Sunday, May 27, 2007
Acts 2: 1-21
The sermon this morning is for the members of our 2007 Confirmation Class. I invited the rest of the congregation here this morning to listen in, but I am really talking this morning just to you, members of the Confirmation Class of 2007. Let us pray:
God our friend and teacher, we come before you, newly confirmed in the faith you have shown us through Jesus. We can still feel your hand upon us through the hands of others. Help us to hear you speak to us today and everyday of our lives. Amen
When I was in elementary school and high school, where I grew up, one of the worst things that you could be called was a show-off. One of the worst things that could be said about you was that you were trying to show off.
The dictionary.com definition of showing off is “to seek to gain attention by displaying prominently one's abilities or accomplishments.”
One of the character traits that was drummed into us when I was a boy was humility. So, showing off was considered a very tacky thing to do.
When I became the pastor of a predominately African-American church some years ago, sometimes four or five different churches would get together to have a combined Sunday afternoon service, and sometimes it would be my turn to be the preacher. Or sometimes I would be invited to travel to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and preach for a revival or a family reunion.
On those occasions I would prepare my sermons extra carefully, and I would spend extra time in prayer to prepare.
There were some older women in my congregation who, after I preached for one of these special occasions, would often come up to me if the sermon went well and say, “You were showing off tonight, Reverend.” They would laugh and say to one another so I could hear them, “The Reverend was sure showing off tonight.”
At first I thought they were criticizing me. Isn’t showing off a bad thing?
Then I realized that it was meant to be a compliment. They were telling me that they thought I had done well…that I had given my best…that I had caused them to be proud of me in a situation where I could have embarrassed them by not doing well or by not giving my all.
I learned to think of being told that I’d shown off as a compliment.
Here’s one way to think about Jesus. What we think about Jesus is called “Christology.” Here’s one Christology: Jesus was God showing off.
Jesus was what God can do if we really let God do what God can do. Jesus was God showing off.
Think of all the things God did through Jesus – Jesus healed the diseased. He healed people with leprosy and other diseases that made them to be considered unclean. Jesus healed the diseased.
Jesus cast out evil. Where there were people and groups caught up in oppression, hatred of self and hatred of others, Jesus cast out those demons, those evil forces, and restored love and peace to people’s hearts and to communities.
Jesus taught so that people could hear and understand. Jesus brought understanding where there was ignorance, illumination where there was darkness.
And Jesus brought community where there was alienation and stratification. Edward Schillibeeckx once said that the surest truth we know about Jesus is that Jesus ate and drank with sinners…Jesus ate and drank with people whom the rest of society considered sinful for whatever reason. No biblical scholar has ever questioned whether that statement is factual. Jesus brought love and community to outsiders…those who were called sinners by society.
Jesus was God showing off…God showing off what God can do if we really let God do what God can do.
Of course, the other side of this, is that when God showed off, we crucified Jesus. God showing off threatens us.
Jesus was God showing off…showing us what is possible if we really allowed God to work through us.
There is a statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John that is much on my mind and heart lately. It is part of Jesus’ conversation with his disciples before his crucifixion. It is John 14: 12. It says: “Very truly I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact will do greater works than these…”
Jesus assumed that if we follow him we will do what he did – we will bring healing to the diseased and isolated, we will bring love and peace to the people and groups in our world where there is evil and hatred. We will bring understanding and knowledge where there is ignorance. We will bring community and inclusion to those whom society isolates and rejects.
We will do what Jesus did and Jesus says we will do ever greater works than he did.
This is what I think Jesus meant – Jesus healed individuals, but those who believed in him created scientific medicine and built hospitals. Jesus cast out demons but those who believed in him ended slavery. Jesus taught but those who believed in him built universities. Jesus ate and drank with sinners but those who believed in him built democracies with civil and human rights.
Part of what made Jesus Jesus was that he wasn’t just or even mostly interested in what he could accomplish as what we, the generations to come who believed in him, could accomplish.
I think God has been showing off in the generation that I am privileged to be a part of. God has done some marvelous things and I am so grateful that I and my generation have had the opportunity to be part of it.
When I was your age, confirmation class, 47 years ago, or so, there were no curb cuts. People, in wheel chairs, if they wanted or needed to go somewhere, had to push their chairs out in the street with the traffic. I remember seeing people in wheelchairs risking their lives by pushing their wheel chairs in the streets. Most buildings had no way for people in wheelchairs to get inside them. Most people in wheelchairs and other people who are differently-abled were expected to stay at home. They were not permitted or expected to contribute their abilities to the greater good of society.
proud to be part of the generation, at least in
was your age 47 years ago, black people were segregated in the
When I was your age 47 years ago, there were only a handful of women ministers. In many churches women were not allowed to serve on the trustees or to be ushers. So I am proud to be part of the generation of women like Sue Zabel and Susan DeVogel.
was your age 47 years ago, gay and lesbian men and women could be fired from
their jobs if it were discovered that they were gay. They had to keep it
secret if they wanted to keep their jobs. So I am proud to be part of a
generation including people like
There are great things God has done in the generation of which I am a part. I consider myself very privileged to live the lifetime I have been given to live. God has done a great work though us. We have done some of the same works that Jesus did.
But let me say to you, our confirmation Class of 2007, this morning, God wants to do even greater works through you than God has done through us.
Listen again to John 14: 12: “Very truly I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and in fact will do greater works than these…”
This is why I think Jesus was resurrected…because he knew that God’s work in the world did not begin or stop with him. Sometimes when we get tired, sometimes when we have been stretched as far as we can be stretched, sometimes when we’ve gotten to where we think we want to be, we think God ought to slow down for us.
But to be a resurrection people means that we rejoice because God is going to do even greater works through those who believe.
I believe in you, Confirmation Class of 2007. I believe God will do even greater works through you and your generation. And I believe that I will somehow be able to know what God does through you…that I will be able to celebrate it with you even when I and my generation are not here anymore.
My young friends, let God show off through you. Let God do amazing and miraculous things through your life.
I am proud of the things my generation has been able to contribute and there is more we will do, but I am even prouder of all you will do – greater works than we could imagine. Let God show off through you. Let God be a show-off in you.