May 31st | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | John 20:19-23
Perhaps this year we can understand a little better what the disciples were going through following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. They were sequestered in an upper room. In ancient Jerusalem, you can visit the cennaculum, the traditional site of the Last Supper, though the archeology is a little spurious. Within the upper room is an upper, upper room - known as “the Pentecost Room.” It is small and without windows. There is one door. So, it is possible to imagine the disciples, cowering behind the locked door, hoping no one would come looking for them and lead them away to the fate of their master.
According to some traditions, they had been cooped up in that room for a “week of weeks,” leaving only to accompany Jesus to the top of the Mount of Olives for his ascension. With no windows and only one door, the air must have been a bit stagnant, a tad tainted, even moderately malodorous. The fetid air of of the pre-Pentecost church was filled with fear, suspicion, and agitation.
But then, sometime before nine o’clock in the morning, there came the sound of a rushing wind, as Luke tells us. Into that stifling room, blew fresh air - bringing a sweetness and freshness that enlivened the disciples and filled them with a sense of their calling to be witnesses and make disciples of all nations. They felt the power and presence of God coursing through their veins and spirits. Fear was gone, replaced by a commitment and courage that surprised them. The hesitation and shilly-shallying that had been there regular approach to life had dissipated and in their place was confidence and conviction.
They began their history-changing work that day. They went throughout the known world and their own disciples kept their work moving forward. As new lands were discovered, the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ went into those places - not always with the compassion and justice that would have made Jesus happy - but with an earnestness born of convictions they took the gospel to the world.
The world in which we live has become a foul and fetid place. We have watched as, over recent years, the fabric of our nation has become frayed and ragged. The nobility with which the word “American” was greeted around the world has become the punchline to a bad joke. Our national motto is no longer - “e pluribus unum” - “one out of many” - but “perdendos mites” - “destroy the poor.”
Throughout the corona crisis, we have seen a disproportionate number of cases and deaths among the poor, among brown and black people, among those who have been left behind while we were absorbed in watching the rising stock market. 40 million of our neighbors have lost their jobs and have filed for unemployment assistance, with a significant percentage of those people being brown or black. Food banks are facing shortages because the demand for food has skyrocketed and among those most in need are those who are brown and black.
The air is particularly noxious and pernicious whenever the wind shifts and blows our lack of understanding of race and racism back into our faces. We have chosen not to understand or accept our white privilege. We assume that everyone has the benefits that we enjoy. Those who don’t have what we have are simply lazy or prefer to be dependent on others. In the words of our Brief Statement of Faith, “we have accepted lies as truth.”
This week the air became even more foul and fusty as we watched George Floyd die. The stench of his death has blown across the country on winds of anger, rage, and infuriation. And we white folks sit back, shake our heads, and wonder what is wrong with people.
If it were only George Floyd, it would have been enough. But,
Eric Garner John Crawford III
Michael Brown Ezell Ford
Dante Parker Michele Cusseaux
Laquan McDonald George Manor
Tanisha Anderson Akai Gurley
Tamar Rice Romain Brishon
Jerome Reid Matthew Azibade
Frank Smart Natasha McKenna
Tony Robinson Anthony Hill
Maya Hall Philip White
Eric Harris Walter Scott
William Chapman III Alexis Christian
Brendon Glenn Victor Manuel Larissa
Jonathan Sanders Freddie Blue
Joseph Mann Salvado Allswood
Sandra Bland Albert Joseph Davis
Darius Stewart Billy Ray Davis
Samuel Dabose Michael Sabre
Brian Keith Day Christian Taylor
Troy Robinson Assham Pharoah Manley
Felix Kumi Keith Harrison McLeod
Junior Prosper Lamontez Jones
Paterson Brown Dominic Hutchison
Anthony Ashford Alonzo Smith
Tyree Crawford India Kager
La’Vante Biggs Michael Lee Marshall
Jamar Clark Richard Perkins
Nathaniel Harris Pickett Bennie Lee Tignor
Miguel Epinal Michael Noel
Kevin Matthews Bettie Jones
Quintonio Ligrier Keith Childress Jr.
