May 6, 2018
During this sermon, I told of my experience speaking at the Husaynia Society of Seattle and my upcoming pilgrimage to Arbaeen.
Music: Chancel Choir sings Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether, Harold Fridell
Cover image of Mohamed Shuman playing music near the wreckage of his family’s house, Gaza City, June 2015. Ali Hassan/Anadolu/Getty Image
I, too, have a dream …
that one day Jews and Christians
will see me as I am:
a small child, lonely and afraid,
staring down the barrels of their big bazookas,
knowing I did nothing
to deserve their enmity.
―The Child Poets of Gaza
People who repent and do good deeds truly return to God. The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who do not give false testimony, and who, when they see some frivolity, pass by with dignity; who, when reminded of their Lord’s signs do not turn a deaf ear and blind eye to them; those who pray, “Our Lord, give us joy in our spouses and offspring. Make us good examples to those who are aware of You.’
These servants will be rewarded with the highest place in Paradise for their steadfastness.
There they will be met with greetings and peace.
There they will stay—a happy home and resting place!
Gospel of Philip
You who are with the Son of God do not love worldly things; love the Teacher so that what you engender will resemble the Teacher, and not some other thing. Humans mate with humans, horses with horses, donkeys with donkeys, each species with its own. Likewise, our breath seeks another breath, our intelligence seeks intelligence, and every clarity seeks its light.
Become more human, and humans will love you; become more spiritual, and the Spirit will unite with you. Become more intelligent, and the Logos will unite with you. If you become more clear, the light will unite with you. If you ascend, you will find repose in the heights.
If you behave like a horse or donkey, calf, dog, sheep, or any other animal outside yourself, you will be capable of union with neither human spirit, Logos, nor light, nor with what is above, nor with what is within. None of these realities can settle in you if you do not become like them through love.
John 15:9-17 Scholars’ Version
I loved you in the same way [God] loved me. Live in my love. If you obey my commandments, you’ll live in my love, just as I have obeyed [God’s] commandments and live in [God’s] love.
I have told you all this so my happiness can be in you and your happiness can be complete. This is my commandment to you: you shall love each other just as I loved you. There is no greater love than to give up your life for your friends. You are my friends when you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, since a slave does not know what his master is up to. I have called you friends, because I let you know everything I learned from [God]. You didn’t choose me; I chose you. And I selected you to go out and produce fruit. And your fruit will last because [God] will provide you with whatever you request using my name. this is what I command you: you shall love each other.
Quatrains Mahsati (Iran 12th century)
Better to live as a rogue and a bum,
a lover all treat as a joke,
to hang out with a crowd of comfortable drunks,
than crouch in a hypocrite’s cloak.
Unless you can dance through a common bar
with a vagabond’s step, you’re not going to make it.
This is the road of the reckless who gamble their lives;
risk yours, or you’re not going to make it.
The Gospel of John and the Gospel of Philip present unique visions of Jesus. In these two passages I selected, Jesus is speaking about love. In both passages, Jesus wants to elevate his disciples. We are not animals. We are not slaves. We are friends. We are capable of love. We are light, spirit, intelligence. By loving what is ascendant, by loving the highest values, we become.
We become what we love.
Last week I spoke at a conference hosted by the Husaynia Islamic Society of Seattle. I was one of six speakers. The topic was Husayn. Husayn was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. Husayn was a well-respected leader. The leadership of Islam after the death of his grandfather had become corrupt, not unlike the extreme forms of Islam we see today in the Taliban, Daesh, Al-Quaida, Wahabbism, and so forth. The leader, Yazid, with 30,000 troops required Husayn to bow to him. Husayn refused. Husayn and 72 members of his family were killed by Yazid’s forces near Karbala, Iraq in the year 680.
Husayn’s progeny became imams or spiritual leaders for what is now called Shia Islam. Shia means “the way.” Husayn is considered to have offered the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for justice and truth. According to those who are devoted to him, his sacrifice revealed the true Islam, the Islam of love.
Each year his martyrdom is remembered. In recent times upwards of 20 million people visit his shrine in Karbala on Arbaeen, the 40th day following the anniversary of his death on Ashura. The period between Ashura, the day of his martyrdom and Arbaeen is the 40 days of mourning.
