On the day of Pentecost. People had gathered in Jerusalem from all corners of the Roman Empire. They represented competing economic interests, diverse cultures, different languages and different religious traditions.
God’s power was given freely to all who heard the message preached that day, and thousands embraced the Good News.
People could finally hear and understand the message of the Gospel for the first time, which was exactly the opposite of what occurred in the Tower of Babel story where there were different languages, misunderstanding and chaos, resulting in disunity.
But on the day of Pentecost, everyone could understand clearly what was being said. Through the power of God’s love, Their diversity actually created understanding and order, resulting in unity.
The many immigrants and foreigners who had converged on Jerusalem that day returned to their homes and spread the Gospel message of love and grace and the church began to spread like a wildfire throughout the world.
As I prepared for this Sunday of Pentecost, images of the fire and wind that landed upon the early gatherings of disciples and transformed them, those images of wildfire played around in my mind.
My sermon title was this:
What sets you on fire? I was to ask you. What sets you on fire about being the church?
Then horrific news footage of fires on our streets emerged. We bore witness to the unspeakable – to George Floyd, savagely murdered at the hands of a violent cop while 3 others just stood there, this is heart wrenching --ignoring him saying --
Help me. I can’t breathe.
A man beloved by God,
a man called a “gentle giant” by his friends,
a man legendary for being a peacemaker in places of conflict and struggle.
We cannot forget him.
We cannot forget the many times we have seen the same situation, Rodney King 30 years ago, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. The names change but the color doesn’t, not just for 30 years but for 100s of years.
And even though injustice in the criminal justice system is all too real, we cannot forget the many good police men and women who are targets of hatred and violence too.
What’s happening to Black America must effect and shape the church to be the place where we come together to do the right thing. We have a better chance of beating the virus of racism and inequality if we do it together as people of faith beseeching the empowerment of God’s almighty grace. For It’s in church we pray the Lord’s Prayer.
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Church is a place where we pray about all of this. We pray for peace. Yes, but prayer is not enough.
After this week, I bet most of us who don’t get down on our knees ARE down on our knees praying incessantly. Yet the prayers from the hearts of good, loving church people have not stopped white supremacy, our collective prayers have not dismantled systemic racism.
We must turn our prayers in church into praying with our feet. Our Christian goodwill needs to turn into bold action if we are ever going to stop this.
Why is this our problem for many of us who are loving white men and women, who wouldn’t hurt a flea? Most of us aren’t violent people. We’re scared and exhausted. We’re overwhelmed. We need comfort.
God is our comforter. God will comfort you now while everything is so scary. Jesus promises us he gives us the Holy Spirit as our comforter. What’s also true is the church is THE place where we comfort the afflicted.
Where Jesus says, Take up your cross and follow me. Love your neighbor who is different from you, who seems foreign to you, serve the marginalized and the oppressed You will be infused with blessing by being the church.
We have to believe that the Lord will give us strength and courage to face our fears together.
As frightening as this is, let us not let the fire in the city streets mask the pain, the fear, the anger, the anguish, and obscure the injustice and voice of Black men, women and children who need to be heard. Most of us know that violence is never the answer. That hate begets more hate.
Let not the fires in our cities turn us away from what we know to be true about the purifying fires of Pentecost, the metaphorical fires, where the love of the Holy spirit unifies and transcends hate.
The Pentecost fire that propels us into works of doing justice, acting compassionately, walking humbly with our God.
Where we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
We are being church when we follow Jesus’ teachings, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
If the fires of Pentecost shows us anything,
It’s that God needs us to be the church more than ever. God needs us to show love and understanding. God needs more of us to be like George Floyd.
He was a Christian, a peacemaker, a bible studier and teacher. Where there was despair he brought hope. He mentored young Black men, for decades and helped them turn away from guns to Jesus. A person of peace, ushering ministries into neighborhoods, even setting up a bathtup into one neighborhood for baptisms, out in the streets, forging unity, bringing faith.”
These are scary times. And in scary times, it's tempting to circle the wagons, to protect ourselves.
But maybe the story of Pentecost, which is both the past of the church and the future of the church, rests in listening and understanding and taking new risks by crossing barriers with one another. Maybe we are here to walk together in the same direction, knowing that God is still speaking in God's inviting, loving, challenging language to each of us in words we are called to understand."