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Wake Up - Sermon, 5/31/2020
June 2, 2020, 10:43 AM

The other day, Ann-Marie and I were awakened by an ambitious woodpecker who decided that 5:30 in the morning was the best time to try to put a hole in our house.  I never quite fell back asleep, so I spent some time thinking about waking up.  Well, first I was very annoyed at the stupid woodpecker, but after I calmed down, I spent some time thinking about waking up.

It seems that, every day, America wakes up to more bad news.  We now mark more than 100,00 deaths from the Corona virus – a number that is nearly impossible to fathom.  Closer to home, almost ten percent of the fatalities – eleven thousand people - have been here, in the Garden State.  It seems hard to believe that so many American lives have been lost in such a short period of time. 

But there is more going on in the country than the raging Corona virus.  We wake up to more than just increased death tolls in this country.  America also wakes up to news of tragic racism and racist violence.  From the connection between racial disparities and the spread of COVID-19 to public acts of racist violence, America wakes up to racism every day.

While racism is nothing new, and it certainly is not, racism reared its ugly head again this week in America in visible ways.  People around the country saw the murder of George Floyd at the hand of a white police officer.  Images of the murder of a human being have been broadcast to televisions, computer monitors, and cell phone screens all week. 

How can we reconcile the sight of a man’s murder with the story of the Holy Spirit’s arrival?  After all, today is Pentecost Sunday.  Many churches would normally be gathering with red balloons, red streamers, and red kites.  Many churches would normally celebrate the Holy Spirit’s birth with a special birthday cake during coffee hour.

But this year’s Pentecost needs to be different – and not just because of social distancing and staying safer at home.  This year’s Pentecost calls us to carefully examine the Holy Spirit’s birth and arrival with violent wind and tongues of fire in light of this week’s racist violence.  I often try to sanitize the story from Acts and make it sound like a joyous event – like a birthday party of sorts.  But the story of the first Christian Pentecost takes on a different tone for me today.    

As an example, towards the end of today’s reading from Acts, Peter recalls a quotation from the prophet Joel.  In Joel’s prophecy, he says that God is going to bring about a time when all people will have words to share from God – all ages of people, all states of people, and all conditions of people.  But the words that the people will share will not necessarily be words of peace and calm.

Instead, Joel prophesies that the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon to blood – blood, and fire, and smoky mist will fill the earth.  This does not sound like a cheerful, happy prophecy, but it also sounds like what many people are experiencing these days.

We need to listen to the challenging words of those in pain, especially those who are crying out from the pain of the knee of injustice on their necks.  Yes, today’s reading from Acts ends with a powerful promise, but no one can live into that promise without being challenged. 

The writer of Acts tries to comfort the audience by saying that, in the end, everyone who calls on the name of Christ will be saved.  Salvation is what some people might call our “end game” or our “goal.”  And we do look forward to the day of salvation.  But standing around idle, simply hoping for the fulfillment of our faith, does not excuse us from our earthly responsibilities.  We cannot allow our hopes for salvation and dreams of Christ’s return to lull us to sleep.       

As Christians, the challenge is not to fall asleep.  We cannot be lulled into complacency.  We are called to see all our sisters, brothers, and friends – indeed, all people – as beloved children of God.  Our baptism calls us to seek and serve Christ in all people.  We are called to strive for justice and peace among all people.  We must stay awake.  We must actively seek to end racism.

After all, a racist world is not God’s dream for creation.  A racist society is not Christ’s hope for the people.  A racist heart is not the Spirit’s desire for Christians. 

To the white people who receive this message, hear the cries of people of color and become anti-racist witnesses.  To the people of color who receive this message, hear my pledge to wake up and stay awake.  To Christians of all races who receive this message, hear Christ compelling us to build the beloved community.

The first Christian Pentecost saw a community wake up to the powerful presence and movement of the Holy Spirit.  Today, on Pentecost 2020, people of all races need to wake up again to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing presence and movement and our Christian vocation to create an anti-racist and just society.    

May our love of Jesus wake us up and keep us awake.  Amen.

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