Yesterday we celebrated Pentecost, one of the most exciting days in our Christian Year. It is the birthday of the church and marks a time when disciples no longer feared but were energized to proclaim the good news of God’s love through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Scriptures in the book of Acts
tell us how the Holy Spirit came upon a group of Jesus' followers, hidden in an upper room. A violent wind and tongues of fire were the symbols of this new thing that was moving and stirring in their lives. The Spirit that blew into that room was the very breath of God - the Hebrew word for spirit,
, means breath. It is the same breath that God breathed into the dust to create life. And this creating Spirit filled the hearts and lungs of the disciples who had been hiding in fear, and gave them courage to speak boldly of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom he preached of love for God and neighbor, of reconciling community, of restoring justice.
And yet we are experiencing a time when the pandemic spread of COVID-19, a highly-contagious respiratory virus, has snuffed the breath of over
and over 300,000 people worldwide.
We are also witnessing the growing protests in the aftermath of the death of
in Minnesota whose cries, "I can't breathe" were among his final words before the wight of a white police officer's knee, pressed against his neck for nearly nine minutes, ended his life.
As your pastor, I feel compelled to speak to these issues of life and health and justice. Some of you in reading this far are already posturing yourself for a political discussion. But I assure, the only politics in this letter are the politics of the kingdom of God. Because if we have been paying attention to the teachings and example of Jesus - from his birth to his death, and in the time he spent with his disciples in the 40 days following his resurrection - we have surely learned that Jesus call us to care for the sick, the hurting and the dying.
And in this sense, there is no Democratic or Republican response to the COVID-19 pandemic; for us, there can only be a compassionate Christ-like response.
What would Jesus do for those who are most at-risk from this virus? for those who have lost their jobs, their paychecks, their health insurance and their livelihoods because of this pandemic?
How would Jesus have us change our activities and behaviors in order to protect the most vulnerable of our community?
How are we called to be a Good Neighbor to the lonely, the least and the lost?
- Pray daily for those most vulnerable to the serious health risks associated with the virus
- Pray daily for an effective treatment and vaccine
- Call, text and check in regularly with your family, friends, neighbors and those you know who are living alone or in fear
We also have surely learned that Jesus calls us to speak up for the marginalized, the oppressed, and those who continue to suffer from the effects of systemic racism in our country.
And in this sense there is no Democratic or Republican response to the death of George Floyd or
, or to the brutal assault of
, or to the growing protests by those who have been marginalized, abused, and oppressed for centuries; for us, there is only a compassionate Christ-like response.
What would Jesus do for those whose loved ones have been attacked or killed as a result of hatred and racism?
What would Jesus have us learn from this time of political uprising calling for justice on behalf of an oppressed community?
How are we called to be a Good Neighbor to those whose skin color, language, culture or lifestyle differs from ours?
- Learn to be an Ally. Those of us who are white have a lot to learn about our privilege and fragility. In order to be a voice for justice, we must intentionally educate ourselves about the work of ending racism. Here are some great Anti-Racism Resources for White People.
- Confess and Repent from Complicity. Many of us who are white have committed racist sins, sometimes knowingly, and sometimes without even realizing that our words or actions were causing harm. We must do the spiritual work of searching within to acknowledge the times we have been complicit, in thought or in action, in hateful or racists attitudes or behaviors. Here is a great resource from The Upper Room: Reaching In, Reaching Up, Reaching Out: The Spiritual Work of Overcoming Racism
- Learn to Listen to the Experience of Racism. One of the reasons that race relations are reaching a boiling point in our country again today is because of the advent of camera phones and the ability to capture video footage in real time of racist actions. These are not new experiences. They are simply newly available for those of us who have never had these personal experiences to witness them for ourselves. We must learn to listen to (and believe) the experiences of our black and brown siblings. Here are the accounts of four United Methodist Clergy of Color: The Threat of Blackness: Four UMC Pastors Speak Out
- Grieve with Those who Grieve. Our siblings of color, especially those in the Black community, are experiencing tremendous trauma and grief. They need our hearts to feel their loss and pain. They need our tears. And they need our prayers. Here is a glimpse into their grief: The Unbearable Grief of Black Mothers
- Love the People. Pray for the families and communities of both victim and perpetrators. Pray for those protesting and those working to keep the peace. Pray for lawmakers and other government officials. Pray for community leaders and faith leaders. Here is a pastor letter from our Bishop Laurie Haller: That We May Love the Way You Love
This is not an exhaustive list! If anything, it's a beginning of the work that we can do to allow God's Holy Spirit, God's Creating Breath, to enter our hearts and move us with love toward world-changing wholeness, toward peace that passes understanding.
"Speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor." - Proverbs 31:8-10 (CEB)