Today is the Festival of Pentecost. It is the day that we remember and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit, which comes to all of God’s people in the waters of our baptism.
In the church it is also our practice to mark important life milestones. And so today we also recognize and bless our high school graduates. As a community, we celebrate with them, we make promises to them, we pray for them and we bless them for wherever their journey takes them.
Now, I am hopeful that today you will indulge me as I claim just a few minutes of “Preacher’s privilege.” Lori’s and my youngest son, Samuel, will be/is sitting today among Trinity’s group of graduates.
I have written a letter to Sam that with his permission, I’d like to share with you. It’s a letter to him. And it’s a letter to all of our graduates…and it’s quite possibly a letter to the rest of you as well. Ok? Here we go:
Thank you for letting me share this letter with you this way, and for letting me share it with your graduating class, with their families, with the rest of the congregation, and ultimately with the whole internet.
I appreciate your willingness to take risks!
There are some truths that I want you to know and remember. They are truths for all of us.
The first thing I want you to know, Sam, is this: I want you to know how proud of you your Mom and I are. And I am confident in saying to those in your graduating class that their parent or parents are equally proud of them as well.
And I’m thankful. I want you to know that. I’m deeply thankful.
I’m thankful not just for what you do (and you do a lot of pretty cool things.) I’m thankful for who you are. I’m thankful that you have allowed God’s Holy Spirit to work within you…and to shape you, over your last 6,727 days.
Sam, when a sculptor does her work, she has an exact image in her mind of what the clay will look like when she’s done. And then she carves and shapes until the clay looks like that image.
I think God works the same way. Before you were born, God knew what you would look like, be like…God knew your personality, and your slightly warped sense of humor (which, by the way, comes from your mother’s side of the family.) And God knows how the Spirit will shape you.
Sam, thank you for becoming who God has made you to be. The rest of you graduates…thank you for becoming who God made you to be. And the rest of you…thank you for becoming who God made you to be.
You are perfect. Right here, right now. Perfect! Don’t get me wrong…you’re sinful, and you do mess up. But at the same time, you’re perfect. Right now, you are exactly as God made you to be…just as you are. Let me say that again, because it’s really important: Right now, you are exactly who God made you to be! You see, God loves the imperfect, and makes it perfect…as it is.
Today is a day to think about this shaping. It is a day for looking back at what you’ve become, and for looking forward, to what you will be.
And as I mentioned earlier, today is the day of Pentecost. It is the day of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s really appropriate for us to be celebrating all of you today. Some people think of Pentecost as the birthday of the church…and yes, it is. But the story of Pentecost is not the story of a nice, calm, ordered beginning of the institutional church…of a rich tradition… No. not at all.
The birth of the church was a mess! The Pentecost story starts out by saying that 2,000 years ago, the disciples were all gathered in a room. Kind of like we are here today. And then suddenly, the overpowering sound of a rushing wind filled the room, slamming doors, flapping shutters, blowing around so hard that they had to cover their ears, it was so loud. And fire…fire came down and rested on each one of them, a flame…the Book of Acts says. And something else happened…the disciples were all filled with the Spirit, and suddenly everybody started talking in other languages. And in the noise, and the chaos of that moment, everything changed.
The whole world changed.
- Pentecost is a big, giant, huge, messy disruption!
- Pentecost is a threat to our comfortable order!
- Pentecost messes with your life.
You see, Pentecost is God shaking things up, as God often does. And those of us who are a part of this thing we call the church, this community of believers…sometimes we can only hold on for dear life, uncertain of where we are going to land.
Does that feel familiar today, Sam? Do you, or your friends, ever feel that way? Unsure? Uncertain? A bit nervous about the future? Especially after the year you’ve had, right? Who knows what’s next? Have you felt that way?
I know that feeling. I know it well.
I remember sitting in the hospital with you when you were born. I remember it like it was yesterday. Childbirth was kind of chaotic, and messy, and weird. I was overwhelmed! (and I had the easy part) Sam, you did not come into this world quietly!
But then, there you were. And I remember holding you when you were just minutes old, I have only been that filled with that kind of joy a few times in my life. I’d just met you…and I completely loved you. And I remember sitting there…thinking, praying, and wondering what you would become.
In those first couple of days, I remember thinking about the things you would experience:
- I imagined your baptism
- I wondered what it would be like for you to start school
- I thought about you being in Sunday School, and first communion, and confirmation
- I wondered what your first job would be
- I wondered if you’d love music like I did; if you’d play an instrument, or sing
- I envisioned you coming out the garage, and just offering to help me clean it. (I’m still waiting on that one)
And when you were just an infant in my arms, I remember thinking about these couple of weeks… I knew that someday you would graduate. I’d already done the math, and I knew that you’d be in the “Class of ’21!” What would that be like? I knew it would be a time of great joy and pride. I didn’t expect that it would be as bittersweet as it is, how mixed my emotions are, as you prepare for what comes next…as we allprepare for what comes next.
This day…this week…this is a Pentecost for us. We are just like those disciples sitting in that room that day. It is a Holy Spirit time. It is a time when the Spirit blows, the fire comes down and change happens. Transformation happens. God is up to something new here!
When you move the tassel from one side to the other (because after all, the tassel is worth the hassle, right?) it will be because God’s Holy Spirit is blowing through your life. And it’s because God is preparing you for whatever comes next.
And so as you prepare to graduate Sam, I have a single wish…a single hope for you. It’s the same hope I have for the rest of the graduates, and really for the whole congregation. It’s this:
Please, don’t limit the Holy Spirit’s work within you. Don’t let that happen. Every single day is new. And every single day, you and I stand on the edge of something, just like those disciples did. Every single day, when you get up in the morning (or the afternoon) the Holy Spirit meets you. And the Holy Spirit whispers in your ear…every day:
- The Spirit says: “Be open to whatever comes next”
- The Spirit says: “Trust each other”
- The Spirit says: “Bring everybody to the table…everybody!”
- The Spirit says: “Don’t be afraid to fail”
- “Take a risk!”
- “Mix it up”
- “View the future with curiosity and hope”
- “Step out in faith toward whatever crazy direction God will lead you next”
- “Believe in each other…believe in God.”
As people who follow Jesus…who live with the Spirit, our job is to listen for the wind…to expect the flames…and to watch for the possibilities. Then to join right in to help challenge what we always knew and reinventwhat seemed to work perfectly fine.
You, Sam, and all of you…and all of you… The Holy Spirit will bless you with audacious dreams. Your passion and energy, mixed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, is a powerful combination.
You will change the world.
It is graduation time. And it is Pentecost. What a great combination. Because at graduation we recognize that while you will always continue learning…(trust me, you will!)…God has given you all that you need. And we remember today that God has promised that the Holy Spirit will be right alongside you…whispering in your ear…every day.
Samuel, your Mother and I love you more than words can say. We always have, and we always will. And all our amazing graduates, know that you are loved. You are loved by your parents and families. And you are loved by this church. Most importantly, you are loved by God, who sent Jesus for you and whose Spirit walks with you. You are a child of God, loved beyond measure. My deepest wish for you is that you know this. Remember it. And live it.
Thanks be to God.