Do you remember graduating? Graduating from what... you might reply! We have all marked the many achievements made throughout our lives with joy! Graduation is such a wonderful time of celebration. This Sunday, on Graduation Sunday, we celebrate this significant achievement of our three high school graduates: Avery, Dalton, and Ethan. Aside from celebration, graduation also prompts considerations of: 'what next?' Where will this graduation lead the person forward into the next chapter of their life's journey? I think you will be excited to take in these three stories when you tune into the service and hear from each of our grads! As I was listening to their life's hopes and dreams, I couldn't help but being prompted into a time of personal reflection and pondering. What will I be called to do and be next? Where should I be moving ahead with the gifts God has given me? A time for celebration and a time for pondering...I suspect that we will all be doing some celebrating and some pondering as we gather this Graduation Sunday! May we all continue to move ahead in this life's journey!
I also wanted to thank the many people who commented on last Sunday's service focus which lamented the tragic discovery of the many missing children's bodies on the former Kamloops Residential School site. We are all trying to take in the collective pain and responsibility we feel over this injustice as we consider how we might respond. Several people have asked to purchase an official orange shirt, similar to the one I wore during the worship service. If you would like to be included in this order, please advise the church office the size and number you wish to purchase over the next few weeks. Here is a link for further information and sizing: https://www.orangeshirtday.org The cost is dependent on volume, and will be under $30 each.
“Graduations: A Commissioning into Our Future”
Luke 10: 1-13 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United Church ~ June 13, 2018
Today, we celebrate three graduates: Avery, Dalton, and Ethan. And today, we celebrate your achievements over the past 13 years of school…more than that…throughout your 18 years of life! Along with all of the gifts shared at grad time, along with the celebrations, and socially distanced events that will occur, your church joins in the celebration and reminds you of God’s blessings that accompany you on the journey. And what a journey, indeed! Entering Kindergarten perhaps with a sense of fear in your heart. A big school with all these tall kids, and you with only your lunch kit and a kiss from family as you began your scholastic career. And you persevered….working your way through Elementary and High school…you finally arrived. ‘The world is your oyster’ as the saying goes. And, in the video interviews, each one of you shared a few thoughts of your dreams and vision of what lies ahead. Work, school, new experiences…it is all so fresh, and shiny-new, and hope-filled…as, indeed, it should be!
And as we think about your journeys unfolding, we see a parallel in the text before us. We read, not of high-school graduates, but of Jesus’ graduates who are being commissioned into their ministries in the world. I think it was spirit-led, how this text is the one that all of our United Churches are focusing upon as our Regional church has been meeting this weekend. The text is all about being sent into the next chapter of one’s life. And rather than only focusing upon the 12 disciples, Jesus expands beyond the 12 into the commissioning of a huge group…a group so large, that perhaps we might see ourselves in it too? In this section, Jesus broadens the commissioning beyond the inner circle of 12 to a larger group of 70. This group of 70 is a significant reference, as it refers to the number of nations listed back in book of Genesis. The total number of nations found in that list …70 nations. So, lest we ever get stuck in thinking that Jesus only calls a select few…calling them to a specialized professional ministry, we see right here that Jesus’ call extends to each and everyone of us. Jesus’ call is to you! We are ALL called, claimed and commissioned with the unique gifts that God’s world so dearly needs. Thus, this message is, certainly, for Avery, Dalton and Ethan. But, it is equally for each and every one of us who gather today. For as long as we have a heart beating in our chest and air flowing through our lungs, God is continuing to call us into the sharing of our gifts and our lives for the building of the Kingdom of Peace.
This broad message of call is an important one for us to hold this morning. While I do not want to take away from Avery and Dalton and Ethan’s moment, the text broadens the call of commissioning, offering a personal call…to each one of us ~ one and all…At all ages and stages of our lives…At each and every chapter…we continue to be called to use our gifts and talents for God’s Kingdom of peace. The tragic act of racial hatred that occurred earlier this week in London, Ontario further highlights this universal call to continue working as pilgrims of peace. We live in an increasingly shrinking world where travel, communication, and multiculturalism allow us to enter into deeper and deeper conversation with our neighbours. There is no such thing as ‘retired Christians’. We might be ‘tired Christians’, but we can never ‘retire’ from our calling to be pilgrims of peace. We are continuously called to draw the circle wide amidst our brothers and sisters, as we seek Christ’s vision of peace. So, as we celebrate our graduates this morning, perhaps you might consider what you are graduating towards. With the ebbs and flows of the changing world, it is likely that Avery, Dalton and Ethan will have multiple careers throughout their lives. We too, will have multiple expressions of living our faith, and sharing our gifts. How were you commissioned and called in the past? And…how are you being commissioned and called now, and into the future?
