Sermon Text: Wisdom for Graduates - And The Rest Of Us
The home videos from my youth have been lost. I personally think this is a good thing. Sometimes, you don’t want to see the evidence.
The video of my high school graduation is gone, thankfully. My wife and my son did both see it before it disappeared, and they laughed harder than I might have liked. You see, in this video, I came walking out of our house with my bright red graduation cap and gown on. I saluted the camera.
What made my wife and son laugh so heartily was my hair. It came down to my shoulders, and swung back and forth. With my baby face, I looked like that little Dutch boy in the old pictures. Thank God this image has been lost forever.
We have come once again to graduation season. Every year, we at St. Mark’s honor our high school graduates, and every year, we bless these great young people as they go on their way to the next part of their lives.
I hope these teens are glad they grew up in the Episcopal Church. You see, our church is a thinking person’s church. I’m not saying other churches are not, but I am saying that the intellect is an important part of being Episcopalian.
If you learn anything about our history and traditions, you will soon hear about the 3-legged stool. The 3-legged stool is the source of our authority for how we think and act as a church. The three legs of the stool are Scripture, tradition, and reason. If you don’t like the image of a stool, you can call it the Anglican tripod, or the Episcopal triangle, or whatever. We look to Scripture, tradition, and reason for who we are.
I like being part of a church that comes right out and says, “Use your head!” Years ago, there was a poster advertising the Episcopal Church. The poster had a picture of Jesus, and the caption was, “He died to take away your sins....not your mind.” It went on to say that if you’re looking for a faith tradition which honors reason and intelligence and thinking, try the Episcopal Church.
I like being part of a church where we can speak approvingly of Charles Darwin, and where we can accept the idea of evolution by natural selection. I like being part of a church that recognizes that we live in a big universe, with deep space — billions and billions of galaxies as far as our telescopes can see. I like being part of a church that accepts the evidence for deep time — a universe that is not a few thousand years old, but, by current estimates, 13.8 billion years old.
I like being part of a church that does not tell me what I have to believe, but encourages me to work it out myself in the light of Scripture, tradition, and reason. I like being part of a smart church. And I hope our high school graduates agree.
Back when I was a kid in 1965, there was a popular song on the radio. It was originally written in the 1950s by Pete Seeger, but became a hit in a version by a group called “The Byrds.” It was called “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and the words came right out of the Bible, from the book of Ecclesiastes.
We heard some of those words in our first reading today. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven...a time to be born, a time to die...” and so forth.
Ecclesiastes is a great and interesting book. It almost didn’t make it into the Bible, because it takes a very skeptical view of the world. It was written by a deep thinker (who I think could have been an Episcopalian). If I could give one last assignment to our high school graduates, or indeed to any of you, it would be to sit down and read the Book of Ecclesiastes. It takes about a half hour.
I know you won’t do it, so I’ll give you the summary. The writer of this book calls himself “Qoheleth,” which means “preacher” or “assembler.” The Greek translation of Qoheleth is “Ecclesiastes.” Qoheleth has a plan for living, which I think is very wise. The older you get, the more sense this book makes.
Here is the message of the book in a nutshell. Qoheleth has a 4-part plan for living well.
Eat simply...Drink moderately...Find work that gives you a sense of meaning and purpose...And cultivate a few loving relationships. Now, people expect something more. People expect something spiritual. But Qoheleth says it all comes down to this.
He bases his conclusions on the fact that he tried pretty much everything. He says it all comes down to this: Eat well, drink smart, do what you love, love who you can. This is not really a plan for transforming the world, but for surviving the world and living wisely.
As you know, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. We need both, but one is more important. It’s wisdom, of course. Wisdom is about using knowledge. Wisdom is about how to live, and how to live well.
And the Bible has several books which are called “Wisdom Books,” or “Wisdom Literature.” They are books like Job, Proverbs, The Song of Solomon...and Ecclesiastes. So if the Episcopal Church is a thinking person’s church — and I believe it is — then wisdom literature like the book of Ecclesiastes has a special place of honor here.
Therefore, to our graduates, and to all of you, I suggest: keep reading, keep thinking, keep wrestling with how to live wisely.
Qoheleth gives what he thinks has a pretty wise answer: Eat simply, drink moderately, do what you love, and love who you can.
Seems pretty wise to me, too!