Easter Reflection: Redemption - Kyle Hanawalt


As I have mentioned here in the past. In addition to the church here, I work for an organization called Books & Breakfast, a before school program in Evanston that is all about advancing educational equity through a morning meal, academic support, and social emotional support. Maybe the best way to say it is that we try to send our kids into the school day with a full belly, their homework completed, and a big hug.

Now for a million reasons, I find this work to be humbling and challenging. In particular, Seeing the way that race and economics tangibly affects the kinds of opportunities kids have to succeed at school at times feels overwhelming.
However recently I have had a few experiences that have brought me back to memories of my own childhood I grew up in Evanston, I went to the same school system that we are working in. And over the last month or so, I have had handful of experiences where a distraught student would tell me that felt like the adults weren’t listening to them. Now, having a child say that adults aren’t listening to them, isn’t particularly surprising. However, when I began digging in deeper, I noticed a strand of connection in what was being shared. It was that, time and time again when one of my students, who are students of color, would have an incident, or were caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing with a white student, my students expressed that they consistently seemed to be the ones that got in trouble, they were the ones who got sent to office, had their parents called, whereas the white students seem to, in their eyes, get away with it without much repercussions. And I have the opportunity to hear them, and go bring their concerns on their behalf to other adults in the building that I know would care and listen to them.
And the reason these experiences have brought me back to memories of my own childhood growing up in Evanston, is that I can remember dozens of times that I got in trouble along with friends of mine who not white, and I was able get out of it with them taking the brunt of the repercussions.
I got into several fights, but I never got suspended. I was sent to the principal’s office on a pretty regular basis, but I can only remember having my parents called three times. For me, the white boy, the “best case scenario” was always entertained -- Kyle’s a good kid, we believe in him -- but for my friends who were not white, the “best case scenario” did not seem to be entertained in the same way-- they were considered troublemakers, problems, lost causes... And so, the recent experiences have brought about in me feelings of shame and regret in how I played a part in a system that was built to protect me and those like me at the cost of my friends of color. And I was processing this with my boss, and hearing me talk about this, she said something that felt deeply helpful, consoling. She said, “I think there is something deeply redemptive about you advocating for your students today. You are able to advocate for those kids because you lived the other side of it. For you to be able to say, I hear you and I believe you because I used to be that other kid that left you holding the ball. There is something deeply redemptive in that” And hearing her say that, all the shame and regret I felt, it felt like less of a weight on me. I feel like I have experienced a lot of healing from the person I used to be, but there was something more in what she said than just healing. I was experiencing something redemptive.
Now, it doesn’t make up for everything I have ever done, but there was something powerful to me in taking the broken, hurt, shame filled experiences and parts of who I was and not just feeling healing, but also feeling like I got to live out some redemptive good in the world. I got to use that hurt and shame, and brokenness and do something good with it.

And this story of redemption feels important to me today, because today is Easter. Happy Easter. Today is the day we get to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection after his death on Good Friday. Today we get to celebrate that Jesus is the God of redemption. That after death, he brings life.

And don’t we all love a good story of redemption. I feel like Americans love a good redemption story. Even this last week. I was thinking about Tiger woods, winning the masters again. People loved it. Tiger’s come back. It was wonderful to see him celebrate with his kids. All the stories out there, we as a collective audience loved that picture of redemption. Which is kind of funny because we also love to be outraged, we are the same audience that condemned tiger like 10 years ago. But that is the thing about our culture, as much as our dark side is revealed in the way we love to publically disapprove of things, give it a little time and there is a genuinely good thing about our hearts revealed: that redemption is REALLY where it’s at. None of us want to be cynical, none of us choose outrage or disapproval as our resting state. Life can weigh down on us in such a way that that’s where we end up, but the deepest truth in us all seems to be: we love a story of redemption most of all.

I think that is because there is something in us that just gets the power of redemption. There is something about getting up after a fall. Winning after losing, that feels so important and meaningful to us, I think it’s maybe hope. Hope that in our hard times, in our suffering, in our loses, that we too might find a sense of redemption.

And I think that is what today is all about. Easter is about the hope and healing and power of redemption.

Let’s read the traditional Easter Passage from Luke 24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”

After being abandoned, after being forsaken, being betrayed, and killed. Jesus is resurrected. The Apostle Peter wrote . “Through Jesus Resurrection we have been given a living hope of new life.” Jesus resurrection is not just about Jesus resurrection, it’s about what that means for us. That we can experience resurrection, we can experience redemption.

