Choosing the Spirit Over Comfort
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
I’m about to talk about George Floyd and what happened to him. I want to give a heads up to everyone, but especially our black siblings who have already seen or read about what happened too many times. This might be too much. If you listen to the video below and want to skip that section, go to minute 2:45. In the text below, that section is in italics if you want to skip it.
Image by Shirien Damra: @shirien.creates
Last Monday in Minneapolis, George Floyd was under arrest. The video of his arrest starts with a police officer kneeling on his neck. The police officer doesn’t move, even though George isn’t resisting, even after George is calling out, “I can’t breathe, officer. I can’t breathe.” People are gathering around and begging the officer to stop. They tell him George’s nose is bleeding. “He’s human, bro,” one man says.
Five minutes pass. Six. Seven. George has now stopped speaking, stopped moving. The officer keeps his knee on his neck. Even when the EMT arrives, the officer doesn’t move. The EMT reaches under his knee to take George’s pulse.
He dies not long after. He was being arrested for a minor crime. Forgery of a $20 bill.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Sandra Bland. Oscar Grant. Mike Brown. Jordan Davis. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin.
Each of them was killed because they were seen as a threat before they were seen as the humans they were, as the neighbors they were, as children created in the image of God.
If this is hard to hear, imagine how hard it is to live with the fear of this happening to you, to your son or daughter.
This is a crisis. Not just a cultural crisis. Not just a political crisis. This is a crisis of love. A crisis of justice. A crisis of faith. This is a spiritual crisis.
Today is a powerful day in our Church. It is the day that the Spirit came down like a rush of violent wind and then manifested in fire. Typically, when we think of violent wind, we think of a hurricane or a tornado. Terrifying forces of destruction. Same with fire, especially a fire that comes out of nowhere, untamed and out of control. The Spirit didn’t come with gentleness. God chose to send the Spirit into the world in a disruptive, uncomfortable way.
The Spirit has one job: to constantly call us to God’s love and justice. That’s it. When the Spirit fell on the disciples, it changed them. When she came, she erased the barrier that prevented people from understanding one another. The disciples were able to share the Spirit’s message, and people from every corner of the world understood. The entire book of the Acts of the Apostles describes how Jesus’ followers lived their lives differently after the Spirit came. They came together. They shared resources. And they committed their lives to God’s love and justice.
I don’t know if you’ve read the rest of the Bible from there, but following the Spirit’s call wasn’t always easy for them. Our stories say that most of them lived hard lives and died in hard ways because of their faith. From the very beginning of our Church, living God’s love and justice wasn’t always comfortable.
But somewhere along the way, a lot of us were taught that staying comfortable was the most important thing. If there’s any mention of things that make us uncomfortable, we were taught to shut it down. “No religion or politics” was the rule for my family during gatherings growing up. There was zero tolerance for any kind of tension. Keep it light. Keep it nice. Keep it comfortable.
But the Spirit doesn’t call us to comfort. She calls us to God’s love and justice. And when we don’t hear her call, the Spirit shakes us like a hurricane, gets us uncomfortable, and forces us to make a decision: What is more important to us: comfort or God’s love and justice.
Oh, and are we being shook right now. The Spirit is begging us to hear her call. Begging us to speak up, to step up, to create change.
The problem is, the way things are now, well, it’s really comfortable for some of us. Most of us here don’t have to worry about being stopped in our own neighborhoods by our own neighbors asking us if we’re supposed to be there. Most of us don’t have to teach our children, particularly our sons, to always keep their hands visible and not to wear hoodies, so that no one thinks of them as a threat.
When we see George Floyd on the sidewalk, comfort is saying “well, he must have done something to deserve it.” Because in the comfortable world some of us live in, a police officer would never hurt us unless they were forced to. But George Floyd was seen as a threat before he was seen as a human.
And right now the Spirit is looking at us and saying, “That’s a child of God, created in God’s own image. Look at his face. Say his name. That’s your neighbor. That’s your brother. And he can’t breathe. What are you going to do about it?”
Right now, a lot of us here, we have a choice, a choice a lot of our Black brothers and sisters don’t have: we can choose comfort, to not see the suffering in front of us, or we can choose God’s love and justice.
There’s a saying in Buddhism: “Step onto the path, and a thousand guides will appear.” That’s how I think the Spirit works. She sends her wind, her fire, and she shakes us up, gets us uncomfortable, gets us on the path. And then she sends us our guides.
I think the folks in our Sacred Ground program can probably relate to that. Sacred Ground is a 10-session program created by The Episcopal Church to dig deeply into racism through the lens of our faith. Last fall, 17 people in our community, including me, leaned into the Spirit’s call. 17 white folks doing our work together, ourselves, not burdening our siblings of color with educating us.
It hasn’t been easy. We’ve learned things about our country’s past that weren’t taught in history classes, and we realized things about ourselves that made us really uncomfortable. But we kept walking the path. Together. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that as I’ve done this work, I’ve been seeing the world differently. I’ve gotten more curious, more compassionate. A thousand guides have appeared who have led me into even more discomfort. But now when I feel uncomfortable, I recognize it as an invitation to learn to love more deeply.
Sacred Ground is a program that is available to everyone here. It’s available to your family and friends or anyone who’s feeling the Spirit’s call. If you’re interested or if you want to know what actions you can take right now to be in solidarity with our Black siblings, let me know. We’ll walk this path together.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Spirit gives us power if we lean into that wild wind, that fire, that discomfort. It’s what the disciples did on the Day of Pentecost all those many years ago, and with that power they created a new way of being.
That is our work now. To hear the Spirit’s call. To lean in. To create a new way of being. People’s lives literally depend on it. Amen.