Strength beyond our strength.

FallLeavesPhilly

(Photo taken in Philadelphia in October at a retreat for those engaged in street ministry)

 

The following sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fl, on the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 31, 2020, by The Rev. Canon Beth Tjoflat.

Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

+++++++++++

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We live in challenging times. Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit,
A gift that is intended to equip us for times and circumstances such as these.

Just over a week ago I was
chatting over the fence with some of
the people lining our block, waiting their turn
to receive groceries from the pantry.

When someone asked, “What’s new, pastor?”
I mentioned that the Feast of Pentecost was coming up.
Someone else responded “Penta-what? What’s that?”
Before I could respond, a man a few squares ahead of him,
one of our Church Without Walls regulars,
announced with conviction, “the Comforter!”

He was right.
Only the Holy Spirit is more than that.
It empowers us, gives us courage,
strength and wisdom.
This spirit within us gives us the very
power and authority of Jesus.
This is good news.

Still, this can also be perplexing and quite
daunting to ponder.
Even so, it is Good News!

This past week the pain and brokenness
in our communities spilled over with
the senseless killing on Monday of George Floyd –
and African American man who died when
an arresting officer knelt on his neck.

Floyd said he couldn’t breathe but none of
the officers looked out for him.
Somehow their duty to serve and protect
in their minds didn’t apply to this man.
Floyd lay on the pavement, handcuffed,
cruelly pinned, until he was dead.

Some weeks before that, another senseless killing
of a black man Ahmaud Arbery – just up
the highway from here, near Brunswick –
left us stunned.

We were grieved and confused to hear about
Breonna Taylor who was shot 8 times by
officers who entered her home with a no-knock
search warrant.
The man they were looking for had already
been apprehended.

These tragic events seem to keep coming,
tearing at our collective souls – yet especially
they create a sense of fear and righteous anger
in people of color – people who suffer from
a breadth and depth of inequality
that seems to increase not decrease.

They suffer from the sin of racism that infects us all,
whether or not we are conscious of it,
whether or not we are willing to name it.

My friend Dee – a white woman and resident
of our Springfield neighborhood –
was interviewed at the protest yesterday
here in downtown Jacksonville.

She said she decided to participate after asking
some black friends what she could do to make
a small difference.

Dee’s advice to us: Be in the conversation.
Be willing to explore racism in our community.
Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing
stop you from engaging in the dialogue.

These are wise words that deserve
our consideration and response as members
of the body of Christ.
They are a call to action.

We may feel powerless or unsure of what
we could possibly do.
The Holy Spirit is a gift given
for times such as these.
The power and authority of Jesus rests
upon each one of us.

These incidents — and the protests and unrest
manifesting in their wake — come to us as
we are reeling from a pandemic that
continues to unfold around us.

As followers of Jesus we are called to
make wise choices, to consider the vulnerable
and most at risk.
“Will I wear a mask?
Must I continue to practice social distancing?”
Until there is a vaccine widely available to all,
the answer for followers of Jesus  is a resounding “Yes!”

Yes, these are challenging times.
Most people I speak with report that they
are have been riding an emotional rollercoaster
since the onset of the pandemic.
I know I have.

These waves of emotion are unpredictable
– they just come.
Along with this, many of us are experiencing a sense
of exhaustion –and  wonder how this can be.

For some – especially those of us who still have jobs,
who have a roof over heads and food to eat –
there is a sense that we should just be grateful,
that we shouldn’t feel pain or fear.
And yet these are very human responses,
Responses for which we can make room.

As horrible as Covid-19 is, we know it is
not the only global pandemic we face.
A spirit of divisiveness continues to infect
our world and our country.

This is not unique to this moment in time
but it has been amplified of late.
It is amplified by so-called leaders,
by TV personalities on the left and the right
and by people who at the heart of it are
shot through with fear.

An internal fear that is not explored over time
will be covered over, only to be turned outward
as hate.

We must pray and work toward instilling
the spirit of unity that has made
our country great in past times of crisis.

The Pentecost was made for times such as these.
Jesus breathes his spirit upon us so that
we can do the very hard work of loving our
neighbors as ourselves.

We can do the hard work of standing with
those who are oppressed and marginalized.
The challenging work of calling out racism
and prejudice when it visits our communities,
our homes and our hearts.

In recent weeks, during Morning Prayer
worship on Zoom, we have been praying a
moving litany for the pandemic.
In a prayer for frontline workers, we ask God to
give them strength beyond their strength,
to give them courage beyond their courage.

These same words we can pray for one another,
for our families, friends and the wider community.

We live in challenging times.
But we belong to the One who
always has our back.
He asks us to stand with those most vulnerable.
To have the backs of all our brothers and sisters.

As we confront our sin and the sin within
our community, within long-standing institutions,
we will no longer be stuck.
We will be set free.

In these turbulent and uncertain times,
Jesus gives us his peace.
He gives us the power and grace to love Him
with all our strength and might.
He gives us the power and grace to love
all our neighbors – to love them as ourselves.

Amen.

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If you would like to make a gift to support our outreach, you may do so online at: St. Mary’s.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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