Thursday, April 5, 2012

Trayvon, Anna and the "other way" of Jesus - A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Maundy Thursday, 2012

 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Every now and then, a story will catch our attention not so much because it’s interesting or even outrageous … but because it strikes a chord with a deep, lived experience that some of us have had. Because it puts a specific face and story to things that we know to be true because we have lived them.

In the past month, we’ve had two such stories and two such faces capture our attention, break our hearts, and ignite our outrage.  They are the stories and faces of Trayvon Martin and Anna Brown. Trayvon Martin, a young black man who was gunned down walking unarmed in his own neighborhood in Florida. Anna Brown, a young, black, homeless woman, who died alone in a jail cell just a few miles away from here in Richmond Heights of blood clots that went undiagnosed at St. Mary’s Hospital.

As a nation and as a city, Trayvon and Anna’s deaths have captured us not just because they are sensational. But because they strike a chord with the deep lived experience of many in our nation and our community. And that experience is that every day in our country, young, black men and homeless black women die or are killed for no other reason than that they are young black men and homeless black women.

The facts of Trayvon’s and Anna’s deaths have been debated continuously over the past several weeks. We know about George Zimmerman’s call to the police and his ignoring their request that he not pursue Trayvon. We know about Florida’s stand your ground law. We know about Anna Brown being arrested for refusing to leave St. Mary’s and the doctor signing a “fit for confinement” report. We know about her being dragged into her jail cell and left lying on the floor, where she died minutes later.

We know these things and we debate them and we assume motive behind them because we’re casting around for someone to blame. We want someone to pay for this. We have a sense of justice that on a gut level is about retribution, and we want it satisfied. Some of us want it satisfied because it just seems right. Some of us want it satisfied because we have lived it going unsatisfied for so many Trayvons and Annas through the years and throughout our lives and our parents’ lives and their parents’ lives. And some of us want it satisfied so we can just move on and be able to pretend again that these are just isolated incidents and everything really is OK.

On one level, the facts of these cases are always important. We need to know and understand what specifically happened. But on a gut level, on an emotional level, the facts of Trayvon’s and Anna’s death could not matter less. Because what we’re really looking for isn’t someone just to pay for what happened to Trayvon and Anna. We want someone to pay for all that their deaths represent. We want justice for all the injustice that happens every day.

When it comes down to it, what we really want is a sacrificial lamb.

We want someone on whom we can not only pin the sin of Trayvon and Anna‘s deaths, but on whom we can pin the sin of the entire community, the sin of the entire nation. Our sin of racism. Our sin of classism. Our sin of indifference to the unmet basic human needs of those who are most vulnerable.

We want a sacrificial lamb for the same reasons that people always want a sacrificial lamb. We want to give a simple answer to a hard question – in this case “why did Trayvon Martin and Anna Brown die?” We want a simple answer to a question whose answer is anything but simple. But we are tired and angry and fed up and no matter how true it is we don’t want to hear about the complex systems that let things like this happen. We want a single person or institution or cause to blame and dispatch so that we can feel clean and blameless ourselves and so we can imagine that finally, everything will be the way it should be.

And even though deep down, most of us know better. Even though deep down, most of us know that serving up George Zimmerman or the Richmond Heights Police or St. Mary’s Hospital isn’t going to make everything the way it should be, at our most basic gut level, we don’t care. We want it anyway. We want it to be simple and easy and over.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Jesus knew a lot about sacrificial lambs. After all, he was about to become one.  As we walk through his passion tomorrow, we will hear that the charges against him were senseless and inconsequential. Pilate himself would just as soon have released him. But the clergy and the crowd demanded his blood. Crucify him, they shouted. Crucify him … and it will all be OK.

But  tonight…. This is the night that Jesus offers his disciples, offers us, offers the world … another way.  

When we know we are going to be leaving someone we love, whether it be by death or just by leaving the house in the morning, something in us tells us we need to say the most important thing. We need to say the thing that we really most want the other person not just to hear but to deeply know. It’s why the most common words spoken both at front doors in the morning and from the cell phones of people on the planes on 9/11 are the same three words – I love you.

This night Jesus gives his last words to his friends, the most important thing that he really wants us not just to hear but to deeply know. 

Love one another. Love one another. As I have loved you, you should also love one another.

And he doesn’t just say it, he shows it. He breaks bread and says “This is my body, given for you. “He pours the cup and says “This is my blood, given for you.” He washes their feet and says “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. “

Even in the face of his own betrayal, torture and death, Jesus doesn’t call for revenge. Instead, he calls those closest to him, those who were most likely to be hurt the most by his death, not to search for their own scapegoat or sacrificial lamb, but to give themselves to each other and even to their persecutors and enemies. To give themselves up in love.

If we are looking for a simple, easy answer, love is not it. Love is rarely, if ever simple. Love is messy. Love is hard. Love means committing to struggling together through misunderstanding and pain. Love means allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with all the risk that entails. Love means never giving up on the image of God that is in any person, no matter how deeply it is hidden in disguise.

But love, the self-sacrificial, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you love of Christ. The love that leads us not to name and slay a sacrificial lamb but to be one with Christ in being the lamb of God. Love in all its complexity and difficulty can do something that anger and revenge and scapegoating can never even approach doing.

Love can heal. Love can transform.

Love can bring about the world the way God dreams for it to be.

The “other way” that Jesus shows us this night. The way of washing one another’s feet and laying our lives on that table with his.

It is the way that Gandhi walked in India when he led his people in expelling the British but made it possible for them to leave as friends.

It is the way that Dr. King walked in this country when he said “Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That’s why Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption.” And so he did.  And so we did. And the world changed.
It is the way that Nelson Mandela walked when he committed to treating those who were persecuting and imprisoning him not as enemies but as future friends, and in so doing was able to lead a largely bloodless revolution that few ever thought possible.

It is the way that Jesus offers us this night as he stands with Trayvon, as he stands with Anna … and as he stands with us.  It is the call not to ask “whom can we blame?” but instead to ask “how can we love?” And this night and every night it is the only question that matters.  Because as we sit here this night you can believe there is another Trayvon being killed and another Anna dying far from the camera’s watchful eye. And blame and revenge will not bring them back any more than blame and revenge will prevent it from happening again tomorrow.

But love can. Love will.

So we must let the stories of Trayvon and Anna capture us. We must let their faces haunt us. We must let the echoes of their cries break our hearts. We must let the injustice of their deaths enflame us, but we must not give in to hate. We must not give in to revenge. We must not give in to blame. 

For this night and every night, our Lord gives us another way. A harder way. An exponentially more complicated but an infinitely more productive and rewarding way.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

What might that look like in America?

What might that look like in St. Louis?

What might that look like in our life?

What might that look like this night … and tomorrow?