Monday, May 6, 2019

2019 Address to the Graduates

2019 Address to the Graduates of Judson Memorial Baptist Church
May 5, 2019
Romans 12:1-2
I Got Rejected 101 Times by Emily Winter

So here we are…

X you arrived on the scene here at Judson when you were in sixth grade, shortly after you were baptized here, attended Sunday School, gave a personal reflection, even led Second hour session. You will be attending St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. I’m a little apprehensive about your see Martin Luther never really liked our anabaptist ancestors, in fact he endorsed the slaughtering of them. So always be looking over your shoulder when you’re around a large gathering of Lutherans. And if you’re feeling the Lutheran pull, just go by “Judson” stained glass in the chapel and pray for all the baptist saints to save you. (Reader, please note that Adoniram Judson is a subject of the stained glass in the St. Olaf chapel).

X for a while you and your family were occasional visitors to Judson, then you became chronic visitors, then you attended Sunday School, became more involved in church life and now look at you, you work here! You’re going to Drake University. It’s a historic United Methodist school. And Methodists are fine and dandy folk, a little on the boring side but nice folk over all. I’ve went ahead and contacted one of your religion professors, Dr. Jennifer Harvey. She attends a local UCC church but she is ordained American Baptist, I think she is friends with Pastors Debbie and Russell from House of Mercy. You can thank me later. Also, a friend of mine is the senior pastor of Plymouth UCC in Des Moines, I will pay you $5 for every Sunday you attend that church, sit in the front row and roll your eyes and sigh while he preaches. It’s a 13 minute bike ride from Drake. But there is also a house church, Wellspring, which is a 15 minute bike ride that you may like even more.

When I was 16, my cousin Monty died of a heart attack while mowing grass. He was 17 and as close as a brother I ever had. At the funeral the pastor did a horrible job, rather than honoring Monty’s life and love and creativity and compassion and how he always made you laugh the pastor said if all of us didn’t get right with Jesus we were going to hell. For the pastor Monty was a troupe, for me he was my cousin whom I loved dearly. So I said then and there I would commit my life to honoring Monty by trying to right the wrong the pastor did at the funeral. On Sunday I went forward at my home church and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, the next Sunday I was baptized and the following week I went to speak to the youth pastor and senior pastor about a calling to the ministry. And I never looked back.

I represent about .0001% of 16 year olds in America who knew what they wanted to do in life. I’m glad you didn't have my experience, I’m glad you are pursuing your vocations with freedom and light hearts. Pursue with abandon. Have fun.


(Reader, please note that I have the graduates sit in large chairs up front facing the congregation so they can see the answers to the following questions)

I want you to see a visual of life and I want you to see all of these gathered as people you can lean on:

How many of you when you were 16, 17, or 18 knew what you wanted to do with your life?

How many of you changed your major in college?

How many of you changed jobs in your career?
More than two times? Three times? Four times? Five times? Six times?

How many of you in retirement are still seeking and finding your vocation?

How many of you have made mistakes? Been fired or laid off? Had bouts of melancholy or depression? Cry yourselves to sleep sometimes? Have thought of yourself as a failure?

I talked with someone this week in their mid 80s who has an unrecognized ministry and I thought, before you die I need to ordain you!

The expressions of your life journey will keep revealing itself over and over and over...


Our culture wants to transform college into job training centers. Don’t let the culture do that to you. Take a wide variety of classes. It might not be till your senior year and you stumble into a creative writing class that you discover you’d like to write. It might not be till one evening in the kitchen that you discover you want to be a pastry chef. It might not be till one day you walk into a hospital and sit with someone who is dying that you want to be a hospice nurse or a social worker. So make your life as broad as possible during college, go places, have fun, explore, play different sports, instruments, try out improv or stand up comedy, try Tibetan meditation, try to learn how to make the best plain cake donut ever!

More than anything take some risks. Dress up like a janitor and barge into a full lecture hall and say, I got a call about someone whose sippy cup top came off. Try something that is so outrageous and scary it makes our fingernails sweat. So many times I let the impressions of others dictate my own actions. There were times I just wanted to dance but knew my friends would laugh at me. Guess what they are not my friends anymore. The people I surround myself with now and people who support and nudge and laugh with, not at me. So take some risks for justice, for kindness, for comedy, for your own growth and understanding.


