Tuesday, June 23, 2015

It's Not All About You: CCS Baccalaureate Sermon

“But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able."  St. Matthew 20:22

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

You know, this really isn’t all about you.  This grand succession of banquets, awards ceremonies, sunshiny photo-ops, and sentimental speeches, all the parties, everything festooned in orange and black—it’s not really all about you.  It is of course, largely about you.  You have worked very hard, and achieved a great deal, and there is much to celebrate as you are commenced, launched out into the big world beyond these quiet hills. 

 But this is about the rest of us as well, your parents and teachers, your friends who have watched you grow up into such intelligent, strong, and capable men and women.  If you haven’t recognized this yet, you will after that tenth awkward photo with your strange aunt Sue, and seventh time your rather formidable social studies teacher gets teary-eyed.  And let’s not even think about your mother’s emotional state next Sunday afternoon. 

We all admire you tremendously, you see, and we are so excited to have played some part in helping you grow up into what you have begun.  You are our greatest export, CCS class of 2015, the gift we share to bless the rest of the world.  And we are sure that you are destined to make us proud.

You can be sure that James and John understood that it wasn’t really all about them, that day their rather overbearing mother hustled them up to Jesus in the lesson that Rebecca just read for us.  Jesus had been announcing the arrival of God’s new kingdom, and if a kingdom was to be, their mother was sure she knew who should have the seats of honor.  From all we read of James and John elsewhere in the Gospels, she had every reason to be proud of her sons.  They seemed to have been the golden boys of the early disciples, full of energy and enthusiasm, ready with a quick answer and full of wisdom beyond their years.  They called James and John “Boanerges,” the “sons of thunder,” and I expect there was a colorful story behind that nickname, as there usually is.

Jesus asked them if they were ready for the challenge, if they could accept the dangers and sacrifices that following God’s mission would require.  “Can you drink from my cup?” He asks them. “Can you share in my baptism?”  Will you embrace the world’s hostility and push on in the face of great odds, so God’s will can be accomplished? 

“We are able,” they answer quickly.  And I think Jesus must have smiled.  So much potential, such great earnestness.  It’s people like this who change the world, and Jesus comes pretty close to acknowledging that in His response to them.  Because they would share in His total dedication, and they would suffer as He would suffer.  James was the first of the apostles to be martyred for His faith, and John became the author of several of the New Testament’s most profound and beautiful texts.  They were able, full of knowledge, burning with love, strengthened and enlightened by the Holy Spirit.  Though Jesus couldn’t promise them the seats their mother demanded, there have been few people in the long history of the Church who were closer to Him and more dedicated to His mission than James and John, who said “we are able.”

We are so proud of you because we know that you, too, are able.  Your teachers and coaches speak with conviction about your successes in so many different areas.  You are academic achievers and sports stars, accomplished musicians and talented leaders.  Your teachers also speak of you as an unusually likeable and outgoing class.  You are a group of people who have shared together in so many things, learning to celebrate one another’s successes, and offer encouragement freely.  The year-end prizes have been well-distributed among you, because you have made each other stronger.

When I met with your class officers, they spoke of the strength of your friendships with each other.  Even as your studies and activities have taken you in different directions, you have remained close.  And as you have experienced tragedy and profound disappointment, you have supported one another, developing what one of you called “big hearts.”  Our Old Testament lesson speaks of the value of faithful friendship, a rare treasure in life.  The past eighteen years, for many of you, have been about learning to be good friends to each other

This is one of the great gifts of small towns and small schools, that you must build strong relationships across the kinds of social barriers that divide people in larger places.  You can’t just be friends with your own tribe here, where the football players are needed for the dance line in the musical, and the homecoming queen might well be a calculus whiz.  You have learned here to value the gifts of others, and to make room for challenging ideas.  And this will serve you very well in the world beyond these rolling hills, which increasingly values the kind of collaborative approach that you have learned here.  As a society, we are gradually learning that corporations and nations don’t build lasting success by only training people to claw to the top of the heap.  Lasting accomplishment comes when we build each other up, and give ourselves away to make one another stronger. 

It’s not all about you, after all.  That’s also part of what Jesus is saying in His final words to His disciples on the subject of leadership.  The kind of life that God blesses and sustains is a life of service, a life laid down for the sake of others.  It’s not about accumulating honors, wealth or power.  Instead, it’s about finding your own way to respond in gratitude to God’s blessings and to realize your greatest potential by bringing peace and joy to others.  You are able, that is certain.  And we will be excited to learn more, in the days to come, about just how you will make us all proud.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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