Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rev. Kirsten Graduation Sunday Sermon 6/10/17

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20
Psalm 8

or Canticle 13 (or Canticle 2)

I was praying about our graduates this week.  I got thinking about that summer feeling—that moment when I finished exams and was finally out for summer vacation.  There was an incredible relief—waking up and knowing that I could go back to bed because I didn’t have to run to class or finish a paper. 

When I was little, summer was time for swimming lessons at the beach, board games with the kids next door.  There were long walks and berry picking.  And there were lots of household chores.  It was different than school, but for my family there weren’t really vacations, there were just different routines.  As I got into middle school and high school, I had summer jobs.  I guess I used summer as a time to dream a little more—I imagined who I would be.  I worked hard in the summer but I was more self—motivated (or family motivated) and less driven by school rules and academic program. 

When I graduated from college, I said goodbye to college friends and found a new apartment.  I found my first “real” job and started to pay my own bills and define myself by what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be with.  I tried out living in a bunch of different places.  I switched jobs.  I made a new extended family of friends and redefined my relationship with my parents and siblings.

When I went through graduations as an adult, first from law school and then from divinity school, the graduations marked the beginning of a new career and I tried to figure out how to incorporate my new identities as a graduate into my old identities.  I had to decide what I was leaving behind when I graduated, I had to establish a new sense of myself, and I had to figure out what to do next. 

At the turning points of graduation, I think I felt new freedoms (being released from the restrictive courses and requirements of school), but I also had feelings of loss, feelings of uncertainty and a longing to establish new routines—whether that was a job or a new daily program—to help me know who I am and where I’m going.

If these are common feelings about graduation—feelings of loss, feelings of freedom, wonderings about new identity and new direction--I would say these complex feelings come at other times too—not just graduation.  They come when we leave a job, or change our family (have a child, lose a spouse, move to be near grandchildren).  Whenever there is a big transition, we might have these complicated questions. 

Today, I suggest that we bring this questions to God and listen for answers in Scripture.  What does our Scripture have to offer by way of guidance?  Today is known as Trinity Sunday.  We celebrate today our God who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lived and died as one of us, our God who is the Holy Spirit, the breath of life that moves in us, and the God the Father, the creator of heaven and earth.  How is God all these things, and why do we need such complexity?  One of the remarkable things about this mystery, “how is God a Trinity? “ is that our God is fundamentally about relationship.  Within the very essence of God is the relationship between Father, Son and Spirit.  Jesus Christ is the Word that existed from the beginning of Creation. The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in his baptism.  Always the different aspects of God relate to one another. 

It strikes me that the relationships within God offer a spiritual richness that we need most when we are in transition.  In these moments of transition, like the moment of graduation we cannot simply carry on our work as disciples.  We are bound to shake things up, and our spiritual needs are complex.  The most difficult things about transitions require relationality—we can’t simply be the same person we were when we were in school.  We have to redefine ourselves, we have to start new relationships, we have to find new direction and new meaning.  But we’re not leaving everything behind—we are still the same person we were on some levels, we still have our same families, we might still have our same dreams.

But the way through the transition is not to simply carry on as we were.  The way through the transition is to make choices and consciously incorporate what we learned, who we’ve become into who we were before and who we dream ourselves to be.  We need God to help us make those choices.  And we need God to reassure us about the new person we have become and the new work we are called to do. 

Let’s break down some of the choices and look at how our Triune God might relate to us in this moment.  Let’s go back to that feeling of freedom—the start of summer vacation feeling.  Such a relief—I am no longer working on the program, doing just what school requires.  Now I am free to just be myself.  But who am I if I’m not a student? 

Our passage from Genesis, the story of creation, reminds us that we were created in God’s image.  We are connected, intimately connected to all of God’s creation—the sun and the moon, the earth, the seas, the sky.  We are related to the animals and the birds and the plants.  This is our planet, we are part of creation.  Although in the US we think of ourselves as free to be anyone we want to be, we are always part of God’s creation.  We are not independent—we are interdependent.  Our freedom, our fullness, our perfection—as God’s creature is that we are in relationship with every other part of creation.   This relationship that we have to every other part of God’s creation is not a confining, constraining relationship.  It is the very essence of our being. 

