Towards the end of his life Jesus friend Lazarus died.
Jesus, as we know, raised Lazarus from the dead, his last and greatest miracle. But, that’s not the first thing he did when he arrived. The first thing he did was…nothing. Nothing at all. Scripture tells us he paused and wept.
Jesus wept.John 11:35
…the shortest verse in all of the Bible, tells us so much.
He paused in the pain of others.
That is, I think, what we must all do these days, at this time of crisis: pause in the pain of others. It is not enough to say that we’re sad. Sad is not sufficient. Sad is a passive response, the response of a disengaged onlooker or uninvolved bystander. What is called for and necessary is nothing less than to pause in the pain of others. Because that is where empathy is born and, occasionally, solutions are found.
And that is not easy from the chair I sit in. Sometimes I am a little jealous of pastors of churches filled with like-minded people.
You know the ones where everybody already agrees with everyone else. The pastor just gets in the pulpit on Sundays and tells the people what they already know and believe, what they want to hear. Everyone loves it and everyone else can go to hell.
It’s called preaching to the choir.
We don’t have a choir. And we’re not that kind of church.
We’re a great big church and while we do not have enough diversity for sure in some ways, politically we have more than our share.
And it is my job as pastor to first of all respect that. What we always seek to do in our preaching and teaching and all our communication is to focus on the message of the gospel and give parishioners the tools they can use to choose what to think about current events, how to vote and all the rest. Nativity is a safe space, perhaps the only place in our parishioners experience currently, entirely free of partisanship…a place to be enriched, inspired and equipped to form their own thoughts and make their own choices.
And that’s not only because we respect them too much to do otherwise, it is also because we believe that facts are not always easily found, or reliably found in the far extremes of many issues. The far extremes are often, not always, but often, echo chambers with lots of noise but not always a lot of facts.
Facts are more often found, I believe, in the middle. And here’s the thing: the middle is messy. Out in the extremes, things are easy to appreciate, simple to communicate, always crystal clear.
None of that is true in the messy middle. And that is where we are.
As a nation we are not going to talk our way out of the crisis, and neither are we going to law and legislate our way out of it. Ignoring it, meanwhile is a perilous path. And while pray is always needed and necessary, we’re not going to entirely pray our way out of it either.
The vaccine for the disease of racism is experience. Personal experience of one another is the way forward. Trust is built and fear is diminished through experience of one another.
And if our experience is the way forward here’s a question:
How do people who don’t look like you experience you?
How should people who don’t look like you experience you?
Perhaps that’s an open question for some people, but for Christ’s followers it’s not. The answer is clear, and it is a command. And I’m not talking about the 10 commandments or the commands of Canon Law because you can keep all those commands perfectly and still be a perfect racist. Plenty of people have, including people in Jesus’ time. That’s why on the night before he died he gave his friends and followers a new command.
Love one another as I have loved you. By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:34-35
This is the thing, the one thing, that distinguishes us as disciples, students, followers of Christ.
What does it mean?
Well, it is about being for one another. That’s what made the witness of the peaceful protests we have seen across the country the last two weeks so powerful. Not the violent ones which were wrong and hurt innocent people. But the peaceful protests such as we experienced here in Baltimore. They were saying to the black community we’re more than sad: What breaks your hearts breaks ours.
Portions of this post have been adapted from Pastor Andy Stanley.
To hear his complete remarks, go to northpoint.org