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Music used for this service:
“Veni Creator Spiritus”
Medieval Latin Hymn, attrib. Rabanus Maurus, ca. 9th C. Public domain.
More Voices 79 “Spirit, Open My Heart”
Words: Ruth Duck, 1994. Music: traditional melody, Ireland; arr. Arthur G. Clyde, 1997.
Words copyright © 1996 and arrangement copyright © 1997 The Pilgrim Press.
“They’ll Know We Are Christians”
Words and music by Peter Scholtes, 1966. Words and Music – ©1966 The Lorenz Publishing Corporation.
Voices United 371 “Open My Eyes, That I May See”
Words and music by Clara H. Scott, 1895. Public domain.
More Voices 144 “Like a Healing Stream”
Words and music: Bruce Harding, 2003. Words and music copyright © 2003 by Bruce Harding, www.evensong.ca.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Voices United 208 “Come, Holy Spirit (Veni Sancte Spiritus)
Words and music: adapt. Jacques Berthier© 1978, 1980, 1981 Les Presses de Taizé, G.I.A. Publications, Inc., Chicago, IL, exclusive agent. Words, Music: Les Presses de Taizé, G.I.A.Publications, Inc
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
Come, Creator Spirit, and light upon the souls of your people,
you made our hearts, so fill them with your grace from on high.
You, who are the Comforter of us all,
the presence of God given to us,
living fountain, fire of love,
cleanser of souls.
Inflame our sight with your light,
pour your live into our hearts,
strengthen us with your power.
Drive away the enemy of love within us,
grant us your people,
with your loving guidance, turn us from evil.
Through your power and action, may we come to know our Creator more,
and draw closer to our Redeemer, and you, Spirit of both,
that we may believe with our whole hearts.
To God, our Father and Mother, be all glory,
to Jesus Christ, our dearest brother and friend who rose from the dead,
and to you, Comforter and Sustainer of us all, forever and ever. Amen.
I was ordained by Hamilton Conference four years ago, now. Specifically, May 28th. I was, not told, but certainly given the impression that I was supposed to feel, as in physically feel the Holy Spirit as I knelt down and people laid their hands on me and the officiant prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide me in my ministry. During the rehersal, I was told, “you’ll have trouble standing when you go to get up.”
I did not. Now, having a bunch of hands touching you is certainly a powerful experience, if for no other reason than our culture, my culture, is so unused to touching other people at the best of times, never mind now, that six people pressing their hands on your shoulder and head certainly makes you feel something. But I had no trouble standing, and I don’t think I felt a moment when I could say “Now, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
What does that mean? Does it mean I’m not really called to be a minister? Does it mean that maybe I’m not as in tune with God as I thought I was, not having an “authentic” experience of the Holy Spirit at the moment when I really should? I’ll admit, I felt a great deal of pressure in my mind to pretend I was having trouble standing.
No, it means that it’s dumb to tell other people what their experience of God should be. It means that ordination was more or less the same as a wedding: a social and cultural acknowlegement of something that had been true already for a while. Important, and one of my favourite memories, but you are not a different person after than you were before.
When I was ordained, I made a career choice as well, to leave hospital chaplaincy, which I loved, and instead serve in a church. I felt I needed the church and the church needed me more than the hospital did. And I thought the environment I was going into, one where the United Church was debating over what we believe, whether we can include Atheist ministers, I thought that was the “mission” I had. I was tired of the non-commited “spirituality” that tries its hardest not to make people uncomfortable and I just wanted to preach something that meant something. I’ve always said that my job isn’t to tell anyone what to believe, but rather to tell a story—a very important story.
Instead, when I arrived here, in the summer of 2016, it seemed that suddenly things were happening in the world that demanded attention, even here in Revelstoke, so isolated from the rest of the world. A few weeks before, the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened. And then Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. And I felt something, a sinking in me, knowing that I would have to talk about it.
And as I watched the news over the last week, of the protests and riots in the wake of another police killing of an unarmed black man, I felt that sinking feeling. And, bizarrely, that feels more like a Pentecost moment; that’s what being filled with the Holy Spirit feels like to me. God is challenging, and denying a God who makes us uncomfortable, saying that God only wants us to be happy, is to deny Jesus and to deny the Holy Spirit. So, sometimes that gut dread, knwing I’m going to have to talk about race to people who don’t think of themselves as racist and might get incredibly offended if I imply that they are not because of any actions but because we live in an inherently racist society and we participate in that society—that’s a Pentecost feeling.
I preach to a congregation of mostly white middle class people; people whose interactions with the police have generally been very positive. We’re the kind of white middle-class Canadians who tell ourselves the lie that it’s so much better up here, that we don’t have the problems the US has, even though we essentially share the same culture, even though police violence against POC and especially Indigenous communities is well-known in Canada.
