I actually wrote an earlier sermon prior to capturing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but woke up on Saturday nagged that the earlier sermon wouldn’t resonate as well. So, I started writing all over again on Saturday. This is the one I preached. (I’ll probably post the earlier sermon later this week.)
Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 21, 2013
Scriptures: Rev. 7:9-17
The events this past week were tumultuous to say the least. There were significant events: ricin-tainted mail sent to a United States Senator and the President of the United States, the United States Senate voting down modest gun control regulation, the explosion at a fertilizer plant which flattened a town, floods throughout the Chicago metropolitan area due to five inches of rain in a single storm, and a terrible earthquake in China which injured 5700 people. But for us, the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the unfolding drama dominated the headlines. Friday night’s capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was undoubtedly a huge relief and celebration for just about everyone. Facebook posts gave thanks and praise to law enforcement. Blessings abounded for the people of Boston.
The biographies of Dzhokhar and his brother, Tamerlan, tell us a little bit about their lives. They were Chechnyans, although Dzhokhar never lived in Chechnya, who immigrated to the United States about a decade ago. They were educated in our schools. Dzhokhar became a United States citizen last year. They were both Muslims, the predominate religion in Chechnya.
Without a statement from Dzhokhar, the reasons behind the bombing are speculative at best. The New York Times quoted two scholars, Brian Fishman, who studies terrorism, and Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic Studies at American University, both felt that the brothers had an identity conflict. We’ve probably read by now Tamerlan’s comment, “I don’t have a single American friend,” although that was not the case for his younger brother. Fishman, though, cautioned that drawing any sort of real conclusion is too soon.
Tamerlan, an amateur boxer, wanted to box for the United States in the Olympics. Comments published in the Boston Globe from people who knew them generally fell along the lines that they were not troubled men. They regarded them well and seemed genuinely fond of them. No one said that they expected this from either of them, even people who saw them as recently as a week before the bombing.
Anger, certainly, is an appropriate response, but how does that anger get expressed? While I won’t cite all the comments the Globe posted yesterday on this event, here is a couple:
- This story is simple: Islamic based terrorism at the core. He has a playlist on YouTube that had numerous links to a radical Austrailian Muslim. Islam hatest the West, it is a fundemental culture clash.
- There is no mystery to what happened to them. They became “devout” – read, “fundamentalist” – Muslims. Someone indoctrinated them and trained them. That’s how they got on the intelligence radar. They were 2 stupid, easily manipulated losers motivated by their twisted religious beliefs. Duh.
Some from yesterday’s Washington Post:
- Muslims hate American values, thus they hate us Americans
- Central Asians, Islamicists committed an act of terror on American soil. It they were assisted by others hopefully we hunt them down and peel them like grapes before sending them to Guantanamo.
- I can’t believe how toxic the discourse on this thread is. I need to take a shower after reading some of these comments. Keep at it guys, you are really contributing some great stuff here. Be proud of yourselves.
There is no question that what happened on Monday was a horrible and unimaginable tragedy. It was supposed to be a day of fun and celebration, which turned in an instant to carnage typically seen on battlefields. Of course anger and fear. We’d have hearts of stone if we didn’t have fear or felt any anger. But what do we do with that anger?
The Globe posted pictures of the victims of the bombing: Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, and Sean Collier. They didn’t have Tamerlan. Although an alleged perpetrator, he was a victim, too. Sure, evidence seems to indicate that he had a role in this bombing, but he also died in events related to the bombing just as Sean Collier did. Our anger makes this hard to accept, but people grieve for him as well. Whatever misguided thinking drove him to committing this heinous crime, his parents lost a son; his circle of friends became smaller.
As hard as this may be to acknowledge and accept, God does not love selectively. God’s love is inclusive, radically so. We do not say, “God’s love embraces everyone, albeit with some exceptions.” We believe that our discipleship calls upon us to love as God loves. Love is easy when they are our family and friends. Love is easy when people are like us or when we come to know them well enough to care about them. Love is easy when we can help someone through our generosity, like feeding them at a supper for the homeless or helping them in the wake of a disaster. Love, though, challenges us when we face those whom we find detestable in some way, like Dzokhar and Tamerlan. How can we find space in our hearts for these two men, especially when there are so many who are more deserving?
God’s love knows no bounds. “…if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12b) We are the embodiment of God’s love.
Our prayers for Martin, Krystle, Lingzi, and Sean, the first responders, the police, the medical personnel, the families of those who lost their lives, the people who were at the race, the people of Boston should include Dzokhar and Tamerlan, their families and their friends, too. We should pray that the toxic thoughts of many do not lead us to undertake collective actions we will later regret: demonizing Muslims, lashing out at immigrants, pushing for a military tribunal. We should pray that Dzokhar will receive a fair trial and that his family will not suffer punishment in their communities because they are related to him.
We are the church. We are more than just a building in this community, we connect people with God. Even for people who have no connection or affiliation with the church, we are seen as God’s people and thus, we have a responsibility to proclaim God’s ways in our ministries. Those ways can be challenging, such as now. We lead this community by our example. We are the good shepherd who will lead this community through its dark valleys. We are the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in order to find the one that is lost; and Dzokhar is definitely lost. We are the shepherd who reminds this community that love is the single-most powerful force we have for lasting transformation so that true peace and true justice can fulfill the words in the prayer we say every week, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We remind this community in both word and deed.
We don’t know why Tamerlan and Dzokhar did what they did. Without a statement, all we can say is speculative at best. But one lesson we can take from this horrible tragedy is that no one really knows what made two rather normal young American men commit this bombing. There were no distinct marks in the behaviors that triggered suspicion among their friends and acquaintances. When we think about it, Tamerlan and Dzokhar could be our neighbor, our friend, or even our family. They could even be one of us.
As hard as it might be, we should not overlook that they are as deserving of God’s love as much as anyone else. And it is in these moments and times when our faith is challenged and, thus, has an opportunity to grow. It is moments and times like these when we can show true leadership in our community.
Let the anger generated by this tragedy become an authoritative testament to love’s transforming power. Let love demonstrate that the kingdom of God promised by Jesus is for all people and when all people know that love, the promise will be fulfilled.