And so when we have that feeling of freedom that comes with summer, with graduation, or with another life transition, we can remember that God made us in relationship and so our new identity depends on these connections.  One way to think about this is to ask, what were the God-given gifts that I have nurtured and developed in my studies?  Maybe you have a gift for writing, or a gift of empathy, or a gift of perseverance?  These gifts helped you to succeed as a student.  Now you step out of school, you have a new identity and you don’t quite know what that will be—but you still have the same gifts.  How will these gifts serve you as you leave your student identity and take on a new identity as a worker, or as a caregiver. 

If you are graduating from elementary school, you might notice that summer means that you are now free to play more freely—you can choose whether to do art, or play with toys, or go outside and run around.  If you have these new choices do you still like best the things that you liked best in school?  Maybe you miss the recess bell of school, but you have the new pleasure of breakfast with mom and dad, or the new routine of summer camp or family vacation. 
Whatever identity you are leaving behind, you are still the same person who God made.  Whatever structures or routines or people you are leaving behind, you are still in relationship with God’s people and cannot separate yourself from the planet you exist in.

The disciples in this passage from Matthew might have had a similar question to the question for our graduates.  Who are we now that we’re not followers of Jesus of Nazareth?  Who am I?  When Jesus met the disciples in Galilee, they worshipped him, but some doubted.   Maybe they were both comforted that he was with them, but also uncomfortable because he was not going to be their teacher in the same way.  They had an intimate relationship with Jesus, they had been following him while he taught people, when we healed people, when he suffered and died.  Maybe the disciples thought there were defined by their teacher.  But now he’s gone and he comes to them to reassure them that even though he’s not their teacher any more, he’s still with them.  I am with you to the end of the age. The relationship that they had with their teacher is not over.  Even though Jesus Christ is no long with them, his teaching is still with them.  In this transition to new life after the crucifixion, the disciples need to hear that he is with them in a new way—with them forever.  Even in the face of their doubts,  his teachings continue.

Maybe there is a very direct lesson in this passage for our graduates.  What is your relationship with your teachers now that you are no longer in school?  If you never see those teachers again, aren’t the lessons that they taught you “with you until the end of the age”?  Even if you no longer identity as a student of this teacher, and you have doubts about who you are now—there is something that continues from the student teacher relationship into your new identity. 

Let’s ask another question of our Scripture.  First we asked who am I, now that I’m not a student?  Now let’s ask,  what am I leaving behind as I graduate?  Am I losing my school friends?  Am I losing the routines of classes and studying?  What will replace these losses? 

Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians picks up just as he leaves the community.  He says,  “Finally brothers and sisters, farewell.”  But his goodbye offers them comfort in the relationships that will continue after he leaves.  He reminds the people of Corinth to love one another.  This is how Paul’s love for them will continue and this is how the grace of Jesus Christ continues in the community.  It is in the new relationships, or the continuing relationships that the old friendship is expressed.  I know this experience because we have a transition every year when our visiting scholars leave us.  The visiting scholar who was so intimately connected to our family, this person who ate every meal with us and knew every movement of the household leaves and goes on to continue their studies, or work, they return to their home country or they go off to another educational program.  With each departure, our family incorporates the love that we had for this person into our love for one another.  We are made richer by these friendships.  We express what we learned from this year’s scholar in our ongoing relationships within our family and our extended circle of friends.  The grace of the scholar’s presence in our home, extends beyond their departure. 

And so it may be for you as you graduate.  Some of the friends you made you’ll see over the summer, you’ll meet again or reconnect at reunions.  But some you’ll hold in memory.  The best parts of those friendships will continue in the loving relationships you’ll have with new people.  I think about my college roommate Erika.  I learned so much from Erika—she expanded my world.  I am still in touch with her,  in fact I’ll see her next month for the first time in several years.  But there are fundamental things about our friendship—my first really deep friendship outside of the context of my family—that I have found in every important friendship I’ve had since.  The ways that she showed me a different kind of family, a different relationship to studying, a new kind of commitment to music—all of those threads of our friendship have continued in my life.  Never again will I wake up every morning and go to bed every evening with Erika, but she is still present in the fabric of the community that I have made here with all of you.

