May 31st: The Day of Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, May 31st, was preached using the below manuscript. The gospel text was John 20.19-23.

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
St. Hilda-St. Patrick, Edmonds
31 May 2020
John 20.19-23

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
and lighten with celestial fire;
thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Does today’s Gospel passage sound familiar?
We’ve heard it before,
proclaimed and preached on like this —
digitally and apart.
The disciples are not social distancing,
and have locked themselves in a room.
Jesus’s body is missing from the tomb.
They’re worry they’ll be blamed
or that the civil authorities
will find and punish them.
They are not scared of Jews or Judaism!
They are scared of collaborators with the empire.
On the first day of the week,
the evening of the resurrection,
the disciples are sheltering from the authorities
who just used the apparatus of the state
to kill their best friends and teacher.

Jerusalem is a mess,
and so is the United States.
There have been over 105 thousand American deaths
related to COVID19.
We’re at almost 24% unemployment.
And cities from coast to coast are on fire.
Georgia: Ahmaud Arbery.
Kentucky: Breona Taylor.
Minnesota: George Floyd.
Florida: Tony McDade
These are names added to an already well-known litany:
Florida: Trayvon Martin
Missouri: Mike Brown
New York: Eric Garner
Maryland: Freddie Grey
Washington: Charleena Lyles.

The indiscriminate killing of Black folk
by an increasingly militarized police force
that faces almost no accountability
is not new.
From the first slave patrols,
this has been a part of the culture of policing.
As People of Color have told their stories,
over and over
through centuries,
and decades,
many of us white folk haven’t been able to hear.

We haven’t been able to understand that language
because nothing like it had ever happened to us.
Then with Mike Brown
and Charleena Lyles
and Freddie Grey
and Sandra Bland
and Eric Garner
we started to see.
We started to understand.

The disciples have not understood Jesus
for the last few weeks that we’ve been hearing.
Today we hear our first resurrection story
in three weeks.
We’ve been hearing pre-Crucifixion stories,
and the disciples have not understood
that yes, Jesus will die.
But yes, he will rise again,
defeating death itself!
Not only will Jesus rise again,
he won’t send them comfortless,
he’ll send them a helper:
the Holy Spirit.

In today’s passage from John today
and in the story from Acts
the church remembers God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.
Whether coming as fire and wind
on a group presumed to be drunk
but who suddenly understood and spoke every language
or coming as Jesus breathing on his best friends,
blessing them with the same wind, air, breath,
that moved over the deep at creation,
God sends the Holy Spirit!
We have not been left helpless!
Amen and alleluia!

With our country in ongoing turmoil
God has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Amen and alleluia!
Perhaps she’s showing up in fires
to get our attention.
Our cities are burning from coast to coast,
but perhaps a refiner’s fire is burning off the dross
of unfettered capitalism and consumerism
that values glass and mass-produced goods
more than a unique life created in God’s image.

Maybe it’s the Spirit that shows up in the wind
to help disperse tear gas and pepper spray
so that demonstrators can continue to demand justice and accountability.
Maybe Jesus breathes on his disciples through time
and gives them new language and listening,
language to understand stories about police violence
that have been told over and over
through centuries,
and decades,
and now so many more of us can hear them.

Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death
and to those in the tombs bestowing life.
Before his death Jesus promised his disciples
that he would send them
an advocate,
a comforter,
a helper.

In the gospel text we hear today —
both for the disciples peacefully sheltering from Jerusalem police
and for us watching today —
Jesus keeps that promise.
Jesus breathes on them and sends them out.
Jesus breathes on us and sends us out
to continue his mission
of reconciling the whole world to one another and to God.
There have been over 105 thousand American deaths
related to COVID19.
We’re at almost 24% unemployment.
And cities from coast to coast are on fire.
Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, Tony McDade and George Floyd are dead
at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve them.
There’s a lot of reconciling work to be done in this world!

Jesus sends us out
just as the Father sent him
to forgive sins
and be a blessing to all.
Jesus doesn’t send us out helpless, though.
He’s breathed on us.
Jesus has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We are not alone.

Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love;
enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our mortal sight.

Amen and alleluia!

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