Pentecost Sunday is generally considered the birthday of the church. It is when
the disciples are clothed with power from on high, and initiated for the mission of
sharing Jesus’ message with all people.
But Pentecost makes for an uneasy and unstable celebration. For as much as I like
to celebrate Pentecost and the birthday of the church, I find so much of this story
unsettling. There is the deafening sound like a violent wind. There are the tongues
of fire, the chaotic demonstration of the Spirit’s power as the disciples speak in
many different languages Then there is Peter’s cryptic quoting from the prophet
Joel, of “signs on the earth below, blood, and fire and smoky mist.”
Indeed, it’s so disconcerting that the temptation is to try and domesticate the
wild and unruly Spirit in favor of gentler images, a Spirit of gentleness or as a
dove. We can’t bear the utter wildness of the Spirit, or its disruptive powers at
work in the world and the church, so we try to control it in some way by making it
gentler. But the outpouring of the Spirit is an untamable reality. It is a naked and
unmediated experience of the divine. The Spirit at Pentecost sharpens us,
convicts us and grants moral clarity about the reality of brokenness and evil in our
world which put Christ to death. And it bears witness to its own demonstration of
power by raising Jesus from the dead.
Pastor Ben from Bethlehem preached a few weeks back, and he said that he liked
to preach against injustice because people don’t expect churches to take a strong
stand against those who are harming the most vulnerable in our communities. He
said, a lot of times churches seem to be on the side of coded intolerance and
hate. And it made me think that it’s not so much that people have a negative few
of the church or of Christians- it’s just that they don’t expect much from us. They
think the church cares more about itself than it does about risking itself to
standing up for the poor and vulnerable.
I think about all of this in relation to George Floyd the black man who was killed in
Minneapolis by a white police officer. I think about this as well as Ahmaud Arbery,
Breoanna Tylor and countless others who were killed because of the color of their
skin. I think about the church’s interface with this country as we see deep pain
and suffering express itself in the riots and flames raging in cities across the
country, including San Diego and La Mesa. I think about what the wild and
untamable Spirit blowing through our churches looks like today.
In our gospel reading, on the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus warns the disciples that
because the world hated him, it would hate them. But this is not because they
believed in Jesus or were Christians in name only. It’s not because they
intellectually ascended to a set of beliefs about Jesus. That’s not why the disciples
would be hated.
But as one Orthodox priest put it, “They were hated because they followed Jesus-
they went where Jesus went and did what Jesus did. Christ led them, as he leads
us, to become lowly and identify with the hated, even to the point of death.”
Jesus tells his disciples that he was hated without cause- not because he did
anything wrong, but because he identified with the poor, the outcast, the sinner.
And it was because of his solidary with the hated and the suffering that his
followers could expect to meet the same resistance and hatred as he did.
And far from being a church that didn’t take a strong stand, the early church loved
and sheltered those who were pushed out to the margins and were most
vulnerable, the poor, the sick, those in prison, those who were ostracized. Indeed,
this was at the very core of what it meant to follow Jesus.
Christian Melissa Moore states that, “a commitment to dismantling white
supremacy, (on both personal and systemic levels) is a core discipleship issue, not
a side ‘social justice’ issue.” It’s not a point on a partisan political spectrum. But
following Jesus and showing solidarity with those who are suffering and hated
and targeted today is at the very heart and core of what it means to be a disciple
And once we see that following Jesus means identifying with the poor and
vulnerable as at the heart of discipleship, and not a side issue, then things start to
take a different turn for us. We start to examine our hearts and ask a different set
For example, why are we more shocked and disturbed by riots than we are by the
death of a man who didn’t deserve to die?
Why are we more saddened and outraged by the destruction of property which
can be replaced and rebuilt, than we are by the murder of a beautiful and
precious a child of God, who isn’t coming back?
A building can be rebuilt, but a human life that is unjustly extinguished cannot be.
It’s a shame that the horrific acts of some obscure the good officers out there.
There are women and men who feel a call to serve the community- to protect and
serve, who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.