The Creation story might also offer us a lesson about leaving behind the routines of classes and studying, a certain kind of work.  In Genesis, God reflects on the work that God has done each day and finds that it was good. And then on the seventh day,

"God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation."

Maybe graduation is a time to reflect on all the work that you have done and know that it was good.  As God created heaven and earth,  you worked with your God-given gifts and you created good things.  You improved your own knowledge, but undoubtedly you also contributed something creative to the world.  When you wrote papers, or did projects or contributed to class discussion, you enriched all of the other students.  Maybe you worked with a professor on some research.  Maybe in elementary school, you created a new picture, participated in a school play.  Maybe in high school you contributed to your team, or helped out in some volunteer activity.  Each person has participated in God’s creative work in some way.  Now is the moment to reflect and know that what you have created is good.

And before you set off to do the next thing,  now is the time to take a rest.  This is your seventh day—bless this day and hallow it, because God rested and now you must rest from your labors. 

And finally let’s ask a last question—What am I going to do next? 
When the disciples ask this question of Jesus on the mountain in Galilee, he has a very direct answer:   “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  Jesus tells the disciples that the work they have been doing as his students, his followers now continues.  But it takes on a new form,  they are to do this work in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus commissions them with the task of bringing people into relationship with God who is relational.  Baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus tells his disciples that they are to extend to new people the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

What does that call to continue Jesus’ teaching and go out baptize people mean for you at this moment of transition?  This calling may be really clear to you, or it may be obscured by what feels like lots of choices, or obscured by lots of barriers.  If you are graduating from high school, you may already know where you are going next if you are going to college.  You’ll take what you’ve learned in high school and you’ll go and make new friends, build a new community.  By your witness as a Christian, by the way you live your life, you will bring God’s presence to other people.  You will meet in new people Jesus, and you will bring to them God’s love.

But what if your next step is unclear?  How does God’s call to you help you find an answer to what to do next?  This is a time of discernment.  It’s a time to go to the people who love you most, to the people who care about you in this church, and listen with them.  I invite you to come talk with me.  Whatever the transition in your life, this is time to reach out to Church and ask, what do you think I should be doing next?  Ask your brothers and sisters in Christ to listen with you for God’s calling.  There are some very wise people here who might have ideas about what you could do, what your special gifts might be.  There are some people who might not know you well, but if you give them a chance, they might be able to tell you about how they found their way when they faced a transition.  And that might be helpful.  This would be a good time to just drop me a note or send a text or speak to me at coffee hour.  I’d love to take a walk with you, or go out for a coffee and just talk about the next phase. 

This is the perfect moment to build up your relationships with Church.  Come this summer and join the choir.  Come volunteer in the office.  Consider becoming an usher, or a reader or a lay minister.  Jesus invites the disciples to go out and do the work of building up the community.  Maybe you don’t know what your next study or job will be, but this is a good time to build up the community by participating in a new way.  You belong here and if there’s something you’d like to try doing, this is a good place to try it.  Maybe you’d like to start a business, this might be a place to offer your services.  Maybe you’d like to try out teaching or caregiving, bookkeeping or gardening, singing or driving.  This community needs you and we’re open to having you find your next calling here. 

Today, I’m delighted that we are celebrating our graduates.  We are praying with you and for you in this transition.  We pray with you about your questions—who are you becoming?  What are you leaving behind?  What are you called to do next?  And we take comfort and guidance from our Trinitarian God,  hearing that God wants us to be in relationships with all of God’s creation, with one another in the Body of Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit giving us the strength and support to move from the work you have done as a student to whatever the next phase holds for you.

Especially on this graduation Sunday, let us hear the words of Paul to the people of Corinthon his farewell,

“Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

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