I think in many ways it is a cruel irony that as we begin our Lenten series on heroes that our first pop culture example is the Dark Knight, Batman.
As a young boy, Bruce Wayne was a victim of gun violence.
In a dark alley, his parents were gunned down by a thief in front of his very eyes.
That traumatic moment forever changed the course of his life – setting him on a path to fight crime, battle evil, and protect his city.
Over the past few days, I have watched other young people, teenagers who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, take up their own calling to demand change in a society in which too many lives are taken as a result of gun violence.
I read a story this morning about moms in Keosauqua here in southeast Iowa who rallied together on Thursday to raise the money to install a safety device called a sleeve in every classroom in their small school.
As one mom said, “we’re tired of it. It’s like, OK, nobody’s going to do anything about this: Our government, our state government, our national government. We’re the moms, and these are our kids. What can we do?” (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/local/columnists/kyle-munson/2018/02/16/sick-school-shootings-these-iowa-moms-took-action-single-day-make-their-kids-classrooms-safe/344133002/?hootPostID=746aea71a5583aa9b0209e37f4bdbabb)
What can we do?
When evil seems to lurk around every corner…
When the places we thought were safe become sites of terror…
When a sense of hopelessness in the ability to truly witness change starts to seep in…
Sometimes our “what can we do?” is a cry of resignation.
Where are the good guys? Where are the heroes who are going to rise up and make everything better?
And sometimes, it is a reminder that we, too, have been called to act. Our discipleship is lived out in how we answer that question.
Each of the weeks of this Lenten series, we are going to be exploring together ways we often see the world through opposing lenses: good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, insiders vs. outsiders. We divide up this world and place ourselves firmly in one camp or another.
And yet, as we think together about how Jesus comes to redeem and restore this world… how Jesus acts to save us from sin and bring us eternal live, we discover that often Jesus turns our ways of viewing the world upside down.
In fact, when a leader of the community tried to call Jesus “good” in an effort to flatter him, Jesus practically rejected the label. “Why do you call me good?” he asks in Luke chapter 18. “No one is good but God alone.”
In doing so, Jesus reminds that all that is good comes from God.
When our Creator spent six days building and forming and shaping all that we know and see, God looked out and called it good.
That isn’t because of something innate within us.
It is because we are from God.
And so, what is this evil that we promise to resist in our baptismal vows?
What is this force that opposes life and leads so many on paths of destruction?
Matt Rawle defines evil in his book, “What Makes a Hero?” as nothingness. “Evil represents a void…. Evil is a shadow that cannot stand on its own. A shadow by itself is nothing but the absence of light… made manifest when someone or something stands between us and the light of God shining through Christ.” (p. 26)
Evil is the result when we let anyone or anything stand between us and the love and power of God made manifest in this world.
Sometimes what blocks the goodness of God is our own selfishness and sin.
Sometimes it is anger and resentment.
Sometimes it is idolatry – when we take something that is on its own good or neutral in value – but elevate it to a status that blocks our ability to reason or follow God.
I think in many ways, our nation’s obsession with guns has reached the point of idolatry. Guns themselves are not good or bad, they just are… however, our unwillingness to even allow for research to be done as to the causes of such endemic gun violence means that we cannot take the actions we need to in order to curb the tide of this deadly force.
I think about how through training and technology, Bruce Wayne would put on his bat costume and watch over Gotham, but traditionally, Batman never took up a gun himself. Even as he fought night after night against the dark forces, he sought to never use deadly force in bringing justice to his city. He kept himself focused on his purpose and what he was fighting against.
As people of faith, our call is not simply call something good or evil, but to keep our eyes focused on our purpose and the source of what is truly good, God alone.
It is what Christ did as he lived out his ministry among us.
And in many ways, the blueprint for how we should live and follow his example is found in that familiar verse from the prophet Micah.
“He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.”
Goodness is therefore the result of a life of justice, mercy, and humility.
First, we are called to do justice.
As Jesus reaches out to teach a lawyer about how to receive eternal life, he tells the parable of the good Samaritan.
The lawyer must learn to recognize even the Samaritan as his brother.
He must do justice by acknowledging that God has created each and every person.
Oppression and violence and hatred must cease.
We must always look out for the outcast, the vulnerable among us.
Second, we must embrace God’s love and practice mercy.
Jesus lived this out through acts of healing and mercy – feeding the hungry, healing the sick.
In every action, he sought to bring life to people by reaching out and touching them.
It is not just reaching out in love, however, to people we know and care about… it is also reaching out to offer kindness and forgiveness even to those who would seek to harm us.
Just as Bruce Wayne refused to take up the weapons that destroyed his family, so Jesus refuses to play the games or fight in the ways of evil.
He forgives those who crucify him.
He doesn’t fight back.
He knows that with God there is another way.
Lastly, we are called to walk humbly with our God.
Jesus showed us what this meant through the cross.
The greatest love, he told us, was to lay down our lives for our friends.
And so as the Christ hymn of Philippians reminds us, even though Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he emptied himself, he was born among us, and he humbled himself even to the point of death in order to serve the will of God. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Today, we are called to a life of goodness. A life of justice, and mercy, and humility.
We are called to lay aside anything that would distract us from God’s life and power in this world.
When evil looms around us and lives are being taken every day by forces that oppose God’s will, I think we are invited this Lent to a time of reflection and repentence.
Where are we complicit?
Where do we need to seek justice?
Where do we need to practice mercy?
Where do we need to humbly bow before our God and lay aside our idols?
May God stir our hearts…