See Jesus. Show Jesus. Share Jesus.
In these days of online worship, I've been working to get the service put together and filmed early in the week, just in case there's a technological glitch that requires extra time. This week, I'm tempted to trash all that work and start over. Because on the day when we should be celebrating the Breath of God breathing through us, George Floyd's last words, "I can't breathe." are spray-painted over buildings and fences around riot-torched storefronts where I used to shop. The COVID-19 death toll in America has eclipsed 100,000 deaths. A respiratory virus robbing more than 100,000 people of breath. If ever we could use God's breath blowing through us, it's now.
Don't get me wrong, gathering in large groups without masks as the death toll rises is not okay. Destruction of property is never okay. Torching a police precinct and preventing firefighters from responding is never okay. And neither is kneeling on a man's throat beyond the moment when he is no longer responsive. Staying there for long minutes after he gasps his final "I can't breathe" is definitely not okay.
How do we address the violence of angry mobs, and the violence against persons of color to which those mobs respond, in light of the message of Pentecost, where “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9-11a) received the good news that salvation is for all people?
How can I possibly help you experience the close presence of the Holy Spirit in this age of online worship and physical distancing? How can the fiery wind of the Spirit ignite us all to put out the flames of injustice and frustration that fuel race riots? How is Holy Spirit breathing into our church, while a beloved child of God’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” echo unanswered? What new language is Holy Spirit speaking through each of us this Pentecost?
Here's what we can do. White people, listen to brothers and sisters of color. Don't interrupt. If you don't have any friends of color, start reading up on racial injustice. In fact, start reading before you engage in conversation with people of color. As my friend Jelani Greenidge says, "Don't come to me wanting a conversation until you've done your homework." Jelani is a pastor, so he doesn't stop there. He put together a list of books to get you reading and thinking and maybe even talking to each other about systemic racism. Here's the link.
Think we don't have a problem in New Ulm, because after all, this town is 99% white? That's the problem. We are the problem. Every white person in America benefits from a system that was designed from the beginning to value light skin over dark skin. The only way to change that system is for white people to own it and do something about it. Before any of that can happen, however, we need to start listening. Not arguing, not debating, certainly not defending - listening.
And when you think about it, that's what God calls us to do as followers of Jesus Christ. Listen to the hurt. Listen to the despair. Listen to the heart of the matter. Then respond in love, as Jesus loves. "Lay down your life" love. "Let your enemy take care of you like the Good Samaritan took care of the Jew in the ditch" love. "Your neighbor as yourself" love.
This Sunday will be different...
We conclude our "Heart of the Matter" worship series this week with the celebration of Pentecost. And there will be Holy Communion! Here's how it will work: Consecrated Communion kits are in the Little Free Library at the church. Stop by and pick up enough for your household. If you know someone in our congregation who cannot access the online worship service, there are some "Home Communion" instruction sheets in the box with the Communion kits, which you can share with those folks. Please only take what you will use yourself, or know you will be able to deliver today or tomorrow. This isn't toilet paper to hoard. It's the Body and Blood of Christ to share.
If you would prefer to use your own bread and "cup" that's fine, too. The Communion service will include a consecration of your personally-provided elements. Just be sure to consume all that you prepare - there should be nothing left over (kinda like a Passover meal). And remember to check into the "Coffee Time" after worship!
See you online, Church!
A final word...
This past Wednesday, as I said 'goodbye' to the children of our congregation, I was moved to realize how they have grown "in wisdom and stature" and how much I will miss them. Then yesterday I received a note from someone whose family has provided a tablet, so this parishioner can watch the Sunday service when it goes live online. This is someone you would never in your wildest dreams imagine could use technology. And I was moved once again to realize how it isn't only the children who have grown. We all have grown. We have all been changed by the power of that Holy Spirit who will not give up on us. Thanks be to God. I'm praying for you, Church.
Pastor Jo Anne