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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Delivering a speech at a banquet on the night of his arrival in a large city, a visiting minister told several anecdotes he expected to repeat at meetings the next day. Because he wanted to use the jokes again, he requested the reporters to omit them from any accounts they might turn in to their newspapers. A young cub reported, in commenting on the speech, ended his piece with the following, “The guest minister told a number of stories that cannot be published.”
Pastors are often invited to speak to the graduating seniors at baccalaureate ceremonies. It’s a great honor, but it’s also a risky business. You’re never really sure whether you will have anything original to say. Consider the words spoken to other graduating seniors.
Push yourself a little further than you dare. Naomi Wolf
You can’t help someone get out the hill without getting closer to the top yourself. H. Norman Scharzkopf
It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down. All that matters is how many times you get up. Marion Wright Edelman
If you wish to leave this world better than you found it, you must care about others. Florence Griffith Joyner
As for the parents in the audience, they need a word of guidance as well. On the one hand, they are celebrating their graduate’s independence and that they’ll never have to share in your grades again. More than one parent I have known, always asked his son, “How did we do on our report card?” Yes, the poor parents. Mothers and fathers who once laughed with their sons and daughters have begun to discover a lump in their throat. They may even grow misty-eyed with the thought that a beloved child will no longer be a part of their home. Oh, yes, they will joke. I heard one parent the other day. “Most children’s first words are ‘Mommy” or ‘Daddy.’ Mine were, ‘Do I have to use my own money?’” Yes, parents will laugh for a little while longer at a son or daughter’s expense, but inside they are weeping. How they wish could offer one last word of guidance.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus was offering his own disciples a final word of counsel and advice for their graduation ceremony. He was preparing to send them out into the world and to meet the challenges of the day. They too were to dream dreams, and push themselves a little further. But there was a difference. Jesus himself was preparing to leave them, and so he reminded them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”
That’s an important message for you this day as well. In the weeks ahead, doting uncles and aunts, grandparents and family friends, will flock to your homes to celebrate your graduation. They will munch on ham sandwiches and cake, and then ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you don’t know, don’t worry. It may not be your time yet. Instead, Jesus turns the question on its side, answers it and says, wait for the timing of the Spirit of truth. Parents, you may need to mark those words as well. Jesus’ words suggest three thoughts for that waiting process. First, Discover how you want to live. Second, be curious about life. And third, Live with integrity.
Let me begin by reminding you of something you don’t have to know as you leave high school: and that is what you want to be for the rest of your life. People are always asking you this, so you think you’re supposed to have an answer. But most adults ask this as a conversation starter. They want to know what sort of person you are, and this question is just to get you talking. I’m sure Jesus disciples had absolutely no idea what it meant to be his disciples, but they dared to begin a three year journey to learn. As you graduate from high school, you don’t have to know what you want to be, but you should be discovering what you want to do.
If I were back in high school and someone asked me about my plans, I’d say that my first priority was to learn what the options were. You don’t need to be in a rush to choose your life’s work. What you need to do is discover what you like. Now you may think that there is nothing easier than deciding what you like. But it turns out to be hard, partly because it’s hard to get an accurate picture of most jobs. Being a doctor is not the way it’s portrayed on TV. Fortunately you can also watch real doctors, by volunteering in hospitals. There are, however, countless jobs you can’t learn about, because no one is doing them yet. Most of the work I’ve done in the last 20 years didn’t exist when I graduated nearly 40 years ago from high school. The world changes fast, and in such a world it’s not a good idea to have fixed plans- dead certain of what you want to be. So, as the Kurt Vonnegut was once attributed to saying. “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.” Remember, when the Spirit of truth comes; he will guide you into all truth.
Let us turn to the second point, be curious. No doubt, you have all taken aptitude tests. These were the inventories that were to help you discover your natural interests and skills. But frankly, if I were graduating from high school I would want to discover something else. It would be what makes me curious. You see, over the years I have discovered that curiosity is a powerful aptitude. There are those who believe that worrying is a natural aptitude. Hopefully, a goodly number of parents can set that skill set aside. They should have learned long ago that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday.
But back to curiosity. Kids are naturally curious. Unfortunately, in most adults curiosity dries up and it has to: you can’t get anything done if you’re always asking why about everything. But in ambitious adults, curiosity turns work into play. For Einstein, relativity wasn’t a book full of hard stuff he had to learn for an exam. It was a mystery he was trying to solve. For the artist Michelangelo, sculpting wasn’t labor, it was the curious pursuit of the man hidden inside a block of marble.
In the weeks ahead you will hear the words – if you want to achieve your dreams, you must be disciplined. Well, it is true that doing great things requires a lot of discipline. Discipline alone, however, is not enough without a healthy dose of curiosity. I have known many who achieved greatness because of discipline, and then they threw it all away because they were bored. Discipline is merely for the sake of orderly curiosity – what if I did this? What if I tried this? The same is true for faith. Jesus said to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Certainly he was encouraging them to be disciplined, but more importantly he was calling them to be curious. We don’t love one another or serve our neighbor because of discipline- or because we’re good at it – or because we have a natural aptitude. You can’t love one another in principle. You love because you’re curious, and from your curiosity flows caring, and from your caring flows compassion. My friends, be curious and let the Spirit guide you into the truth.
Finally, live with integrity and never underestimate your abilities. With one small gesture you can change a person’s life. It’s a favorite story of mine. One of the few perks of flying often is the occasional upgrade to first class. One traveler was very excited. He had been assigned the last seat in the first class section on a non-stop flight from New York to Los Angeles. As the traveler settled into his seat, he noticed two young, unaccompanied children, a brother and sister about 6 and 7, being seated by the stewardess in the front row of the coach section directly behind him. The traveler groaned. The flight attendants tried to keep an eye on the kids, bringing them coloring books and crayons. But the noise level from the seats behind him was rising. Then a woman in first class stood up, spoke briefly with the flight attendant, then went back and sat down with the children in coach. For the next four plus hours, until the flight landed, that woman talked and colored, and told stories, and generally kept those kids occupied, happy, and quiet. She seemed to be totally enjoying herself. When the plane finally arrived in LA, the woman turned the two children over to the flight attendant and then disappeared down the aisle to the exit. She didn’t make a big deal out of it, she just did it, and all those who were seated close to the children woman for grateful for her intervention. And the woman? It was Dolly Parton.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” There is something very special in each and every one of us. It is our sense of integrity- of living faithfully the call that God has given to us. Never underestimate the power of your actions and your abilities. You have been gifted with the ability to make a difference in this world and if you follow your heart — the world will indeed be blessed.
My friends, Discover what you like to do, Be curious and Live with Integrity. “By this way, you will glorify God.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.