Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael's Church
"And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind … And they were filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2)
Against my better judgment, I'm going to preach about hope today.
` I say it's against my better judgment, because things are pretty bleak right now. This week especially has been a cascade of bad news.
Yet another black man has died at the hands of the police. And although it's been 6 years now since Ferguson, nothing much has changed. Year after year, the number of people killed by the police has held steady at about 1,100.
In response, protests have once again erupted, some turning violent. And we have a president who knows only to stoke the anger and violence.
Earlier in the week, we passed the symbolic mark of 100,000 mark American deaths caused by the virus. And globally we're now above 350,000. Those are staggering numbers, not to mention 40 million people out of work.
And those, like me, who had hoped that this crisis might help the nation to reset its moral compass are growing doubtful. An article in The Times observed that if anything, we are even more divided. Some stores in California are refusing to allow anyone in who is wearing a mask.
And on Memorial Day at the beginning of the week, I heard a World War II veteran say that if we had that war to fight again today, we wouldn’t be able to do it. "There just aren't enough people willing to make a sacrifice for something larger than themselves," he said.
Friday night, feeling rather discouraged, I decided to finish up the Netflix documentary on Michelle Obama’s book tour for her memoir, Becoming. And there, in the very final scene, was that great political sage, Stephen Colbert, interviewing her. Toward the end of the interview, he said, "You know what I miss? I miss leaders who talk about hope. And isn't hope just about the possibility of change?"
Yes, I thought. Of all the things I miss most right now, hope is the biggest one. I miss the sense that we as a people are working toward something together. I miss feeling that we are committed as a nation to making life more just, more inclusive, more fair.
So Saturday morning, when I turned to the lessons for Pentecost, it hit me right between the eyes that what Pentecost is all about, is hope—because it’s all about change.
Think of it: there are Jesus’ followers, reeling from all that had happened. Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. Jesus has appeared to them. And now Jesus seems to have departed and be gone for good. As Mandy laid out for us last week, they were a pretty bewildered and dispirited group.
And then suddenly, out of nowhere, a rush of wind sweeps over them instilling that they can only describe as the gift of Christ's own spirit, renewing them from within with a confidence not just in a general way, but with a confidence in the possibility of change. In an instant, their lives are turned inside out and upside down, and the world has never been the same since.
Pentecost is God’s ratification that change is in the very nature of things. Think of the whole biblical witness—everything is about change. The creation of something out of nothing. God’s call to Abraham. The liberation of Israel from the bondage of slavery. The giving of the law. The prophetic call for righteousness and justice. Jesus’ witness to the power of mercy and love.
Pentecost takes all of that, and puts an exclamation point on the fact that God does not accept things as they are, but is always calling something new into being. Pentecost is the ultimate new beginning. Change is not just a possibility, it is a certainty. And therefore there is always reason to hope.
The Day of Pentecost, then, is all about encouraging us both to work for, and to wait upon that rush of the wind of change that will come unexpectedly in our own day—like those sudden gusts of wind that precede a New Mexican thunderstorm.
Another scene in the Becoming documentary also touched me deeply. Michelle Obama recalled that one of the darkest moments in her time in the White House was when she and Barack had to go to Charleston to attend the funeral of the pastor of Mother Emanuel Church who had been gunned down while leading Bible study. You’ll remember the service: it was when the President of the United States led the congregation—and the nation—in singing Amazing Grace, singing as balm for our collective wounds.
But later that day, when the Obamas were back in Washington, was also the moment when the Supreme Court announced its decision making marriage equality the law of the land, and the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow to mark the occasion. The winds of change blew through the land on that day, even when there was also so much hurt.
We're a hurting nation right now. And a hurting world.
But somewhere deep in my heart, I do believe, that there is a stirring in the air that will be the beginning of a change that will renew the heart and soul of this nation, and that in time it will come rushing upon us like the Pentecostal wind itself, and mark a true point of new beginning. I believe that, because I believe in a God of change, and it is precisely there in that ineradicable possibility of change, that hope finds it home.
As President Obama himself once said,
Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it. Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, [but] who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.
So in that spirit, and maybe even against my better judgment, I’m going to opt for hope. Amen.