Monday, July 15, 2013

Brother Trayvon, Neighbor George

[This sermon was preached at the Des Plaines Methodist Campground on July 14, 2013, based on Luke 10:25-37.]

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground!”

This is not the sermon that I expected to preach today. I was going to be creative and interpret the parable of the Good Samaritan in a way that I had never heard before. And it was good, yes’m. But to paraphrase J├╝rgen Moltmann, preachers today need to preach with the Bible in one hand and their New York Times app in the other. Recent events call for a different topic.

When the lawyer approached Jesus, probably indignant that his kind of folk weren’t included in the accolades that Jesus doled out to the seventy disciples, he wanted to be justified. See what I’ve done, Jesus? I’ve dedicated my life to knowing the Law of Moses, the covenant that makes our people different, more blessed, more exceptional than anyone else. I have all the right answers. If anyone is right, it’s me. So, Jesus, son of a construction worker, tell me this…

The lawyer got his chance to give his right answer, but that wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to show his folks were the better than the other folks. After all, they sacrificed so much of their lives to know the law better anyone else, and everybody knows how much law school costs these days. It isn’t good enough to be right. I need to win, and that means someone else needs to lose. So, Jesus, son born out of wedlock, tell me this…

Well, shoot, the lawyer wasn’t expecting a story like that, and he didn’t expect a loaded question either. Who are my choices for neighbor of the year again? The priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan? But only the Samaritan, one of those less-than-half-breeds, one of those who refuses to worship the Holy of Holies where He resides, it’s only the Samaritan who helps an innocent man beaten nearly to death? How can I answer this without admitting that one of those people is my neighbor?

“The one who showed the man mercy.”

Didn't even mention who that one is. What a lawyerly move.

Dear friends, we gather today contemplating justice. The Greek word that shows up in the New Testament can either be translated “justice” or “righteousness”. I first learned this while reading a Spanish Bible that had one of the beatitudes saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice”, instead of the traditional “hunger and thirst for righteousness”. In other words, we gather today contemplating who is right. We want the same thing that the lawyer wanted when he asked Jesus who his neighbor was: justification. We want to be justified. We want to look into the eyes of the people we love most, the people who trust us most, the people who depend on us, and we want them to think we were and are right. Right with them. Right with others. Right with God.

How can we be right, dear friends? Nearly a year and a half after a 17-year-old Black boy was killed in Florida, and much, much sooner after so many other young people’s blood have washed the pavement of our streets, how can we assert that we are right? When whole neighborhoods look like bombed out war zones, but those war zones far away, not here, dear God, how can it be here, how can we be right? When our choices are either to convict and lock up one more brother or to allow even more violence in our streets, how can we be right?

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground!”

Dear friends, I grew up around guns. I grew up in rural central Pennsylvania where we got off school for the Monday after Thanksgiving because it was the first day of buck hunting season. There was one year that we did have school on that day, and forty percent of students, staff, and faculty were absent. I was part of that statistic. I was a pretty good shot with a rifle back then.

I’ve also grown up some more since I moved to the South Side of Chicago. There are guns there, too. On the first day that biked down to seminary last year, I came back to see the block next to where I lived. It was blocked off with yellow police tape. There had been a drive-by shooting. There was another one maybe two months later eight blocks away. I don’t like that there are so many guns around my neighborhood, and I don’t want more, either.

What does it mean to love my neighbor? What does it mean to be my brother’s keeper? Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother? Don’t you know the world is falling apart? Don’t you know that we have to get what we can while we can and then keep it for ourselves for as long we can? And don’t you tell me what I can and can’t do with my own property.

Dear friends, there are so many young people who grow up without an ounce of hope. In those bombed out war zones on the South Side, on the West Side, in Newtown, Connecticut, in Cairo, Egypt. Who is my neighbor? Who is my brother? Instead of being politically correct, instead of worrying about upsetting the biggest donors in the congregation, let’s be clear about who our neighbor is and who our brother is. Instead of referring to that Samaritan person as “the one who showed the man mercy”, let’s call him who he is. Let’s use his name.

My neighbor is Trayvon Martin. My brother is George Zimmerman.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out from the ground!”

What have we done indeed? As Saint Paul observed in his letter to the Romans, no one is righteous, not even one. We are all convicted under the weight of the blood crying out like the shrieks on that 9-1-1 tape from that night in Florida. This is the world we live in, and in a nation which we just recently celebrated on July 4th, we must take responsibility for it. Even if a jury won’t convict a man for shooting and killing a teenager, we are surely convicted by a higher court, an infinitely better informed jury, a perfect justice.

But we praise God for God’s infinite compassion, perfect empathy, and most steadfast love. Again I must publically proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing can make God love us more or make God love us less; God just loves us. Period.

This morning we bear the mark of Cain, but we also bear the mark of the overcome cross. The passion story of Jesus Christ does not end on Good Friday in a tomb, but resurrection is the new beginning. We recognize that we are not holy like God is holy, but we also walk into the light with the knowledge that God is actively redeeming us and the world around us. As people who have been born again of water, fire, and spirit through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus we move past the sin of Cain and to the mercy of the Samaritan. When we see Trayvon Martin sauntering around in our neighborhood, we, like the Samaritan, feel our hearts moved with pity and show him trust. When we see George Zimmerman cruising up behind us, we, like the Samaritan, feel our hearts moved with compassion and show him mercy.

So let us love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and love our neighbor as ourselves. Through Jesus Christ, we are made right. Do these things, and we will live.

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