05 May 2014

Embracing a Vocation: Graduation Time at Judson

A few weeks ago I realized that again no institution of higher (or lower) learning was calling to offer me an invitation to be a commencement speaker.  I thought by now, surely, my high school would have asked me.  Nope.  Commencement address, honoraray doctorate, having summers off, and personal assistant are all personal professional goals I have for my life.  Rather than wait for the commencement address invitation I decided to use the sermon time on the Sunday when the church recognized the graduating seniors to deliver my version of a commencement address. 

I think it went well.  I had the seniors come up to the platform and sit so they could face the congregation. 

Here is the video:
Judson Sermon 20140504 "Embracing a Vocation, Not Pursuing a Job" from Jacqueline Thureson on Vimeo.

And here is the text:

Embracing a Vocation, Not Pursuing a Job
Deuteronomy 8:1-10 & 2 Corinthians
text: “this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Cor. 4:7)
Recognition of Seniors – Second Sunday of Eastertide – May 4, 2014
Judson Memorial Baptist Church – Minneapolis, MN
The Rev’d G. Travis Norvell

            When I was in seminary, in the Fall of ’96, driving in Richmond, VA I heard a Johnny Cash song on the radio.  After the song I headed home, put all of my cds into a large cardboard box, went to Plan9 down in the Fan neighborhood, and traded them all in for the Johnny Cash box set and any other Johnny Cash cds they had.  I now pass onto you my essential Johnny Cash cd.  I know your parents meant well, but if you do not know these songs, well, ur, I just couldn’t bare the thought of someone knowing you were from Judson, that I was your pastor, and you didn’t know these songs. 

            Now for a few questions.
            How many of you switched your majors in college?
            How many of you switched professions more than once?
            More than twice, three times?
            The book of Deuteronomy subscribes to the conditional theory of life, if you do X then Y happens.  Deuteronomy, as you all know, is the second (duetero) telling of the law (nomos), from the Greek, the name coming from the Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew, Tanak, into Greek.  The Biblical authors knew human beings have spotty memories, thus the second telling of the law – Exodus was not enough, I suppose.  Remember, remember the forty long years you wandered in the wilderness, remember, remember, remember.  There is also a tinge of fear in the voice of Moses.  Perhaps he was scared that since he would not be with them in the promised land the Israelites would forget their experiences with God.  Likewise, there is a bit of fear in this day.  We are scared, somewhat, that you too will forget all that happened in your years here at Judson.  Not really, but kind of . 

            Years ago your parents either here, or at another faith community, or in the privacy of their hearts made a promise with God to raise you in a way so that you too would develop a vibrant, life-giving, and liberating faith.  And I must say they, and Judson, have done a helluva job.  And now it is time for you to take what we’ve given you and expand, recreate, thicken, customize, and place your own creative/imaginative mark on it.  And yes, you can reject it as well.

            But what is it that we have given you?  A list.  Here is what we hope you take with you.   First, why a list:

When Roseanne Cash was 18 years old in 1973 she spent the summer on a tour bus with her, finally, clean and sober father, Johnny Cash.  As they were trundling through the South they started talking about songs.  She remembers the conversation this way, “he mentioned one, and I said I didn’t know that one.  And he mentioned another.  I said I don’t that one either, Dad, and he became very alarmed.”  In response that afternoon Johnny Cash compiled a list of 100 essential American songs for his daughter’s education.  I hope this short list sums up your formation of your time growing up at Judson.

1.      We hope we have given you a model of authenticity. 

I am sure you take this eccentric, idiosyncratic, bizarre grouping of individuals that make up Judson you take for granted.   Let me say they are living proof that there is a balm in Gilead.  We are living examples of folk trying their best to follow and make real the way of Jesus in this world, sometimes we do an amazing job and other times not so much.  We’re not seeking perfection, we are seeking wholeness. 
2.  We hope we have given you permission to fail. 

