“And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” Acts 2:6
As has become our tradition, today’s sermon on this Day of Pentecost is addressed to our confirmands. But I hope everyone else will eavesdrop and heard a word for your life too.
Brian, Ellie, Tayla, Samantha, John, and Jared:
Every year I say that I can’t believe this day has come. Two years goes fast. But this time it feels like the past two years have gone extra fast. I’m not sure why, but here we are.
You have worked hard. You’ve worked hard to study the commandments and creeds, to learn stories from the New Testament and the Old Testament. You’ve drawn those stories and sculpted them and acted them out and discussed them together. You’ve tried different ways of praying and different ways of reading the Bible and different ways of understanding God’s gifts to you. You’ve learned more about what makes us Lutheran.
Among the many things that I appreciate about all of you, I love that you have amazing questions. Questions like:
- Will Jesus come back, or will someone else represent God in the way that Jesus did?
- How does the Bible help us make sense of science – and vice versa?
- Why does God allow so much suffering in this world?
- How does God forgive even the worst people?
I’ve loved wrestling with these questions along with you. I think you know by now that the most important questions, like these, don’t have easy answers. What’s most important is that God has given each of us a brain with which to grapple with questions – and to think of new questions – throughout our lives. Confirmation class might be over, but I hope the learning and growing you do in faith will never be over.
You also have some important wisdom. I love how clearly you have grasped some of the most profound truths of our faith. In your own words:
- God’s presence is everywhere. And even though God is sometimes not so very pleased with us, God still loves us.
- God can help us make difficult decisions.
- Even in dark times, God is there and is always gracious to us.
You understand – as well as any of us can understand – that God’s grace and love are bigger than the limits we try to place on it.
As one of you told me this week, “God has a space for everyone. There’s always a door for everyone, even if they’ve done something bad. God forgives that.”
It’s a weird and wonderful story, this story of Pentecost that we hear today. Remember that when this story begins, Jesus’ disciples are waiting, just as he had told them to do before he ascended into heaven. He’s given them a job to tell others about his love for all people, not just in their neighborhood but in the whole world. I’m pretty sure that when this story begins, the disciples are sitting around freaking out about how they’re going to do that.
And then, before they can figure out what’s happening, the Holy Spirit comes rushing through with fire and with a crazy wind. The disciples begin to speak, probably unsure at first of what they were saying, but amazed to discover that they are speaking in languages that they have never known before. All of those people gathered together from all of these places can understand what the disciples are saying. Everybody hears in their own language.[i]
This is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible, and this time I kept thinking about how the Holy Spirit didn’t expect everybody to be the same. The people gathered together in Jerusalem from all of those different cities and countries do not have to give up what makes them unique in order to be part of this church that the Spirit is bringing together. What gives them their identities – the places they call home, the languages they speak – those identities are honored in this special way.
If you hear nothing else today, I want you to hear this. And I want to be as clear as I can be. You are exactly who God has created you to be. God honors what makes you uniquely you. There will be a lot of people who will try to convince you that you should try to be someone else, that you should be a little more this way or a little less that way. Do not listen to them. You are beautifully and wonderfully made, and while there will be plenty to learn along the way, you do not have to be anyone other than who you are.
Please remember that God’s love for you is entirely unrelated to what you are able to do. You have so many talents, and I love watching and hearing about how you use them – in classrooms, on the soccer field, on the basketball court, on the piano bench, in the jazz band, on stage, on a track, here at church, in leadership roles, in Scouts, in service to others, in friendships, in your families.
But God does not wait for what you will accomplish or what you will achieve to decide whether or not you are worth loving. You just are. Already. You have been from the moment you were born. God loves you just as you are right now. Your story, which some days can feel small and unimportant, is a part of God’s larger story, which means that your story always matters– even on those days when you’re not sure what you believe or what you should do.
In a few minutes you will step up here and make some promises about how you will try to live out what Jesus has taught us. As we’ve discussed, several of those promises aren’t easy – serving all people, sharing the good news of Jesus is word anddeed, working for justice and peace. As you seek to live out those promises, remember that all of the people in this room – and many more – surround you and support you and love you. They are another gift that God has given you.
But most of all remember that God loves you, that God is with you always. The same God you loved you and claimed you as God’s own on the day of your baptism loves you and claims you now. That love will never leave you – no matter what. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
“And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking the native language of each.” Acts 2:6
On this day, as has become our tradition, the sermon is addressed to our confirmands. But I hope the rest of you will listen in and find a word of hope for your life as well.
Dear Anna, Calder, JJ, Michaela, Tia, Kate, and Spencer,
So here we are. It’s the day of Confirmation. After all those classes, all that we’ve learned and experienced together over the past two years, we’ve arrived at the moment when you enter into adult membership in the church and assume responsibility for living out your faith.