And yet the cycles and generations of inequality and brutality continue, despite
the good officers. Generations of crushed dreams rise up in the smoke and
flames. The riots are but a symptom of deep pain, anger and suffering that we can
hardly scratch the surface of.
Systematic racism is a reality in our country, in our institutions. Police
departments for sure, but also banking systems, health care systems, the military,
school systems, and yes even churches. We could spend hours and hours on how
stereotypes, suspicions, bias, unfounded assumptions and inequality play out
collectively in each of these systems, even our most beloved institutions. It breeds
dehumanization and inequality that crush the lives of black people, generation
And yet feeling guilty about it does no good. Guilt keeps us paralyzed in inaction.
Jesus frees us from all guilt, and the Spirit is forming us to be God’s people. You
are a beloved and beautiful child of God, and the Spirit will activate the God given
gift that is unique to you.
Notice who becomes the greatest witness of the Spirit’s power. It was Peter, the
very disciple whose courage failed him when he denied Jesus. He is the one who
speaks with the power of the Spirit. He says that God declares I shall “pour out my
Spirit upon all flesh” brown flesh, white flesh, black flesh.
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see
visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” I love this. The Holy Spirit doesn’t
write anyone off. There is no such thing as too young. For the young people out
there- The Spirit is shaping you for life-giving action, not in the future, but now.
Don’t say I’m too young. You will make an impact in God’s kingdom now.
And there is no such thing as too old. Sometimes people assume that if you are
older you are stuck in your ways, or that you will never change. But the Spirit
doesn’t write anyone off. You are never too old to be filled with the new life of
the Spirit, to have the humility to listen and gain a different perspective, to have
an open heart for those who have been pushed to the margins, to be angry about
inequality, to be shaped into the beautiful person that God has created you to be
so that you can share that beauty with another person. You are never to old for
the Spirit to breathe new life into you, because the Spirit doesn’t write anyone
off. No one is outside the scope of the Spirit’s transformation.
And those individual transformations form a collective transformation, a
movement in the Spirit of Pentecost as a church which leads to life-giving action
which causes us to take a stand with black children of God and bear witness to a
kingdom which is for all people.
We could call our city council and Police Commissioner and the mayors office and
advocate for greater de-escalation training for police.
We could protest and put our bodies out there with those who cry for justice.
We could donate to anti-racism organizations such as the Minnesota Freedom
Bail, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, or the People’s Institute for Survival
We could develop relationships with black organizations, or attend a black church
service remotely such as Bethel AME near downtown San Diego. I will not be
offended if you skip a Sunday to worship virtually with a black church in weeks to
If you have young children, expose them to black artists, black poets and authors,
or we could support black owned businesses.
In these and countless other ways, the Spirit will be our Advocate, as we advocate
and walk beside our black sisters and brothers.
And the real test will be can we do it for the long haul as a church?
It’s one thing to act and speak out or post on social media when everyone is angry
and the problem of racism seems so obvious to us now.
But what about a few weeks or months or years down the road?
Can we challenge ourselves to be partners and allies with black communities
when things go back to normal and seem fine?
Because racism and white supremacy go way, way back. And it will not be
dismantled overnight. It takes a dedicated church in partnership with countless
others who are committed to its undoing.
But the Spirit gives us new life for such ministry. After all this is the birthday of the
church, that liberative organization which followed a brown skinned Savior who
was murdered by the power of the State, but raised up from the dead, so nothing
The Spirit is leading us to where we need to be, even before we are ready. Can
you feel it? The Spirit is already sweeping us up to where we need to be, even
before we are ready to jump. The Spirit will sweep away all hierarchy of privilege
and inequality, just as Peter predicted through the prophet Joel. It will dismantle
obstacles that separate us from one another, that keep us from seeing those with
different skin colors as our most cherished sisters and brothers. The Spirit is
forming us and fashioning us to become the beautiful person God has created us
The Spirit is that wild and untamable reality which transforms us and heals our
hearts. Then people who don’t expect much from the church will take notice, and
come to know our crucified and risen Savior, who was hated and despised for
taking a stand with others who suffered hatred, and has come to welcome us all
into the multinational, multiethnic, multiracial kingdom of love. Amen.