This morning while I was on my way to church listening to the radio, I caught the tail end of a conversation with Barbara Brown Taylor. Her new book is called Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. Her premise is that God can be found and met in the faith traditions of other people.
I’m a devout Christian who believes God is present to and in all life. And I remember a time when it was easier to talk in church about other faith traditions.
My favorite religious poet is a Muslim: a thirteenth-century mystic named Rumi, and I have met God in Christ often through his words. Today, I’m comforted by these: “Out beyond our ideas of who’s right and who’s wrong, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.”
Until now, I have never named the blessing of Rumi while standing in a pulpit. It seems such a small confession alongside the inter-religious anger that governs so many today, in every faith tradition, including our own. My appreciation is made of words on paper found in books I keep at home.
The humility of Christ often feels a feeble thing, itself like something made of paper, almost useless in the face of violence. On the world’s mind this week is the recent shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand: Christchurch, where violence and hate scattered crowds of people at prayer in mosques. By recent count, fifty men, women, and children are dead.
As often happens, better stories follow hard: stories of people who moved into that murderous wake at risk to themselves in order to save and tend the wounded and the dying. It goes without saying, but let it be said, it’s the not the way of Christ to kill people caught in the act of prayer. It’s the way of Christ to save and heal and love. Anything less wounds his sacred heart.
God asks us again and again to believe love is more powerful than hate. Though it’s hard to see that in traumatic places, you can sense something of it at work in our gospel today when Jesus so clearly aligns himself with the hen and not the fox. Jesus gathers in love, while the Herods, then and now, scatter in hate.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, our Lord says, naming the city twice. In the words of one scholar, this double use of a name “is freighted with affection [and] mixed with disappointment.”
Jesus knows full well how disappointing Jerusalem is and can be, how often she fails to love as God would have her to love. Jerusalem, he laments. But then, as if he can’t help it, as if teasing some last latent gift from her, he repeats her name, Jerusalem. And that repetition bends toward love.
Maybe God in Christ always calls us with two names: the one addressing our failures, the other voicing his love.
Jerusalem is where we see Jesus heading all Lent: toward a holy city riven by violence. The Pharisees suggest he’d best hurry his way there because Herod is after him. They seem to believe violence always chases tenderness out of town to beget more violence on its way. Jesus, though, is in no hurry to heed their warning.
He moves instead toward the dangers that always attend love: the possibility of being hurt, the threat of rejection, the force of anger, the absence of mercy. Fully aware of those possibilities, Jesus stands in for, and up for, the love and mercy of God. He believes in it. It’s who he is and what he practices: the love and mercy of God.
It’s as if he saw in every place, among every people, the possibility of love; as if he took whatever time he needed to plant his own love wherever he went. And we know danger waits up ahead. We know he has no plan to defend himself. Instead, as he moves toward risking his life, he gathers people in love, healing the sick and rebuking the forces of evil that destroy life.
Today is the feast of St. Patrick, the fifth-century patron of Ireland. I made a paper badge to remember him by. In past centuries, the Irish made similar badges decorated with painted crosses and shamrocks and ribbon. They were and are evidence of Christ among them.
Story has it when Patrick was a young boy, a band of Irish pirates kidnapped him from the shores of Britain and sold him into slavery in Ireland. Six years later, though, he managed to escape and make his way back to the safety of his homeland. Soon after, he began to study under the monks of Britain and ultimately discerned a religious vocation. And yet, rather than stay put in Britain with his parents and the monks who nurtured him, he chose to return to Ireland, to move with Christ toward the very people who’d hurt him.
You could say, the Gospel of Jesus taught him to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Legend tells us he carried a walking stick made from an ash sapling, and whenever he lingered anywhere for long, his stick sank into the soil of the place and sprouted with green shoots. Life. This tells you, his love for Christ took actual root among people he had every reason to fear or avoid.
He claimed the Holy Spirit bore him up to trust the presence of Christ, in him and with him. The prayer attributed to him expresses it this way: Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ be in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
This prayer is sometimes called a breastplate, a defense of sorts, only thinner than the paper it’s written on. In reality, the only protection it commends is to put your trust in God. It’s not about negotiating offense or defense. It’s about believing God is in you and around you, and in everyone you meet.
Daily, the Holy Spirit calls you to trust the love of Jesus Christ in you and with you so thoroughly you can’t help but wear his heart on your sleeve.
 Francois Bovan, Luke 2: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, 9:51-19:27, (Fortress Press: 1 December 2013).