Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Daveon Gibson was excited to start driver’s ed this week. Instead, he was shot and killed while walking from school, along Thorndale Avenue between Lakewood and Magnolia avenues. Two other Senn students – another 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy – were hurt in the shooting. Balloons were released into the sky over Nicholas Senn High School on Friday night. Family, friends, and teachers gathered for a vigil to honor him, to call for justice, and to say his name -Daveon Gibson.
“I find in my heart to forgive the person that took my grandson away,” said Daveon’s grandmother, Sherry Wesley. “I’m broken. My family is broken. All I want is justice.” She told me, “I don’t want revenge.” I want the person who did this to come forward.
Some of you will remember the Reverend Doctor David Henry, who, after years in ministry working with urban youth in Logans Square, left his pulpit to pursue a career in psychology and taught at the Institute for Juvenile Research (IJR). He dedicated his life to understanding and reversing the effects of human violence. He taught us to see violence, like that which took the life of Daveon Gibson, through a public health lens. It’s not about good people or bad people, but rather, violence is contagious. It spreads person to person like a virus.
David’s work contributed to an out-of-the-box approach, based on research at IJR, to reduce gun violence through something they called Cease Fire. While organizing the vigil this week, I met some amazing and inspiring people who still do this work every day and night as violence interrupters through Communities Partnering for Peace (CP4P) in Rogers Park and Uptown. They put their wisdom to work and their bodies on the line working directly with youth contemplating violence which often arises from petty conflicts. When young people can only feel the need for revenge and see nothing but red, violence interrupters help calm their anger and grievances to yellow.
Daryl Dacres is one such hero working directly with Senn students. Another is Josh Hurly, a mentor with B.A.M. who works full time at Senn. These are the people on the front lines confronting the violence that stirs our fears and tears at the bonds of trust so essential for healthy neighborhood. Their winning formula isn’t vengeance or intimidation, but relationship, compassion, and understanding. What you and I might call love. Love can achieve what the threat of sanctioned legal violence and the legal system cannot. Love wins.
It can feel inevitable, and like we are helpless to stem the tide. Hurt people hurt people. Victims will take vengeance. On and on it goes until an eye for an eye has made us all blind. The message of baptism and Lent stand in contrast. Love and forgiveness break the wheel and interrupts the cycle of violence. Scripture reminds us there can be no peace without justice, no joy unless it can be shared by all; no light is found in the vengeful dreams of our hearts; no lasting prosperity can be wrung from the sweat of other person’s brow.
The gospel of Jesus put a decisive end to all scapegoating on the cross. When religion begins to be part of the sin-accounting game rather than a dispensary of grace and mercy it is a sign that Christianity has lost sight of the way of Christ.
The way that leads into the season of Lent takes us on a winding path over the edge of a dark chasm that goes deep into the human heart. The ancient Priestly writer of Genesis 6:11 says God’s reason for flooding the earth in Noah’s time was that “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” It was to wash away the violence of earth that God allowed the waters to burst from their confinement above the heavens and flood the dry land. “In anger and regret, God made the rains to fall, and the waters to rise, and the waves to beat. The water rose and obliterated every living thing. Only one family was preserved, one family and their small collection of creatures. Noah’s family was preserved on the ark” (William Willimon, Vol. 34, No 1, year B). In the Noah story, God did what we would expect any benevolent power to do –God used violence to root out violence.
But then the story of God took a remarkable and unexpected turn. The Priestly writers say God saw that answering destructiveness with destruction, attempting to deal with corruption simply by erasing its effects, could not get at the root cause of corruption, nor would it heal the human inclination toward violence. The flood could not cure the virus of hatred and sin in us. So, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a promise and a reminder of what God had discovered. God laid down his weapon. The rainbow means that God put down his bow and arrow. God has put an end to all hostilities between us, although we had no power to demand it, or any right to expect it.
This covenant God made with us is now our mission. With the covenant to never again destroy all life with a flood, God promised to deal with the problem of sin and evil by more creative means than simply wiping us out. ‘God chose to be a Redeemer, above and beyond being Creator and Destroyer.’ (Paul Nancarrow). You and I are a part of God’s plan.
In baptism God does not merely wipe our slate clean, as one removes “dirt from the body” (I Peter 3:19) but begins a new relationship with us with the power to get at the root cause of corruption. God’s rainbow, like Christ’s baptism, represents the unbreakable promise to always be with us even as we confront the power of evil that threatens our lives and the world. God’s gift is the power of forgiveness. This lent comes at a time when we most urgently need this wisdom. In this season of Lent, we remind ourselves and each other Jesus’ story is not simply his own—it must be ours as well. We are baptized into a death like his so that now we might share in the abundance of a life like his.
Through simple faith practices we hope and pray that this Lent ushers in God’s peaceable kingdom from the very center of our lives: our homes, families, and friends. You are vessels of God’s spirit. You are children of light. We are called and equipped to re-kindle the warmth of community and bless all our neighbors, including every child in every home, with the gift of streets to live in without fear. Jesus has shown us the way we do this is through love.