And I think about my ministry collegues who are POC and I’ve heard their experiences of continually having their authority in ministry, their theological expertise, their leadership questioned. How every time they talk about race someone says that they’re being divisive and calling “decent people” bigots, and how I’ve never experienced that. No one doubts my right to minister to a congregation of white people.
I’ve had people who go to the Catholic church in town tell me that they would rather I was their priest—and it’s astouning to me that they would feel that I, a queer protestant, have more of a right to be their priest than the actual Catholic priest who is, because I’m white and don’t speak with an accent. And I’m sure those people don’t think of themselves as racist.
Racism is sin, and it is a collective sin. Our society is racist, and so we are because we make up society. Sin is not the same thing as crime; our hyper-individualist society has taught us that we only need to confess the things we’ve done wrong, that those are the sins that will send us to hell if we don’t stop doing them, so all we need to do is stop doing whatever and pray.
But police violence against black people or indigenous people does not stop when a handful of white people say “I’m not racist,” even if, as we can see shared on social media, other cops join in protests and say “Justice for George Floyd,” not while the police force is designed to respond to all situations with violence and makes it easy for officers to abuse their power. Domestic violence doesn’t stop because not all men abuse their partners, not while our culture still encourages men to express ourselves only through anger, and tells us to think of women as property. Homophobia and transphobia do not stop because one church has a queer minister and puts up a pride flag.
We are racist. I am probably racist in ways I don’t know, and yes because I’m white. Society tells me that I’m better and more deserving. Nearly every main character in a movie or TV show or video game looks like me, so I must be the hero of this particular story. I walk into nearly any church and I see that God himself looks like me. I don’t know, I couldn’t possibly know how many unexamined biases come from this. I don’t know how my demeanor changes when I’m around POC; I might think that it’s easy to get ahead in life if you just work hard, not thinking about how many resumes get thrown out because they have “foreign-sounding” names on them. I don’t know how happy the people at the churches I’m going to might have been when they got an application with my very white English-Canadian name on it rather than a Korean name, as is becomming increasingly common in the United Church, because, “Horray, we’ll be able to understand him.”
Does that make me racist? It makes me the beneficiary of a racist system. Do I have any control over that? No more so than I or a POC have control over the colour of our skin. Am I at fault for it? I think that depends on how I react to it. Do I deny it, do I get angry when somebody calls me out on it, do I fiercly insist that this kind of talk has no place in church, or do I try to address it? What does it matter whether I say to myself in my head, “I’m not racist; I don’t hate black people,” if there’s nothing I am doing to separate myself from or oppose someone who does?
God is always, always on the side of the oppressed. God did not come as a rich person, he came as a carpenter. God did not come as a Roman, he came as a Jew. God’s Holy Spirit did not descend on people who had gone through the training for priesthood, ingratiated themselves with the ecclesial hierarchy and written a bunch of well-received theological statements; She descended on a bunch of low-life bums huddling in a room because the religious authorities wanted to kill them. God threw open wide the covenant for the salvation of all, not just those who had earned their place, but for the riff-raff, the lowlifes, the scum of the earth. Thieves and beggars and whores; everyone gets a place at God’s table. This kind of justice, for the oppressed, is entirely what God is about.
So if we who were in the old system would sit at the head of the table, if we want to stay with God, we have to sit beside those who were excluded. It is the only way, to stand in solidarity with them.
If you condemn how the protests turned to riots, condemn the violence and the vandalism, it doesn’t actually matter, because God is still on their side. The Jesus who turned over the tables of moneylenders and chased people out of the temple with a whip is absolutely still with them because they are protesting injustice. The Christ who said, “I do not come to bring peace, but a sword,” absolutely would talk about divisive race stuff in church and would piss off people of privilege while doing it.
That feeling, that feeling of unease when we talk about this and our privilege is challenged, the horror of realization of our complicity in the systems of injustice . . . that is the Holy Spirit. That’s what she feels like. That’s the voice of God shouting in our heads to do something, anything, to seek justice. That is a Pentecost moment. More real to me as a moment of ordination to ministry—the call of God to examine myself and to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed—than that day four years ago.
“The Holy Spirit is upon me,” says the Lord Jesus Christ, “’To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free.”
Come, Holy Spirit, Come.
Set our hearts on fire.
Ignite in us the fires of your compassion,
that we will not be silent or complicit,
that we will know what has to be done,
and for the glory of God,
to make known the Creator’s love for all,
make us channels of your peace,
a real peace, which is the presence of justice and not merely the absence of conflict.
The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, God, and open in us the gates of your Kingdom. Amen.