Graduation Sunday gives me the opportunity to combine all those sermons that I want to preach - each with a different message - into ONE sermon by condensing each into a commencement one-liner..
So here it goes...Call it "Commencement Tidbits & Fruits"
My advice to graduates:
Read the Sermon on the Mount. You will find there the keys to creating, bearing and producing good fruit.
In that sermon Jesus does NOT give a 10-point address playing off the 10 commandments. No. Instead, Jesus gives us the Big Three: Love your neighbor/enemy. Do not fear. Do not judge.
I hope by now that you have learned that the education of your mind continues with a willingness to continually change your mind.
There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Paradoxically, wisdom begins when you know you know nothing.“Question everything” is great advice. Just don't forget to question yourself and continue to improve the quality of your self-questioning. Remember Socrates. "The unexamined life is not worth living."
Be CREATIVE! Be like God. The Bible OPENS with God creating for 6 days! It's a not-so-subtle-hint that maybe god-like life can be found in being creative.
Remember: Anesthetic - while good for surgery - is the opposite of aesthetic. Avoid dullness.
Creativity comes in everything. The sciences, accounting, sports, relationships, work and play.
Learn one art form. Create beauty.
Jesus never talked about beauty much. I wonder why? Maybe because God did all the talking that was necessary about creating and beauty, saying six times, "It is good."
Learn a foreign language.There is an Irish saying - A land without a language is a land without a soul. Be articulate. Learn to love language in all its varieties. I never got an A in English or an A in German. I dislike writing though I love to read.
Learn to love words and the Word imbued in all words that makes words glow.
Speaking of land. Pay attention to those who draw the boundaries. Typically boundaries are meant to confine, limit, and control. Choose the torn Temple curtain over the Temple structure every time.
Pay attention to those who name! Naming is control.
Be like Jesus who went to the other side of the river where people with funny names lived.
The poet Padraig O'Tauma, says, "Look for the virtuous plural over the monolithic singular." In other words, it is easy to run with your own crowd. Be like Forrest Gump. Run on your own and if a crowd follows, wonderful. And when you are done running, stop, and say, "I'm tired." And do something else.
Engage those on the periphery of your social circle. I think what helped me more than anything in high school is I made an effort to fit in with the jocks, the brains, the socialites, the music geeks, the ordinaries, the druggies. It helped that youth of each of these cliques was in my fantastic church youth group. I do have one regret: I never hung with the guys and gals in shop class. I am just now changing my own oil.
So, in honor of those shop guys and girls...Change your own oil. Scripture never tells of Jesus using QuikLube for anything. Seriously. Jesus did his own praying. Jesus broke his own bread. Jesus gave his own life.
It's your life. Not anybody else's. The great poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde wrote, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken."
Life is not fair. It's unjust. Pandemics come out of nowhere. Daughters die. Nations fall. Be like Jesus who said don't bother reading any signs into or out of these kinds of events. Don't fret about conspiracies. Better yet, create your own conspiracy: Be like Jesus.
Oh...and Jesus never, never, NEVER said, It happened for a reason; whatever "It" may be. Jesus DID say, the Reign of God is in your midst. My daughter committed suicide despite being in Africa, a beautiful and soaring place that she loved...doing the science that she loved after graduating with a degree in neuroscience from IU. She still took her own life. Here's what I know, what I know with all my heart, my soul, my strength and my mind: the Reign of God is present. I am in the midst of the reign of God.
Problems, the BIG problems are very rarely created by particular people. Paul never mentions "them" or the "other" or "Caesar" or "That Group" by name. He doesn't call out CEO's or fake scientists. Never. He labels those forces as "Powers & Principalities." Learn about the Powers & Principalities.
Interestingly, when you see the Powers & Principalities you will encounter Satan. Jesus graduated from his school and spent 40 days in the wilderness. Guess who came to pay him a visit. Here's Satan! "Okay, Jesus, you have a very fine lineage. A call unlike anything the world has ever seen. More advantages than most with your education. Go on. Feed yourself. Turn these stones into bread. Throw yourself off the top of the Temple. People will be impressed. Pay homage to the Powers & Principalities. And the world is yours." Seductive, isn't it?
