I have to admit I’m glad I’m not a minister this Sunday. I would hate to have to preach today. It’s Easter morning, but I find my mind caught up in Good Friday thoughts. I guess I’m not ready to declare hope and peace for the world yet. While I haven’t given up on hope, I don’t believe for a moment that we as a human race have in anyway recognized the extent to which we are mired in destruction and injustice. We’re caught up in outrage about many things, but are they about the real injustices? I wonder. I worry that we’re in greater danger of falling for a false hope than we are prepared for the truth about the hope that the resurrection is meant to bring us.
This week I’ve watched and listened as Christians claimed victory over their “persecution” as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act bill was passed in Indiana, with changes in the wording from the federal bill that was passed years ago, that effectively opened the door for businesses to discriminate against certain people on the basis of religious conviction. One couple proudly proclaimed their pleasure with the bill, as it would enable them to refuse to cater a same-sex wedding, even while not refusing service to gays and lesbians in their pizza shop. The left has poked fun, while the right has used the couple as a tool in their propaganda machine (see this article who started the GoFundMe campaign for the couple). Like many I’ve been outraged and at times even amused by the whole story. But now I’m just sad about the whole thing. I don’t think the couple is evil. I don’t believe they’re stupid. I’m not even entirely sure I think their refusal to cater the same-sex wedding is an egregious offense. Do I believe that we need bills and laws to protect the civil rights of marginalized minority groups? Yes, I certainly do, as much as I ever have. But I believe with all my heart there is a much wider, larger context in which that concern has to be addressed.
I wonder if this situation is much like the night before Jesus was crucified. The authorities’ displeasure with Jesus’ message and leadership was no secret. As he gathered in the upper room with his disciples and later in the garden when he struggled in prayer, he sought to prepare them for what was about to happen. They, however, were still caught up in political ideas about what Jesus was going to do for them. They wanted him to save Israel. He was calling them to love and care for the whole world around them.
There’s no greater demonstration of this conflict than in Jesus’ prediction that Peter would deny him. It didn’t require magical thinking or a crystal ball to see what was about to happen. Jesus knew he wouldn’t fight back against the authorities. Peter was ready to fight. When Jesus refused to be the savior, the leader that Peter believed he was, Peter was done with him. Such was the disillusionment he felt about Jesus’ message. All that Peter believed they were working toward was lost in Jesus’ refusal to fight back. I believe Peter bought into a false hope…one that depended on nationalism and political maneuvering. I believe he was so convinced that was the answer that everything he heard Jesus say throughout his ministry was twisted somehow to support that conviction. Sure, he had moments of seeing things more clearly, but in the end his deeply held convictions about the unique nature of the nation of Israel and its importance to God’s plan for humanity blinded him to Jesus’ relatively consistent message of equality, turning the other cheek, giving food and water to those in need, to his championing of the marginalized.
These days I see Christians, liberal and conservative, evangelical and progressive, equally blinded by their own ideas of Jesus’ message. They stand ready to defend Jesus, when Jesus simply accepts his fate, mind and awareness fixed on the bigger picture of injustice in the wider world around him rather than on the paltry battles of majority religious people in a land of excess, battles about who’s right and who’s wrong, whose rights are being abused most, about who gets to decide what Christianity is supposed to look like. Yes, Christians we are no different than Peter, sword in hand, swinging it wildly, defending against what we believe to be the real evil, all the while missing the very real possibility that it’s not about us at all, and is in fact, more about surrendering our power and privilege, so that the world’s suffering may be eased.
It troubles me how much attention has been given to the situation in Indiana this week, while the story of 147 Christian college students who lost their lives in an attack at Garissa University College in Kenya was barely mentioned. One-hundred forty-seven black African Christian bodies killed and so little outrage that such could happen. Yet, the ever growing GoFundMe campaign of the Indiana pizza shop owners is still trending on the news. Liberals and conservatives battling it out over whether or not Christians have the right to refuse to serve pizza at the wedding of two people whose relationship they believe goes against God. In the few mentions I’ve seen of the massacre in Kenya, so little was known about the situation that those commenting on it mistakenly reported it happened at University of Kenya, when it actually happened at Garissa University College. Our vision is so narrow and skewed. This is just this week’s example of it.
I believe we’re still in the darkness of Good Friday, not really ready to understand the source of hope for the world. We haven’t even gotten to the point of screaming with Peter, “I NEVER KNEW HIM!” We haven’t reached the point of disillusionment yet. I think the disillusionment that screams “You aren’t what I want you to be!” at the top of our lungs to the idols of God that we have erected in our churches and institutions of faith is a critical step to accepting true hope. We have to let go of our own notions of the solutions to injustice so that we can embrace the self-emptying kind about which Jesus preached during his time on earth, the kind that Jesus lived during his life on earth.
My hope for us rests in the fact that somehow between Good Friday and Easter, Peter got it. He let go and began to see what Jesus was saying all along. I wish I had the same kind of trust in today’s Christians that Jesus had in Peter. I do want to believe we’ll get it, but I wonder what it’s going to take to get our attention. How long, O Lord? How long?