Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Graduation Homily

We had some trouble getting a senior to do the sermon at Youth Sunday at St. Thomas on May 18th. Luckily one of our youth came forward and did the sermon, and did it very well. But there was a short time when I thought I was going to have to be the graduate who spoke. I'm graduating from the IONA School For Ministry on June 15th. It would've been weird to be the one to give the sermon, since this opportunity is supposed to be an honor and it would've been weird to honor myself. But here's what I probably would've said: 

 The reading is John 14:1-14.

Usually at this Youth Sunday event I'm sitting in the crowd and listening to one of my youth give this homily, where they reflect on their time in the youth group and their impending graduation in light of the day's reading. It is a surreal experience. My entire life as a youth minister has a surreal dimension to it. I form deep Christ-centered relationships with those I lead at the time in their lives when they are undergoing some of the most radical changes they ever will. They grow up before my eyes. I do my best to connect with them in whatever ways God wants me to, and try to help them learn what it means to be in mature relationship with Him, all the while knowing that the power of that connection stands under the shadow of their inevitable departure. In many ways, our entire time together is about that time when we will no longer be together. I work as an agent of eternity standing in a river of time.

It hurts to see them go. It hurts a little even when they are still in close proximity to me, because all the loving, and caring, and work is done with a mind to what will come next in their lives, to their inevitable departure. Yet I know that in the end, the act of letting go is an act of trust, a statement of faith and is the surest way to show them that I truly believe God is who we all say He is. Could there be any more stark illustration of everything Jesus seems to feel and express in the Bible passage today? Certainly the disciples' closeness to Jesus, the work they were all involved in, had to have the feel of being a part of something that truly lasts. Each moment, each lesson, was a part of their effort to build the Kingdom of God, for which they had waited so long. They did not really know it until that last night...until Jesus made the all-important final sermon before His crucifixion about His connection to God and His true relationship to all that believe in Him...that all that preparation for forever was being done in the context of a very poignant end.

Realizing that Jesus' death was what it really was all about, had to be quite a shock to those who thought that they were preparing for an eternal Kingdom, which they were but not exactly in the way they thought they were. For certainly they thought that implied in that work was the opportunity to be with this man who had meant so much to them forever. Yet the search for something that lasts cannot be divorced from the reality of time and death. The eternity they sought was only going to be possible because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Without God entering into time and death, timelessness and life everlasting could not be brought into final contact with this world. Jesus asks in this part of His sermon in John 14 that the disciples trust that this is so. He asks that they live out their faith by accepting His death as a doorway to a greater life. In the same way I seek to trust that the limited time I have with my youth is a glimpse and a path to something that truly lasts. That those moments, which come to me with an illuminated quality, only seem to fade into the sea of their lives. That they are part of a structure, somewhere, somehow, that does not pass away.

Now I too am marking off a big change in my own life. Three years is a long time, man, especially when you are working two jobs and trying to maintain that most central relationship of husband and wife. And the nature of that work was so pointed towards God, towards Christ, towards that which holds within it the promise or suggestion of eternity. Each class was filled with such rich discussion of what really matters in life, of the only thing that can have any hope of making anything matter, at all. Yet given all that happened around it, I couldn't help but look forward to that day when it would all be done, when I would be able to move on to whatever comes next. No one enters into school without some thought of what graduation will be like. It was a feeling of preparation an expectation that I had not experienced in a long, long time. Yet the individual moments, I look back on with such awe and wonder.

I am beset by moments, by individual floating experiences that seem like they last forever even as they have been swallowed up into the ocean of time we call 'the past'. I live in the conviction that none of them are truly gone, that they exist in a kind of beatific well from which Heaven springs. It is that conviction, that the good we do in this life is not passing away but building up to an eternal structure that underlies Jesus' promise in the John passage, and it is what makes any effort in this passing world of time of true value. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment