Come Closer and Listen — A Pentecost Sermon

Luke Sumner
5 min readMay 31, 2020

On the streets of America this week, I saw Pentecost.

This last week in Minneapolis, George Floyd was killed by police, who refused to let him breathe as he was violently arrested for an alleged minor infraction. I watched as protests grew and spread over this senseless killing of another Black person by police. Protests about the systemic racism and white supremacy that have been oppressing and killing Black Americas for centuries. While many questioned the need for such loud and disruptive events, I heard over and over again from Black neighbors that these disruptive protests are inevitable when a community has experienced oppression and suffering for so long.

Last night I saw these protests come to Seattle. I listened closely to my friends who were attending and standing in solidarity with Black neighbors in our city at these events. And yes, I saw the destruction. I saw the fires. I listened to the reports about primarily white people causing the destruction we were seeing. I listen to the pleas for people to not get distracted by the riots, as white supremacy causes so much more harm. I watched and I listened.

And I saw many white neighbors have a great deal to say about the fires, about the riots, and about the damage. And indeed, this is something to lament, especially when it happens in a way that can harm our neighbors. I want all in Seattle to be safe. But I implore all of us, especially as followers of Jesus, to look beyond individual incidents of destruction (caused mainly by white people in the middle of a largely peaceful protest), and see the white supremacy and racial injustice in America that is behind these protests. To see that for every fire set at a protest, thousands of our Black neighbors have lost their lives to our racist system. To see the thousands of peaceful protests against white supremacy and police brutality that have happened — Such as taking a knee — that were criticized by white America. To see endless calls by black people to take seriously that #BlackLivesMatter, and how often these calls went unheard by white America. Our Black neighbors are exhausted.

And I implore you to see that the church has often been complicit in these sins, failing to stand in solidarity with their Black neighbors who are hurting. Failing to call out the sims of white supremacy and racial injustice. To see that pastors who look like me have for centuries failed to stand up and clearly name these sins.

If we are going to follow a poor carpenter who was on the receiving end of police brutality, and who was ultimately killed by the state, we need to be able to see Pentecost on the streets of America.

In the book of Acts, the disciples are gathering together in an upper room when the Holy Spirit comes. And when She comes, tongues of fire are seen on the heads of the disciples. These tongues of fire are a sign that God is up to something.

And people notice and began to gather near the disciples. From all over people see that something is happening and they move closer. And those who saw and moved closer experience something powerful. The disciples began to speak in different languages, and those who were listening heard God in unique ways that they could understand.

Pentecost is still happening today, but most of us are not the disciples. We are the gathered crowd. White America is the gathered crown. We can see the tongues of fire that are erupting on the streets of America. The Holy Spirit is up to something. As my friend and theologian Yuki Shwartz said: “May this Pentecost the people hiding away from the revolution hear riot, the language of the unheard, as good news spoken in their own tongues.”

Are we willing to come closer and listen?

Those who were gathered in Acts 2 only heard their own languages because they were willing to come closer and listen when they saw that God was up to something. Only when they dropped what they were doing, moved closer to the signs of the Holy Spirit, and listened were they able to hear the language being spoken.

Are we willing to come closer and listen?

We need to be able to lament the injustice we see in our world. To lament the white supremacy and racial injustice that is hurting our neighbors. But we also need to recognize Pentecost and move closer. To hear where the Spirit is calling us to come closer and listen.

To lament the death of George Floyd, but to come closer and see that his death is the direct result of systemic racism that has oppressed and killed Black Americans for centuries, and hear that we are called to be practice anti-racism in the face of this injustice.

To lament any harm our neighbors may have experienced from the riots, but to come closer and see that these protests are the direct result of white supremacy and our failure to hear our Black neighbors who have been pleading with us for decades to stop being silent, and hear that we are called to be active is dismantling white supremacy.

To lament the now 100,000 plus people who have died of COVID in America, many as the result of a failed system. But also come closer and see that Black neighbors, Indigenous neighbors, and many other neighbors of color have been disproportionately harmed by COVID due to existing systemic racism and injustice in our country. To hear that fighting systemic racism is just as important as wearing masks in the fight against COVID.

To lament the reality that as white Americans, we have failed to consistently stand with our Black neighbors and other neighbors of color. But to come closer and see that we don’t have to be perfect to fight racism and to stand against white supremacy. To hear, as Ijeoma Oluo says, that “the beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself.”

God is moving. The Spirit is speaking. And if we as the church are willing to come closer and listen, we just might hear how we can live into the good news of God’s love and justice in our world.

Are we willing to come closer and listen?