“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
“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” John 17:18
Let’s acknowledge up front that Mother’s Day can be emotionally complicated. Of course we want to lift up those women in our lives who have guided us and nurtured us – although I hope we will do that more often than once a year. If your mother has revealed God’s grace and love to you, give thanks for that. I know some of you are grieving that your mother is no longer here to be celebrated today. Or you’re worried about your mother’s health as she grows older and more fragile.
We also know that many people have had difficult relationships with their mothers – or with their children. Others struggle to have a child or have lost a child. Still others struggle to help a child held captive to addiction or depression or a thousand other things that terrify us. This life is messy, and the work of mothering is messy. What we know is that God is with us in all of it – in the joys and in the heartaches and everything in between.
In a curious way Jesus is doing some mothering in today’s gospel. Today’s piece of John’s gospel comes from a long prayer that Jesus offers on the night that he is arrested, just before his crucifixion. He knows that his time with the disciples is growing short, so how does he spend those final hours? He spends a lot of that time in prayer – a prayer offered up to God on behalf of these people he has loved with all his heart, people he chose from different backgrounds and places – none of them glamorous – and shaped into people of holy purpose.
A lot has already happened this night. They’ve shared a meal together. Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet, doing the work of a servant. He’s watched Judas slip away into the night to betray him. He knows that a few hours later Peter will deny knowing him.
So if you’ve ever had a family meal turn weird, if you’ve ever had to do something pretty gross for someone you love, if you’ve ever been disappointed or betrayed by a family member – well, then, you have a sense of what brings Jesus to this moment of prayer.
Jesus knows he’s about to leave them. And he must send them out into the world, a world that will not embrace them with open arms. Jesus knows that the world can be a dangerous and painful place.
That’s the work of mothering too – preparing kids to live without you. Sending them into a world that is not always safe. Mothers always remember the first time you left your kid in someone else’s care…the first time your kid fell or got hurt…the day your kid started kindergarten…the first school dance…the driver’s license…the beginning of college…the first job…it goes on and on. So many milestones, so many fears.
I sense that Jesus feels some of that fear and worry in this moment. He pleads with God: Protect them in your name…so that they may be one, as we are one.
Protect them from the evil one, Jesus says. Protect them from all of those things that might hurt them. The ways that the world will break their hearts. The people who will come after them with weapons of every kind because the disciples are proclaiming a message of God’s powerful love.
Jesus knows the world is dangerous. He’s about to be put to death because the world is threatened by a love that demands justice and peace for all people.
Jesus says it plainly: The world has hated them. In John’s gospel the “world” often stands for those powers that do not understand what Jesus is about and actively oppose him. Those forces won’t go away after he dies. They will sometimes seem to grow stronger. The people who hear John’s gospel for the first time will have already seen the temple, their place of worship, leveled by the Romans. The people hearing this gospel know how destructive hate can be.
But Jesus also knows in this moment what the disciples will only know later – that fear and death and destruction will not win the day. There’s resurrection on the horizon. God’s triumph of life over death means that the world does not have the ultimate power.
How do we send children out into the world in spite of our fear? We do exactly what Jesus is doing here. We pray for them. We remember that while we love the children in our lives, we do not possess them. Their lives are a gift from God too, and we owe it to them to let them find their own paths. We trust in resurrection hope.
And so, whether we have given birth to children or not, we can all share in the work of mothering – by surrounding children and youth with an unconditional love that reflects God’s own unshakable love for them. By caring for them in ways big and small. By preparing them to head off into the world on their own, ready to face whatever they find there.
We do these things following the example of Jesus, whose love for his first disciples and for each of us, his disciples now, is both fierce and tender. A love that prays without ceasing, teaches through words and actions, and gets down on the floor to wash feet.
None of us does the work of mothering perfectly. We are not perfect people. But we rely on a Savior who mothers us too – and offers forgiveness when we have fallen short.
My friend Kimberly, whose own path to motherhood was not an easy one, admits that, even now, as the mother of two children, she finds Mother’s Day bittersweet. She offers this reflection:
Maybe we should embrace all of the emotions of Mother’s Day for exactly what they’re worth: poignant reminders that the deepest and most intense relationships in our lives are an undeniable part of our personal stories. Reminders to hope and reminders to reflect. Reminders to cherish and reminders to grieve. Reminders that Mother’s Day isn’t about celebrating someone perfect, but rather celebrating those who do the best they can to love the best way they know how in the midst of their own imperfection. And that might look a little bit different for all of us, but that’s okay. Let’s celebrate mothering on this Mother’s Day – in whatever way and whatever place you pour love out of your imperfect self onto those around you. Let’s celebrate that.[i]
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