Christian Leaders Link the Fires of Protest and Pentecost in Messages

A protester carries a U.S. flag upside down, a sign of distress, next to a burning building Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody on Memorial Day, have broken out across the country. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

On Sunday (May 31), many Christians marked the Day of Pentecost, when they believe the Holy Spirit descended on followers of Jesus after his death, resurrection and ascension.

In the biblical account of Pentecost, there was a “blowing of a violent wind” and “tongues of fire that separated and came to rest” on Jesus’ followers. When they spoke, others who had gathered from around the world were able to understand them in their own languages.

Some Christians pointed out a resonance with Pentecost in the protests that unfolded across the United States this weekend, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Clergy around the country drew connections between the flames of Pentecost and the flames present at many of the protests.

Here are excerpts from several sermons given and online posts made this weekend by Christian leaders, linking the protests to Pentecost.

The Rev. Wil Gafney, professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity School

Gafney wrote on her website:

Today’s fire is not metaphorical. Neither is the presence of the spirit. She is there, in those flames, in those crowds, with the insurrectionists and the revolutionaries, with the dead and the dying, with the grieving and the mourning.

Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church

In a sermon about “Pentecost in a pandemic” given at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Curry declared, “There’s another pandemic — not of the viral kind, but of the spiritual kind.”

He continued:

This past week, we have not only had to endure a pandemic occasioned by a virus, a viral pandemic, but we’ve had to endure and face a spiritual pandemic: the roots of self-centeredness, where one person can look upon another person and despise and reject them and not even behold them as a fellow child of God. We have seen once again the unthinkable become thinkable. It has caused great pain — or, better yet, unearthed the great pain that was already there. … We must dare to follow Jesus in the way of love that can save us all.

Valerie Bridgeman, associate professor of homiletics and Hebrew Bible and dean and vice president for academic affairs at Methodist Theological School in Ohio

Bridgeman wrote for Church Anew, a ministry of St. Andrew Lutheran Church near Minneapolis:

The Day of Pentecost in Acts is a hopeful scene. Today, I hope beyond the raging fires of frustration, the Spirit will blow on our embers and remind us what power we have to change the world for good.

Soong-Chan Rah, professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park University

Rah tweeted:

Pentecost Sunday. Is it time for a new iteration of the American church? One that is not captive to white supremacy. One not formed by a dominant culture that devalues black bodies. Make this Pentecost Sunday meaningful.

The Rev. Angela Denker, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church of Brownton, Minnesota

Denker, who leads a church outside Minneapolis, wrote for Church Anew:

This weekend is Pentecost: the day the church celebrates holy fire, flames that brought understanding and unification and new hope. The flames of Minneapolis these past few days signify death and destruction. No neighborhood deserves to be destroyed. George Floyd did not deserve to die. Only God can take flames of death and transform fire into new life and hope for the future.

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Source: Religion News Service