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May 31, 2020
Day of Pentecost
A few weeks ago, I shared with you that the work I did during my time as a missionary in Costa Rica was coordinating short term mission trips for ELCA congregations that wanted to go there. I worked closely with a contact person in each congregation to get to know the makeup of their group.
And the Costa Rican church leadership then helped determine which local community each ELCA congregation would serve. The service projects were always specific to the needs of the local community, and each project always included time spent in people’s homes.
Because it was never only about the work and whether the job was completed. It was about people crossing boundaries, and learning each other’s stories, so that they could be shared.
I always did a debrief of sorts with the ELCA groups after their home visits to check in and see how they went. We usually sat in circle and I listened to them tell each other how they figured out how to communicate in spite of the language differences. The stories that they learned about each other, and how much they loved the experience.
But during one of those conversations, I’ll never forget this, one person simply said, “I wish I’d never seen what I saw today.” And what they had seen was poverty. The families in that community basically lived in metal shacks with dirt floors. And they made barely enough money to get by.
Most of us have had experiences that make us wish we could unsee what we’ve seen. And it’s usually something like poverty or other type of injustice, because we know that because we’ve seen it, we can’t just let it be. We’re compelled to act to correct it and prevent it from happening to someone else.
As people of faith, that compulsion to act comes from the Holy Spirit.
When God’s Spirit descended on the apostles at Pentecost, they were in a room in a house in Jerusalem. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
And at that sound, the crowd that gathered was bewildered as the people heard God’s deeds of power spoken to them in their own languages. And as they listened, the fire of God’s Spirit burned away differences and prejudices and all of the things that had divided them and brought them together as a community.
The people could not unsee what they’d seen, and God’s Spirit compelled them to act on what they witnessed. Some went home to their cities and countries of origin and told the story of what they’d seen and continued to witness there. Many stayed in Jerusalem and began building the first Christian communities.
Those communities were built around the teachings of Jesus: taking care of your neighbor, working it out in love when you disagree with each other, praying with and for each other, and making sure everyone has what they need.
And as more and more people saw that community and what it was becoming and held it up against the world outside of it, God’s Spirit compelled them to act. They dismantled the system that had kept them apart and the world began to change.
In the last few months – and especially in the last week – there has been much that we, as people of faith, can’t unsee. The deaths of Ahmaud Aubrey, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd; the actions of Amy Cooper against Christian Cooper; a black news reporter and his crew being arrested while covering the riots in Minneapolis as a white reporter and his crew from the same news outlet were allowed to remain; people who are white setting fires to buildings and cars and looting businesses to detract from the root cause of the protests.
We can’t unsee any of that. To try to do so is to deny the truth about the racism in our country, and we’re lying to ourselves if we think it doesn’t exist on a systemic level. As people of faith, God’s Spirit compels us to act. To tell the truth about what’s going on in our country. To shout that it goes against the life that God wants for all people and the love that God has for all people. And to actively work to dismantle it.
When we think about taking action in situations like this, we usually think of protest marches or rallies. And those are certainly part of it.
We live out God’s love when we show up to speak out against racism and white supremacy in all its forms; and when we speak out against homophobia and transphobia; and when we advocate for livable wages and safety for people who are essential workers.
But God’s Spirit also compels us to act on a much deeper level. We live out God’s love when people who are white and privileged dig in and do the work within ourselves that lays bare the ways we perpetuate and benefit from a system that crushes people who aren’t like us. We admit to it and repent of it, especially the things we didn’t know about.
And then we work to actively dismantle the systems that cause harm to those whom God loves.
The Holy Spirit didn’t descend on the apostles so that they could stay in that room and tell about the works of God to the people who came in. The Holy Spirit descended so that they could go out to live that news. The Holy Spirit compelled them to act.
It’s the same for us. We live out God’s love when we live into the life God desires for all people. Even in a time of pandemic, God’s Spirit compels us to act. And that’s good news, because the time for waiting is over.
We begin by admitting that racism exists on a systemic level, and that the system needs to be made right for all people. We make it part of our lives, a spiritual discipline. We look for resources to help us become aware of the ways we can work toward change. And if you need resources, contact me. I have a list that I’ll share with you.
If you commit to this, you will learn things about yourself that you won’t like. I have. You will make mistakes. I’ve made plenty and I’ll probably make more. You will have to own up to them and ask for forgiveness and learn from them. And then move forward.
And to keep us focused in all of this, we pray. Pastor Kacey Hahn at St Matthew’s Lutheran in Renton reminds us to pray:
for those who are grieving and despairing
for those who are afraid for their life
for those who are done waiting for justice
for those who are scared
for those who do not know what to do or say
for those who are waking up to the injustice
for those who want to do more than pray
And if you pray for peace, pray also for justice and for the people who commit to working for it. Otherwise “peace” is just an empty word.
As people of faith, God’s Spirit compels us to act now. To tell the truth about racism in our country. To genuinely take care of our neighbor. To make sure everyone has what they need. To live into the love of God for all people. And to commit to the life that God wants for all people. Amen.
 Rev. Kacey Hahn