Trayvon Martin And The Least We Could Do

tracks of my tears

Editor’s Note: The following is Hugh’s July 14 sermon. The New Testament lectionary was Luke 10:25 – 37.

I have to be honest here: I am pretty upset today.

Last night, I was sitting at the kitchen table when I heard the news that George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Travon Martin, was found not guilty. Not. Guilty.

I slept for crap last night.

In the text, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”

Now, he really did not want to know. The text says he wanted to ‘justify himself’. In other words, he didn’t want to do what was right, but because he really wanted to do the least he could possibly do.

“What is the least I have to do, Jesus?”

Which, if we are honest, is often what we are asking as well.

I had planned a sermon for today that talked about compassion, that talked about helping our neighbors and that by so doing, we enter into the Kingdom of God.

It was a pretty good sermon, if you ask me. But then again, I might be biased.

But then Zimmerman was acquitted, and now it looks like all you have to do to kill a black child and get away with it is be white and say that you were scared.

And suddenly, my sermon seemed hollow. Empty. Sorta like the least I could do.

A thing I like to do when I read a Bible story is to see if I see myself in the story. It makes the story seem more real. Like it really applies to me.

And the temptation when we read this story is to see ourselves as the Samaritan. Because, after all, even if we are not the sort of person who would get down in a ditch and help someone, we want to think we are. Or at least, we wish we were.

I mean, we know we are not the priest and the Levite, who ignored the man in need. Not us…

But today, I feel like I am the lawyer. The one who asked Jesus, “What is the least I have to do?”

I am furious that the justice system failed Travon and his family. And I am furious that young black children are not safe. And I am so, so pissed at the rascist statements on my Facebook wall this morning from people who are gloating – gloating! that Zimmerman got off.

And the reason for all of that anger is, when I dig deep enough, because we, all of us, did the least we could.

You see – in the story Jesus told, the man who was a neighbor was the man who took action. The neighbor was the one who did something, not just had good intentions. The neighbor was the one who worked to right the wrong that had clearly happened. The neighbor was the one who got involved.

We look around us, and we see that the world as it is is not the world as it should be. And to fix that, we put our trust in the courts, in the politicians, in the laws.

But the Samaratin in the story did not sign a petition for new legislation. He did not form the Jericho Road Improvement Association. He did not get arrested at Moral Monday.

He crossed racial lines and got down in the ditch and got dirty. He saw a way to make the world better and he took action, despite the cost to himself.

But that is not what we do.

Because it is easier to pass a law that says you cannot mug a man than it is to get in the ditch with a man who was mugged.

The way of Jesus calls us to get down in the ditch, the way of Jesus calls us into action. The way of Jesus calls us not to outsource our desires for a better world to the government, but to get in the ditch and roll up our sleeves and do something.

When we love our neighbor, their problems become our problems. And then we get down in the ditch with them. And if we do that, Jesus tells us, we will live.

Related: Who Is My Neighbor? By Associate Pastor Sarah McCoy

Hugh Hollowell

About Hugh Hollowell

Hugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA and based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes. He likes peanut M&Ms.
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16 Responses to Trayvon Martin And The Least We Could Do

  1. Jeanne says:

    This is lovely. The people who want one more law passed because *that one* will finally stop bad behavior, and the ones who say that according to the way the law was written I don’t have to be accountable for egregious wrongs, both exhaust me. Sometimes I don’t know what else to do to make outcomes different, but this is a healing sermon. I am doing some of these things, and just need to continue. I don’t have to feel guilt for not fighting the way others are.

    Also, I want to come to your church because this is the shortest sermon I have ever heard (which I guess makes me the lawyer too, dangit).

  2. Hugh Hollowell Hugh Hollowell says:

    We would love to have you there. And our sermon is always less than 10 minutes, for two reasons:

    1. We leave time for other voices in the community to respond and share, since the Holy Spirit does not speak exclusively (or even primarily) through the person at the front of the room.

