Pastor Michelle Sevig
July 7/8, 2018
This Changes Everything!
This Changes Ev-ree-thing! This changes everything! Everything! Oh my, was that song annoying; but it was the theme song for the ELCA Youth Gathering, so we sang it anyway...anyway.
Some of you may already know that Pastor Ben and I accompanied 8 youth to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston this past week. If not, I’ll explain briefly. It’s a gathering that happens once every three years for youth and their adult leaders. Approximately 31,000 people meet for Bible study, service-learning, faith formation and worship over a 5 day period. And this year, for the first time ever, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church had a YOUTH GROUP to send to the gathering!
We had been anticipating for more than year this millstone in HTLC’s history, because many of us can remember a time when there were NO youth or children in our congregation. So to have a strong group of young people ready to do the “traditional thing” and go to the youth gathering was an exciting opportunity for our whole church.
While we were there we experienced lots of play time, outstanding music performances by Christian artists, a service opportunity with Meals on Wheels that serves 5,000 meals a day and a protest rally calling for an end to the immigration policy and practices on our southern border. But when I asked the group what was most meaningful for them and where they saw God active and present in the gathering, they pointed to the speakers. Imagine that! They liked the sermons the best. J
Of course these “sermons” are nothing like what they hear here at Holy Trinity. The testimonials were more like TED talks where young people shared their story. But different from TED talks and motivational speakers, these young people shared their powerful witness about God’s presence, power, hope and grace in their lives.
Pastor Will Starkweather shared the story of his freshman year in high school when he was filled with so much anxiety and depression, even though his life looked perfect on the outside, that he began doing self harm-cutting himself. The behavior got worse and worse, but eventually he shared his story with a pastor who said four simple words to him “There’s Grace for That!” Eventually he found a recovery group, and professionals to help him and he is better and free from self harm for 10 years. And he closed by saying, “I don’t give testimony to my own doing, strength or willpower, but I testify to the grace of God that is working through me. We are all recovering from something,” he said, “God is in the business of bringing beauty out of broken things and broken people. God was with me through all that and continues to stand by my side now. God’s presence changes everything!”
Caroline Meeker, a student about the same age as our group, shared her story of living anorexia, diagnosed at age nine. After sharing details of her recovery she said, “I can’t tell you why or how or when I started to get better, but I can tell you who…God. God was there; through my doctors, through my family, through prayers from my church and my friends. God was everywhere. God’s love and presence gave me and my parents hope and strength to fight through this disease. God doesn’t give us hardships,” she insisted, “instead God promises to be there. God promises to put the right people in our lives to help us, to give us strength, to love us…always. My hope is that you all will love yourselves the way that God loves you.
Michaela Shelly, age 18, was one of the most memorable speakers we heard. She started her speech, “I. am.dying. But, the truth is so are you. The only difference between you and me is that I know what I will likely die from.” She has myocardial disease, a terminal genetic condition with no treatment and no cure. “In the beginning,” she said “I might have screamed, cried and cursed God’s name for this happening to me, but now I know, and I want the world to know that no matter how many times you curse God, he still loves you; you still matter and God will hold you in his hands through the hills and valleys of this life. It makes no sense, but this is God’s grace.”
I wish that I could tell you all the stories we heard. Instead I’ll commend the ELCA website and YouTube videos to you so you can hear them on your own. The constant theme through all these testimonies is that God is faithful; God is with us, God loves us no matter what, God forgives us, God’s grace for us changes everything.
So as we learn more this summer about King David, I started to wonder what David’s testimonial might sound like if young David were invited to be a speaker at the ELCA Youth Gathering.
was only a young boy, singing psalms of praise and watching the family’s sheep
herd, when I was first called to be king. It didn’t make any sense; I was so
young and inexperienced. Certainly, my older brothers would make better leaders
than I could, but still I was anointed to be a king by Samuel in a private
family ceremony. I sure didn’t feel like a king at first. In fact, most of my
days were quite ordinary, except for that one day when I conquered a giant with
my slingshot. That was awesome! But the truth is, there were plenty of ups and
downs in my life. I fought in battles, I betrayed friends, I misused my power
and Bathsheba started a #Metoo campaign, and I even executed two guys who
thought they were going to be rewarded for their war efforts. My sins are
plenty. I haven’t always lived the way God intended for my life, but you know
what? God was with me through it all. God’s grace changed everything for me.”
David’s story is our story too. In the reading from 2nd Samuel, just after his 3rdAnd the last words in the gospel of Matthew are “And remember I am with you to the end of the age.”
Why is “I am with you” so important? It means that David, and all of us later royal and priestly children of God are never alone! However sinful, however lacking in confidence, however hopeless and questioning we may be about our place in the world; God is not ashamed to hang around with David, or Pastor Will, or Caroline or Michaela or you or me.
“I am with you” is a word of empowerment for each of us
· to trust in God who is faithful.
· To carry out our day to day vocations with grace and humility with God by our side.
· To face the challenges of life with courage and hope.
And how do we know God is with us? It all starts with our naming and anointing in baptism. Michaela, Will, Caroline or fill in your own name ___________, you have been have been anointed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. “You are mine,” God declares, “and I will be with you always, cherishing you and holding you in love through whatever life brings.”
No matter who you are or what your story includes God loves you and that love changes everything.