And unless you are going on for further education (i.e. graduate school of some type) don’t stress about your grades (but don’t let them dip so much that you lose your scholarships). Up till now it has all been about grades but you’ll soon enter a world where grades are irrelevant.

Do you know the GPA of your doctor, your dentist, your therapist, your pastor, your math teacher, your hair stylist, the chef at your favorite restaurant, the Metro transit bus driver, your neighbor? I graduated top of my class in seminary, then spent three years going through the ordination process and guess what no search committee has ever inquired about my GPA and no one has ever asked to see my ordination credentials. Don’t fret, I’m official, I have my bona fides.

What matters is not your GPA but can you make someone else smile, can you listen to another person and your own life, can you help share the burden of a neighbor, do you have courage to speak up against injustice, is your heart cracked open, are you curious and compassionate, do you have the capacity to say you’re sorry and ask for forgiveness those qualities form the kind of people that change the world.

This summer go to the library and check out a copy of the 1973 movie “The Paper Chase”, it’s about a first year student at Harvard Law School. What you are after is not a grade, you are cultivating and pursuing a love of learning and growing and deep interior formation.

You are not going to college for job training, you are going to discover your vocation. Your vocation is already in you, you just may not have discovered it yet. Your vocation is the place Frederick Buechner wrote where your deep love and the world’s deep need meet. Devote your life to that and you will never look back, it will evolve and morph and deepen and expand but keep coming back to that intersection of your love and the world’s need and you will do amazing work in this world.

Something will happen in your life, some form of pain will wind its way into your path and you must choose to either run from it or go at it head&heart first to redeem it. That is when you will discover your vocation. You may make a living at it, it may be what you do as soon as you clock out of work. Either way, when you find your vocation nurture it, develop it, expand it, and keep letting it form and shape you as a child of God.


A few years ago I heard a tale of former Judson youth who was in college and didn’t believe in God anymore. I rolled my eyes and thought, “come on, the kind of religion you are rebelling against aint the religion you were raised with here at Judson, what gives?” But just a few months ago I realized that rather than rolling my eyes I should have been jumping up and down with glee. Because it meant this former Judson youth was doing exactly what they should have been doing for a active and robust faith.

Over the course of the next four years I hope you too will develop a robust and lively faith. This faith will have seasons as you develop it on your own away from Judson. It will start with a Spring season where faith is simple, your faith will be tied to Judson or church camp. Then it will move to a season of Summer where your faith will be more pragmatic followed with lots of growth, this will be the seeds of “your” faith, coupled with new knowledge in and out of class. Then Fall will appear, with lots of ambivalence and ambiguity. You’ll question and reject nearly everything. You may even despair and think all is hopeless. If you don’t give up, if you can just hang on, and keep pushing you’ll arrive at a place of harmony in the season of Winter where you integrate all your experiences and learning and commitments into your own faith and life.

And then guess what? You get to do it all over again and again and again throughout your life. Folk like to think there always in stage four, winter. But let me tell you, you and I know they’re still in stage one for sure…

Know that while you are at school this church has your back. We will be your biggest cheerleaders, we will pray for you, send you cookies and gift cards. We will want to hear all about your experiences when you come in for holidays and breaks.

But don't come back the same person that left here. Take all you've incorporated from your life and from your time and experiences at Judson and set the world on fire. Don’t wait for Jesus to find you, go find where God is already present in the world or be so bold as to say Jesus is here with me and we’re going to set the world on fire with love.
The world will want to form you in its own image, don’t let it. Keep your center clear and light. Mother Teresa adapted a prayer written by a teacher for his students and placed it above her bed. Mother Teresa, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, had to be reminded every morning and every evening of the difficulty and the tenderness required of her vocation. We pray this prayer for you too:

(Reader, please note the congregation practically yelled out their response in bold - feel free to do this at home, on the bus, or at the coffee shop as you read along)

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

Amen and Amen.

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