1st scripture – 1Peter 2: 9-10 – Peter saluting God’s chosen people
2nd scripture – Acts 1:1-11 – The promise of the Holy Spirit and the Ascension of Jesus
In her sermon on Sunday, April 26, 2020, Rev. Jenny Smith Walz reminded us that the question, ‘Who are you,’ has been asked in many stories, in such classics as ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.’ When Alice met Caterpillar, the first thing he said to her was, “Who are you?” Alice did not know how to answer Caterpillar so she left. In our “Talking the Walk” worship series, we are putting words to our faith, telling stories of God, life, resurrection, healing, etc. This can be very hard to do, sometimes vulnerable to share. We may even think we don’t have a story to tell.
Hearing stories helps us tell our stories and strengthens our faith. Every story has a hero, not necessarily a superhero, but the main character, a protagonist. In Bible scriptures, it is easy to see that God is the hero. We read stories of Moses, Joseph, Samson, Esther. What then is our story? The stories we like best to tell are the ones where we are at the center – we are the heroes. However, we must never forget that God is the hero of our stories – a different sort of hero. He creates, calls, proclaims us into being. God gives us each a co-hero role in the story, thus bringing us into the spotlight. He calls us out of darkness into marvelous light, out of obscurity, out of chaos, out of nothingness.
In the first scripture for today, Peter is reminding the Exiles of the Dispersion who they were – troubled, persecuted, un-gathered. Yet, he brings them grace and peace. With the Covid_19 crisis, God is also reminding us how fragile our identities are. We should, therefore, embrace the truth of what Peter is telling those exiles. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
In worship, we hear a different word – ‘Enough.’ We are enough for God. not because of our greatness, not because of our accomplishments. We are God’s people because it is God who is summoning us into being, gathering us together, shaping us as his people and, telling us who we are – God’s beloved. We don’t have to become the amazing hero of the story. We only have to believe that we are called and chosen and should joyfully respond to God’s love. All we have to do now is to remember who we are and then tell our story of how God has created us, how God has chosen us, how God has called us, how God is shaping us, connecting us, equipping us, and strengthening us to love others and bring justice to this world. Because God claims us, no stereotype can define us, and no ridicule can undo us.
Pastor Jenny explained that we are constantly bombarded by questions that make us question who we are, what our identity is, how much money we have – all the things that tempt us to think that they matter in terms of our identity. God is reminding us again and again that the things that tempt us do not define our identity in Christ. The most important part of our story is not what we do or what we have but in merely being a beloved child of God. And here we are in this covid_19 crisis in a way that may make it even trickier. Even as we find ourselves in isolation, we are trying to understand what is most important and what activities are essential for our well-being.
She referred to the story of Howard Thurman, author, philosopher, theologian, educator, civil rights leader, dean of the chapel at Boston University and the first African American professor at Boston University, several decades ago. He stated that part of his identity as God’s beloved was that which his grandmother, a former slave, gave him when she kept saying over and over again to him, “you are someone.”
Thurman told the story of his family traveling in the South in the 50s when they came upon a playground. The girls wanted to play on the swings, but there was a sign that read “For Whites Only By State Law.” In explaining why they were not allowed on the playground, he said to them: “You are somebody, you are so important to God, so powerful in fact that it takes all of the state legislature, the courts, the sheriffs and policemen… it takes all these to keep two little black girls from swinging in those swings. That is how important you are! Never forget that the estimate of your importance and self-worth can be judged by how much power people are willing to use to control you and keep you in the place they have assigned you. You are two important little girls.” What a way to reinterpret that sign and to keep proclaiming their lovingness, enoughness, somebodyness amid such a terrible injustice!
As we continue our “Talking the Walk” worship series about telling our stories, “I would love to hear the stories of your beginnings and how God was a part of that beginning. So tell me a story of who you are,” announced Pastor Jenny. “Tell me a story of how you know you are God’s beloved child. Tell me a story about your belovedness, your enoughness, your somebodyness, your chosenness. Tell me a story of who you are in God.
Following Pastor Jenny’s sermon, Heather Hadley told her amazing story about how she came to be a member of Princeton United Methodist Church.
To hear the sermon live, go to the Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page
For the complete video of the April 26 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here