Editor’s Note: a version of this text was delivered as a sermon at Compline at Sheldon Calvary Camp, the summer camp affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh where the author is on the governing board (and is a mom to campers). The scripture text was Matthew 25:34-40.
I recently had the privilege of attending a Taylor Swift concert. And yes, it was a privilege—attending this concert was practically our daughter’s only Christmas present and I was keenly aware of how many others would love to be in my seat. I think sat about as far away from the stage as it was possible to sit, yet it didn’t matter. Normally, I would be described as listening to music that is rather…melancholy (you might even say depressing). I’m not all that familiar with Taylor’s catalog of songs and didn’t know what to expect from her concert. But, the performance and the artistry just knocked my socks off. Now, I am doing my best to catch up to all the Taylor Swift I have missed. Most people are ahead of me on this.
It wasn’t just what I saw on the stage that was remarkable; surrounding me were all kinds of people. People of all genders and everywhere on the spectrum in between genders in all their bejeweled glory, lighting up the room. Fat, thin, blonde-haired, purple-haired, in wheelchairs and on crutches. Same gender and different gender couples, groups and singles. Though it did skew female and was not the most racially diverse crowd. Out of the men present, a hefty number accompanied young children and wore T-shirts reading, ‘Yes, it’s me, I’m the dad.’ It was such a celebration of absolute joy and wonder that I found myself listening very hard to the person bringing everybody together.
So I did some digging on Taylor, and learned that, yes, she is a follower of the Christian faith. She has spoken up for human rights when they are under attack, notably LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. She wishes she had done more of it. And I could probably craft a whole sermon using her song lyrics. In fact the day after the concert, my church read the Gospel passage where Jesus tells the disciples to shake the dust off their feet when they meet people who don’t want to listen. Obviously, the inspiration for the song, ‘Shake it off.’
It’s easy to look at someone who is famous and see what they are doing, and think, well that’s fine for them. They’re famous. It’s easy. But something Taylor said made me think about what it means to take your spiritual life seriously. I don’t even remember the context, but she said something about how whenever anything happened, she wrote a song about it. ‘My orange juice went bad; I’m going to write a song about it.’ ‘I can’t find my favorite T-shirt; I’m going to write a song.’ ‘My heart is broken, the toilet is clogged, song, song, song.’ These were not her actual examples, but I trust you get the point.
And I thought, okay, that is something right there. If everybody listened to their life that closely, imagine what kind of world this would be. If you could be that honest with yourself about how you were feeling and what was going on around you, imagine how you might move through life.
It made me think about how God shows up for us and how God’s closeness to us is always there, whether or not we notice. The whole point of the life of Jesus Christ is that God came to be with us and experience everything about human life. This is not to say that God was faraway before—there is the WHOLE Old Testament and the Psalms and the prophets and so many amazing stories about how people experienced God with them. But I am a Christian, and I find something incredibly important in the way that God chooses us in the person of Jesus Christ. And that, to me, means that God chooses to be part of everything that happens to anyone and everyone. And that means you and me.
It means that God has chosen to know what it is like when you show up to school and you’ve forgotten your homework and then had another argument with your friends and it seems like the day cannot get any worse.
It means that God has chosen to know that fluttery feeling when someone who you are interested in glances in your direction.
It means God even knows what it’s like to be bored or angry or scared or tired, or sometimes maybe just stuck in neutral. God is with you in all of that. God knows it firsthand, with you, for you.
In the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to the people gathered around him that every time they do anything to anybody else, they are doing it to him. If you see someone who is lonely and you help them, you’re doing it to Jesus. If you see someone who is hungry and you feed them, you’re giving food to Jesus. This is true for us when we GIVE to those in need, and it’s also true when we ARE those in need. That Jesus is with us.
There’s an invitation here to offer to God both of those things. To hold out one hand, and hold in it a time that Jesus has been with you. To hold out our other hand, and to offer to God pain and suffering and invite God’s healing and comfort. And finally, to offer our whole bodies to joy and wonder, in dance and song, no matter how far away you are from the stage.