During this period of mourning is a pilgrimage or Ziyara to his shrine in Karbala, Iraq. Some will walk as many as 400 miles. Many walk for 50 miles, which takes three days from Najaf to Karbala. This pilgrimage is not an obligation, like the Hajj in Mecca, and it is not restricted to Muslims, like the Hajj.
The pilgrimage to Karbala to Husayn’s shrine, which is simply called Arbaeen, is open to people of other faiths to show their respect and to seek Baraka or blessing by participating as well. This year the date of Arbaeen is October 30th and 31st. Sunset on the 30th to the 31st.
It is the largest peaceful gathering of human beings in the world. Twenty million people are estimated to participate. At the conference, I talked to several of the other speakers who had been on it, some go every year. One speaker, Mohammad Baig, who is the president of a Shia seminary in Los Angeles, said that Arbaeen is as close as you will get to utopia on Earth. He himself brings 100 people each year to Arbaeen.
Pilgrims need to bring nothing. People who live in Iraq, the hosts, provide for these pilgrims food, a place to sleep, medication, a massage. They even wash your clothes while you rest along the journey.
Why am I telling you all of this?
I was invited to speak at this conference. I was the only Christian speaker. I was asked to do so because I would. I was deeply moved by the event, the speeches, the devotion, the intellect, and the commitment to justice and love by these Muslim scholars, imams, and the attendees.
In my talk I shared that I was ashamed as a religious leader that I knew next to nothing about Husayn. I know that I am not alone. Few American Christians know anything about Husayn, who is regarded as the door to Allah. He is a major deal. This pilgrimage is huge. 20 million. If the metro population of Seattle is three million and Portland is two million, then the pilgrimage to Karbala on Arbaeen will include a population equivalent to six Seattles and a Portland. The biggest human gathering on the planet. Western media rarely even covers it.
The society gave me an expense paid trip to attend the pilgrimage. I graciously accepted with the caveat that I needed to pay my ticket. I want to talk about it on the radio, in fact, the next two shows will be about this event, and I don’t want a paid trip to compromise that.
That is one reason, the other is that this is my quest, really. This is a study opportunity, a continuing education opportunity, and a mission or service opportunity. I wish to use those funds graciously provided by Southminster to fund the trip. I want you to be a part of this, too. I will be in close contact with friends at the Husaynia Society of Seattle in planning for this, as they of course, have the connections.
Over the course of the next few months, I am going to be preparing for this adventure by becoming more familiar with Husayn and with Islam as well as preparing for a fifty-mile, three day hike on the desert road. I am announcing it right up front as that is the only way I will make sure to do it. I need to get in shape spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Maybe some of you will want to go with me. Maybe others of you will be curious about it and help me prepare for it. No pressure for you. I think this will be an exciting event for Southminster and I hope it will be a time to learn what is going on in the world from a perspective that is either ignored or distorted by a western lens.
I was impressed with the presenters. I am going to have at least three of them on my radio show in the near future. Perhaps it will work out to bring one or more of them to Southminster for a conference.
So check it out. Look up Arbaeen on the internet.
This is the mission statement of the Husayniah Society of Seattle. It is a new organization with an exciting vision:
The mission of Husayniah is to build an interfaith community which goes beyond the rituals. Husayniah is a place where people come together to share and discuss ideas, become involved with the broader community and work on things they are passionate about. We share who we are and celebrate our diversity, not to convert or convince, but in realization of our common humanity.
Recognizing that we all belong to the one human race means we have a responsibility to act as a community to affirmatively address issues of social justice. We are inspired by Imam Husayn (as) 7th century revolutionary leader, who made the ultimate stand for social justice in the face of corruption and tyranny. He gave everything, including his life, for the dignity of his society. He challenged the status quo and brought people together. Today he is revered by people of all faiths.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have told his disciples that he wants their happiness to be complete. The key to this happiness is love. No more are they servants and Jesus the master. No more is the relationship hierarchical. The relationship is one of friendship. Friends love one another. Friends give their lives for one another.
Happiness comes from love—love expressed through equality and mutual respect.
In the Gospel of Philip, Jesus tells his disciples to love the higher things. Love Spirit. Love Light. Love Logos. Love Humanity.
Both John and Philip in their unique interpretations of Jesus agree on one thing.
We become what we love.
Let me stop there and see if you have questions or comments.