There is some powerful instruction into how to go forth in your commissioning. I should warn you. It is very difficult to do…it is very biblical….the instruction Jesus offers is: ‘Be Yourself’. He says to the 70 “4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ So often, we think we need to carry a plethora of things for the journey ahead: perfect grades, the best computer, clothing, a healthy RESP, and the list goes on. Jesus says that YOU are enough….without purse, bag, and sandals…you are enough. What matters is what is, not what you carry with you, what matter is what you carry on the inside. Your spirit, your heart, your mind…what is inside is what will truly carry you through the journey. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with all the trimmings, that we neglect the core part of what matters. A great computer is wonderful…but the greatest computer is located inside your skull. Healing begins from your heart. Compassion will emerge from your spirit. God in you, God with you, God through you is how the Kingdom is slowly birthing into the world. Be yourself. And this will be a tremendous challenge in a world that will tell us, at every age and stage, that we are not enough. The world will tell us that ‘we need’ to carry a purse, a bag, and a closet full of sandals. Yet, there is nothing that we can fill our purses and bags that really matters. What matters is the one who is already called, claimed and commissioned to go forth in God’s peace. Be yourself, for there is only one of you in the world, and you were created, blessed and commissioned for a reason!
Now, if we can begin to take in the counter-cultural challenge of ‘being yourself’, the text offers an even deeper challenge…the challenge of being your vulnerable self. We each carry unique gifts and talents inside as part of God’s creation. However, there is a common strength in each of these gifts. We are all at our strongest when we come from a place of vulnerability. Ironically, when we offer our kindest, gentlest selves, we find our deepest power. Jesus put it this way: “see, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” This is spoken by the one who would hang upon the cross, teaching how the way of service, sacrifice and suffering will ultimately defeat the powers of evil. As followers of Jesus, we are not required to hang on a cross, yet our ways are cross-like. Our ways are that of vulnerability that bring life: of service that bring life towards others, of sacrifice that bring others joy, of suffering that bring others healing, of living vulnerably that life might unfold in all its beauty. Living a life where we are vulnerable is about joining our lives with the pains and suffering of others and knowing that the kingdom promise is one of joy. When we do that, even the powers of evil, of death and destruction are no match! Being a vulnerable lamb doesn’t sound like a wise identity to assume. The wolf seems much stronger and more successful. However, the vision of the fulfilled kingdom that scripture teaches of, is when the wolf and the lamb lie together in peace. It is my experience that the toughest, meanest, orneriest people we meet ~ the wolves ~ usually have broken hearts that find healing as they welcome vulnerability and kindness. The world needs you…the world needs the vulnerable you that God has created.
And as the ‘vulnerable you’ prepares to go forth, I have one more challenge for us all to consider. We must get excellent at failure! Jesus warns us that we will not always succeed and we must continuously find ways to move past our failures. The church is, perhaps, the greatest example of that teaching! The church persevered past Roman imperialism. One might even think about how the church has been persevering amidst our modern pandemic challenges. Failure after failure, they church persevered. Jesus said: “whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.” When the unwelcoming town do not receive the peace that was offered, the disciples were instructed to leave that town behind; to wipe off their feet; not even to bring the dust of that town along with them. Leave it behind, for now, and move ahead. We notice that there is not an instruction to curse or attack or dominate. The instruction is to leave failures behind and move to the other towns who are ready for the peace you offer. If the gauge of one’s success was measured by weighing the number of failures against the number of successes, none of us would fare well. Successful inventors and innovators are only successful because they are excellent at failing. And they persist in their failures until they, one day, achieve the goal that they set. The goals that our graduates have set will be met with some failure; the goals that you and I set are always met with some failure. The encouragement that Jesus offers is for us to truly persist through the failures in order for peace to continue to unfold. “Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.”
And so, as we give thanks for the journey that lies ahead, may we ALL hear the calling and commissioning that is offered unto the 70…for you are part of that group! May we hear this call and go forth as God’s peaceful pilgrims. May we go forth as ourselves…as our vulnerable selves…working through the challenges as ‘thy Kingdom comes’ through God alive, present, in each of us.