The Day of Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley
May 31, 2020
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In the Name of God. Amen.
I am angry. I am angry and ashamed. Once again, those responsibility for maintaining peace and security and the rule of law have subverted the rule of law, and committed murder. I am, of course speaking of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Four policemen in arresting an unarmed man, killed him after they already had him under control. The incident was captured in a number of different videos. It is some comfort that the officers were immediately fired and that the mayor is calling for criminal charges to be brought against them. These will not bring George Floyd back to life. That Mr. Floyd was alleged to be a forger and that the apprehension of him was part of the policemen’s job is beside the point. Here is what matters:
- Deadly force was used to arrest an unarmed man. The policemen’s lives were never in danger.
- The alleged crime was a non-violent one.
- The incident lasted several minutes as one of the police put pressure with his knee to the back Mr. Floyd’s neck.
- Several times Mr. Floyd informed his captors that he could not breathe.
- Then he stopped breathing and died.
- Floyd was black.
This should not happen to any citizen. Not ever. That four trained professional peace officers could not control a single unarmed person without killing him is not credible. That’s bad enough. The thing that makes it even worse is that too often encounters white police officers and black men end in unnecessary deaths. Every mother of a black man in this country worries about whether her son will survive another day or whether some encounter with a police officer will leave him dead. There is no excuse for this in our country which claims to be committed to the principle that all people are created equal and have equal rights under the law. The fact is that in this country people with privilege and power are treated better by our legal institutions than those who are poor or black or brown. And white people have more privilege than black people. This must stop.
It is also important to thank the huge majority of police officers that put their lives at risk every day to protect and serve all of us and who are very careful about their use of force and are respectful all human beings in every encounter.
Today is the Day of Pentecost. Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. God gives us divine power to participate with God in the building of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. In that kingdom everyone equally is an image of the divine, everyone equally is a child of God. Today, we are called by the death of George Floyd to rededicate ourselves to battling for the rights of the oppressed. We commit ourselves to holding our government and legal institutions accountable for maintaining the rule of law. No one is above the law. I have made myself a promise that whenever there is a case of an unarmed black man being killed by the police, I will not let it pass without comment. That is why I am speakin g this way today. Even if, as in this case, the event occurs in another state, we all have an obligation to speak out and insist that the United States as a country, as our country, will not tolerate such actions and will labor to eradicate the legacies of slavery and racism from our land. Last Monday we celebrated those who gave their lives so that this country could continue to be an example of liberty and justice for all. Let us not let their sacrifices be in vain.
This is the day when the Holy Spirit comes upon in flames of fire. In the Gospel of John when Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples, he tells us that we are to forgive sins. Thus, despite my anger at what happened to George Floyd, I am still called to forgive the men that killed him. I have to forgive those whose anger and frustration has expressed itself in violence and vandalism. I have to forgive those who do not see the problem or acquiesce to it as unsolvable. I have to forgive those who are bigoted or believe that black and brown people are less valuable than white people. I have to pray for their healing, conversion, and redemption. And we as a society have to hold them accountable to the principles which define our country and our common life.
This service is the Eucharist. We give thanks to God for all the blessings that God has showered upon us. We give thanks that God has called us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life. We give thanks that God has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us to make a difference in our world. Let us take this tragedy as an invitation to make our society a little more like the Kingdom of God, whose proximity Jesus so insistently proclaimed.
Here is an excerpt from our bishops’ communication to us on this event:
The injustice against people of color we have seen in recent weeks is not tolerable. It is contrary to the will of God and our Christian witness. We must speak up. We must work for change. And we must repent for the ways we are complicit in the ongoing violence in our society. We do this work together. We do this work for God. And we do this work so that all God’s people may know safety, hope, and love.
What can we do? We can pray for ourselves, for Mr. Floyd, for his killers, for those who will investigate and hold wrongdoers accountable. We will pray for our country, for our elected officials, and for guidance in how we will vote when we have the chance to do so. We will pray for the courage to proclaim God’s love for all people and God’s desire that we treat each other with respect and love at all times and in all situations. And we will use our voices and our votes to insist that our country live up to its principles. We will use our accounts on Facebook, Twitter, messaging, email, and so on to proclaim God’s hunger for justice and mercy. We will insist on the biblical principle that the purpose of government is to protect the week, poor and oppressed from abuse from the strong, the wealthy, and the powerful.
This is Pentecost, the feast of the first fruits. What will we offer to God this day? Will we offer ourselves to God to be used for God’s purposes? This is Pentecost, and we celebrate God’s gift of holy power. What will do with this holy power that burns in our hearts like a flame and blows through our lives like a mighty wind?