Pastor Amy's Blog Homepage
March 25, 2012
John 12: 20-33
Both of my kids like to wear hoodies. I’ve never really understood the hoodie thing—I’m more of a hat and scarf person myself. But they wear them like they are a uniform. In fact, because the winter was so mild, most days in the last few months, they’ve been able to wear hoodies without even a coat.
I’ve been glad for the beautiful and warm weather this week, but mostly glad to get rid of those hoodies. Not because I don’t like them, but because they have begun to represent the story of Trayvon Martin.
This 17 year old black child was walking to the home he was visiting on February 26th, after going to the store for a bag of skittles and a soda. On his way back, he was followed by a man. Trayvon was on the phone at the time, and told his friend that he was scared. She told him to run. He didn’t.
Trayvon was killed by George Zimmerman—a member of the neighborhood watch. George called 911 to report a person who looked suspicious—a kid in a hoodie. The authorities said they would take care of it, and told George not to follow this suspicious, hoodie wearing character. But George did not listen. George followed Trayvon, and confronted him.
Trayvon was shot and killed for looking suspicious.
I was talking to a friend this week who was lamenting that this case had become such a big deal. “There are plenty of kids who get shot on the streets of Philadelphia, because they are standing on drug corners,” he said. “When do we grieve them?” And while this is true, the harsh reality is that we see those kids on the corners as bad. They had weapons. They were selling drugs. They were mixed up with the wrong crowd. And we don’t say it like this but that kind of thinking leads us to: they deserved it.
What is so hard about this case of Trayvon Martin is that there is nothing to even indicate that he deserved it. He wasn’t doing drugs, selling drugs, he didn’t have a weapon (unless you consider a bag of skittles a weapon). He was a good kid, who looked suspicious to a renegade neighborhood watchman with a gun.
Our gospel text today comes from John. Jesus is talking to his disciples, Philip and Andrew, but just like last week’s text where Jesus talks to Nicodemus, it certainly feels like Jesus it talking more to all of us than to just Philip and Andrew.
There are some gospel accounts where Jesus seems a little clueless about what he is going to happen to him—that he will die at the hands of the powerful, the weapon-clad. Or in another gospel account, he seems like he is understanding it slowly over the course of his ministry. But here, in the gospel of John, Jesus seems pretty clear of his fate all along. He is living out his call to discipleship, and he knows it will kill him.
And here in the gospel of John, Jesus is also pretty clear that he will not be asking to be saved from his fate. Jesus says in this passage of John, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—Abba, save me from this hour? No. It is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Abba, glorify your name.”
Unlike other gospels where Jesus asks God to spare him from death and suffering, Jesus in the gospel of John is clear. Jesus was born human, and will die, human. Jesus does not expect that God will save him from his humanity.
Jesus’ death is because the word became flesh and dwelt among us. Just like all flesh, there is a time for it to die. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
It feels to me like Jesus has an awful lot of faith in humanity. More than I can muster most days. Jesus believes here—without hesitation or pause—that his death will cultivate the earth and bear fruit, his death will matter, that his death will bear fruit that will feed and sustain others.
After the story of Trayvon Martin hit the news these last few weeks, my friend, Chaz Howard, the African American chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, shared his experience of growing up black and under suspicion. He writes this in a recent Huffington Post article:
As a high school student driving with my friends in the predominantly white neighborhood our school was in, we were pulled over because we "looked suspicious." Walking around the university in which I was enrolled, I was stopped by the police there because I "looked suspicious." Perhaps most painfully, while I was enrolled in seminary studying for the ministry, I was walking back to campus one evening when a local policeman stopped me, made me put my hands on my head and kneel on the ground because "there had been a lot of car thefts lately and I "looked suspicious."
I am Trayvon Martin. And anyone who has been stopped, profiled and questioned because they didn't seem to belong in an area or they looked like they might be planning to do something illegal -- when they were not -- is Trayvon Martin too.
I feel such anger about the death of Trayvon. I’m angry that my friend, Chaz—one of the most compassionate and kind people I know, experienced the same fear that Trayvon did.
This is why people have worn their hoodies this week. It’s a tricky protest for many of us—we are mostly white and educated folk. Wearing hoodies doesn’t quite help us understand the fear that Trayvon experienced the day of his shooting. Wearing a hoodie doesn’t mean we relate to the fear of coming under suspicion, that Chaz and so many other man of color have experienced. But, it is an act of solidarity, heading towards empathy.
The experience of Trayvon and others is something that Jesus understood. He knew what it was like to be under suspicion, he knew that his life would end in tragedy. He knew that he be killed, and that his death would be supported by law.
And because Jesus understood the tragedy of being human—that our humanity results in death—from that place we too stand in solidarity with Jesus, with Trayvon, with Chaz, and with all other people of color that face suspicion and death. Just for being themselves. Just for being the people God made them to be.
This season of lent, this cross represents the suffering of Christ, the inevitability of his death. But it also represents the suffering and death of so many other people throughout history. This cross of suffering represents Trayvon Martin. It represents an intersection for us as well. When met with the intersection of tragedy and death, we can be changed by it. That seed, planted in the ground can bear fruit. Jesus fully expected that the tragedy of his death would make a change in our hearts and actions. In fact, he staked his life on that belief.
We meet the intersection of tragedy and death again in 2012—with Trayvon Martin’s fear filled death, with the death of hundreds of people on the streets of Philadelphia, victims of handgun violence in our city of Brotherly love. The victims of these tragedies could not be saved. Many didn’t even have time to ask to be spared.
Jesus bet his life on the cross, that it would break us open, and cause us to see anew. But we can’t let that breaking open stop at the cross of Jesus. The cross of the holocaust must break our hearts. The suffering and death of so many young black men, lynched in this country, must break us open. The death of every victim at the hands of the state should make us ache. And the death of Trayvon Martin, an innocent, young, hopeful black teenager should devastate us.
As followers in the way of Jesus, we follow because we see the world differently. Jesus and the cross did that for us. The words and actions of Jesus—everything from his healings, to his conversations with outsiders, to his death and resurrection—have begun to change our focus, our understanding of the world.
A new understanding of the world means nothing if we do not do something with what we see. Discipleship means acting on this new world view, given to us by Jesus through his death at the hands of the empire, and through his resurrection, born in hope and impossibility.
As we move closer to Good Friday and closer to the cross, let us remember those who, like Jesus, were under suspicion. Let us be broken open by their stories, by their victimization and death. And from the brokenness, may new life spring forth and bear fruit. AMEN.
What can I do?