    2. The mind can only absorb what the butt can endure.

    3. No one ever said, “Gee, I wish he had talked longer.”

  3. Michael says:

    I appreciate your comparison to the Samaritan and our personal responsibility but I must address your position on the case. … Really? So you, not hearing what the jury heard, have already passed judgement? Not only on Zimmerman but also on the jury, tacitly accusing them of blatant racism. I am not judging either way. I don’t have a dog in this fight. If the man is truly guilty of murder then he should be punished, but if he is not… don’t you want JUSTICE?
    Try out this article someone posted on facebook. Yes, it’s on a conservative website but it has lots of documentation from the AP. Sounds like Zimmerman was fighting for JUSTICE of the very people you serve daily, and this one happened to be black.

    http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2012/05/24/George-Zimmerman-Black-Homeless-Man-Sanford-Police

  4. Carolyn Caffrey says:

    I appreciate this message very much. I’d also like to add the following. I don’t think the actions are an either/or. During the Civil Rights movement (has it ever really ended?) there were 4 boys, freshman college students who sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter to say, “No more.” There was Rosa Parks (not simply a tired maid, but a community organizer of the first caliber) who sat down at the front of the bus and said, “No more.” But Martin Luther King recognized that if you do not work for a society and a legal system that reflects the broader Kingdom that God envisions, that embodies justice and opportunity to develop one’s gifts, 5000 loaves and fishes are not going to be enough. Certainly, people are called to different primary ministries, but I firmly believe that the presence of the churches walking hand in hand in support of civil rights and ending the Vietnam War made a HUGE difference. For then, it was not just “radicals” who could be written off as extremist troublemakers; it was the mainstream of middle class America who were harder to “demonize”.

    I’ve heard people say, “Well, Jesus didn’t organize protests against Rome.” Jesus knew exactly what the Empire of Rome was about. When he was born, Herod sent out troops to slaughter all male children who “might” be him. But Rome was smart too. As long as taxes were paid and there was no insurrection against the Emperor, the Jewish church leaders were allowed to be the “rulers” of their flock in day to day life. And Jesus challenged the FIRE out of them, chastising them for following the letter rather than the spirit of the law, calling them out. And Jesus did put himself on the front “protest” lines as well, for instance stopping the legal stoning of an adulteress. Those were church laws, but ones that governed the lives of the Jewish community. The church authorities played no small role in Christ’s crucifixion. Both my parents were ministers. I remember my father preaching a sermon entitled “Who Killed Jesus.” (This was back in the 60′s when there was still this major issue going on about blaming the Jews for killing Jesus.) He carefully went through all the roles of all the various entities of the last days. His conclusion: the “Powerful” killed Christ.

    Sorry for a post that’s longer than your sermon! : ) But these are issues near and dear to my heart and I was drawn to the story of your current struggle. So fight on brothers and sisters…wherever and however that may lead–to both feed the hungry and fight the unjust laws that keep them that way. Blessings on ya!

  5. David says:

    Bro. Hugh,

    I agree with Michael’s post. Mr. Zimmerman was tried in a court of law with a jury of his peers to make the judgement. This is our American system of justice. Is it perfect, no, of course not. But it is the system. We have to respect it.

    I’m interested to hear your take on the two young black teenagers brutally murdered an Australian young man who attended college in Duncan OK?

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2400005/Chris-Lane-shooting-accused-teens-James-Edwards-Chancey-Luna-danced-laughed-arrested.html#ixzz2cm6eza1u

  6. Andrew says:

    One of the great obstacles on the spiritual path is the “Angelic Ego”, the ego’s desire to be seen as saintly. That you would abandon all God-given logic and reason to not see that Zimmerman was not guilty shows that your judgement may be clouded by some self-agrandizement. Every underdog is not a David. Trayvon was a criminal, probably casing out the houses and most definitely pounding Zimmermans head in to the ground hard enough to warrant self-defense.

  7. Magdalena White says:

    Zimmerman was not white. He was Hispanic. The evidence was presented in this case, by a seasoned attorney, and a jury of American citizens applied the law, as it is written, to those facts. The statement that you can kill a black child and get away with it if you’re white and say you were scared is ridiculous and willfully ignorant. Unless you have watched that entire trial, and it is available to view, you have no business saying such a thing. Zimmerman was undoubtedly guilty of something but the D.A.’s office failed to prosecute him for whatever that was and put that evidence in front of the jury.

  8. AWB says:

    Mr. Hollowell,

    Please get your facts straight. George Zimmerman is not white.

    I didn’t read rest of your “sermon” because this wasn’t about race, and your statement is just about as racist as it gets.

