Sermon for Pentecost 2020

June 3, 2020 0 comments

Written in response to the death of George Floyd and the protests it ignited across the country.

Save us, O God, from ourselves, from racism often cloaked in pious words, from the machinations of white supremacy hidden in calls for civility, from micro aggressions thinly veiled in arrogance, from apologies when they don’t give way to action, from forgiveness without facing the truth, from reconciliation without reparation. Deliver us, O God, from expecting siblings of color to continue to bear this emotional work, which is not theirs to do. Grateful for the long arc that bends toward justice, we pray: Grant us wisdom, give us courage for the facing of these days, by the power of the Spirit, all for the sake of the kin-dom that we share in Christ Jesus.
Amen.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even in the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with it governor having his lips dripping with the words of ‘interposition’ and ‘nullification’, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”[1]

“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

And yet, I don’t think these are the visions and dreams that are black and brown siblings have.

Black and brown men and women should not have to limit the dreams they have for their children. For the dreams they have to be threatened by the idea that one day their young sons may go out and never return home, killed by someone who thought they were a threat just because of  the color of their skin.

I have heard the laments of friends on social media this week, as yet another black man, George Floyd, was murdered by police on Monday. My childhood friend, William, cried out, “Daddy worried the moment I found out you were coming into this world.

Daddy worried when you first entered the world.

Daddy worries when you have that innocent smile on your face and not yet comprehending what a cruel world we live in.

Daddy will worry when you ask to go to your first sleepover and your friend is white(You will be taught not to discriminate against anyone). The other neighborhood kids might not accept you.

Daddy will worry when you first start driving and you get pulled over by the cops for a DWB (Driving While Black).

Daddy will worry that one day you won’t get that job you really want because of the color of your skin.

Daddy will worry that one day you will go for a jog and someone of a different race will approach you and suspect that you’re a burglar and try to do something to you.

These are the things that us as black people have to face all the time and NOTHING is ever done about it. When my son is old enough, I will have to explain to him what a cruel world we live in and give him the harsh reality to prepare him for the worst.”[2]

My friend and former colleague, Rasheeda, who cries out, “ I AM EXHAUSTED. It’s traumatic and exhausting to be black in America. It’s exhausting to constantly worry about the safety of my husband. It’s exhausting to think about how to raise and protect my son from racism and police brutality. It’s exhausting to see so many people of privilege silent while black people are being murdered by those sworn to protect and serve or accosted by those who think we don’t belong in the same spaces. It’s exhausting dealing with the daily microaggressions and macroaggressions encountered while living black in America. I AM EXHAUSTED.”[3]

We have seen black body after black body torn down and destroyed by racism, systemic injustices, and white supremacy. This isn’t a new thing; this has been happening since someone decided that another human being was “less than.” That one human being had power and control of another. For our siblings in the black community this has been going on for 400 years, for some much, much longer. When do we say enough is enough, and we call the sin that is bigotry, racism, and white supremacy?

On this Pentecost Sunday, we join together to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the blessing of all the nations. On this Pentecost Sunday, we join together to remind ourselves that the God who created the world inhabits the breath and speech of all of our siblings throughout the entire earth. Pentecost reveals that God cherishes our diversities, and that God is present in the gathering of diverse people who love and care for one another. Pentecost, this day, we join together to celebrate God’s breath, the spirit, as she renders God present in our diverse midst. In the Spirit, we understand that we are all the manifold, multifaceted image of God.[4]

As far as the Spirit is concerned, there will be no room for the categories that culture might use to divide the haves from the have-nots. By the very nature of faith as a divine gift, the Spirit has been and continues to be active in all who confess Jesus as Lord.

That day, gathered together, suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, reminiscent of the creation. When wind, or God’s breath brooded over the waters and life was formed. “The earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters.”

