I want to share a brief story with you that I have actually written about before. So, if it sounds familiar, that’s why. A few years ago I was in Atlanta for continuing education. I had stayed way past my bedtime at a local watering hole catching up with friends. By the time I made it to the MARTA (the mass transit of Atlanta) it was late. I could immediately tell that the population that rode the MARTA at that time of night was quite different from those I had ridden with earlier in the day. It was clear these were blue-collar employees. They were dressed in chefs coats, hospital uniforms, hotel staff garb and the like. I also was keenly aware of something else: I was one of the only people at my MARTA stop that was not a person of color. It was as if my pasty white skin suddenly had the ability to glow. I looked around for anyone else that was white and had no luck. And maybe there were others, but with my tunnel vision, I saw nothing. I put my headphones on but didn’t turn on my music. I wanted the perception that I was listening to something and not bothered by the world around me. At the same time, I wanted to hear if something was going on around me (hence, no music). I moved the backpack I was carrying a little closer to me. I sat as far back against a wall as I could on the train. And then, I finally realized everything I had done to “protect” myself in the name of fear.
I had never really come face to face with my own racism until that point. I stupidly thought that having a heart for social justice and being a tad bit liberal that I wasn’t racist. I was wrong. To some extent, I still am racist. I am not blatantly racist, of course. But, I am blind to the ways that I am allowed to move about in this world because of my skin color. In fact, most of the time, if I am aware of ways that the world seems against me, it is because of my gender. I hardly ever think about the ways that I benefit from being white. Please understand, my beloved, this is not going to be a message where I expect you to apologize for something you had no control over: your skin color. But, what I may do is challenge the ways we all (and that includes me) benefit from that. If you’ve never thought about the ways that you benefit from skin color that alone is privilege.
Jesus says “how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” It’s a risk, as a Pastor, to make sweeping broad statements and take a stand on an issue. We run the risk of losing members, or even worse, losing a job. So we weigh things carefully. But, I didn’t have to think very long or very hard before deciding to make this profession: white supremacy is a sin and it is responsible for killing entirely too many of God’s people. It wasn’t just the tragedy that occurred in New Zealand that sparked my stance. This is something I have believed for some time. That phrase that Jesus utters to the people of Jerusalem is one of lament and sadness.
Can you hear it in his voice? “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus desires to protect us. It’s a beautiful sentiment. Jesus desires to offer us a safe place, shelter, and love. And yet, the people of Jerusalem resist. We resist. And it’s more than resistance, it’s the idea that we were not willing. Meaning, there was no room for negotiation. Why would the people of Jerusalem, or us, or anyone for that matter refuse to be sheltered, loved, and protected by Jesus? I fear it’s the same reason we want to skip right past Good Friday. It’s the same reason we don’t want to gather around the foot of the cross.
Under Jesus’ care, at the foot of the cross, in those dark moments of Good Friday, if we’re honest, we’ll come to discover one amazing, wonderful, and yet disturbing truth: we are all one and we are all equal. And again, if we’re being honest, there are times when we may observe the world around us and desire to be anything but equal. In some ways, that’s good, right? I mean, do we desire to be equal with those from history that have done the most damage? Do we desire to be equal to those even from our own personal history that have caused us the most damage and heartache? But, there are those, who like us, are just trying their best to get by. They’re just trying to work their daily job, provide for themselves or their families, and make time for a little worship and fun.
Upon first glance, we may desire to be equal to people like that. But, there is evil in society. It’s the same evil that caused me to be so paranoid that evening in Atlanta. It’s the evil that says “no matter what, if it doesn’t look like you, dress like you, worship like you, love like you, or operate in this world as you do then it is evil and should be destroyed.” And I understand that you may not think that way. Heck, I pray you don’t think that way. I pray the majority of the human race doesn’t think that way. But there are those in our society that are a cancer. They are evil. Luther insisted a thing be called what it is. Human beings who desire to destroy others simply for skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical abilities are evil and will not, cannot be tolerated. Hate is not a Christian value and most certainly should not be a human value.
We fight being gathered under the care of Jesus because then we are admitting that we are all equal, that we are all in need of love, and that we all are in need of care. But hate gets in the way. Jesus wouldn’t stand for it and neither will I. I hope you won’t either. I hope when you leave here and watch the news or observe the world your heart will be open and broken. Our hearts should be broken because the world God made is broken. Hate is not the desire of God. God does not desire for anyone to be stuck in the sin of supremacy. God does not desire for anyone to be stuck in sin period.
What makes God so astounding and so amazing is that, through Jesus Christ, we have a God that continuously seeks us out. We have a God that desires to pull us out of our sin to redeem us. And God will keep trying until we either give into that love or we come face to face with God to answer for our words and actions. But the cross is not a “get out of jail free” card. The cross demands more of us. The promises made in the waters of baptism demand more of us. The love of God demands more of us. The command (and demand) is that we cannot stay settled in our own personal peace if there is lack of peace anywhere in the world God created. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. When our neighbors are in pain, whether it is 5 miles or 5000 miles away, we should hurt too. The first step is confessing our own sins. And again. And again. And learning. When we know better, we do better. And making changes that benefit the kingdom of God. You are allowed to change your mind, you know. You no longer have to hold fast to the same beliefs you had 50 years ago or even 5 minutes ago.
Jesus desires for us all to be gathered under his loving, watchful, caring eye. This can only happen when we start to move and interact with the world as one. It starts at the foot of the cross and ends at the empty tomb. The days between is where we’re stuck. Don’t let the cross be in vain.