Sermon for the Day of Pentecost in response to the death of George Floyd
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Prepared for the Television/Online Broadcast of Trinity, Worcester
Texts: Numbers 11:24-30 and Acts 2:1-21
In the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The pattern was this:
- First – the people gathered and received the Spirit
- Second – filled with the Spirit, the people spoke unexpected things.
- Third – In response to this speech, there was criticism.
- Fourth – in response to the criticism, the leader affirmed this new work of God.
- Finally – through the experience the people were invited to faith in God.
That was the pattern of Pentecost Sunday. The apostles gathered together, suddenly there was wind and flame and speech, and all heard in their own languages. And then in response to this new work of God there was sneering – “Ah, they’re just drunk.” In response to the sneering was affirmation: Peter said, “They’re not drunk – they’re fulfilling the prophet Joel.”
AND, that was the pattern spelled out centuries earlier in Numbers – in our first reading.
First – the people gathered. Moses gathered seventy of the elders at the tent in order for the spirit to distributed upon them to help in leadership.
Second – filled with the spirit – the people spoke unexpected things. The seventy with Moses prophesied, and, in a surprise, two men, Eldad and Medad, not with the seventy at the tent, but back in camp with the people, also prophesied.
Third – in response to this speech, there was criticism. When people back at camp heard Eldad and Medad prophesying, they ran and told Moses. Stop them! They cried. Who did those two think they were? They were not at the tent with the others
Fourth – in response to the criticism, Moses affirmed this new work of God. “If only all people prophesied,” replied Moses. “If only all people had the spirit poured out upon them!” Moses didn’t stop the two men back in camp, but instead wished more people were doing exactly what they were doing.
Finally – through this experience, the people were invited to expand their understanding of God’s work among them.
AND, this is the pattern we see being played out in our city streets today in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – the exact same pattern.
First – the people gather. The gatherings are to protest the death of George Floyd. The protest are not just about one man’s death, but about the ongoing deadly racial disparities in this country. Already in the past weeks, news had made the rounds that two armed white men playing vigilante killed Ahmaud Arbery – an unarmed black man in Georgia. The protest over George Floyd’s death recalls all the deaths of unarmed black people dying in police custody: Eric Garner – Freddie Gray – Michael Brown – Tamir Rice – Alton Sterling – and the list goes on and on … (CLICK HERE for NPR’s report: “A Decade of Watching Black People Die” which compiled this sobering list of black people who have died in police custody since 2014)
Second – and with the people gathered – the Spirit speaks. In commenting on the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, Professor Diane Jacobson writes that this was focused and common speech. She writes: “The Spirit does not speak a different message for each spiritual seeker – you find your truth and I’ll find mine. A quest for spiritual truth that would isolate us from our neighbors is flawed at the outset. The miraculous gift of Pentecost resides in our discovering our commonality.”
Professor Mark Bangert points out the miracle of Pentecost was not wind and flames, but the miracle was that all people heard the promise of God’s love in their native language! Yes, different languages were spoken – but they spoke one truth that drew them together as one community, one people of God, one CHURCH. The Spirit speaks one message of God’s love for each person – one message of God’s love across beliefs, borders, and boundaries this love speech of the Spirit pushes us, provokes us, and challenges us in places where we are comfortable and ignorant in our sin.
With the people gathered in protest, this week the Holy Spirit spoke God’s love through Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Holy Spirit spoke in MIss KIng when she tweeted this:
The reason Colin Kaepernick knelt at the national anthem was to protest the ways white people continue to kneel on the necks of black people in this country – both literally, as we saw this week, and figuratively. What lay at the heart of Colin Kaepernick’s protest, was to bring awareness to the reality the many ways in this country black bodies in white spaces are seen as dangerous, criminal, and threatening.
- You may have seen on social media this week, the Central Park confrontation when a white woman called the police on a black man who happened to ask her to simply follow the rules about keeping dogs on leashes.
- You may have also seen on social media the man who called the police because three black men were working out in a private gym – he said, “They don’t look like they belong here.” I watched the video. They were athletic looking men who looked like they often visited gyms. They “looked like they didn’t belong here” only because they were black.
- You may have also seen the video of a black delivery guy detained for half an hour by a white man in a gated community after he had made a delivery. He was detained by the President of the Neighborhood Association because as a black man he didn’t look like he belonged there. In all of these cases white people saw black bodies in their space and immediately labeled them suspicious, murderous, and dangerous for no other reason than racism.