I hope you will always feel at home here at Gloria Dei, but I’m guessing that at one time or another during your life, you have felt left out of something. Maybe you saw an older brother or sister or cousin get to do things that you couldn’t do yet, like stay up late or drive. Maybe you tried out for something – a play or a team – and didn’t get the role or position you wanted. Maybe you’ve seen pictures on social media of friends hanging out somewhere that you were not invited. That one especially hurts.
Many of you are strong athletes, and I really admire that, but for me P.E. class was one of the places I usually felt left out. I was tall, so people expected me to be good at sports like volleyball or basketball. But once I actually had a ball in my hand, people quickly learned that I was not an impressive athlete. I tried, but those ball-handling skills just weren’t my thing. And so over time, when we were being picked for teams in class, I was usually picked close to last. It didn’t feel great to be left out.
Music was more my thing. I managed to be coordinated enough to march and play an instrument at the same time, and I loved playing the French horn in different musical ensembles. Performing with a band or orchestra on a concert stage made me feel like I belonged and could contribute something useful. It felt wonderful to be part of something larger than myself. Together as musicians we could add some beauty to the world.
We’ve talked about spiritual gifts, those blessings of the Holy Spirit given to us that we might make the world look more like God wants it to look. And we’ve reflected on how we all bring together our different gifts to make a difference in the world as the body of Christ. The opportunities to use those gifts can sometimes come along in surprising ways. Think, for example, of the disciples in the story we just heard from the book of Acts (the sequel to Luke’s gospel). The disciples have been missing their teacher and friend Jesus, who has at this point ascended into heaven – but not before he’s promised to send them the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells them to stay put and to wait. He doesn’t tell them exactly what to be looking for, but at the end of Luke he says they will be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
And so imagine what it was like for the disciples on that crazy day. The wind starts blowing like crazy, flames start dancing above their heads, and they start speaking in languages that they had not been able to speak before that day. It’s wild, right? And all of those people who were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Pentecost? All of those people from all of those different places could hear what the disciples were saying in their own languages. No one was left out.
Sometimes in life we will be like the disciples, empowered by God to speak new languages – languages that we didn’t even know we could speak. It won’t necessarily mean that we will literally speak a new language like Spanish or French, but we are often given new and surprising ways to connect with people we have not known before – people who, in mysterious ways, come into our lives and change us because they are so different from anyone we’ve known before.
And sometimes God will use others to speak to us in new and surprising ways. Sometimes we’ll be like all those confused listeners in the crowd, shocked that we are hearing a message in our own language but from an unexpected place. Sometimes as listeners we’ll find common ground with people with whom we never expected to have anything in common. And that, too, will be a gift.
The bottom line is that we have a God who wants to connect people across differences. God will find a way for us to hear each other, even if it means blowing up a mighty wind and throwing some flames around to get our attention.
You might be thinking, “But I’m only just finishing middle school. I’m headed to high school, and if I’m being honest, that feels intimidating enough. I don’t know how God is going to use me in some epic way.” Well, here’s a secret. Most adults feel that way too. We want the world to be a better place, but we aren’t sure what we can do to make it that way. When we start thinking about what God is asking us to do in the world, it can feel pretty daunting. It’s like those baptismal promises that we’ve been talking about. It isn’t easy to serve all people, following the example of Jesus Christ. It isn’t easy to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. Frankly, people aren’t always easy to love or to serve. And the entire earth seems like a big place in which to bring about justice and peace.
When I start to feel overwhelmed about the state of the world and what God wants us to do about it, I come back to what Peter says to the crowd at the end of today’s reading.
Peter reminds the people that the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh. That means everyone. No one is left out. God leaves no one out.
And when Peter starts quoting one of those Old Testament prophets, he chooses a passage that makes clear that God includes everyone. Who will prophesy? Who will speak up and work for justice and peace? Everyone – men and women, slave and free, and (here’s the one that’s especially important for you to hear) young and old. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Everyone.
God leaves no one out. As we have discussed so many times in the past two years, everybody receives God’s love and grace and forgiveness. God is so generous with that love that we have a hard time believing it. How could God possibly love us that much? But God does. God does love us that much. There is nothing you or I can do to keep God from loving us that much.
And because we have been loved by God that much, we in turn love others. In our own small ways in our own corners of the world. In our families and our schools and our communities, we love and care for others. Even the others who get on our nerves and drive us crazy, even the others we would rather not talk to, much less help. Even when we’d prefer to make up excuses or run in the opposite direction or hide behind our phones.
We love because God first loved us. And no one is left out. Now let’s live like we believe it. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