By Max Wilkins –
The worldwide protests in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis took place during the week that God’s people celebrate Pentecost – the birthday of the Church, the birthday of the mission of Jesus, and the Lord’s sending of Holy Spirit, the Breath of Life.
In massive events all around the globe, activists of all races, creeds, and religions recalled his plea, “I can’t breathe!”
There is a Pentecost message in all of this, and it provides some grounding and some hope.
That first Pentecost took place when the disciples had gathered at Jesus’ direction in a prayer meeting in Jerusalem (see Acts 1:6-11). Also gathered there, just outside the room where they were meeting, were people from every race, every tribe, every language in the known world. “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken” (Acts 2:5-6).
Immediately upon receiving the promised Holy Spirit, the disciples went out into that gathering and shared this Breath of Life with the people. That very day a Spirit led community formed that included more than 3,000 people – African people, Asian people, Europeans, and Semitic people.
One of the principle purposes of the sending of that Breath of Life was to inspire community and unity (not sameness or negation of culture and distinctiveness, but a unity of spirit, of purpose, of value for life before God).
Jesus was initiating his mission with the coming of the Spirit. “You will receive power,” he had told the disciples, “when the Holy Spirit comes upon you AND you will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
Those recipients of the Breath of Life were sent to bring together communities from all parts of the world, and to recreate that first Pentecost by coming together across lines of division, expectantly anticipating the sharing of the Breath of Life. The mission is to help those who are unable to breathe – physically, spiritually, emotionally – to be able to breathe the Breath of Life. And God’s people can only join that mission by fighting, in prayerful and tangible ways, against the very systemic forces that are crushing the breath out of people.
George Floyd died in Minneapolis, suffocated in broad daylight in front of a crowd. Many people around the country have taken up the cry of “I can’t breathe” in protest of Mr. Floyd’s violent murder and in solidarity with his experience of helplessness in the face of racial injustice.
I recognize, however, that these words are not just the dying gasp of George Floyd. They are also the suffocating cry of millions of people around the world whose necks are being crushed by the systemic evils of racism, of injustice, of economic deprivation, and of indifference. Evil, in its various forms, has been crushing the life out of human beings forever. And evil as it relates to racism, to abuse of power, to white supremacy, and to indifference to the suffering of those outside our own tribe, is particularly virulent right now. It is also totally contrary to the will of God and to God’s plans for the people of God.
Make no mistake, although the issues can be politicized, these are essentially spiritual issues. Some legal justice may occur in this situation. Yet, even if there are criminal convictions in this case, it is only a bandage on a hemorrhage if the inherent injustice built into the system and rampant in our society is not addressed and acted upon in tangible ways. Systems need to change; hearts need to change. And I don’t think that can happen apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in and through his people.
I praise God that by his grace we are a part of his people. Please continue to be instruments of the Breath of Life.
Come Holy Spirit.
Max Wilkins is the president of TMS Global.