    And you call yourself a minister? I suggest you find another line of work!

  9. Michael Delaney says:

    I just emailed the Council person at large about being run off from Moore square, so I support what you do! But this piece distresses me! Trayvon Martin was a thug trying to kill another human being, Race only was an issue only because the media made it so. The above is political and has not place in a ministry such as yours! I’m saddened that Trayvon died, but he died of the violence he himself had chosen!! As long as we make excuses and “martyr” thugs the violence WILL continue!!!

  10. Valeria Truitt says:

    I followed the link and read the article referenced. It’s biased and uses the account of Zimmerman’s statements at a public hearing to support a point about a particular view of racism, racial identification, and interpretation of statements emanating from the White House. All of the sources except one are other articles on that same web page. The one exception, a link to an Associated Press page, leads to a 404 page. Okay, the originally referenced page is 15 months old; the AP may have archived the story. So I searched on the key names at the AP site, which returned the “no results found” message.

    The one pertinent fact that lept out is that Zimmerman testified at a public hearing against the Sanford, Florida, chief of police, and stated that Chief Tooley was culpable for delaying investigation into the action of the son of a police officer. Chief Tooley had already resigned when Zimmerman testified.

    The irony of Zimmerman complaining about the police department (under Tooley) dragging its feet on the investigation of Justin Collison beating a homeless man did not escape me. And I think that Michael, above, missed the point of Hugh Hollowell’s sermon. What I got out of it is that most of us have seen the injustice of Stand Your Ground laws and how they are applied, and we have done nothing to get them overturned. Most of us have seen police action that is slow to move when the perpetrator of an action is lighter skinned and the victim is darker skinned and we have done nothing to speed up the movement. Most of us have seen and heard comments like the ones that were posted on Hollowell’s Facebook page and ignored them. In other words, we crossed to the other side to avoid getting down and dirty about injustice.

    I’m sure you are aware that the reason the story of the Good Samaritan stands out is because his participation is totally unexpected. The three people walking into that bar should have been the priest, the Levite, and the conscientious Jew–and changing the character lineup changes the tenor of the story. The person who came forward had no obligation, no connection, and was considered untouchable by the usual lineup of priest, Levite, and law-abiding Jew. The story isn’t so much about what he did but about HOW THE PERSON HEARING THE STORY REACTED when hearing that the person considered the lowest of the low came through with the others did not.

  11. Associate Pastor Sarah McCoy:

    I know this is a month and a half since you posted your thoughts and sermon on this blog. I too was disturbed about the outcome of the Travon Martin murder trial. While I was not in the court room to hear what evidence the Jury heard and looked at in order to make their decision in this case, I was a spectator, a white Pastor almost a thousand miles away. Like you it disturbed me to think with all the news media and cameras that George Zimmerman was portrayed as a white man when in reality he was and still is a Latino, he moved here from Latin America. But who got the blame, the white man.

    With the governments assistance and the media, the issue became a white against black issue, not a Latino against black issue. As a pastor myself I was kind of set back a little when I read, “But then Zimmerman was acquitted, and now it looks like all you have to do to kill a black child and get away with it is be ‘WHITE’ and say that you were scared.” Other than that statement, I agree with the rest of your sermon. I understand the hatred tactics that the media and the government exploited in this case to try to start an all out racial war, blacks against whites, but it goes deeper than that, this potentially deadly racial war perpetrated by the devil even threatened to cross the boundaries of the church.

    As part of Touching Heaven Ministries we have members from all over the world, in every ethnicity you could possibly imagine. The one question that other Christians had from around the world had after seeing Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, standing with the Black Panthers putting a bounty on the head of George Zimmerman was where is the forgiveness that Jesus spoke of. The media played on the emotions of this causing those that are supposed to be representing the Christian Church, the body of Christ, as being full of hate. When a travesty like this happens, the world looks to Christians for understanding and forgiveness and when it is not shown, it makes all of us, Christians of every race look like savages.

    In reading your sermon and feeling the anger coming out in your words I read every sentence. Getting down with the other person in their ditch, rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty is not something very many people will do in this society we live in. Everyone seems to look at his or her neighbor expecting someone else to do what they would like to do but are afraid to be looked upon as someone who cares. It seems as if others are trying to say that it is easier to point fingers than to address the real issues that would really make a difference.

