Youth Sunday/Day of Pentecost
23 May 2021
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Max Green, Senior 2021

Good morning! Happy Pentecost! I think Pentecost is something we as Episcopalians and a few other denominations celebrate in a big way that maybe not everyone else understands. I was both excited and a little intimidated to find out that youth Sunday was coinciding this year with Pentecost. I was excited because I have always liked Pentecost since I was a little kid in Sunday school. We learned this song called “The Liturgical Colors.”

Purple and Green, Red and White

Are the Colors of the Year.

Purple and Green, Red and White

Remind Us of the Light.

Purple’s for Preparation, White is for Celebration

Green is for the Growing Time, Red is for Pentecost……..

 

Red was always my favorite color, so I have been interested in Pentecost for a long time.

Link for Song:

https://youtu.be/XzOBOBRaRn0

Two years ago, on Pentecost is also fittingly enough when I began verger training with our verger, Josh Taylor. I have enjoyed so much working with him and learning more about our church building and congregation history, liturgy, the book of common prayer, vestments, verges and beadles. I enjoy knowing the why behind traditions. This training has allowed me to understand the reasons we do a lot of what we do. Plus, Josh is an amazing person. I learned so much from watching how he keeps track of all the small details that go into making a service run smoothly. He anticipates problems and solves them before anyone realizes that they are a problem. I am definitely not as good at it as he is, but I want to be that kind of person too.  Usually, verger training takes less than a year, but thanks to the pandemic and school, mine has taken longer. Two Pentecosts later, I have now finished the verger training. It is exciting!

At the same time, being asked to give the homily on Pentecost was also intimidating, but maybe also appropriate. For as long as I have been involved in the youth program at St. Luke’s, Father Carey has at least once a year, sometimes more often, visited with us and given us a chance to ask questions. I don’t remember them all over the years. I’m sure he’s gotten some different ones. Maybe sometimes someone has snarkily asked why is the sermon so long, but Claire and I have pretty much always asked the same two questions over the year every chance we have been given. Claire predictably always asks his opinion about animals and the afterlife and whether they can go to heaven, have souls, etc. I have always asked some question related to how the Holy Spirit and the Trinity work. Father Carey has tried faithfully every time I have asked to explain this concept to me, but somehow, I just haven’t quite grasped it.

So of course, the homily would be about Pentecost, the occasion most focused on the Holy Spirit, the part of theology that I find most difficult to understand. As we learned in the Gospel reading just now, Pentecost is when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to Jesus’s followers. It is a way the start of the church.  It is as the hymn in “Breathe on me, Breath of God,” says the Holy Spirit coming and filling the followers with new life, helping them to love the way Jesus loved and be more like Him.

There we go trying to sort out the role of the Holy Spirit as different from Jesus and God the Father.  The way I first was able to get a grasp on this concept was in one of the children’s pageants that Beth Mays wrote for our church called “Yes, Lord.” In the first scene, Mary is explaining to the angel Gabriel that she is a virgin and can’t become pregnant.  And Gabriel tells her: “The Holy Spirit will come to you and overshadow you.  So, your child will be HOLY.” In this scene, Mary kneels down and nods her yes, the angel leaves and the Holy Spirit, who was that year being played by Dr. Seibert’s granddaughter Zoe dressed all in red, comes to stand behind Mary and make the sign of the cross over her: raises her hands above Mary’s head and slowly brings them to rest on Mary.  Then both Mary and the Holy Spirit say, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Seeing the Holy Spirit in action so to speak helped me start to grasp the idea. In the Bible reading today, Jesus tells his followers that through the Holy Spirit they will continue to know God’s presence when Jesus isn’t present with them. As Christians, we should always remember that life is both short and precious. Sometimes we tend to dwell on the ‘shouldn’ts’ in the Bible. But much of the Bible is this reassurance that we will have help finding strength when we need it.

