It was Baccalaureate Sunday today, and Pastor Paul’s first Sunday on Sabbatical, so I got to preach! I had been so nervous, but I think the Spirit moved! If you want to hear it, you can listen to the audio on the church website.
Or, if you don’t mind the spelling errors, here is the transcript! Hope you enjoy it!
There is a book that is very popular this time of the year. It seems to be everywhere you look, and there are all sorts of other things to go along with the book – you can get coffee mugs, journals, erasers, wall hangings, jewelry, and so much more. What is the book? -Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss.
This book starts at the beginning of a journey.
“Congratulations. Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”
Today, is our baccalaureate worship service (at the 10:15 worship). Today, we get to celebrate with some of our families as their young people begin a new journey of their own. However, it is also the start of a new journey for the families as a whole, and even for our congregation as a whole.
For the graduates, some will go to college, some will start jobs, some might still be undecided about what they will do. For the families, some are sending their first off to college, some are about to have an empty nest. For our congregation, we are sending some youth to college far away and might only see at the holidays, some youth will stay close to home. We have families who’s daily routine is about to change, and we get to be on this journey with each of them! Dr. Seuss starts the journey from a place of excitement. I think that is where most journeys begin. We don’t normally start a journey by thinking of the choices we will have to make, the mountains and valleys that we will encounter along the way, when we will feel alone or not as excited as we are at the moment the journey begins. And I think that our readings today are a lot like this book from Dr. Seuss – they offer us a bit of hope and encouragement for our own journeys.
Today’s passage from Acts is one of my favorites. When we encounter Paul in Acts, he has been traveling around spreading the news of Jesus, he has been in prison, he has been fought against, he has been chased, and now he is alone in another new city. AND YET! And yet, he has not forgotten his purpose or his reason for being on this journey. Instead, he stays true to who he is and what he is doing, he explores Athens and tries to understand who these people are and what they believe. Because he first sought to understand, he was open to hearing what they’re thoughts and beliefs are, he was able to find common ground. Did you catch it in the reading? Verse 22:
“I see that in every way you are very religious. As I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I found an altar with the inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you”
If we remember who we are and why we on this journey, as we encounter people who believe differently than we do, we don’t have to be defensive about our beliefs. How would our interactions with others change if we first had a sense of curiosity, if we were open to others’ thoughts and beliefs, if we sought common ground. This doesn’t mean that we lose sight of who we are, just as Paul never lost sight of who he was because of Jesus. But perhaps we will find that we have more in common and that people will be more interested in who we are and what we have to say – and perhaps they will find that there is something different about you than other Christians they have encountered or seen in the media. Perhaps you will become known in a whole new way.
If we go back to this book for a second… Dr. Seuss tells us
“you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on. But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. Onward up many a frightening creek”
I think Dr. Seuss is saying much of the same thing to us as Peter is in our second reading: it’s not going to be easy! AND YET! And yet, this isn’t to scare us off. There is an openness if we are honest about the difficulties that we have encountered and will encounter along the way. But the key is that we cannot stay here. We can’t give up when those times happen – when we struggle to pay that tuition bill, when we lose our job, when we can no longer play that sport that we’ve always been able to, when our bodies break or fail us, when people hurt us, when our plan has failed, when we feel alone, when ________.
When the journey is harder than we anticipated and we have forgotten the excitement we had at the beginning, Peter tells us that we should remember that we are blessed. That we do not need to fear or be frightened. We can remember who we are: who God created us to be, who has been claimed and freed in the waters of baptism, who Jesus died on the cross for, and who is loved unconditionally.
If we remember this and cling to this as we continue on the journey, we can bear most anything. We know that we are not really alone, we are loved. And when we are questioned about it, because we will be. To keep going even when the world gives you every reason to give up, it is counter-cultural. We should be ready to share what it is that keeps us going, what we believe in, and to explain it with gentleness and respect – never forgetting who you are!
There has been another theme through all of these passages. This sense of being alone. Paul was in Athens, alone, waiting for his travel mates and friends to join him. Peter reminds us that we might be singled out, alone, in our struggles and suffering. Even Dr. Seuss says in his book, “I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win, cause you’ll play against you. All Alone! Whether you like it or not, Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.”
You will meet many new people on this journey. For the graduates, you may not have even met your best friend yet, or your greatest mentors, or the person who will become your partner in this world. Parents and families, you may not have met all of your closest friends yet. Congregation, we may not have met our spiritual sister or brother, or the person that will walk alongside us in our deepest need. We are always meeting new people.
However, there may be times that you find yourselves in a crowd of people, but still feel alone when you don’t know anyone else in the crowd. There may be times when you completely leave everything you know to start over, but feel alone when you don’t know anyone else in the town. There may be times when your life takes a turn, for the better or for the worse, but feel alone when it wasn’t something you expected. There may be times when you start a new job or start a new school, but feel alone when everything seems new and foreign.
In our gospel text, Jesus is talking to his disciples. Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for “Holy Week”. Jesus knows what is about to happen, he will be arrested, beaten, crucified, and will die. Many of us know how lonely it can be in times of grief. AND YET! Yet Jesus is offering hope. Even though we may feel alone, Jesus is going to send the Holy Spirit to be with us forever. So when we have times of loneliness and despair, we will not be alone.
This hope that Jesus was giving to the disciples, we get the opportunity to share with our graduates today. [At the second service] we will wrap them in a quilt to remind them of the warmth that comes with community, pray for them to keep their eyes open to God’s blessings even in the midst of the storms, and send them with excitement on their new journey; trusting God will continue to guide them when they “come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin! Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? and IF you go in, should you turn left or right… or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite? Or go around back and sneak in from behind?” when they have questions and are feeling lost – they can remember that the Holy Spirit will go with them as their advocate.
To close… I want everyone to do this: Think of your life 5 years ago. Are you where you thought you would be? Imagine your life, five years from now. What has changed? What has stayed the same? How about ten years from now. What are you doing? Who is in your life? What is your next milestone? What do you hope to accomplish by then?
Now, open your eyes. That is YOUR plan. A famous graduation verse comes from Jeremiah 29:11. It says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God has a plan for you. Who’s plan will you follow? What will success look like for you? God will walk with you through this life, you will never be alone. However, where you end up, may look completely different than where you thought you would be.
AND YET, I believe just like Dr. Seuss
“Will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed. YOU, You’ll move mountains! You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”