Instead of giving credence to the saying, "The world is your oyster," make yourself a pearl for the world.
As you continue to recognize and see and name the Powers & Principalities AND how YOU, like all of us, participate in them, you will find yourself wanting to do your utmost for the least of these whom the Powers & Principalities run roughshod over time and time and time again.
Pronoun usage. Limit the use of “they” and “them.” Be humble when you use “me”, “myself”, and “I”. Be extra cautious when saying, “we” and “us”. Jesus takes an abstract argument between two of his followers about "Which one is the greatest?" with both followers declaring, “Me, me, ME,” and makes the argument real with a human being, a child.
You benefit from hundreds and hundreds of years of exploitation. Our ancestors wiped out the North American natives who were here when we came. We used natives of another continent to do the difficult work. We used natives of ANOTHER continent to build our way west. We are currently using natives of another continent to work while we stay at home. Do a little bit to un-exploit.
NEVER let your self-worth depend upon tearing another person or another group down for you are worthy in and of yourself.I hope you did well in anatomy. Know your brain. The evolutionary process started with your nervous system which is designed to move reflexively. Fight or flight. Too often humans react out of the next part of our brain that developed as we evolved, the reptilian brain. Not too long ago I was reminded by my oldest daughter of a story of another daughter who saw her dad get angry at another person. She asked him, "Daddy, who were you being?" Let your anger teach you to not be angry because, guess what, the need for anger pretty much left when the asteroid came and wiped out the dinosaurs.
The next part of the brain to develop was that social-mammalian brain. All of those connections between neurons to figure out how to be and act in the midst of a bunch of other social animals. The power of the alpha male still thrives in our human world. Jesus was aware of this. Caesar is not the head of the family. God is. The person with the most-est and best-est will not be first-est in the Reign of God. You want to be first and hang with that alpha male? Good luck. But if you want to be first in the Reign of God, be with the last of these.
Learn to appreciate and even embrace conflict. Those arguing disciples. At the end of a day after their journey Jesus sits down and asks them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" He wants to know about the conflict because all great leaders know that conflict happens because people argue about what they care about. Conflict illuminates care.
Loss is a part of life. You have just lost your high school years. You have just lost your collegiate days. Learning to live with and in loss is soul-work. Loss is at the center of each and every moment of life. Just as possibility is at the center of each and every moment of life. It's the way of Creation. Day One done. On to Day Two...
Speaking of daily...Say "Thank you" at least once a day.
Volunteer ONE hour a week.
Don't be a sport spectator. Play a sport.
No words of wisdom are complete without some financial advice. Give 10% of your money away. Or more. Save 10% of your money for tomorrow. Save 10% for your retirement. Save 10% for your descendants. Pay your taxes and give to Caesar what is Caesar's. And live off the rest.
Take trips. Hopefully here soon we can all go on trips again. Go see the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Shout into the Grand Canyon. Stand on the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. (Did you know that the word quarantine started in Venice 700 years ago in response to the Black Plague?) Visit ruins. Visit lots and lots of ruins. Learn about the civilizations that our civilization is physically built upon. Learn that our civilization will be ruins for future civilizations to gawk at and to study. Stand in the Sun Temple at Macchu Picchu on the Summer Solstice. See a giraffe in the natural habitat of a giraffe. Visit slums. Dine with the rich. Eat with the poor.
Read Bill Gates' Blog. Pick one brilliant person who is alive today. Put yourself at her or his feet and continue to learn.
What's the point of this sermon of tidbits and fruits? What's the point of the Sermon on the Mount? What's the point of being a tree that bears good fruit?
The answer, the point of bearing good fruit, can be found in what Jesus does first after he comes down from the Mount. When Jesus had come down from the mountain, there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me whole.”
Here's the Good News: Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made whole!”