Here’s an excerpt from my sermon the week after the Baltimore riots… I don’t have a solution but if Christians as bridge-builders keep trying to make peace, someone will be smart enough to figure it out!
I woke up this morning with lines clearly drawn down my Facebook page. Comments about racial injustice and police violence on one side, and adamant support of the men and women in blue on the other. Like everything in our world these days, two sides, clearly drawn, with tension and awkwardness, hatred and violence in the giant rift in between.
Now, I don’t have all the answers for this tension—I wish I did—but that’s not where this sermon is going. But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the two sides I see, listening and trying to make sense of what is going on. I know some men and some women who are cops—in New York, in Virginia, and even here in Baltimore. And every police officer I know—they are good people. Good-hearted people who take seriously the service they give to the cities where they work.
And on the other side, for every police officer I know, I know a black man who has been harassed unnecessarily by the police. Not thugs or drug dealers, but nerdy clergy types of various ages who honestly and painfully recount stories of being harassed.
So what do I make of those observations? Again, I’ll say I don’t have all the answers. But it does occur to me that side-taking gets us nowhere.
It does occur to me that our God might just be calling us to do something other than take sides. You see, God is a God of love. God is a God of understanding. God is a God of connection and peace. And the God I know—that God wants love and peace and connection and understanding not only for cops, but also for the people they serve and protect.
And if you are wondering what God might want us to do as Christians in these kind of situations, you aren’t the only one. How do we act and respond as Christians in these crazy times that ask everybody to take a side? Are you “all lives matter” or “black lives matter”? Do you support marriage equality or religious freedom? Gun control or freedom to bear arms? Now as I’m sure you are aware, I could name a hundred other hot button issues in our world today, and there are people on either side of the debate loudly proclaiming the name Christian.
So what are we to do? Well, I have come to the conclusion that we as a society will not find solutions if we keep taking sides. And I have come to the conclusion that the church will continue to die if we continue to take sides. If we continue to draw lines in the sand and create “us and them” dynamics in every situation.
Now, all that being said, I believe that taking a stand is different than taking a side. Yes, as Christians, we are called to take a stand for our God. For love. For grace, for forgiveness, and for connection. For peace.
For peace. There you have it, folks. Peace. Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the children of God. Not blessed are the side-takers and the wall-builders. But blessed are the peacemakers, the bridge-builders. Those who practice love and grace and welcome and forgiveness.
What would it look like if all of us who claimed to be Christians put the energy we use to take sides into facilitating reconciliation and forgiveness? What would our world look like if we’d been doing THAT ever since the first Easter Sunday?
Then I hear Jesus’ words about being the shepherd. I remember that Jesus told stories about how much God loves us—that God will come looking for us when we are lost like a foolish shepherd who goes after one lost sheep, leaving the rest unattended. That’s actually not very wise shepherding, but I like it, and I need it!
And then we hear the words of Jesus today—about love and care and even about freedom: I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and they know me. I came so they may have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. And I will lay down my life for them, and I will lay down my life for other sheep, another flock that they don’t even know.
Jesus isn’t taking sides—here he is in this scripture telling us that a Good Shepherd stands in the gap and takes care of more than one flock of sheep. And he tells us that one day, there will be one flock. All of us sheep will be together.
Christianity is not a Pollyanna faith that says the hard stuff goes away and it all gets better. It’s not a faith that allows us to set our brains aside. It’s not a faith that says life will always be comfortable or easy. But the faith I know in Jesus Christ is a defiant faith that says that when crazy senseless death and irrational violence get hold of us, our God will seek us out with equally crazy death-defying love.
I have to say in the midst of all this side-taking, I see far too little love. Far too little forgiveness. Far too little peace-making. And until these things can happen, we will stay broken. Our world will stay broken. Our country will stay broken. Our city will remain broken. Heck, these separations come into churches and families—and they will remain broken if nothing changes. If we don’t trust the love of our Good Shepherd. If we don’t use our God-given gifts to create something healing, to build bridges, not walls.
This is the message I’d love to get out to world—that I’d love for the city of Baltimore to hear right now—that I’d love for all of you to go out and share right now: as we all go out, and in the name of our God the Good Shepherd, share his crazy death-defying love. Amen.