In each of these cases, white people saw black bodies in their space and immediately labeled them suspicious, murderous, and dangerous for no other reason than the color of their skin.
The point today, is not that police officers and law enforcement are bad. The point today, is that there continues to be deep currents of racism in this country, flowing through all aspects of white society, that are at best wearisome and exhausting for black people, and at worst deadly. I’ve heard black men on the news and on podcasts this week, exasperated, exhausted, and worn out – wondering when white America will wake up and listen to the pain? How many people will have to die? What has to happen for this cruelty to end?
The Holy Spirit is speaking, is groaning, today in the protests of the people who have said they have had enough of being mistreated, and brutalized, and killed because of the color of their skin!
The Holy Spirit, with sights to deep words, is using these protests and riots today to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
On this Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the violent wind and flame rushing upon the disciples we need to recognize the Holy Spirit in the wind and flame of the riots. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The riot is the language of the unheard.” People riot when finally they’ve had enough. The Holy Spirit is speaking today in the protests and riots, and my white brothers and sisters in Christ we need to wake up and listen. We need to listen and learn about the black experience in this country. In the riots, we need to hear the Holy Spirit’s groaning, that our fellow citizens are not being treated equally.
So what do we as white people do?
I encourage you to watch John F. Kennedy’s 1963 Address to the Nation on Civil Rights (CLICK HERE). President Kennedy spoke at a time when white protests against desegregation threatened to turn deadly and the national guard was needed to desegregate the University of Alabama. His words in 1963 are still pertinent today. He spoke a message to white American then that we need to hear today. Aware of riots about to break out, President Kennedy called each white American to responsibility and said this:
“It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another … A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all …
“Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality …
“But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country …
“We have a right to expect the African American community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind …”
Each of us as followers of Jesus Christ need to be leaders instead of critics.
In response to the Spirit’s work there is always criticism: “Make them stop!” cried the grumblers in Numbers. “They’re drunk!” sneered the disbelievers in Acts. “They’re thugs,” we hear today.
Those who complained in Numbers against Eldad and Medad, that they should stop, that they were not doing things the right way – are alive and well today: You need to stand during the national anthem – never mind the fact that the kneeling is to point out the very real deaths and stolen liberties that are taking place in the land of the “free.”
Don’t riot – that’s not the right way to do things, follow the law! – Never mind that the law is uphold partially, with deadly force against UNARMED black men, and with passive neutrality while ARMED white men complaining about coronavirus restrictions can storm into state capitals.
The people who complained against Eldad and Medad are alive today saying this:
However, in the face of criticism, leaders say YES! Yes – the work of racial justice in all of its many forms is God’s holy work!
Echoing Moses leaders today say:
“If only all the people would protest!”
“If only all the people would burn with passion for racial equality!”
“If only all people would say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”
Let me be clear, I don’t stand over you as one who has figured it all out. I stand with you, under God’s word, as one who has been slow to understand the ways race has privileged me at the same time it has oppressed and killed others. I stand with you, as a sinner, needing to examine my own heart, and my own resistance, criticism, and rejection of the Holy Spirit calling me to work for racial justice.
Together, as sinners redeemed in the grace of Jesus Christ leading us to new life, we are called to the work of racial justice. We are called to this work, because we cannot proclaim a God of love, while our public polices and personal attitudes perpetuate division in society. We cannot say God is love – when our actions, attitudes, and policies say some are better and more deserving and others are lesser and less deserving.
The Good News today on Pentecost Sunday, is the Spirit poured out!
The Good News today, is that the Spirit speaks in prophets, in leaders, in protests and in riots speaking love for all people. The Good News is that in violent rushing wind, in flames, in urgent and passionate ways – the Holy Spirit demands God’s love for all people.
In the Spirit’s power, may we be bold to speak God’s love and demand equal treatment for God’s family across races, nations, and people. In the Spirit’s power, may we provide leadership in the face of criticism, may we say, “Yes this is God’s holy work in these men and women demanding justice.” In the Spirit’s power, may we recognize that the pattern played out on Pentecost, played out in Numbers, played out today, is the work of the Holy Spirit moving us forward into healing, life, and salvation.
In faith, let us say yes to God’s Holy Work in us and among us today.
Indeed may it be so.