God’s breath swept over the waters. Before God spoke and there was light, God’s breath moved. Before there was Sky and Earth, God’s breath moved. Before there was sun, moon, or stars, there was the breath of God. It seems in the beginning, the one thing active was God’s breath—this breath, wind, of God is where humanity was created and what makes us living. James Weldon Johnson renders a poetic account creation and the breath that makes us living.[5]

This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in his own image;
Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.”[6]

God blew God’s breath into a lump of clay formed in God’s own image.  On May 25, 2020 a police officer denied that same breath to Mr. George Floyd who (though formed in God’s own image) lay on the ground like a lump of clay.  How is it that one human can so callously undo what which God has done?

Gen 1:2 reminds the reader that even when darkness covers the face of the earth—God’s spirit, God’s wind, God’s breath moves.  And when God’s breath moves, chaos acquiesces to order.  When God’s breath flutters light appears in darkness. When God’s breath moves without restriction, humanity transforms. We become living souls again.  The question for believers is, “Will we move with God’s breath or will we restrict God’s breath?”[7]

Breathe in. Breath out. I can’t breathe.

Dr. Eric Barreto writes, “Before the gifts of Pentecost, a crucified victim and resurrected conqueror of imperial violence teaches us to witness, to see, to speak, to move, to be.

Witness, you see, is not just a verbal activity. Witness is not characterized solely by words or speech or language or even a tweet.

Witness is a bodily act. Witness walks alongside the oppressed. Witness looks into the eyes of the dying, not as a spectator but as if our lives are intertwined, for they indeed are.

Witness notes the thin, capricious, unjust line between the living and the dying. Witness marches on the streets. Witness votes with love.

Witness says, “Enough,” but then does something about it with the power some of our hands wield, the persuasion some of our voices are given, the places where privilege lets some of us stand without the threat of state violence.

The kind of witness Jesus calls for here includes our mouths and our eyes, of course, but also our ears. Witness trusts the testimony of those who have been oppressed, even without video evidence. Witness trusts those who have been harmed.

Such witness is necessarily costly. Such witness makes demands upon our lives. And let’s be clear: if we seek to be witnesses of what Jesus has done and experienced, the burden of witness is amplified….My friends, hear Jesus say to us, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” And now hear him say, “You will be my witnesses in Ferguson and Waller County, Texas; Baltimore and Staten Island; Cleveland and Louisville; Falcon Heights and Minneapolis; and to the ends of the earth where we imprison the masses and cage children because of profit and fear and the nation’s collective complicity in racial injustice.”

Before the flames of Pentecost, the call to the disciples was already clear: witness, see, speak, move, be.

That ancient clarion call could not be any clearer today.”[8]

Stand up. Breathe in. Breathe out. Say their names.

TRAYVON MARTIN

KEITH SCOTT

ATATIANA JEFFERSON

JONATHAN FERRELL

JORDAN EDWARDS

STEPHON CLARK

AMADOU DIALLO

RENISHA MCBRIDE

TAMIR RICE

SEAN BELL

WALTER SCOTT

PHILANDO CASTILE

AIYANA JONES

TERRENCE CRUTCHER

ALTON STERLING

FREDDIE GRAY

JOHN CRAWFORD

MICHAEL BROWN

JORDAN DAVIS

SANDRA BLAND

BOTHAM JEAN

OSCAR GRANT

COREY JONES

AHMAUD ARBERY

GEORGE FLOYD

Before and amidst the flames of Pentecost, the call is already clear: witness, see, speak, move, be.

Amen.


[1] King Jr., Martin Luther. “I Have A Dream.” Washington D.C. 28 August 1963.

[2] William Dillard

[3] Rasheeda Crowell Hall

[4] Dr. Brennan Breed. “Racism in America: What Will We Preach This Sunday?” 2020.

[5] Dr. Kimberly D. Russaw. “Racism in America: What Will We Preach This Sunday?” 2020.

[6] James Weldon Johnson. “The Creation.”

[7] Dr. Kimberly D. Russaw. “Racism in America: What Will We Preach This Sunday?” 2020.

[8] Dr. Eric Barreto. “Racism in America: What Will We Preach This Sunday?”