Today is the feast of Pentecost, and we gather in memory of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promised gift to his disciples. It has been fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. For the past days, Jesus kept appearing to them in various ways to remind the disciples of his radical teachings of the power of God’s transforming love. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) Jesus had invested heavily in teaching the power of peace and forgiveness as the fullest expressions of God’s love. It was a subversive movement struggling against a powerful oppressive culture. And, fifty days after Jesus was crucified, the disciples were struggling with the enormity of the task of carrying on the teachings and practices of Jesus while living in fear of the cruelty of the authorities. It must have been a paralyzing fear that kept them trapped in hiding places. The over-riding question might have been, “How can we do this without Jesus?” Oh yes, there was much trepidation.
This week I lost a friend and brother, his wife lost a husband, and his sons lost a father due to the horrible effects of the COVID-19 Virus. We prayed; we hoped; we laughed, and in the end, he died. Now, we do not know how to grieve; how to say farewell because the world has changed so much our rituals regarding grief are now so different; succinct and compressed. Our fear, pain and sadness are so overwhelming, and we can’t cling to the old traditions which we used for comfort and support. The COVID-19 virus has ravaged our communities robbing us of the few who had any semblance of generational wisdom as well as the economic stability we work towards when we work in the now dangerous places like hospitals and grocery stores.
My friends, in many ways, I believe we are in the same place as the disciples were on Pentecost; struggling as a church, as a nation and especially for us, as communities of color. We are deeply perplexed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of sustaining hope and God’s love amidst our deep-seated fear and overwhelming pain and deepening anger. Some of the perplexing questions are:
How can a religion formed by an oppressed people travel to Europe and the Americas and evolve into a tool of oppression?
How did a religion, built upon universality and equity, become a corner stone of colonialism and slavery?
How can a church, born out of God’s fire, become complicit in the ongoing racial injustices that lie at the heart of our nation?
Wouldn’t it be surprising and disheartening to discover that Dereck Chauvin was a Christian?
This dissonance was also so graphically revealed in the recent Central Park incident in which the scab of liberalism was ripped away to reveal the truth lying just below the surface of our society. Sadly, many of our liberal friends and leaders are yet to understand that the sounds they make as they shout from positions of privilege ring hollow in our communities. It is called white noise! For oppression to end it must be acknowledged, and the perpetrator must assume the position of penitence. The oppressor must seek the forgiveness of the oppressed and set about making restitution. This process of confession and forgiveness lies at the heart of Christianity. Many get excited about the flames of Pentecost and neglect the work and responsibilities which Pentecost demands. The Church acknowledges its complicity in the havoc wreaked upon communities of color. But has the Church ask for forgiveness and will it make restitution?
George Floyd’s death was triggered by a questionable $20.00 bill. While this may seem upsetting to some, it is the reality of life in black and brown communities where distrust tarnishes every encounter. We are constantly viewed through the lens of hate and distain forever destined to a life of vulnerability.
Many believe our cities are burning simply because of police action, a poor decision, and these people turn a blind eye to the huge disparities in education, health, finance, and mental health. They are silent when the need to ensure our sons enjoy the same comforts as their own sons. We as a people have been diminished and discarded due to other people’s short-sidedness and unfounded fears. The Church has been quite complicit by its unwillingness to be an agent of healing to repair the breach by telling the whole story of our presence in the room on the day of Pentecost. The scripture shares there were representatives from Libya and shares that an Ethiopian eunuch was one of the first Christians. To simplify the issue, today inhuman policing leaves us just like the disciples, sitting in a room in Jerusalem cowering in fear rather than spreading the truth of the tremendous power of God. We are all in the room together.
On the day of Pentecost, as overwhelming as the task may have seemed, it was not beyond the power, wisdom, and vision of God. The disciples experienced for the first time the greatness of God and became living witnesses to His power. They were set on fire and assumed the position of Jesus and released themselves to fall in love with God through Christ Jesus. The cross became a symbol of freedom and a clarion call much as “My Hands Are Up! Don’t shoot.”
“The Resurrection has proved its power; there are Christians—even in Rome.” This is how Karl Barth, renowned Swiss theologian, described the conversion of the Roman Christians in his famous work The Epistle to the Romans. What he meant was the Resurrection of Jesus Christ had proved its reality. “There were, in fact, Christians in Rome, the capital of the oppressive empire whose authority had crucified Jesus, and that was indeed sufficient grounds for thanksgiving and belief.” (Why the Enslaved Adopted the Religion of Their Masters—and Transformed It. Dante Stewart)
Can the fires of Pentecost reveal there are Christians in America? Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For they know we are Christians by our love! Our Hands Are Up! Don’t Shoot!