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“I can’t breathe.”

We just celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, which was marked by the rush of wind – the Spirit – upon the disciples and all who gathered at that time and place. Recall that in Hebrew and Greek – the languages of the bible – the word for spirit also means wind and breath. Breath is life.

We are profoundly troubled by the death of George Floyd. And by his last words, “I can’t breathe.”

The same words spoken by Eric Garner in 2014.

“I can’t breathe.”

We observed a moment of silence on Sunday for the family and loved ones of Mr. Floyd, who was murdered last week in Minneapolis. In addition, we name and remember Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson, and all those who have come tragically before them. We stand in solidarity with communities rising up in protest across the country participating in a long history of freedom struggles. We categorically condemn systemic racism and all violence. We are heartsick that struggles we believed long-resolved are still painfully before us, lived every day by our brothers and sisters.

This Sunday, June 7, is Peace with Justice Sunday, one of six special Sundays designated by the UMC. It is also Gun Violence Awareness Sunday. As we contemplate these two calls to action, we will consider Paul’s credo: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

We find ourselves in the midst of two pandemics: one requires a yet-to-be-developed vaccine; the other demands that we live the Gospel mandate to “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

We seek understanding, for “truly it is the spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty that makes for understanding.” (Job 32:8) To that end, our leaders are exploring ways to move forward dialogue and action through small group conversations, prayer vigils and book studies. Our Church and Society Team encourages each of us to call on legislative leaders to express our anger and frustration, and urge them to work with urgency for justice, affirming our stance as United Methodists: “We recognize racism as sin and affirm the ultimate and temporal worth of all persons.” Jennine Ballew, our Coordinator of Youth Ministries and school counselor, suggests these resources for children and youth: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/race-and-equity-resources

Our bishop, Robert Hoshibata, invites us to join him in this prayer at this time:

God, our Creator, in these times of incredible anxiety and challenge, we offer a prayer that is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a prayer about another pandemic that has been a scourge on our human family for centuries. We pray for the end of violence and racism that persists and now threatens to envelop us in the evil of hatred and the sin of violence against other humans.

Forgive us when we have allowed ourselves to be teased into believing that this sin is no longer. Help us to realize that we have not yet achieved what you have proclaimed, that all persons are created by you and loved by you. Give us the courage to speak and act for justice for all. We pray especially for our sisters and brothers of color and in the memory of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. Amen.

Let us work tirelessly to hasten the day when all can walk in safety and breathe the breath of life. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jeff