“Please, please, I can’t breathe.” This desperate plea for help came from 46-year-old George Floyd, a black man, who was dying on the ground for his neck was being held down by a white police officer’s knee. “I can’t breathe.” He repeatedly pleaded for relief, but the brutality didn’t stop until he went unconscious and died. This tragedy has disturbed and wounded us so deeply. I know, many of you might feel your chest tight already as I talk about him again today.
And another tragedy terrified us last week. The Covid-19 death toll passed into six figures last Wednesday. Over a hundred thousand people, who breathed alive even a few months ago, died from this vicious virus. They were mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, spouses and even children. They didn’t all have to die. While some people claimed their freedom to live without restrictions and breathe freely without masks, more than a hundred thousand people died painfully, feeling shortness of breath.
Look at this society we are in. Can you feel the heavy and breathless air? The deeply entrenched racism has been worsened in this toxic political atmosphere. It has only fanned the flame of bigotry and discrimination. So it looks like some people even think it’s okay to shoot down an unarmed man jogging in his town if the man is black; it’s okay to falsely accuse a man and report him to the police if the man is black. And look at the devastating inequality. The structural racism has exacerbated even health disparity. Recent studies show how Covid-19 has disproportionately infected communities of color. Black people, for example, represent only 13% of the US population, but counties with higher black populations accounted for more than half of all Covid-19 cases and almost 60% of deaths as of mid-April. Can you believe this? Can we breathe comfortably in this suffocating atmosphere? Oh Lord, we really need some breathing room today.
And today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us, in the beginning, there was the breath of life. When the earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep, this wind from God swept over the deep and brought out the creation. This breath is called “Ruach Elohim” in Hebrew, which means, the breath of God. And yes, this is another name of the Holy Spirit. With this breath, God created heaven and earth. And God breathed this breath into Adam’s nostrils and made him a living being. Today is the day we praise this divine breath.
Here, some people may ask me, “How can we just joyfully praise this breath of God today as our society unjustly push people to their last breath? Isn’t it a big irony—we celebrating this breath of life today?” Maybe, it is. But I would rather proclaim, it’s precisely because of the social evil we are facing today, we should commemorate the day that the Holy Spirit came down to transform the followers of Jesus Christ and through them, the world. It’s precisely because of the mounting loss of life happening now, we should call upon the Spirit of the living God to come to us and restore our souls and this sin-sick land.
So I dare ask you today to join me in celebrating the day of Pentecost and opening your heart to the life-giving breath of God in our midst. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples and other followers of Jesus were praying together in a house. And the Holy Spirit came with “the rush of a violent wind” like a tornado. This breath of God also comes with a vision of flames. It’s like the tongues of fire touching and resting on each believer’s head. This breath, like a wind of fire, blows in and suddenly fills the entire house. Then what happen to the disciples and followers?
The Book of Acts testifies, upon receiving the breath of God, they built a bridge over any kind of barriers. The Holy Spirit gifted early Christians the ability to speak fluently in all different languages and the crowds who understood them were amazed. The breath of God enabled them to communicate heart-to-heart the good news of Jesus overcoming all barriers…not just a language barrier, but the barriers that divided them, such as race, nationality, culture, and class. By taking the breath of God, they were able to build a bridge and make a new race as the same offspring of Abraham. In the Roman society where discrimination was taken as normal, the Holy Spirit called Christians to be bridge builders and to proclaim the kingdom of reconciliation in the name of Jesus.
Early Christians not only built a bridge. Upon receiving the breath of God, they also built a community over any kind of differences. When the Holy Spirit came down and inspired these believers, they became one and equal. The Holy Spirit enabled them to communicate with God and also with one another. And there flourished spiritual renewal and anointing; there bloomed compassion and love for one another; there were opening of hearts and sharing of resources; and there emerged a community, the body of Christ, the church! In the society where difference led to bigotry, Christ believers gathered and the Holy Spirit raised the church, a loving community.
Faithful friends in Christ, today, we remember all those people out there and also among us who cry out, “I can’t breathe.” And we remember the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. This Spirit is the breath of life that created all things with God. This Spirit is the breath of justice that inspired the judges and the prophets to bring deliverance and liberation to the people of God. This Spirit is the breath of love and truth that Jesus breathed onto the disciples. And this Spirit is the breath of guidance that still leads all believers to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
When this life-giving breath of God comes upon us and empowers us, we can surely do things that can help people around us breathe in this troubled world. As bridge builders of the Holy Spirit, let us be compassionate and loving above all. Please reach out to those who are in so much pain now, cry with those who are vulnerable to any kind of injustice, share their burdens of grief and despair, anger and fury. And we may offer comfort and peace of Christ with them. And as community builders, let us be righteous and courageous. Let’s stand against social injustice, raise our voice and proclaim justice in any possible ways. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we may partake in ministries that can change our corner of the world into God’s kingdom of peace. And we may transform this society slowly but surely.
“Come, Holy Spirit, come!” Today, we wholeheartedly plead and pray, “Come Holy Spirit come! Come and let us be your church overcoming all kinds of barriers and differences. Come Holy Spirit come! Come and let us breathe the breath of God and let us be your hands and feet to help others breathe and live in your love. Come. Do come!” We pray today in Jesus holy name. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim