Brett Davis, Washington, D.C.

Warm-up Question

Can you think of a time you received a pep talk and it really helped?

“Mat Talk” for the World

A few months ago, the Netflix docu-series Cheer dropped and instantly the hardworking college cheerleading team it profiles became famous and world-followed.  Maybe the breakout star is Jerry Harris, a young man who has had a tough life, but projects incredible positivity.  He’s magnetic in the series and has drawn a huge following because of his story and energizing “mat talks.”  Mat talks are the encouraging sideline cheers he offers for his teammates.  His infectious spirit makes you feel like you can do anything!

It’s not just cheerleading.  Most people have received some kind of pep talk from a coach, teammate, parent, friend, or teacher.  Jerry has taken his talks off the mat, encouraging people all over, including strangers through requests over Instagram. He’s even done one to encourage people on their way into another day at work.

At the end of March, as the pandemic was unfolding, Jerry offered a mat talk for us all.  It ended, “I want you guys to all stay focused on what is good and happy, and always keep an attitude of gratitude, and always be strong.  Because at the end of the day, we got this!”  Hearing Jerry say it, even for a moment, you agree.

Discussion Questions

  • Who gives the best pep talks?  
  • Is there anyone famous whom you follow because of their positivity or videos which encourage you and make you feel stronger?
  • What’s the pep talk the world needs right now?  

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31

1 Peter 3:13-22

John 14:15-21

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Whose words do you cling to when you are in need?  When you are sick, whose voice comes to mind to comfort or instruct you?  

Once in a great while these people’s words may be truly inspired, or the person delivering them may happen to be a master orator.  But I think that for the most part, coaches or mentors don’t have any uniquely brilliant words. If you read that coach’s pep talk as a transcript, it might sound a little silly, even trite.  Often, as a pastor, I  feel like I don’t have anything that special to say.  But I know it’s important to say the simple things, especially when it’s hard:  “God loves you.”  “You are forgiven.” “Peace be with you.”

It’s not that Jesus had magical words that transformed people.  This peace that Jesus talks about, the peace not like the world gives, which untangles your troubles and wards off fear, doesn’t come from magic words, but from a relationship.  It comes from love. Think about how it completely changes the words “peace” or “I love you” or “you’ve got this,” depending on who it comes from.  

It’s the relationship that makes the words ring in your ears, long after the person is gone.  The relationship makes the words matter.  When you can feel that the person giving the encouragement really means it, really believes in you, it makes a difference.  

This is Jesus’ pep talk.  Jesus is saying that when he leaves them, he won’t leave them orphaned.  He encourages them – and us – “you can do it, and you won’t be alone.”  Jesus promises the presence of the Advocate,  the Holy Spirit,  as a kind of permanent cheerleader, encourager, pep talker, for us.  Jesus also promises the gift of peace.

That peace – you don’t find it, earn it, or understand it.  Jesus just gives it.  It comes, not through magic words, but through the love and authentic encouragement of a relationship.  When someone you trust says “you can do it” or “it’s going to be ok” – you feel a sense of peace and believe that it will indeed be okay.  This is one way the Holy Spirit works, ever on the sidelines encouraging us and offering Jesus’ peace.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever gotten a pep talk from scripture, a hymn, or an experience in worship?
  • Are there any of Jesus’ words, in today’s passage or elsewhere, which are encouraging to you and give you peace?
  • Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Be honest – how does that make you feel?

Activity Suggestions

  • Watch a couple of Jerry Harris’ “mat talks” or other pep talks.  Write a pep talk for someone who needs it -perhaps even yourself.  If able, record it as a video to hype the person up and send it to them – or save it to remind yourself.
  • What is the pep talk that the world needs right now?  Write and record a pep talk for the world.  Do you find yourself using any of the same words or themes that Jesus does in the gospel?

Closing Prayer

Encouraging God, bring your peace.  Help us feel that peace in all the places where we feel afraid.  Thank you for giving us people in our lives who cheer us on and advocate for us.  Help us to be an advocate for the voiceless and a cheerleader for those who are struggling, strengthened by your promise to never leave us.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.