may 16, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage—Graduation Sunday
May 16, 2010
Jeremiah 29:11
Acts 16:16-34

Suddenly the season is upon us…The season of Pomp and Circumstance…of caps and gowns…of final transcripts…college applications….job interviews…fresh starts…of Open Houses and Baccalaureate and Commencement and Senioritis…

Today, I’m preaching this sermon to you, graduating seniors. To you, Courtney. You, Alicia. You, Angie. You, Justin. You, Jonathan. The rest of you are invited to listen in, too. Let us pray…

I love this palpable sense of expectation. Anticipation. Of dreams and possibilities and imagining what might be. And, I’m a sucker for the quotes that are tossed around this time of year—written in cards…printed on invitations…echoed in speeches…printed on bulletins…

Henry David Thoreau—Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

William Arthur Ward—If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.

Anatole France—To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.

Eleanor Roosevelt—The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Ralph Waldo Emerson—Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

Confucius—Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

Les Brown—Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

Mark Twain—Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Judy Garland—Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.

e.e.cummings—To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight…never stop fighting. It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.

Even Dr. Suess—You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the one who’ll decide where to go.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, 16:13-14—Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

And, the prophet Jeremiah—“I know what I’m doing, says God. I have plans already in mind for you—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you a future with hope.”

It is a time when we, not just you, the graduates, but everyone it seems, remembers to remember…that dreams are vital…the possibilities are almost limitless, if we believe, and act…that imagination matters…that the world is wide open, waiting to be reshaped, recreated, reinvigorated, reimagined. That was is is not all that might be, and how we are is not all that we might become…

One of you, one of this community’s graduating seniors recently spoke to me about the benediction I give, more or less the same, most Sundays: As you go forth into your one wild and precious lives…it begins. She said she likes that it is the same, because she is able, after all these Sundays in worship, to say the words along with me. If all I accomplish in ministry is that I offer you, offer these young adults, a blessing that can stay on your lips and live on in your hearts, I think it might just be enough.

I can’t take credit, however, for the benediction. It came from a mentor, a wonderful pastor, Rev. Odette Lockwood Stewart, serving Epworth UMC in Berkeley. And, neither of us can take credit for the opening words of this benediction. They come from a poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. The poem is called, The Summer Day. Close your eyes, if you like, while I read it.

Mary Oliver writes:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

This is, it seems to me, the perfect question to ask graduates: Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

And, it is the perfect question, it seems to me, for us to keep asking ourselves, over and over and over, throughout the years of our lives.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, she writes, I do know how to pay attention. They are very close to being one in the same. When we pay attention, our hearts become vulnerable to beauty, and to the pain of others. Our minds open to truth, and question injustice. Our souls stay centered in the peace and love of our living God.

Tell me. What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? This isn’t so far from the question raised in this morning’s lectionary text from the book of Acts. I’m going to read the story again. But first, I want to point out a few of the lessons I take from it, a few of the kernels of truth I believe are offered to us through these words of scripture.

First, the world often teaches us that it is good to make money, in any way we can, given the opportunity. God teaches us that making money off another humans, on the backs of others, is nothing to be proud of. If our profits come to us at the cost or harm of another, we are not really profiting at all.

Second. When people fear their wealth is threatened, they often get angry, and lash out. Just look at how huge multi-billion dollar insurance companies sqwuak at the idea of all people receiving the heath care they need. Or how big oil companies respond to people who say we should drill and drive a little less, conserve a little more. How factory farms treat family farms. How global corporations treat local business. Love of money can take over, and keep us from loving each other.

Third. Angry mobs are dangerous. Even smart people turn stupid when they’re shouting at others, or out for blood.

Fourth. Powerful people will do what they can to shut up people who threaten that power, or call it into question. Look what the religious and political leaders did to Jesus, when he threatened their policies, and told them God was greater than they would ever be.

Fifth. Our faith, our Christian tradition, our scripture, is filled with examples of how, when people dig deep down into the core of their faith, no matter how bad it seems, there is still, always, some reason to sing songs of praise to God.

Six. When things look so bleak you are sure there is no chance for anything to get better…when it all feels hopeless…when there seems to be no way out…God is already at work, and something miraculous just might be waiting around the corner.

Seven. Trusting in God is never foolish. Believing we should do nothing while waiting for God to do everything is also foolish.

Eight. Following the teachings of Jesus will save you. Following Jesus will not make you rich, or famous. It will not keep you from hardship, or tragedy. It will not ensure promotions, or social power. But, following the teachings of Jesus will save you.

And finally. It is always good to gather at table with people you love, and share in celebration. Celebration is best shared. Spend time with those you love. Sit down and eat together. Find reasons to celebrate.

Hear these words, again, from Acts 16:16-34…

And now, hang with me here…I’m about to close…I want to share one more poem with you. Another one written by Mary Oliver.

This one is called Wild Geese. It echoes, to me, the promises of God. The power of grace. The necessity of connection, human and divine. The unique place in the world, and in the heart of God, each of you holds.

She writes:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you over and over…

So tell me, what is it you plan to do, with your one wild and precious life? May it be so. Amen, and amen.

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