Our own James Merten was gracious enough to be our preacher for Youth Sunday on May 22nd. Having spent his entire life within our community, James gave voice to the ability of the Church to gracefully shape us in all life’s seasons as it prepares us for whatever comes next. I share with you James’ words from that day so that you can celebrate this gift our community offers in Jesus’ name and then reflect on the myriad blessings that have come your way because you are an essential part of St. John’s.
The Reverend Eric Long, Rector
Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday by James Merten
Many of you might recognize the last name because of my father, John Merten, probably because he seems to be involved in every committee they will let him be on. But you might not know who I am; my name is James Merten. I am a senior at Patrick Henry High School and will graduate later this month. I have been a member of St. John’s since I was a baby and was thrilled, but a little bit surprised, when Eric asked me to give a sermon for Youth Sunday. Then I was nervous when I found out that Youth Sunday was on Trinity Sunday.
I’ve been told by many people that no preacher ever wants to give a sermon on Trinity Sunday. And, after thinking about it a little bit, I understand why. It is very difficult for anyone to fully understand how God can be in three different forms but still be one singular God. So, if it’s all right with all of you, I will shy away from such a complicated subject. Instead, I’m going to focus more on the Holy Spirit and his everlasting presence with each of us. Today’s scripture is a part of what is known as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse — his final words before his arrest and trial. While I do not plan to be arrested in the future, this sermon is also, in a way, my final discourse.
In the scripture, Paul mentions twice how we will boast: once about “our hope of sharing the glory of God” and again about “our sufferings.” I definitely understand the first boasting; who wouldn’t want to boast about sharing God’s glory? But I find the second one slightly more confusing; who would want to boast about their own sufferings? Personally, I tend to keep my own suffering or pain bottled up and quite private. Paul continues in this passage with what might be known in the world of literature as a slippery slope fallacy. For those who don’t know, a slippery slope fallacy is when someone argues that one smaller thing will cause a chain reaction and end in a more significant effect. I believe that suffering is the initial cause of this chain reaction which ultimately leads to hope. And this hope is received by God who gives us his unconditional love in return.
With this in mind, I would find it much easier to open up and share with others my own sufferings. However, I would still be hesitant to share something so personal with those who might not understand my struggles or might judge me based on what I say. And I think that is why St. John’s is such a magnificent place. This is a place where we can all come together, be comfortable with our faith and comfortable with sharing what is happening in our own lives, whether that is pain and suffering or joy and happiness. This is a place where we can gather and share our feelings with each other and with God in a judgment-free environment that encourages others to endure for a while longer, build our character from our sufferings, and have hope for the future. And in return, receive the love of God through others.
I am reminded of when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a time when our entire family was suffering. While I was only in the fourth grade, I can remember the pain that we felt as she received several chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This could have been a time in my life when I doubted God and chose to walk away from his promise of love and compassion and his promise of everlasting life with him. But instead, I came to St. John’s with my family, and we continued to sit in the front row and pray for well-being. We continued to receive love from other parishioners who genuinely cared about how we were in this time of trial, and continued to push us further and endure through this tribulation to a point where we were hopeful of the outcome and a place where we were ready to receive God’s love. We were all able to endure through this tough time and have hope that everything would be all right. And with this hope, we were shown God’s love that has been given to us unconditionally.
To those of you who weren’t counting the number of times I have used the words “love” and “suffering,” I will just go ahead and let you know now that I have used the word “suffering” eight times and “love” only seven times. So to that, I only have five things to say, “love, love, love, love, love”. Now the count is eight to twelve. Now I didn’t do this to be obnoxious, but instead to try and show my point that love will always be greater than suffering. Suffering is a momentary pain that we will all feel in our lives, but love is something that God gives us for all eternity.
St. John’s truly is a beautiful place. And I’m not saying this because of the magnificent church, the glorious music, or the numerous outreach programs we have. I’m saying this because of each of you, the amazing parishioners who come together to love and support us in our times of pain and suffering. This is a community founded on God’s love with the full intent to share it with the entire Roanoke Valley. This is a community that I am proud to be a part of and a community that I will greatly miss as I move on to Charlottesville to attend the University of Virginia this fall. I am confident that this community will continue to grow and flourish and I know that I will always have this kind and loving home to return to. Thanks be to God.