Once again, no seminary has chosen me to give the speech at their graduation service. My mother and I don’t get it. We both feel like I’m the perfect person to hand out the kind of inspirational hoo-hah that young ministers need on their big day. I would do a good job of droning on about how the word commencement means to begin and so this is not the end of something but the beginning of a lifelong journey of ministry, a time of marching to the beat of our own drums, taking the road less traveled, lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness, and following our hearts. I can tell them that ministry will be wonderful and that ministry will be hard. They need to do ministry in old ways and they need to throw out the old ways of doing ministry. The church needs more poets and the last thing the church needs is another poet. I had begun a rough draft just in case:
Prominent president, illustrious dean, weary faculty, absent alumni, distinguished trustees, assorted rich people—write a check and you can be a distinguished trustee—I am grateful for the lack of judgment that led to this invitation. Congratulations, graduating seminary students. Today you get more initials after your name and an extra line in your obituary. Your parents are proud and your loan officer is waiting. Your seminary has prepared you to make very little money.
But this is the day the crowd goes wild, mint juleps on the infield, Bubba Watson putting on the green jacket, and you leading the parade, high-stepping it in front of a brass band— trumpets, trombones, and tubas, smiling like the Pope on Easter.
We have set this day aside to applaud and remember.
Remember the students you met in Spiritual Formation who didn’t seem like they belonged in seminary any more than you do.
Remember debating whether you should preach like your professor taught you if you’re in shorts and sandals at youth camp.
Remember the look on your teacher’s face when a student—now a former student—asked, “Instead of Paul Tillich, can I read Joel Osteen for my book review?”
Remember wanting to turn to the person next to you and ask, “Did you know the animals wouldn’t fit in the ark?” but you were smart enough to keep it to yourself.
Remember the first time you heard the word “phylacteries” in New Testament and laughed out loud.
Remember how you wanted to raise your hand to say that your pastor back home has a different idea about the Book of Revelation.
Remember all the books by dead people that they made you read. You wished Augustine had seen a therapist, Brother Lawrence had gotten out of the kitchen once in a while, and Teresa of Avila had received the medication she so clearly needed.
Remember when you started to get it.
Remember when you began hoping to see particular people on the first day of class.
Remember the first time you changed your mind because you were here.
Remember reading a passage in Ezekiel and thinking: “I didn’t know that was in the Bible. I’m not sure that should be in the Bible.”
Remember wondering why the pastoral care professor said you should never sit on a hospital bed. One day you will try it and realize she was right.
Remember falling in love with the church again.
Remember when you thought: “The Jesus in the Gospels is a lot more complicated than what I learned in Sunday school, but I like this Jesus more. I want to follow this Jesus.”
Remember the capstone class that almost made you wish it wasn’t over.
Remember, because now it is time to go make a difference.
Go, lead the church to be more like Jesus than most have imagined a church can be.
Go, lead the church to learn the stories of faith for the purpose of becoming faithful followers.
Go, lead the church to care for one another, share their hopes and dreams, and become sisters and brothers in Christ.
Go, lead the church to overcome the boundaries of race and economics, filled with warm hearts and open minds.
Go, lead the church to honestly look for truth because we are looking for the one who is truth.
Go, lead the church to take the past seriously because it takes the future seriously, to call for authentic worship, costly discipleship, and genuine ministry.
Go, lead the church to become better followers of Jesus.