This morning I have no words. I have tears. I have sadness. I even have some anger that the people I love whose skin is not “white” are living in grief and frustration. I say only that injustice and oppression cling so close to my friends, today and in centuries past.
I hear my dear friends cry out for justice. I hear them using words to make sense of it all, and I hear their voices fall silent. Silent, with just these words, “I’m tired.” A dear friend posted the words on the left this morning. I want to see her face to face. I want to be together. I want to comfort her, hoping beyond hope that it is not too late for comfort.
I read this horrific headline this morning.
Prosecutors in Hennepin County, Minnesota, say evidence shows Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, including two minutes and 53 seconds of which Floyd was non-responsive. — ABC News
Today I find myself deeply in mourning for the violence that happens in our country. I find myself trying to share in the grief of my friend and knowing I cannot fully feel the depth of it. Today I find myself unable to emotionally move away from it all. Today I contemplate George Floyd’s cry, “I can’t breathe.”
If there is any comfort at all, it comes as a gift of the artists pictured here. In an act of caring, they offer this mural at a memorial for George Floyd.
The names of other victims of violence are painted in the background. The words, “I can’t breathe!” will remain in our memories. Today we are together in mourning.
But tomorrow, I will celebrate Pentecost. I wonder how to celebrate in a time when lamentation feels more appropriate. I wonder how to celebrate when brothers and sisters have died violent deaths and when thousands of protesters line the streets of many U.S. cities. I wonder how to celebrate when protesters are obviously exposing themselves to COVID19.
Still, tomorrow — even in such a time as this — I will celebrate the breath of the Spirit. Tomorrow I will join the celebration that has something to do with being together, being one. To juxtapose the joyous celebration of Pentecost with the horrible picture of what we saw in cities throughout our country for the past few nights seems an impossible undertaking. What does one have to do with the other?
Perhaps they do share a common message. From those who protest, this message:
“We bring our broken hearts and our anger for the killing of our people, for the murders across the ages of people who are not like you. You treat us differently than you treat the people who look like you. For as long as we can remember, you have visited upon us oppression, slavery, racist violence, injustice. And we are tired. We are spent. We are beside ourselves with collective mourning. We can’t breathe!“
From those who celebrate Pentecost, this message:
“How we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit breathed upon those gathered together, with gifts of wind and fire!
How we celebrate the story told in the 2nd chapter of Acts!”
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome(both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, last days, God says,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.’” — Acts 2:1-18 NIV
The people did not, in fact, have too much wine. Peter made it clear that wine did not empower the people who gathered in Jerusalem — “every people under heaven” — to speak and understand as they heard every word spoken in their own language. That would be a start, would it not, if we could speak the same language and truly understand — people who have flesh-colored skin, and brown and bronze, and red and black . . . every skin color under the sun. If only we could understand each other.
And then, what if we could gather together, welcoming every person? What if we could truly gather together and wait for Spirit to fall upon us with empowerment like we have never known before? What if we allowed the Spirit to give us breath, together?
In the end, there is a tiny bit of joy in George Floyd’s tragic story. It is a joy much deeper than reality’s sorrow. The artists completed their mural, and in the very center near the bottom, they had painted words that express the greatest truth of all.
Can you see it behind the little girl? “I can breathe now!”
What if we welcome Spirit Breath that will change us? What if we embrace empowerment from the Holy Spirit to help us change our world? What if we end oppression and injustice, together? What if holy perseverance could inspire us to live and act in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, all of them?
What if we dare to give our soul’s very breath to help bring about Beloved Community, together?
May my God — and the God of every other person — make it so. Amen.
The Day of Pentecost — my favorite Sunday of the church year! A grand and glorious celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus told his friends. “I’m going to prepare a place for you. And in the meantime, know that I will ask the Father and he will send you another Comforter to be with you forever.” (From John 14:1-18,paraphrased)
On the day we celebrate as Pentecost, Jesus made good on the promise that the Comforter would come. They gathered in the upper room that day, men and women, disciples and kinfolk, perhaps waiting to be baptized with the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. (Acts 1) Or maybe they were just there to have good conversation, to discuss the politics of the day. Or maybe they just wanted to hang out.
Whatever their reason for gathering, they were in for the surprise of a lifetime, the coming of the Holy Spirit. I can try to find the best words to tell you how it happened, but I cannot say it any better than this:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
The Church was born on that day, born on the wind. The rush of the violent wind blew through their lives. Tongues that looked like flames of fire rested on every one of them, and from that dayon, their lives were changed. They left that room with renewed courage, with a confident boldness. Maybe they even believed they could change the world!
Ah, that renewing Holy Spirit! That breath of life that sweeps through us and prepares us for holy mission. In these days of ours, so many things need the kind of change that can only happen through the wind of the Spirit. There are divisions to heal and children to protect. There are wrongs that need to be righted and truth that needs to be told. There are walls to tear down and people to shelter. The world, so broken, needs repairing. To be summoned to the mission of repairing the world is our honor.
I am inspired by the Jewish teaching Tikkun Olam, which means “repair the world.”Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson described tikkun olam as the mission of every human being. With a voice of urgency, he spoke with the conviction that in our times, one small deed could bring the world to the resolution for which it has yearned since its creation.
For this kind of mission, the Holy Spirit comes to us, bringing the breath of holy change and inviting us to be a part of it. That refreshing, renewing Holy Spirit, Pentecostal power, wind and flame that can change our world! May the wind blow among us and the flame kindle our passions to bring that change!
