Okay. It seems that the story of Trayvon Martin’s death and the trial of George Zimmerman is the story to focus on this week. For some pastors it was important enough to adapt their sermons for this week once the verdict was known. I didn’t, but I’ll get back to that later. For now I can tell you this – I don’t have many answers in regard to this case.
Here’s what I do know – the litany of events is a tragedy of a story. A young man is dead. Another man is vilified or vindicated, depending on your viewpoint. The country faces another fault line of division, as if there were not enough. There is no answer which brings Trayvon Martin back to life. There is no answer that changes the verdict for George Zimmerman (though the federal government may try to bring about one from another angle). The only possibility for hope to grow up out of this muck and mess is that it changes the way we deal with one another. And the only hope for that is to truly follow Jesus Christ and allow the Spirit of God to move in us.
Here’s what I mean by that. This was a tweet I saw after the verdict:
That is a nice sentiment. That would be a beautiful thing. Of course, such things require something of us. What I don’t know at this point is the reality of who Trayvon Martin was and how he lived his life. Some paint him as thuggish and dangerous. Others say he was nothing like that. I don’t know. For the sake of this argument, let’s first say violence was a possibility in the confrontation. That being the case, giving him a ride puts a person at risk. That requires us to willingly step into a possibly precarious situation. It means fear would not be our first response. Then, if we say violence was not part of his demeanor or personality, then giving him a ride home or anywhere else was nothing to fear, but it still requires us to go out of our way to help. The problem in these situations is there is no way to know. And when there is no way to know we often find ourselves making assumptions. In this case, the unfortunate and sad reality just may be that because Trayvon was black the assumption was he was dangerous. My sense of this is that had he been a white young man in a hoodie that may not have been the conclusion to which George Zimmerman so quickly jumped.
So, what’s my point in all of this? Well, it goes back to why I did not change my sermon on Sunday to include this case. The point is, following Jesus is going to call us to see persons first as ones created in God’s image. It means we may end up putting ourselves at risk. That’s what Jesus did. He loved with such great abandon that it eventually cost him his life. The Bible is clear – the servant is not greater than the master. The student is called to live the same life as the teacher. My work in preaching is to help bring the truth of God to the people of God that they might live most fully as said people. The particulars of this case are not the issue; the way we seek to live our life every day as followers of Jesus is.
To be a follower of Jesus is to hold on loosely to what we have. It means we need not fear ANY young man in a hoodie walking through our neighborhood. It means the value of our stuff and our property is less than the value of any life. It means being willing to let go of all you have – even your very life – to show love to another person. Does this set us up to be hurt? Yes. Does it put us at greater risk? Yes. Could we find our life ended because of such love? Yes and no. Yes, this life in this world could end. No, your life in Christ is eternal.
This is not a word about what George Zimmerman should have done. It is not about what the verdict should have been. It is not about what the Federal Government should do to bring forth the justice so many are calling for. I don’t have the answers for that because I don’t know enough about all that was involved. I am thankful not to be sitting on that jury or any future jury for this case.
This post is about us. This post is about how we live our lives and how we view the lives of others. This post is about the call to follow Jesus and to be willing to lay down our lives so that grace would have the opportunity to gain a foothold in the world. For that, my friends, is the answer. A love offered with great abandon. A viewpoint that seeks to see first the presence of God. A willingness to be kind and generous and patient and peaceful first and foremost. That will change the world. We know it works because we read the stories in a good book. We know it works because for many of us it is our story.
So, as we mourn the death of a young man and the tragic results that continue to play out, the search for answers goes far beyond this one story. The search for answers begins deep within our hearts. May we live lives full of grace and love in such a way that others discover the peace and joy of Jesus Christ and maybe, just maybe, the next young man will find life and find it abundantly.
Holy high-five to you,