Sunday 31 May 2020
There’s a lot going on in the world right now. There is, of course, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the US, made 40 million unemployed, and kept all of us sheltering in place, unable to live life as we have known it, unable to make even the simplest of human connections. There is even a new outbreak of the disease in Hood River County.
But now the nation is also reeling in the wake of the death of yet another unarmed black person at the hands of police. Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott, Bettie Jones, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Tatiana Jefferson, Eric Reason, Dominique Clayton, Breona Taylor, among many others. And now George Floyd.
George Floyd was arrested in Minneapolis for allegedly using a counterfeit twenty dollar bill to pay at a local convenience store. Footage shows a Minneapolis PD officer kneeling on the neck of Mr. Floyd for nearly nine minutes while he is handcuffed and pinned face-down to the ground. Floyd can be heard begging, “Please, please, please, I can’t breathe,” in a haunting echo of the words of Eric Garner almost 6 years ago. Two minutes later, police call for an ambulance, but Officer Derek Chauvin continues to press his knee on Floyd’s neck for another 6 minutes. Floyd is unresponsive and apparently unconscious as bystanders plead with police to get off of Floyd’s neck and to check for a pulse, but Officer Chauvin continues to kneel on his neck, pressing his face into the ground for another 5 minutes, while Floyd lays completely motionless. He only gets off of Floyd after an ambulance arrives. Fire Department reports say that medics in the ambulance were working on Floyd, who was unresponsive and pulseless. George Floyd was declared dead in the emergency room an hour after he apparently lost consciousness. In response, four officers involved in the incident have been fired, and Chauvin has been charged with 3rd degree murder. Their actions have been nearly universally condemned, including by the National Association of Police Organizations and the Fraternal Order of Police.
In a time when anxiety is already heightened, most of us are already on edge, and people of color are disproportionately dying from coronavirus, protests have been staged across the country. And in some cases, those mostly peaceful protests have escalated into violence. Even in Portland there has been vandalism and violence. And while I don’t condone violence, I recognize the tremendous frustration that apparently leads some to it. All of these deaths with hardly any justice, virtually no consequences for those responsible. And I know the ways that when people have protested nonviolently for an acknowledgment that black lives do in fact matter in this country, they have been systematically villainized, characterized as unAmerican, been fired from their jobs. It cannot be surprising that injustice has bubbled over into violence.
Fear of being unjustly accused, unjustly detained, unjustly arrested, unjustly brutalized, and unjustly killed is a reality that African Americans and other people of color have to live with every moment of every day. It is a reality that parents of children of color have to teach their kids about. And it is terrifying and overwhelming and exhausting. And yes, our family has had the police called on us because some of us are black. I am grateful to the Portland Police Officer who quickly realized that nothing was wrong and let us go on our way. And that encounter was still terrifying and humiliating, and quite frankly, enfuriating.
And I really do not want to have to talk about this today. Because today is Pentecost. Today is supposed to be a day of celebration. It’s the day we celebrate our new confirmands. And so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to pray right now. And we’re going to hand this over to God for right now. We’re going to need to come back to it. But for right now, we’re going to pray, and then I’m going to start again.
Holy and gracious God, we confess slavery as the original sin of this nation, and we confess the continuing shadow that it casts across us. We confess the ways that African Americans and other people of color have been systematically disadvantaged through unjust Jim Crow laws, through redlining and other practices that denied black and brown Americans the advantages enjoyed by white Americans, and through recognized and unrecognized prejudice. We confess the sin of lynching, an organized campaign of terror that lasted more than 130 years, killing 3446 known African Americans between 1882 and 1968, the perpetrators of these crimes almost never being brought to justice. We confess the continued presence of racism in our society—overt racism, systemic racism, and unconscious racism—and we confess the ways that we participate in systems of oppression even when we don’t intend to. We confess the alarming rate at which African Americans continued to be killed and the fact that so many of their killers go unpunished.
We pray today for the family and friends of George Floyd. We pray for the City of Minneapolis, and for its African American community. We pray for the Minneapolis Police Department and for the officers accused. We pray for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges. We pray for peaceful vigils and protests. We pray for those committing acts of violence and those who are victimized by that violence. We pray for emergency service workers. We pray for mayors and governors. We pray for the National Guard. We pray for our President. We pray for communities across this nation. We pray for all who long for justice and peace.
Holy Jesus, bring your justice, bring your peace. Transform us. Bring your kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Today is the great festival of Pentecost, the fiftieth day of Easter, the day when we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. This day is often called the birthday of the Church. It is when the still grieving, still confused followers of Jesus were forged together with a new sense of purpose. It is when they were brought together across boundaries of difference, across boundaries of ethnicity and language. It is when they were empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is when they were sent to go out into the world.
And so it is a good day for us to welcome new members among us. Colin Gerald, Miyuki Gerald, Kaylah King, Kiahla King, and Jack Siekkinen come before us today for confirmation. Each of them was baptized into the faith as a child. Others made promises on their behalf. And today it is time for them to affirm those promises for themselves. Today it is time for them to confirm the promise of their baptisms, to accept their place in the family of God, to acknowledge their role in the Body of Christ.
The reading from 1 Corinthians this morning talks about the Body of Christ, and how it is made up of us—you and me. Not all of us are the same. We have different roles, we have different interests, we have different abilities. But it takes all of us to make up Christ’s Body. The Body couldn’t function without the gifts that each of us have to give.
And, the Apostle Paul tells us, all of the various gifts that help the Body of Christ to function are granted to us by the Holy Spirit. We don’t all have the same gifts, but each of us are gifted, and we can use those gifts for the work of God. Paul gives a list of some of those spiritual gifts. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, and several others, but it’s not an exhaustive list.
The five confirmands who come before you today each have their own spiritual gifts that they can use for the common good, things that they can use to help the Body of Christ achieve its mission in the world. And while this will not be an exhaustive list either, I thought I would share some of their gifts with you. Among other things, Colin is gifted with inventiveness and imagination. Miyuki is gifted with leadership and kindness. Kaylah is gifted with persistence and creativity. Kiahla is gifted with authenticity and enthusiasm. Jack is gifted with critical thinking and curiosity. These are but some of the things that they bring to the Body of Christ and to this congregation.
Each of these inspiring youth have spent time in study and discernment over the last year. They have spent time exploring the Christian tradition and wrestling with the deep questions of faith. And hopefully they have had some fun along the way, as well. I am proud of each one of them, and I am excited for the gifts that they have to offer the world.
We are all having to learn to adapt these days, and so we had to make some adaptations to the service of confirmation. Last Sunday we met over Zoom and went through the ritual together. In just a moment we’ll play it for you.
But remember, baptism and confirmation are not solitary acts. These youth have promises to make, but so do you as their sisters and brothers in the faith. This is a covenant amongst us all, and it binds us together. So when it comes to your part, speak it out loud. And I encourage you to use the comments to affirm your support of these confirmands and offer them messages of love and encouragement.
Let us share in a service of confirmation.
In addition to offering support in the comments, I encourage you to reach out to our confirmands by other means, to encourage them and to share with them the gifts that you see in them. And may we all be bound together as one family, empowered by one Spirit, united by one Lord, saved, forgiven, and loved by one God. Thanks be to God. Amen.