It’s Pentecost. Ben just read the familiar birth story of the church. We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit who emboldens the disciples with the very breath of God to be the church. But there’s no celebration here today. No party at the church. No bright colored kites to wave for some extra pizazz. We feel a little raw for all that. We’ll get to the Pentecost story in a bit, but first, a word from the Old Testament.
The word of the Lord as spoken by the prophet and recorded in Jeremiah the sixth chapter:
“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.’”
Former Pastor at Spirit Garage Pam Fickensher says that a preacher should never preach from her wounds. Only from her scars.
So let’s just get out in front of that right away: Confession — this is wound preaching. I am angry, outraged. sad. I am weary and worried about many — those close to my heart — and those whom I’ve never met but who are my neighbors, hurting and suffering, in this city I love. My body, mind and spirit ache with grief.
I don’t have to see you to know that I’m not alone here. I’m not alone in this.
You are grieving too.
I may not know the particularities of your grief but I do know we’re in this together. Our church grieves. Our neighborhood grieves. Our city, our nation, our world grieves. As does our God.
This past week I was on a Zoom call with our synod office and 85 other pastors and deacons in the area. We’d been invited to a conversation to discuss the church’s role in this moment. Pastors Ingrid Rasmussen and Hans Lee who serve at Holy Trinity on Hiawatha Avenue & Lake Street and Calvary Lutheran at 39th Street & Chicago Avenue, respectively were on the call. Their congregations have been swept up into this terror quickly. Proximity changes perspective. Proximity has a way of clarifying priorities.
Their congregations, along with many other faith communities, are working hard to meet needs in the community. I know many of you have shown up too — to show respect for George Floyd, to clean up debris from destruction, to check on neighbors and call on friends, to drop off food and supplies where needed. Many of you have been generous with your financial gifts. Thank you. Thank you for being church.
(I encourage you to name in the chat where you have seen hope, courage and compassion. When you’re in the middle of a storm it’s easy to focus on chaos and fear — but these are signs that no storm can keep the body of Christ from showing up in the world. We look for them and name them to foster hope.)
Back to the Zoom call — there were some from ELCA church-wide staff on the call too. Rev. Albert Starr, director of the Ethnic Specific Multicultural Ministries team, shared this bit of wisdom: “We can’t turn away. We can’t unsee. Do not assume you know the wounds of others. Do not assume you know the collective wound of a people. Your work is about healing and justice. You can’t have one without the other.”
Six days ago we gasped in horror at the video of George Floyd, killed at the hands of police as he cried, “I can’t breathe.”
We can’t look away. We can’t unsee. We’ve seen this before — countless times. Call to mind just a few names: Eddie Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, Alton Steele, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery… We dare not make assumptions about the wounds of others but we are part of a shared humanity so we hold space for their plea: we honor his memory; we say his name — George Floyd.
He was killed less than a week ago. And since then — chaos, violence, destruction — the likes of which we never imagined happening in our South Minneapolis — and like the pandemic we see it spreading across the nation. We gather today holding our breath — wondering what’s next?
I imagine this question was on the minds of the disciples on that first Pentecost. Jesus had commissioned them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, to bear witness to what Jesus had said and done. Jesus’ promise: they would not bear witness alone. The power of the Holy Spirit would come.
They gathered in the upper room, waiting, wondering, holding their breath when suddenly there was a violent wind that filled the entire house. The Holy Spirit entered into the disciples too. And the breath of God emboldened them to speak about all Jesus had said and done. They don’t stay put for very long — the Spirit is on the move — expanding the expectations and understanding around the expansiveness of God’s love. Pentecost is the inbreaking of God’s vision for all humanity to be welcomed into the kingdom of God.
Dear, dear Bethlehem — this is our story. We are the church, emboldened by the breath of God to speak about Jesus. We are the body of Christ whose business is love and whose passion is people. We do not bear witness alone. Blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit, we have work to do.
And it starts with our own hearts.
Jeremiah speaks the word of the Lord: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.’”
God is calling the people to repentance. Israel had turned away from God disregarding the Lord’s commandments. Their sin had destroyed relationships and devastated the land. It’s a familiar story because it’s not so different from ours. The Lord’s call to repentance continues: “Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it and find rest for your souls. But the people said, ‘we will not walk in it.’”
Our nation is at a crossroads. While we can not know the collective wound of black and brown bodied people we can name the truth that racial injustice is real. Life in this country is not equal. We need to renounce the sins of racism and stand against the falsehood that one race is superior over others. We are at a crossroads — God calls us to repent and to stand alongside our siblings of color, to refuse to be complicit in a system built to suffocate them. ELCA Bishop Eaton recently wrote, “until a white majority feels so deeply in our soul that the pain of black and brown people is our own pain, it will continue to be dangerous to be black or brown in America.”
Almost a year ago (June 27, 2019), the Church Council of the ELCA adopted a declaration addressed to people of African descent, a formal statement that “apologizes… for its historical complicity in slavery and its enduring legacy of racism in the United States and globally and laments the white church’s failure to work for the abolition of slavery and the perpetuation of racism in this church.”
It’s a start. The statement speaks truth and honors neighbor.
The trouble is we’ve had a lot of false starts. Every time our country has boiled over we’ve gone back to business as usual. But the water is still simmering. The pain and agony isn’t gone. The injustice is still real. There is no peace.
In our Zoom conversation with church leaders, Rev. Albert Starr said the longest people have the capacity to rage is 21 days. The news cycle changes. We forget and move on.
So the challenge for us is to make it to the 22nd day, and the 23rd.
Luther talked about baptism daily dying and rising in Christ. Our baptism is when we receive the power of the holy spirit. And if we are daily dying and rising with Christ, if we are daily being renewed with the gift of the holy spirit, then each day, every day when you put your feet on the ground is day one.
Those who are white have some work to do. We repent and turn our hearts to God. We pray and ask for mercy and grace.
And then we listen. We learn. We stay curious.
We’ll make mistakes. It will take time. We can’t undo 400 years of injustice and racism and violence overnight. But we can commit to each day being a pentecostal moment. A moment when the old ways of sin and death, fear, ignorance and violence are put to death within us and something new is born.
So even on this solemn day it is appropriate to say Happy Birthday dear church. The Holy Spirit has called, enlightened, gathered and sanctified you for the business of love with a passion for people. Amen.