Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Message for Graduates (and other people, too)

I could be mistaken. I will admit that. However, I heard a whole lot of "Jesus and me" theology at a recent high school baccalaureate service and I'm worried. Young adults stood and spoke earnestly of their faith and offered Bible verses. Their consistent message to the class: "Jesus has helped me through difficult times and Jesus will continue to help you and me."

I was one of three clergy who spoke. The other two offered great words of wisdom, using memorable images meant to encourage the graduates to find their strength in the faith and not to leave the church behind.

When it was my turn to offer my "wisdom", I'll admit that I was a bit agitated. I refrained from pounding the lovely Catholic pulpit at which I stood, but I did lean into the message, staring down at the black-robed graduates. I do not believe that one of them checked their phones while I spoke.

I gave them some advice from the 2013 University of Michigan commencement address of Richard Costolo, CEO of Twitter. Go bigger than what is expected of you and take courageous risks. Then I told the graduates that I wasn't going to talk about their future, but about the present.

I didn't pull out any Bible verses of comfort or reassurance. Instead, I went to Mark and Luke and talked about the Kingdom of God. Jesus declared that the reign of God was close when people were healed, when people loved God and neighbor, when they lived out the good news.

I told the young people, set to start out into the world for new adventure, that our soul is not "saved" to be set aside and preserved for a the future kingdom. We're not offered the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ so that someday we can simply exchange the black graduation robes for the white angelic robes of Heaven. We are saved to live out the reign of God today.

I agreed that the graduates have a lot of decisions ahead of them, but the decision to live in God's kingdom is one that they have to make everyday starting now. And they do not have to go to Live-Like-Jesus school or get a degree in Talking-Like-Jesus or read the Bible (like they've already tried and gotten as far as Deuteronomy). What they need to do right now is listen to the voices that go unheard and look to people who hold no power. Today is the time to commit to compassion and care for the least among us.

Yes, I was wound up. God's present in our past, present, and future. God does offer strength and comfort and guidance. And our response, right now, is commitment to kingdom living.

As I left the sanctuary, a young priest leaned over and said, "Your message was a nice counter-point to the other messages." I'm going to get to know that guy.

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