This sermon was proclaimed in the community of OSLC in Holladay, UT for Pentecost, May 23, 2021. It an be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.
The texts were:
Acts 2: 1-21
John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15
Young Friends Message:
What’s your favorite gift that you’ve ever been given? Do you still have it? Maybe yes, maybe no, I’ve been given so many great gifts over the years! I bet you have too! But did you know that God has given us gifts too? But God doesn’t give us gifts like toys, or books, or other stuff, God gives us gifts that we can share with each other! And each of our gifts our different! What are you good at? What do you like to do? Those are gifts that God has given you! The best gift that any of us has been given is Jesus, and Jesus’ gift was love. I want you to remember this week that you are a gift to the world too! All you have to do to unwrap this gift is look in the mirror! And the world needs you and your gifts! We’re going to talk a little bit more about that together.
I was terrified in my first classes for my Master of Divinity. I was so certain that everyone else possessed a good forty IQ points above me, and I had nothing to contribute. After all, up to this point I had a degree in elementary education, had taught preschool, and had been raising our children. My context and culture had been children and families, and young children at that. Sure, I had been on staff at a church for many years, but my landscape was different than theological leadership, very different from pastoral leadership. I had been out of school for 15 years when I re-entered academia and I was pretty sure I couldn’t go to school because my throat hurt and I was too old. My first graduate level course work was a two-week course at Gettysburg Seminary in PA, and it took about two seconds to realize that I was in a different culture. I didn’t speak the theological/academia language, for one thing. I would sit in a lecture diligently taking notes realizing the only words I knew were “the,” “and” and an occasional “Jesus” or “God.” Everything else was foreign. Hermeneutical lenses, eschatology, Parousia, Synoptic, Vulgate, Septuagint, Coptic all of these presumably English words swirled around me as if from another country. And then there were the words that were ACTUALLY not English like diaconia, ecclesia, Imago Dei, eres, mishpat, Greek, Latin and Hebrew thrown into the mix. I’m fairly sure the first couple of days I went back to my austere dorm room, which also seemed to be ground zero for a moth infestation and cried. Luckily, a nice 24-year-old young man seemed to notice my old lady pain and ineptitude and took pity on me. I was ok with pity at this point and he would sit next to me, put his notebook were I could see it and write definitions of all the weird words coming at me. He was my translator for those two weeks. I sat silent in class, not trusting that my voice could add anything of intelligence to the conversations.
When I got home, I had to write a culminating paper as the final. Again, this was my first foray into academia in 15 years, so I was understandably nervous. I did my best to regurgitate and use the language of the theological world, but it was difficult as those were not yet my words. I had my best friend, who was also an ordained pastor, read and critique my paper before I turned it in. She was very kind. When Leta returned my paper to me, it stood out that about half-way through the 20-page paper, she wrote “yay! Finally, your own voice!” She had recognized that the words that had come before weren’t mine, and rejoiced when my own words, my own theological thoughts about God, service and proclaiming God’s deed in the world, finally surfaced.
But honestly, I didn’t trust that voice and wondered if I should say anything at all. I hadn’t trusted my own voice most of my growing up. I didn’t trust my own voice to be worthy through four years of graduate school and the first few years of my ordained ministry. Trusting my own voice seemed hubris and arrogant. I worried that I wasn’t smart enough or possessed the correct language. I couldn’t imagine anyone voluntarily listening to me! I sometimes still don’t trust my voice-will I offend? Will I be coherent? But I’ve come to realize that not trusting my voice means that I’m not trusting God to show up. Trusting my voice has everything to do with faith that the Holy Spirit will indeed give me something to say, something that needs said and someone to hear and understand it. I realize that sitting silent is not an option as a beloved child of God in a world that desperately needs words that heal, love, and give hope. This is the call of ministry it turns out. It’s the call of our baptisms to trust that we as the people of God, can’t be silent in a world of division, fear and hate, but must find our voices, each of our unique voices, for God’s words to be heard and understood. Even if our voices shake, even if other people don’t like them, even if we are ignored, mocked or misunderstood. Our words can bring down barriers, our words can heal, our words can bridge chasms, our words can point to the promises of God for life for all and they matter.
I wonder if this is how that first Pentecost with the disciples felt 2000 years ago. What was is like to hear their voices proclaiming God’s great deeds of power with words foreign to them? Did they wonder if what they were saying could be heard? If what they were saying mattered? When people began to gather, to listen, to take them seriously, it must have been astonishing. You mean, you can understand me? You are speaking my language? I’m guessing the response of some that they were simply drunk early in the morning should have been expected, after all, aren’t these just lowly Galileans? But Peter trusted God and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he recalled the words of Jesus from our John passage that they would testify, tell the world something meaningful and necessary about the love of God in the world. Jesus’ voice still rang in their ears and they could trust that they could add their voice to the conversation and cut across language, race, ethnic and cultural barriers to translate God’s love for all the world. The truth of God’s mission, as Jesus had told them, was that there is no division in God’s creation, all are one.
1) What cultural barriers have you encountered in a congregation, neighborhood or other setting?
2) How does culture (secular culture, ethnic cultures, personal cultures) impact the mission of the Church and our church OSLC?
3) How can we set an example and advocate for an inclusive and just culture in our church and communities?
So we, too have a voice, a voice that we need to trust-a voice that God has given us and trust that God has given other people a voice that needs to be heard as well. We are called not only to use our voices for the wholeness, care and dignity of all people and creation, but we are called to ensure that neglected voices are heard: the voice of creation groaning under the weight of devastation and destruction, the voice of people vulnerable to abuse and oppression-migrants, children, people who are disabled, Black voices. And we need to discern when our voice needs to not be a solo but a chorus, or not the loudest.
Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, isn’t an historical event, but a promise of the on-going presence of God each day in our lives, giving us voice, giving us life, giving us our very being. Giving us these gifts to take with us as we go out, to live our faith, to lift our voices in the world. Pentecost did indeed create the church that day, a church that doesn’t stay quiet and in one place, but a church that is out, loud and diverse. The church isn’t a liturgy or the type of music, or a building, but the church is the people of God proclaiming God’s deeds of power in the world. Pentecost is indeed when we find our voice, we find that God has given us a voice and we are outed as having something to say about God’s kingdom right here, right now. We are outed as being different, in that we welcome diversity, all voices who speak of God’s deeds of loving power, inclusion and mercy into the world. Like Peter, we can use our voices to refute those voices that want to belittle, deny and make light of God’s power. We have found our voice from God, beloved people, let’s use it. Amen.