Janet Wilsen Randy Nelson
Centronie Scott Wendell Celestine
David Joseph Colin Roguemore
Dyzhawn Pertino Christopher Davis
Marco Loud Peter Gaines
Torrey Robinson Kevin Hicks
Mary Truxillo Denarius Sumer
Willie Tillman Terri Thomas
Slyville Smith Alton Sterling
Philando Castile Teresa Crutcher
Paul O’Neal Alteria Woods
Jordan Edwards Aaron Bailey
Ronell Foster Stephan Clark
Antwon Rosen Botham Jean
Pamela Turner Dominique Clayton
Atatiana Jefferson Christopher McCrowly
Eric Reason Michael Lorenzo Dean
Breonna Taylor and George Floyd1
Eric Garner died in July, 2014. In the six years since, twice the number of black Americans died at the hands of police than white Americans. Maybe if we let that sink in, we’ll begin to understand why black Americans are so upset. Maybe if we hear all their names, we will begin to understand that these are not isolated events but part of a pattern. While there is no excuse for - and we cannot condone - the violence and riots and looting and all the other chaos we have witnessed over the last few nights, we can at least begin to understand why people have taken to the streets.
It was Eric Garner who first said, six years ago, “I can’t breathe.” This week, it was George Floyd who said the exact same words. They could not physically breathe - take in air - sustain their lives.
But we are all having trouble breathing right now. The air around us is not good. The invisible poisons of hatred, division, prejudice, racism, rancor, inequality, and injustice are choking the life out of us.
We need some fresh air - and lucky for us, this is the day of fresh air. The word we translate spirit, can also be translated as wind, breath, air. We need a new wind to blow across our country and around our world, chasing away the fumes of death we have been breathing and filling our lungs with life-giving, life-changing air. We need the presence and empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to come with the sound of a rushing wind and reinvigorate the church and its people to stand up and speak out and challenge the way of death in which we have been marinating for far too long.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, told us this eternal truth: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” God’s people - you and I - cannot be silent any longer. We white Christian Americans must stand up and stand for our brown and black brothers and sisters, regardless of their faith or creed. We who have received the Holy Spirit, the Life-Giving Breath, the Sacred Wind, the Empowering Air - must burst out of our hiding places and be witnesses in Evansville, in Newburgh, in Henderson, in Mt. Vernon, in Carmi, in Morganfield, in Minneapolis, in New York, in Nashville, in Los Angeles, in Denver - wherever we find ourselves and can bring God’s presence, truth, hope, and life to those who need it most.
If we are to take our discipleship seriously, we must put the needs of our neighbors - and especially our brown and black neighbors - before our own perceived needs. We must speak, act, lobby, vote - and if need be - peacefully confront those who stand in the way of the promised blessings of life for all God’s people. We must not let history cast us as silent in a time such as this.
On this Day of Pentecost, we need fresh air and, luckily, our God provides it. On this Day of Pentecost, the wind of God is blowing into our lungs and lives, bringing the power of God into the soiled and sullied places of our world. The noxious fumes of fratricide are being replaced with the pleasant perfume of peace and parity. The Spirit is enabling us to hear the despair of over 400 years and is empowering us to bring long-promised change to an in-this-moment reality.
The Spirit of Pentecost is alive and well and blowing into our world today. The fresh air of God is blowing into our world this very day. The tornadic wind of God is reducing the ancient structures of prejudice and injustice to rubble.
May we welcome the Spirit! May we raise our sails and follow where the Spirit-wind blows! May we be the turbines that turn the Wind of God into powerful change!
And may all God’s children breathe - and breathe the fresh air of God’s own goodness.
For now and evermore. Amen.