Biglerville High School Class of 2017 Baccalaureate Service 30 May 2017
(“Footprints” Jeremiah 29:11-14 1 Timothy 4:12, 14-16)
[This is the message given to the 2017 graduating class of Biglerville High School at their Baccalaureate service. The initial part of this message was a conversation with the graduating class who sat in the front pews of the church]
“Do not let Anyone Despise You – Do not Neglect the Gift that is You!”
How many of you can sing “Itsy, Bitsy Spider?” How many of you can do the motions? It’s ok to smile in church!
How many of you have cell phones on you right now? What’s the cell phone policy at school? Do your parents or pastors allow cell phones to be seen/heard in church?
How many of you have FaceTimed with someone? Who do you FaceTime with the most?
There is not a time when my wife and I don’t FaceTime with our three-year-old grandson that he doesn’t want to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and do the motions with us over the phone! Sometimes he even kisses the phone he has in front of him! Any of you have similar experiences?
When he does that, what do you think is going on with him?
I think, even without him being able to verbalize it, Jaxon (grandson) wants to be connected with people he recognizes. He wants to feels secure with people he trusts. I know he can’t say it, but I think that’s what is going on with him, every time he sees us on that tiny little screen. I think he is showing us what every one of us wants!
We want to be connected with others!
We want to feel secure with others!
We want to be accepted by others!
We want to trust others.
We want others to trust us!
There is a story1 about a unique form of logging that is practiced by some villagers of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. What the natives do if a tree is too large to be felled with an ax, is they cut down the tree by yelling at it. Woodsmen with special powers creep up on a tree at dawn and suddenly scream at the tree at the top of their lungs. They continue to do this for 30 days. At that point the tree dies and falls over. The theory behind this process is that yelling and screaming kill the spirit of the tree. And according to the villagers, it always works.
Sounds like such a quaint and charming habit of the jungle. Screaming at trees! Sounds very primitive and naive! But we who are sophisticated do our own share of yelling! Maybe not at trees to make them die…but we yell at our cell phones. We yell at the TV sets and our lawn mower. There’s a man down my street who yells at his car a lot. A few weeks ago one of my neighbors yelled at a stepladder for most of an afternoon.
We yell at traffic and we yell umpires, at ATM machines and at our pets. We yell at our parents. We yell at our politicians, maybe even our pastors. We yell at those who look different than we might look, those who talk a different language. We yell at Muslims and Latinos and African Americans.
We do a lot of yelling, either out loud or from within ourselves. And we most often do it out of impatience or ignorance or fear. It’s pretty easy to kill another person’s spirit!
In the first scripture reading we heard, the prophet Jeremiah gives us the assurance of God’s kindness and love, the assurance that God will walk with us and not leave us. I know that is really hard to believe when we’re having a hard day!
That reading from First Timothy is a bit trickier because most of the time we focus on the first 12 words of that reading, “Do not let anyone look down on you because of your youth!” St. Paul is writing that to Timothy a young man, who is very close to your age. He says, “Set an example of good conduct. Pay close attention to the way you treat others.”
And I think he is saying a bit more. Just as you don’t want anyone to treat you differently because you are young, he’s saying, don’t treat others differently just because they may not be exactly like you.
I think about that a lot in today’s world. Right here on roads not far from where we are this evening, I know that cars are being stopped by Immigration. I also know there are Apps for iPhones that have become outlets for racism and sexism and other threats to people who are different. I know we all do things sometimes that separate us from people who are different from us.
Those Solomon Islanders may be on to something. Yelling at living things does tend to kill the spirit in them. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will break our spirits and our hearts….
So, Class of 2017, I don’t know what you expected to hear from me this evening, but I wanted to give you an adult message. And so I want to go back to my grandson and FaceTiming. I believe that what we all want is to be connected.
My prayer for you is that you leave here this evening, I want you to believe that all people can work together, live together, get along with each other and love one another.
While Jesus was on this earth, He commanded us to love one another just as he has loved us. And I know that no one is perfect. We all get moody and angry with each other. Very often we can be pretty difficult to live with and sometimes even to like.
But we are a people loved by God! We can disagree with each other but we can never question God’s love for the person we disagree with.
Class of 2017, you have the power to destroy a person’s spirit; but you have an even greater power: the power to heal broken spirits and broken hearts and broken communities. When you are down, that one set of footprints will be God carrying you. So, even as you graduate from Biglerville High School, even though you are young, don’t you dare let anyone look down on you because of your youth! Don’t you dare sell yourselves short because you are young! Amen!
1 All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. 1988. Robert Fulghum . p, 19.