon Abram. God listens. God understands. And God lovingly responds.

God does not require or of us a blind faith. God welcomes the questioning. Because it is only in the questioning and the exploration that we can bring our deepest, most authentic selves to God.

There are many Muslim people who are connected with the Living Presence Ministry. I fast with them during Ramadan. Celebrate during Eid. They are my people. And they are hurting.

Later on, we will hear some words from a vigil hosted by the Newmarket Islamic Centre last Sunday. I was there, and it was incredibly moving to see the community rally together around our friends and neighbours.  100 people sitting and listening, saying “we love you.”

Letting go of othering. Cultivating dialogue. Letting go of anger.

Allahu Akbar.


The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada

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