I stand here this morning, searching for the right words to say. It is at times like these that people turn to religious leaders for guidance, and I do not seem to be able to come up with any. I am angry, and I am sad, and I am sick of being both. A large part of my job is writing and speaking and cannot seems to find the right words. One would think I would be used to this by now, I mean, this is not the first time a white Cop has killed a black man, and this certainly is not the first time black people have protested, and white people have complained about it.
Now I know that all Cops are not bad; in fact, the vast majority of them a good, and they go about their jobs every day without incident; however, it only takes one, or in this case, a few to stain the bunch. The more significant issue we face is silence. Silence in the face of atrocity equals acceptance of that atrocity. The good have a moral obligation to speak out, act out, protest, or whatever it takes when faced with atrocities. Remaining silent is no longer an option.
I am a white, heterosexual male who grew up in a privileged family. Now let me define what I mean by privilege because this is important. Privilege does not mean I was handed the things I have or the positions I hold; on the contrary, I worked extremely hard to get where I am to have the things I have. Privilege means I was not denied any of those things, housing, education, healthcare, employment, equal rights, etc. based on my race, gender, or sexual preference.
For example, although I get nervous when pulled over by the police, I do not have to worry about being beaten or even killed because of my race. On average, I get paid the same amount as other white men in similar positions with similar qualifications, but at a higher rate than women with the same skills. I can walk into any bakery in America and order a wedding cake without having to worry that the baker will not want to bake the cake because they disagree with my lifestyle and who I have chosen to fall in love with. Basically, as a white man, I do not have to worry about much, the laws were written for me by guys who look like me.
Again, I am not saying that I did not have to work hard for what I have and where I am, but my race, gender, and sexual orientation did not prevent me from obtaining any of that. This cannot be said to be true across the board.
Now I do not know all the facts of the case that lead to the death of George Floyd, but I do know that a handcuffed man that posed no threat to police or other bystanders had his life squeezed out of him on a street in Minneapolis. I also know this, no human being, created in the image and likeness of God, should be treated that way, no one. Racism, plain and simple, is a sin and is incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have a confession to make. In my lifetime, I have told jokes that one would consider racist I have also laughed at jokes that one would consider racist, and I am sure, if we are honest, we have all done the same. I am sorry for all of it. I do not make excuses about the times were different or any of that, the jokes I told and the jokes I laughed at were racist and incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I have to strive to do better.
You see, racism, sexism, and all of the other “isms” begin with us they begin with the joke, with the laugh and all the rest, and yes, it will eventually rise to the level of a white Cop murdering a black man in the street like he was some animal. While we go about our relatively sheltered lives, people are being killed in the streets. This must come to an end, and our silence must come to an end.
I would like us to think about a pond where the water is very still. The surface of that pond is so still that it looks almost like a glass. In your hand, you hold a pebble at about the height of your waist. You open your hand and drop that pebble into the vast body of water in front of you. The calmness of that water is now disturbed as ripped move outward from where you dropped that pebble. The order of the water has changed; its essence remains the same, it is still water, but everything around it has been disturbed and the large to pebble or stone, the more disturbed that water will be.
We are that pebble, and we need to allow ourselves to be dropped into that water to disturb it, but before we can hope to make a difference, we must be changed ourselves. We cannot change or influence what happens on the other side of the country. Less than 100 people will hear this sermon, so the influence of my words will not be that large. But if we change what is in our hearts, we will begin to make a difference. If we start to change the way we feel about others, we will start to make a difference. If we genuinely love our neighbor, and that means all our neighbors without qualification, then we being to make a difference in the world, but it must begin with us.
Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost. Some call this feast the birthday of the Church, I am not so sure about that but what I am certain about is this is the feast that celebrates the boldness of the people that would go on and found what we now call the Christian Church.
The story of Pentecost is about the Spirit of God coming upon a small group of people assembled by a charismatic teacher to try and change the way things were done. Keep in mind that this charismatic teacher was killed for political reasons by people that had abused others for generations and were afraid of losing power and influence. Sure, we talk about it in theological terms but, Jesus was killed for political reasons.
But gathered in the Upper Room were regular people that Jesus had assembled, and the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them and emboldened them to preach a message of love and forgiveness that had never been taught before. The Holy Spirit did not come upon the whole world; it came initially upon those gathered in that room. Sure, God could have converted the entire world in one shot, but God gave us free will at the moment of creation; we are the ones in control; we are the ones who decide our destiny, not God. Some heard the message and converted, but there were many more that did not.
Just as a footnote, all of those gathered in that Upper Room that day save the Gospel writer John would be killed by people who did not want to give up power.
But the fuse had been lit, and no matter what, it was not going to go out.
For the last several weeks, I have been mentioning that I believe that the Church, and by that, I mean all of us, is being called to a new mission in the light of the COVID-19 lockdown. We have found new ways to be Church that we must carry on with. We, the Church are reaching more people now then we could have ever hoped to have reached before. We have taken the message of love and forgiveness out past the walls of the Church and into the streets to the people that need to hear that message.
But we are being called to more than that we are called to be the voice of the voiceless and to speak for those on the margins; we must do this we have no choice. We can no longer sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to do it; we are that someone else. We have to stand up to a system that places less of a value on some people than others. We have to fight racism and all of the other isms at the root, and that starts with our hearts. We have to be able to see another human being and see the dive spark in them, the very breath of God in them, and love them for that. If we cannot, then we need to find a way to do that because hatred and discrimination are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and has no place in the life of people that call themselves Christian.
When I started this, I told you that some of you might be mad at what I was about to say. If you were, I want you to think about that anger, are you angry at what I have said because you disagree? Are you made because you agree? Or are you mad because I am forcing you to see what you believe and think of other people? You are the only one who can answer those questions, and you have to answer them.
Pentecost is here, the Holy Spirit is here, and she is calling us to be bold in our message of love and forgiveness all we have to do is listen and accept that we are forgiven, and we are loved then, and only then, will we be ready to change the world.