May 31, 2020
Day of Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
John 20:19-33 + Acts 2:1-21
Dear Friends in Christ,
First let’s simply say his name: George Floyd.
(Show picture of George Floyd, site where he died.)
His life mattered. Black Lives Matter
On the evening of Easter day, appearing behind the doors that were locked because of fear of the police, Jesus speaks his first words to the disciples after his execution: Peace be with you.
We need to hear it from Jesus: Peace be with you. Because for me, and for many of us, to say it, we sound like the prophet Jeremiah crying, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
How do we say “peace be with you” when we know that police brutality and white supremacy are lying in wait for their next victim?
How do we say “peace be with you” after 400 years of denying the hopes, dreams, and safety of black and brown people?
How do we say “peace be with you” when anger, festering for generations, bursts into flames, with graffiti that speaks more truth than many elected leaders?
How do we say “peace be with you” as business owners, already on the edge because of the coronavirus shut down, discover that there will be no opening on June 1st?
How do we say “peace be with you” when white supremacists and anarchists slip into the city to?
How do we say “peace be with you” without sounding like the typical, liberal post on social media that will get replaced an hour later with a dog licking peanut butter from its nose?
Perhaps a lot of us will need to learn a new language before we dare speak peace into this unrest. Perhaps I should speak for myself, a 57-year old white man, a senior pastor of a well-established Lutheran church. Even despite being gay in a heterosexist culture, I’m largely given every advantage and benefit of the doubt. No one would tweet me out as a thug if I shouted at a protest. If I was pulled over for having a broken taillight, it would be a curtesy so that I could be aware. If I had a counterfeit $20 bill, the cashier would assume that I had been cheated, too.
I wonder if one of the first steps for those of us who are white is simply to stop talking and to listen to voices of color; to let voices of color be heard; to be given instructions and guidance on what’s needed; to recognize that we may not know what we need to know.
The kind of racism that we’re facing is different than the kind many of us have been taught to understand. I grew up thinking that racism meant using derogatory terms. I can even remember being instructed to be “colorblind,” which sounds so nice but totally erases the lives of those of color. I grew up thinking white supremacy was largely a Southern thing, on display when the KKK had rallies on the state house steps, or when some bigot took to the airwaves to spew hate speech. When we think of racism or white supremacy in that way, we end up saying, “That’s certainly not me. I’m not racist.”
We need a new language.
What people of color are trying to teach many of us, however, is that white supremacy is a pattern of power relationships that are used to ensure that one race remains superior and has access to wealth, power, and status, at the expense of others. These patterns get woven into institutions and get so buried that they remain unseen, until it gets momentarily revealed. It’s not because of bad individuals that black men are executed on the street, or people of color are imprisoned in vastly larger numbers or that Native women “disappear” without much notice. It’s built into our nation’s DNA. It’s our original sin to which white people are in bondage and cannot free ourselves.
We need a new language that can structure a new reality; that can build institutions and churches and governments with a different set of assumptions. We need a language that won’t get us off the hook but will empower us to build a new community.
We need a new Pentecost; a fresh outpouring of Holy Spirit, another kind of fire, another kind of breath that cannot be taken away by the powers that be. There have been so many spirits unleashed this week: spirits of injustice, destructive spirits, dehumanizing spirits. We need Holy Spirit; a spirit that creates shared liberation, a spirit that begins to heal the wounds that still bleed; a spirit that puts us on the same side, with liberty and justice for all. I can’t help but think of the last line of the Pentecost story, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We need a Spirit that hears George Floyd’s prayer to breathe, to be saved; not saved into some heavenly realm, which is no doubt was the case, but saved on Chicago Avenue, Spirit to rise up and thrive and love and serve.
Here’s where I take some comfort. Jesus promises that if we pray for the Holy Spirit, our prayer will be answered every time. If we invite the Spirit to descend, to blow, to fill us, to bring us to life again, it is as certain as crucifixion and resurrection, death and life.
Jesus enters behind their closed doors and breathes on them. He gives to them the Spirit that was in him, a Spirit which comes to us in an unbroken line from that first Easter day. He gives them the power of reconciliation. The text says that “if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” We get a little confused by that language because we tend to think of forgiveness as some personal thing that we can or cannot offer to someone who wronged us. It’s even gotten twisted to sound like the church can retain/refuse forgiveness if it wants to–something Jesus never did, by the way.
I’ve come to think of that “office of the keys,” as it has traditionally been named as something different. What Jesus does is put his power, his life, his love, into their bodies and tells them that they have everything they need to re-make not only their own lives, but the whole world. Forgiveness is really the power of reconciliation; the power to build something new after everything has been destroyed; the power to end one history and start another; the power to reconsider how we become God’s people, not this people or that people, but God’s precious and beloved community.
There may be little peace in our land, or in our hearts, but if we can dare pray again, “Come, Holy Spirit,” we just may notice that just at the edge of our experience, there’s a stirring, a shift, a breathe that is picking up momentum, a whirlwind of Spirit, a new language.
And, indeed, everyone, everyone who calls upon the name of God WILL be saved.
Amen, Come, Holy Spirit.