And more so than most, Peter knew this -- what we know of his own story is a testament to this - As Jesus was being crucified, Peter rejected and disowned Jesus, but then there is incredible moment after Jesus’ resurrection where Jesus comes to Peter, and he doesn’t shun him or demand retribution, he speaks to him gently, he redeems him and then makes him, what he called the cornerstone on which he would build his church. And after this Peter became a bold advocate for the poor and unjustly treated of his day, and a humble and mature man able to receive correction from others, and a courageous defender of the way of love for neighbors that Jesus taught (to the point that he died for its cause) -- an incredible life lived, born out of an experience of redemption.

Jesus is all about redemption. In the face of our hurts, in the face of our suffering, in the face of our mistakes, Jesus brings more than just healing or forgiveness he is bringing redemption. He it taking those lows, those heartaches, those injustices and transforming them, using them to bring redemptive good into the world

The biggest version of this story in my life has always been my brother. When he was just over a year old he contracted meningitis and almost died The doctors said that if he survived that he would have significant mental delays, and almost certainly he would never walk, and then they discovered that illness had left him without his hearing, left him deaf. Thankfully those first two pronouncements never came to be, but he was left deaf Now, this happened before I was born, my brother has always been deaf to me. And I have learned a lot of things from my brother, that the richness of our life is not tied our how functional our body is. But also That in an effort to help others, so often in life we end up belittling them and robbing them of their dignity. mostly here I want to say, though, how unbelievably proud of my brother I am. You see, he has something that I don’t. You know, when I played football in high-school and a coach yelled at me, I got down myself and would do worse. Well my brother, every bit of doubt, every bit of condescension, every bit of adversity that he has faced, he has turned into fuel. As of today, my brother is not only a college graduate but has a MBA. He is a department head at the Department of Defense. In fact he is the highest ranking Deaf person ever in the DOD.
Now, you may not know Indianapolis, where he lives is one of the largest Hubs of the deaf community in this country. And so he has received several special accommodations because he began teaching sign language classes for other managers during their lunch break so they will be more able to communicate and more likely to hire other deaf employees And I like to think that Jesus lives with him in those lunch classes. Lives with him and he walks out this profound picture of redemption. Not only has he made something of himself, he is using his position to create opportunity for other people who have face the same challenges he has.

That story feels very personal to me, but I think we all know of and can think of examples of that kind of redemption. Where the very thing that felt like the worst part of life, is then used to create good. I think of an article I just read about this woman who went through significant abuse and trauma growing up, but now as an adult has become a trauma counselor, to help walk other people through what she went through. And her common experience enables her to do that in ways that others wouldn’t

This is what I call redemptive good. This is where I think the God Jesus shows the world feels the most alive. That in taking our hurt and pain and our suffering and our brokenness and then bringing good into the world out of that, we rob some of the power and weight that those things have over us.

This is what I want to pray for each of us to experience some of today...

But, before I do that, there is something in all of this that feels really important to me. It something that can provoke real anger in me, something that I heard and experienced growing up with my brother around religious people. And that is that God somehow made or allowed or permitted my Brother to become deaf so that he could later in life work through my brother to help other deaf people. That this was all some sort of long plan or long con.

I think about that trauma counselor, I think about what that says to her, that god somehow orchestrated or gave a thumbs up to her abuse and trauma, so that he could redeem it later.

I will say, very few things make my blood boil more than the insinuation that God would do that. I once watched a video of the British comedian Stephen Fry talking about this very thing and explaining this is why he can’t believe in the God he’d been taught about as a kid, and I gotta say I think agree with him. If God does work this way, making children deaf, permitting abuse, just so that he can redeem it, honestly, I have no desire to follow a God that would do that.

However, that is not the God I have experienced, That is not the God Jesus shows us. The message of redemption is not a long Con. God did not have me leave my friends of color left holding the bag so that I could now, today, work against that kind of system. God did not take my brothers hearing so that he could help other deaf people God did not have that counselor experience abuse so she could help other survivors.

The Easter message of redemption is not about a manipulative God, who has agency in our suffer so that he can turn it into a good story later. No, the message of his redemption is that he took these evil, broken, not of his will things. And is able to not only bring healing but bring redemptive good into the world.

So I want to pray with us in a moment

Where are you needing the hope or healing of redemption - Jesus is leading us towards redemptive good and the power that has to do even more than heal us is huge

Broken image of a god who has agency in your suffering

The promise of redemption may not be found in this life