Sermon preached June 12, 2011 (Day of Pentecost and “Graduation Sunday”)
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As we gather together today we have the chance as a community to recognize and pray for the class of 2011. And what better opportunity for a Christian community to do that than on the day of Pentecost: the day on which we gather around the story of the Holy Spirit—God’s ongoing presence with us–showing up in the world to guide us.
Now, I’ve graduated 3 times (not including Kindergarten), and something that I remember from all three times–something that kind of confused and bothered me, actually–were comments about going into the “real world”.
Are you ready for the “real world”?
As if I had been living in a land of make believe up until the point that I received a diploma and turned the tassel on my cap.
I think we all know that the “real world” is where we live every day. We don’t earn our way into the “real world”, it meets us on the day we are born. We don’t leave it in order to go to school (or to church). It follows us wherever we go.
There is truth, however, in realizing that you have reached a moment that sends you out beyond the walls or boundaries of what you have become used to. You hear it in the give and take between those two words: “Graduation” and “Commencement.” A page is turning. Something new is unfolding before you. It is a moment of change; a moment of yet-to-be-discovered new things.
There is a part of your life that you are graduating from. There are things that you will say goodbye to; people you will say goodbye to. Even though your life will still be shaped by your experience there, it will no longer be the place where you live. You have graduated.
At the same time, it is also the commencement of a new part your life. A new chapter begins.
Now, if this were a commencement address, this is the point where I would rouse the graduating class to head out into that “real world” and “find yourself.”
Which is another strange concept: “finding yourself.”
I suspect that all of our quests to find ourselves end when we realize that, even as we searched for ourselves, it turns out we were right there the whole time. Not unlike those moments when we search endlessly for a pair of eyeglasses that we are already wearing, or search frantically for a set of car keys that we are holding in our hand the entire time.
There was a fantastic article in the New York Times recently that discussed this moment of graduation–of commencement. The writer, David Brooks, reflected on all of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-SPAN and the image of graduates hearing the message:
- Follow your passion
- chart your own course
- march to the beat of your own drummer
- follow your dreams
- go find yourself
Among all of this talk of finding yourself, David Brooks comes to a conclusion that reflects, very directly, the call of Jesus on our lives. The article ends with the challenging reminder that “The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.”
We create who we are not through an abstract quest, but through the real commitments we make. We make sacred commitments. We tie ourselves down to whoever and whatever is important to us: a person we love, a career, a community. We don’t discover who we are and then unleash that person on the world, We live in the world and pay attention to the needs–the problems. Our response to what we find shapes who we are.
For Rose Cain, who lives across the street, it was the people she met at doctor’s offices while her husband battled cancer that called out to her. She made a sacred commitment and the Kevin Cain foundation has come to help family after family.
Right here within our congregation, for a handful of moms, dads and grandmoms, it was a beautiful assortment of children and the hope that this congregation will always be a community where they love to be and know they belong. They made a sacred commitment and created what the children call ROCK: the “Really only Club for Kids.”
The same calling leads us to the places where we make careers, to the people that we commit our lives to as families and friends, and to the communities that we belong to.
The world produces the circumstances–the problems and the opportunities–that place a calling on our life. It’s the voice of the Holy Spirit calling us to live. Calling us to create God’s new reality.
The story of Pentecost–of the Holy Spirit entering the world to sustain us–is a story of graduation and commencement. It was the culmination of Jesus’ time on earth, but it was only the beginning of what Jesus came to make possible. The disciples could have gone back to the life they had before Jesus, But instead, the disciples became apostles. The followers of Jesus became people who did God’s work in the world. The Holy Spirit came and launched them into the world to make sacred commitments that would build God’s new reality. The day of Pentecost is a day of commencement for faith communities. It is a moment–an event–that sends us out beyond the walls or boundaries of what we become used to.
The Holy Spirit comes to guide and sustain our journey, but the Holy Spirit does not come to solve our problems. Actually, the Holy Spirit creates our problems. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to what God is doing and puts a calling on our lives to participate. The problems and the opportunities are not always simple, easy or small. Most of what God calls us toward is complex and significant.
That means that setbacks, and even full-scale failures, are going to happen. There’s no way around it. The challenges and opportunities that God calls us to are far too great, and far too complex and significant to think that we are going to figure them out easily. We cannot expect that we will hit upon the best response the first time we try.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t prevent failure, but invites it. The Holy Spirit invites us to find fulfillment and victory in and through our setbacks and failures. Once we’ve identified a worthy challenge we can experiment even if we fail. We can innovate even if we fail. We can invent even if we fail.
This is an important and central truth of being a community of faith, especially in a world that is so obsessed with success that we forget that God is present and working through us even as we fail.
God is our creator, redeemer and sustainer. It is God alone that can bring the new reality we long for and need. Our job is to partner with God’s work wherever we find it happening. God’s Holy Spirit has come so that we can Make Christ known. God’s Holy Spirit came so that our life in Christ can commence!
Where is God calling you today? What needs and opportunities are seeking your sacred commitment? What ventures is God calling us to pursue as a community? These are the questions we must pray and think about as the Holy Spirit calls us to commence.
The Holy Spirit calls us to join God’s work in the world. The Holy Spirit calls us to create a new reality. The Holy Spirit calls us to do God’s work with our hands.
Listen and pray, my friends. This is our day of Pentecost. This is our day to commence as God’s Holy Spirit calls us to be actively involved in the good news of the gospel.