It is as the hymn says:
O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
revive your church with life and power;
O Breath of Life, come, cleanse, renew us,
and fit your church to meet this hour.
Pentecost Sunday! I won’t let it pass without giving thanks for the Spirit-wind that rushes through my life. In and out, at times a gentle breeze, at times a rushing, mighty wind. I enjoy a windswept life, always able to count on the wind of the Spirit to move me where I need to be.
The Holy Spirit, though, comes in other forms. How it comforts me to experience the Holy Spirit as a descending dove, peaceful, gentle, bringing the accepting voice of God as it did in the story of the baptism of Jesus.
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1: 9-11)
I do experience that kind of Holy Spirit — the descent upon me of a gentle peace, a comforting presence that declares, “You are my beloved daughter.” What an uplifting experience that affirms who I am. I need the Holy Spirit who whispers to me, “You are enough.”
Still, the rushing, mighty Spirit-wind is what I long for. It’s what I hope for. I wait expectantly, full of faith that I will know beyond a doubt the very moment that the Holy Spirit comes upon me.
Like the wind that appeared on the Day of Pentecost, the wind of the Spirit breathes life into me, again and again.
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
After this, in a time of confusion over what had happened and the claim that the people were drunk with wine, Peter stood up, lifted his voice, and preached a sermon.
. . . this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18)
My how we love the Spirit’s wind. But something else appeared on the Day of Pentecost. Fire! The Holy Spirit as flame can be shocking. It can be fierce and unbridled, the power of fire, the incinerating blaze — all-consuming, refining —a force that can destroy in an instant.
Can I be grateful, also, for the presence of Spirit fire in my life? Is it Spirit fire that gives me tenacity? Is it Spirit fire that refines me with flame that, even when reduced to ashes, I miraculously emerge alive, completely changed, with a heart rekindled and a soul ablaze for God’s greatest use?
One of the most moving hymns for Pentecost was written in 1983 by Thomas H. Troeger.
Wind who makes all winds that blow— gusts that bend the saplings low, gales that heave the sea in waves, stirrings in the mind’s deep caves—
aim your breath with steady power on your church, this day, this hour.
Raise, renew the life we’ve lost,
Spirit God of Pentecost.
Fire who fuels all fires that burn— suns around which planets turn, beacons marking reefs and shoals, shining truth to guide our souls—
come to us as once you came; burst in tongues of sacred flame!
Light and Power, Might and Strength,
fill your church, its breadth and length.
Holy Spirit, Wind and Flame, move within our mortal frame.
Make our hearts an altar pyre.
Kindle them with your own fire.
Breathe and blow upon that blaze till our lives, our deeds, and ways speak that tongue which every land by your grace shall understand.
I dare not add a single word of commentary to the sacred message of that hymn, but this is my sincerest prayer:
. . . Come to us as once you came;burst in tongues of sacred flame! Light and Power, Might and Strength, fill your church, its breadth and length.
With joy and exuberance, we used to sing an old Gospel hymn, our voices echoing through the rafters of the church house: “Lord, send the old time power, the Pentecostal power . . . that sinners be converted and Thy name glorified.”
That was our mission: that sinners be converted and that God’s name would be glorified. Over the years, we may well have lost some of our evangelical zeal. We may have developed differing views about what it means to glorify God. It’s a sign of the times, I suppose, times that are rife with the fear of terrorism, war, and the destruction of our way of life.
Some Christian leaders seem to believe that glorifying God in these days means advocating for a ruthless national counter-terrorism policy. In a 2004 interview, Rev. Jerry Falwell recommended that we “blow them [terrorists] away in the name of the Lord.” (CNN 10.24.04) I cannot fathom that such a view is inspired by the One we know as the Prince of Peace. I cannot imagine that Pentecostal power means power against persons and nations we have defined as our enemies.
One of the most genuine truth-tellers of my generation is my good friend Ken Sehested. He never tires of speaking prophetically about all things related to peace and justice. These are his words from an article entitled “The Things that Make for Peace” published at prayerandpolitiks.org.
People of the Way remain committed to a peculiar allegiance and a distinctive conviction: that all violence, of every sort, is a form of evangelism for the Devil . . . We make this profession of our faith even knowing that we ourselves are not immune from the lust for vengeance. As César Chávez, the great practitioner of nonviolent struggle for justice, said: “I am a violent man learning to be nonviolent.”
The meek are getting ready. And they welcome the company of any with eyes to see and ears to hear Christ’s arising, arousing, and disruptive invitation to join Pentecost’s Resurrection Movement. Now, as much as ever, we are in a “fear not” moment. Wait a week—Pentecostal power, with its assault on earth’s beleaguered condition and seemingly endless walls of hostility, is coming. Babel’s confused tongues, nationalist claims, conflicting cultures, and racial enmity are being reversed. Lord, send the old-time pow’r. [*]
Yes, God. Send the old-time power that inspired us to wage peace, to condemn injustice, to love our enemies. Meet us inside the breezes of Pentecost where Holy Spirit wind and Pentecostal fire will descend upon us once again. Grant us the courage to use our power to condemn hostile power, to live into our covenant, and to return to our first love and highest calling: “that sinners be converted and Thy name glorified.”
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
– I Corinthians 12:13, NASB
[*] From the hymn’s refrain, “Pentecostal Power,” by Charles H. Gabriel.