May 23, 2021
As is our tradition here at Gloria Dei, the sermon this morning is addressed particularly to you. As always, I invite everyone else who is here with us in person or online to listen in for a word of hope for you too.
I watched a fascinating short film called “Wearable Tracy” this week.[i] It’s about a woman named Kim who launched a year-long project kind of on a whim. It started on the day that Facebook reminded her that it was her friend Tracy’s birthday. Kim felt bad that she hadn’t gotten Tracy a gift, so she decided to improvise a little. She bought a bunch of pipe cleaners from a nearby dollar store, and she fashioned them into a wild and elaborate kind of hat. She took a picture of herself wearing this crazy birthday crown and sent it to Tracy with happy birthday wishes.
Then Kim started walking around the city while still wearing this wacky headgear. Kim is normally a person who likes to remain anonymous. She does not like to attract attention to herself. But on this day she couldn’t help but attract that attention. She noticed how people stared at her, but how they also struck up conversations with her that she normally wouldn’t have had. That’s when she decided to try making what she called a “wearable Tracy” – a new creative headpiece – every day for a year.
The project had three rules: she had to twist fresh pipe cleaners into a brand-new design every morning; she had to wear the piece all day long (from nine to five); and she had to ask the name of anyone who spoke to her about her hat, even if she wasn’t feeling particularly talkative. She found that this project helped her connect with so many complete strangers in a way she never would have been able to do before. She said: “The fear of judgment turned into ‘Who am I going to meet today?’”
I think about how the disciples must have felt on that first Pentecost long ago. They were doing what Jesus had told them to do – waiting in Jerusalem for this Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised would show up. And suddenly there’s this rush of a violent wind, and now they have some unexpected headgear – tongues of fire hovering above their heads. These friends and followers of Jesus, who honestly would have preferred to stay unnoticed at this point, are now the center of everyone’s attention.
And that’s when the Spirit does something else – giving the disciples this power to communicate in the native languages of all the people gathered there. No matter where you were from, you could understand what the disciples were saying about this person named Jesus and what Jesus had done and taught. The Spirit makes possible these new connections in ways the disciples never imagined.
Notice the two very different ways that the people in the crowd respond to what the disciples are sharing. Some people get really snarky and dismissive. They accuse the disciples of being drunk, even though it’s pretty early in the morning. Others in the crowd stay in a more curious place, asking “What does this mean?”
As you probably already know, when we live our faith – or just live our lives – there will always be voices that will be dismissive, just like those people who said the disciples were drunk. Those voices will try to tell you that you’ll never be successful, that you’re not enough, that you need to look differently or act differently or be a different person altogether.
When you encounter those moments where people are doubting you – or perhaps when you are doubting yourself – I want you to remember two important things from this Pentecost story.
First, I hope you will remember to stay curious. Ask the question that other people in the Pentecost crowd ask: What does this mean? What does it mean that this person is dismissing me? What does this mean about their lives or the ways they’ve been hurt? Ask that same question in other parts of life, as you encounter new experiences and continue to figure out your relationships with the important people in your life. And of course keep asking that question about the Bible and about God and about faith. What does this mean? Stay curious. Stay open. May your fear of being judged turn into “Who am I going to meet today? Who am I going to see in a new way today? Who am I going to help today?”
The other thing I want you to remember is what Peter preaches in that short sermon of his: The Spirit is given to all flesh – all people – of every age, race, background, culture, language, family situation, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental or physical health, or anything else that makes people uniquely themselves. All people. No exceptions.
Peter reminds people that everyone – young and old – will see visions and dream dreams. Everyone gets to dream.
You have important dreams and visions – for yourself, for the church, for the world. You’ve told me that you want to make a positive change in the world, no matter how small. You want to make our community, our country, our world better. You want for everyone to respect one another, for there to be peace, for the world to become more accepting and less harsh. You want an end to crime, abuse, racism, sexism, and all the things that traumatize people. You want an end to world hunger, and you want churches to help people in need.
Those dreams and visions you have named are God’s dreams and visions too. And God has given all of us the gifts and the courage to make those visions real.
In the gospel Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. Here’s the ultimate truth: God loves you more than you can ever comprehend. No ruler, no scale can measure it. No equation or smartphone can calculate it. God’s love for you has been there from the beginning. It was there when you were baptized all those years ago. It’s here with you now this morning as you are confirmed. And it will be with you for all of your days to come, no matter what. Even when it might feel far away – more of a flicker than a tongue of flame – it’s always, always around you and in you.
That love will hold you as you move forward, as you dream your dreams and discover some new ones. As you pursue your visions for a more just and loving world. As you, with the Spirit’s urging, set the world on fire. Amen. S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa
[i] You can read about the project and watch the documentary short here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-documentary/wearable-tracy-and-connections-forged-through-funky-hats?utm_campaign=likeshopme&client_service_id=31202&utm_social_type=owned&utm_brand=tny&service_user_id=1.78e+16&utm_content=instagram-bio-link&utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social&client_service_name=the%20new%20yorker&supported_service_name=instagram_publishing
“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