Many people associate the Holy Spirit with a flame.  The Holy Spirit fills hearts with passion that allows them to go out in the world and speak boldly. In our Sunday School class growing up, we had what we called a liturgy of light. We say some prayers and ask God to dispel the darkness from our hearts. Then one person takes a candle and lights it. Then that person lights the next candle. Eventually we have lit all the candles in the room from the light of that one candle. The lesson is that love and light grow the more you give them away.  You can share your love for God with your neighbor, and it doesn’t take away anything from you. It just grows the love. God wants us to spread that light. If your neighbor needs your help, needs your comfort, you can give, you should, you as a child of Christ are called to share your light with him. Jesus was clear this is our main work here on earth: to be here for each other, to light our world. Often in the Holy Spirit is present in that light. As you pass your love from one person to another, you can the light transforming you, filling you with more love and renewing you.

As I am graduating, I am thinking a little of how this congregation has been like the Holy Spirit for me. You have shown me love and encouragement over and over again. I have had the chance to take music lessons here starting when I was 8 years old with Mr. Michael and the piano. Then when he left, I continued and still do with Mr. Jason. You’ve let me use the church’s organ to practice. Debi not just offered to teach me how to play bells. She formed a new group just for teens and younger ringers so we would have chances to perform too. You let me have chances to sing in the choir. And Mr. Chuck let me sit next to him until I picked up the tunes. For years, first Ms. Beth and Miss Ginna and then Molly and Ashley and Curtis and various helpers taught me how to read the Bible and introduced me to the lectionary. I have had chances to be involved in all aspects of the service. Miss Martha started a junior altar guild just for me and Claire. Then Wanda and Suzette let me become members of the actual altar guild. I didn’t think I wanted to be an acolyte, but Mr. Cole just kept asking me until I agreed. I found it important work. When I became involved in community theater and then professional children’s theater, so many of you came to watch my performances. I think Shannon even had season tickets.

As I have gotten older, I have tried to take the messages I learned and the support I found here out into the world. When I got to middle school, I started competing in a Christian homeschool speech and debate league. I was able to share the stories that I learned here that were largely the gentler side of the Bible that often got less attention in more evangelical world.

One of my favorite stories to share was the story of the Good Shepherd and the lost sheep that I learned as a young Sunday Schooler. In our Sunday School room, we had small sheep figures that we could use to act out the story. I am sure most of you have heard it.  One day Jesus told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep. The shepherd was very good and kind. He kept his sheep safe from wild animals. He watched over them at night. One day one of the sheep got lost. The shepherd left his 99 sheep in a safe place and went to look for the missing one. He searched high in the mountains and far into the wilderness. When he finally found his sheep, you might expect the shepherd to be angry with the sheep and to yell at him. The shepherd was not angry with the sheep. He didn’t yell at the sheep. He simply rejoiced, put the sheep on his shoulders and carried it home. The shepherd called his friends together and told them how he had found his sheep. They celebrated together. Jesus Christ is like the shepherd in the story, and we are like the sheep. Jesus watches over us and helps protect us from danger. He doesn’t give up on us when we make mistakes. And He rejoices when we repent and return to His gospel.

It’s been a tough year for so many people. I feel like these gentler messages in the Bible don’t often get told as much. Often my friends who are skeptical of the church or sad are focusing on the Bible as an instruction book with a heavy emphasis on all the don’ts. I am glad to have chances to tell them a gentler and more forgiving message and to live them as much as I can out in the world. I remember one year when I sang at the Christmas pageant. I forgot the words to the second verse. I had practiced a lot, but I just looked out and saw all the eyes staring back at me. Afterwards, so many people from this congregation came up to me to let me know I had done well. They loved me. It didn’t matter if I forgot all the words to all the verses, they still would love me. Deacon Joanna even wrote a sermon where she basically said be like Max. If you forgot the words, just hum in tune. That’s the level of love and support I found in you. Now as I am graduating from high school and starting over in Fayetteville, I want to both thank you all for investing in me. I also want to tell you that I plan to take that love you have given to me and to pass it on to others. In the tradition of Pentecost, I hope that as I am making those efforts, the Holy Spirit will be present at least some of the time. So many people talk of paying it forward, but paying it forward sounds so transactional. When we pass on God’s light and the Holy Spirit is involved, I think the message of Pentecost is that in some way the experience becomes greater and more. I still even after asking Father Carey every year can’t explain exactly how that works. That bothers my ‘science high school self’ some, but maybe that is just the mystery of Pentecost that we must accept. Both the light giver and the light receiver become transformed through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for letting me share that experience here. Amen