    After spending time with the Lord this morning and pondering on that statement you happened to write, the Holy Ghost stirred in me to read Matthew chapter 18. In obedience unto the Holy Ghost, the scripture that GOD wants everyone to meditate on is: Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

    It seems so much easier to point our index finger at someone else an put the blame on a whole group of people for atrocities of one person. I just do not understand how the white people got blamed for this when George Zimmerman is not and never will be white. Taking into consideration, that it is easier to blame the innocent than it is to convict the guilty, being part of this society but not of it, as a Christian it is our responsibility (Black, White, Red, or Yellow) to do as Jesus instructed Peter in Matthew chapter 18.

    For those that will read this and try to pass judgement because I am white. You should know that I am part of a bi-racial family, I have a one year old grandson that is bi-racial in which my wife and I love as much as his mother (our daughter) and his daddy.

    Your Brother in Christ and His Always,

    Bishop J.D. Sparks
    Touching Heaven Ministries
    Muncie, Indiana
    http://www.touchingheavenministries.com
    Twitter: @BishopJDSparks
    Facebook: Touching Heaven Ministries – Indiana

  12. Cindy says:

    I love your call to action but the parable is more complicated & more relevant than you indicate. Samaritans and Jews were geographically neighbors but Jews scorned Samaritans and saw them as an enemy — as some Jews view the Palestinians today. And vice versa. So this isn’t about taking a step beyond being nice to your neighbors, important as that is. It’s about caring for those we don’t love. It’s about justice beyond our own people and interests. And it’s told with us as the victim, not the benefactor. We are not choosing if or how we would help. We are asked to consider the position of the man in the ditch, helpless and passed by.

  13. Alfreda Dawson says:

    Thank you for your post. You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but for what it’s worth, I am so very proud of you. I became aware of the love wins website due to the news story on Yahoo about the officer preventing your organization from feeding the homeless people. I was disgusted with the whole story because I am aware of something called, “police discretion.” The “very least” he could have done was allow it for that day (I mean, come ON. At least the people could have had something to eat and drink that morning) but politely explain the exact ordinance that was being broken in reference to the 800 dollar per day permit that would be required for next time. I still think that’s a ridiculous ordinance but “at least” the people could have had something to eat. I am a young mother from Arkansas and I love the work you all are doing. I don’t know what I can do to help except donate money so I am going to make it my mission to let EVERYBODY I know about this so we call ALL donate. That’s the least I could do and the most I can do is pray for your continued success with helping people. Prayer changes everything. Have a great and blessed day and know that you are not alone. I will be in touch.

  14. kimi ynigues says:

    Thank you for your friendly words and friendly deeds. The story of how you were turned away from feeding the “least of (Jesus’) brethren, led me here.
    Thank you for this sermon. Jesus said that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, and love our enemies. A teenager was walking home from the store with candy, candy, in his pocket and a large man with a gun stalked him, first from his car and then on foot and then murdered him. I keep wondering, what if my daughter or son were the one being stalked by a big, scary man? They would be terrified. You are right, we cannot passively let our children be slaughtered in the streets. As Christians we are called to action. But, tell me please, what action? How do I respond to such blinding hatred and prejudice? Even Jesus, the only perfect one among us, was slaughtered.

  15. Brent says:

    Hugh,

    I was compelled by a presentation you gave at the first TEDx in RTP some years ago. You made a very simple point about people not needing to be hungry or homeless if they knew the people that had food and shelter they could share – or at least that was my take-away, summed up as “Get to know your neighbor.” I think about that every day.

    Imagine the difference in the outcome if Trayvon and George had gotten to know each other as neighbors before that night. I imagine they would have waved, wished each other a good night, and maybe George would have given Trayvon a ride home to keep him safe.

    Not knowing each other as neighbors seems like the biggest tragedy, and the simplest solution to so many of these issues. But like you point out, many times it isn’t convenient, clean, or easy to do – it usually requires some amount of sacrifice.

    Thank you for all you do.

  16. Paul H. Davis, Ph.D PC says:

    Do you agree with 2 Timothy 3:16.17? if so do you agree with Romans 13? If so do you understand the principles in Romans 13?

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