We hope you know it is okay (and you’re even expected) to fail.  The sooner you caress this idea the easier your life will be; better to fail now and realize it is not the end of the world then to let the fear of failure run (and ruin) your life.  Fail and know that God will be present; fall flat on your face and know it is not the end of the world, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “God can use even the wrong road to get you to the right place.”  Start reading Lewis, but first read your Parker Palmer book, then Unto Me by Walter Rauschenbusch

            One more thing about failure, specifically grades.  Here is a little secret the other tour guides wont tell you, “other schools are the only ones who care about grades.”  According to my calculations I graduated at the top of my class in divinity school.  The school even put a nice little gold foil stamp on my diploma that reads with distinction.  But guess what?  Not one search committee has ever asked me for my GPA.  When I go to see a doctor, or a dentist, or a lawyer I never ask them for their GPA or a copy of their transcripts.  When I read a novel it never crosses my mind to think, “I wonder if they were at the top of their class?” 

How many here have had a meaningful conversation about your grades in the last five years?

Once you graduate you, for the most part, will stop talking or even care about your grades.  Author Malcolm Gladwell has even suggested we put a moratorium on talking about our grades or where we went to school.   You’ll be surprised how far you can get in life with a little knowledge, some interpersonal skills, and passion for your vocation.  I’m not saying don’t do your best, but always remember you are more than your GPA.  We know it.  We hope you know it and we hope you make sure others know it. 

            If that wasn’t enough then always remember the wisdom shared by our 43rd President at the 2001 commencement of Yale University.

            To those who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say well done.  And to the C students I say, you, too, can be President of the United States.  A Yale degree is worth a lot, as I often remind Dick Cheney who studied here but left a little early.  So now we know: If you graduate from Yale, you become President; if you drop out, you get to be Vice President. 

3.  We hope we have give you a model of Christianity that focuses on human flourishing, that takes the bible seriously, not literally, that can stand caricatures, and that is overflowing with visions of peace & reconciliation & hope.  We hope you take your studies and integrate them with a social gospel fire.  If we could have be assured and gotten copies in time we would have also got you copies of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  Your life has been shaped by a financial collapse and the awareness of the 1%, income inequality will touch every inch of your life.  You will have to do your part to make sure the world is a just and equitable world. 

            We hope this way of Judson has been as thoughtless as your next breath.  This is the Horace Bushnell model, the erudite antebellum & abolitionists Congregational pastor.  We are hoping osmosis works.  Speaking of osmosis, my Greek and Latin professor encouraged us to sleep with our readers under our pillows; he advocated academic osmosis.  When asked if it will work, he replied, “it cant hurt.” 
4.  Finally, we hope you embrace a vocation and not use your time over the next few years just pursuing a job.  Listen to your life, your choices, your loves, your passions they all are parts of the voice of God.  And I hope you too will consider the ministry.  Like I’ve told my kids, you can be anything you want to be as long as you are radical Baptist pastors.  When they roll their eyes, I reply, how else are we going to create a theological dynasty?  In all seriousness I hope you embrace a life in the service of others.  For 18 years of Sundays you have been surrounded by a community that has given of itself in the service for others. 

            How many of you are ordained?
            How many of you are married to someone who is ordained?
            How many of you went to seminary?
            How many of you have worked on a church staff?
            How many of you are counselors or social workers?
            How many of you are PKs or MKs?
            How many of you have passed on higher paying jobs to remain in a
meaningful vocation?

We have given you a fragile treasure in an earthen vessel, we trust it with you now. 

            In closing.  Because churches like Judson are few and far between you have our blessing to seek a non-American Baptist church, if you cannot find another Judson.  However, if we hear that you have either started attending an evangelical campus group and are going around declaring that you have found the truth and now see the Judson way as wicked & heretical or you are attending a Presbyterian church and loving it, I will form a posse and will arrange an intervention. 

The Lord Bless You and Keep You.  Amen & Amen. 

No comments: