One of the countless changes in plans this spring was the postponement of confirmation. Luke Helgager and Brendan Hillig were originally scheduled to affirm their baptisms this
weekend, but we will wait until we can all gather together to celebrate with them.
Still, both have completed their work, including a final assignment which would be daunting for many adults. Each of them wrote a personal statement of faith, with instructions to write what they really think and believe, not what they imagine parents or pastor wants them to say.
Brendan has graciously given me his blessing to quote part of his insightful paper:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, my Lord who is deﬁnitely not white, nor is he
Gods’ [sic] vending machine.
He was a ﬁrst century Palestinian carpenter, who likely had a business and was deﬁnitely not poor, as he was the eldest child of a tradesmen [sic].
Unless something very odd happened, Jesus would have looked like a modern Palestinian. Europeans white washed Jesus to make him more like them.
In reality, they should have worked to be more like him....
Modern belief in the Gospel of Prosperity, where people who have the most must be the most Godly, is clearly not in line with pretty much everything Jesus ever said. So I believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, did not look like me, nor does he engage in quid pro quo.
No wonder he ended up dead.
The unjust world that crucified Jesus has done it again this week to George Floyd.
George died after a police officer in Minnesota kept him under his knee, gasping and
begging for air for several minutes.
It was quicker and more efficient than nailing him to a cross, but the outcome was the same:
a dark skinned male suffocates on a public roadway after suffering extreme, sickening
violence applied by law enforcement.
Whatever George did, did it deserve the death penalty?
Every time I have been pulled over by cops and complied with what they said, I survived.
Every time I forged my dying father's signature on a check, I was allowed to keep breathing.
Every time I have been inebriated, I lived to tell about it.
Every time I have jogged on a sidewalk or worn a hoodie or offended a white woman or led Bible study in a church, I was not murdered.
Either I should have been slaughtered for all of those crimes—I am now admitting them all on video, so please notify the police and protect society from me—or I am the undeserving beneficiary of the racist evil that is white privilege.
Why are George Floyd and Eric Garner and Philando Castile and Tamir Rice and Michael
Brown and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Emmett Till and Rev. Clementa
Pinckney all dead while I survive?
Don't overthink this: the answer is black and white.
I serve in a very white church in a very divided country, both of which I love and appreciate, and both of which, like me, are toxic with the insidious sin of racism.
May God provoke those of us who are white, and therefore have disproportionate power, voice,and security in this unwell society, to talk less, listen more, work harder, and take
additional responsibility for just equality on earth as it is in heaven.
May God correct and forgive and remake us all.
May God follow through on the beautiful, unfinished promise of Pentecost.
In Luke's account of it, something sounding like the rush of a violent wind surges through the
scene, blowing down barriers including language and culture and age and sex and educational status.
In John's account of it, Jesus stands among his terrifed disciples and breathes on them,
presumably without a face mask, infecting them with the power to forgive, blowing down
barriers including fear and the regrettable patterns of the past.
Both agree that Pentecost happens after the crucifixion.
The dead God breathes new life on the world that killed him.
God doubles down on the garden of Eden: God blows the breath of life into the earth creature and it lives—a new being named human, a new humanity named Christ, a new society named church, a new future named the kingdom of God.
The world which suffocates certain people is overcome and saved by the suffocated God.
The world which deals in orderly division and death is united with a blast of new life.
Justice and forgiveness and companionship across social boundaries and barriers are swept into the world by the newly unleashed presence of God named the Holy Spirit.
Spirit literally means breath, wind, air – exactly what the world denied Jesus and George Floyd and so many others.
It is the power of life and voice, identity and vitality.
What the world diminishes, denies, and steals, God lavishes.
And this Spirit, as present and plentiful and powerful as air, is no longer contained to one body that can be captured, crucified, and locked away in a tomb.
God's presence is, in the words of hymn writer Brian Wren, no longer bound to distant years in Palestine, but saving, healing, here and now, and touching every place and time.
It is everywhere, all over the world, as indiscriminate as the virus that mimics it, the way evil
always mimics goodness.
The Holy Spirit is the uncontainable contagion of Easter.
The Holy Spirit is God gone viral.
This is good news for those now worshiping on the internet instead of in person.
The Holy Spirit means God is with us all when we are not with each other.
It's not the same, of course: for all its power, the internet can never replicate the power of human touch, but human touch can never replicate the reach of the world wide web.
As we now refrain from gathering in person in our familiar building, our worship is reaching
people who will never set foot here, like friends of mine in Kansas and Washington, and even a grade school classmate in Oregon.
They would not be with us had we not closed the building and opened the camera lens; it is one of the many unanticipated blessings of this difficult time.
Another is the lab lesson in the truth of the old song: the church is not a building...the church is a people!
As many people have rightly pointed out, church has not closed, only the buildings have.
"Yes, Pastor, that's nice, but when will we open the building again?
Our elected theologians have said it's okay!"
Here at Shepherd, we are reviewing the many new guidelines and beginning to plan for
re-opening, but it won't happen right away.
We're a long way from ready, and honestly, it's not yet worth the trouble.
If you were to show up here for worship now, you would have to pre-register, check in, be screened, wait in line, stay six feet apart from your friends, be escorted by an usher to
sit on butcher paper in a pew you don't get to choose, and worship without speaking,
singing, receiving communion, sharing the peace, or removing your mask.
Children could not come forward for time with the pastor, attend Sunday School, or use the cry room.
Don't ask about bathrooms.
All of this fuss is grounded in love of neighbor, which is grounded in God's unwavering
and relentless commitment to life, which is far more important than personal convenience or white people's feelings or me getting what I want.
For us, Christ's love outweighs constitutional rights.
The good news of Pentecost is that these decisions, even if they are wrong, cannot keep
people from God any more than the stone on the tomb or the locks on the disciples' doors.
Physical separation, language barriers, national borders, cultural gaps, political divisions—none of them can block the wind.
The God of Eden and Joel and the risen Jesus is on the loose.
The wind stolen from George Floyd blows through a chorus of voices demanding change,
hopefully including ours.
When one man is murdered, thousands more come together, life overwhelming death.
When one door is locked, God opens Windows.
That's the power and promise of Pentecost.
Come, Holy Spirit!