Many of you already know this, but my time as Day School chaplain has come to an end. The administration felt that a chaplain was no longer something the school required. I’m sad, but life in ministry is nothing if not changeable.
Needless to say, this context added an interesting flavor to the end of the school year. I’ve been running around, trying to clean up everything at the school, so that whatever form the chapel program takes, it won’t have to be rebuilt from scratch. And I’ve been thinking about what I want to leave the kids with. I’ve worked with most of these kids every day for two years, and I really do like them. (Most of them. Most of the time.) For some of them, I’m the sole representative of organized religion in their lives, so I thought a lot about what I wanted them to remember from this experience.
This is what I came up with–my sermon at the 8th grade graduation Baccalaureate.
May 21, 2015
You know there are stories that didn’t make the bible, right?
In some of those stories, they talk about Jesus as a child–those mystery years of Jesus between ages 2-12, then ages 12-30. What was he like? What did he get up to?
The people who wrote the stories had some theories. One story has Jesus bringing toy birds to life by the river, and scaring his playmates nearly to death. One story has Jesus getting mad at the neighborhood bully, before turning him into a goat. Then, Mary comes out, yells at Jesus, tells him that WE DO NOT TURN OUR FRIENDS INTO GOATS, and Jesus turns him back.
Another story has Jesus helpfully aiding Joseph in the woodshop. Joseph would make a mistake, and cut the wood too short, and Jesus would stretch it back out again through MAGIC. Eventually, Joseph got so unnerved by this that he sent Jesus to his room.
There’s a good reason these stories didn’t make the New Testament–they’re more than a little ridiculous, and they sound more like superhero stories than they do stories from the Bible. But they do sort of underline something that comes through again in the Actual Gospel reading for this service–
Jesus must have been an obnoxious kid.
I mean it–he must have been a real pain to be around. He must have sounded like one of those toddlers that you all were, not too long ago—asking why all the time, and rarely being satisfied. He was into everything. He didn’t take direction well. And while it’s crystal clear that he had an enormous heart and was incredibly loving, I’m sure there were times (like in this story) that Mary and Joseph wondered why he couldn’t be just a little less high maintenance. There must have been times when the two of them went to bed at night and thought about how they loved him a lot, and he was a really great kid, but man, he was tiring.
Because, all he did was ask questions. That’s all he does when he goes to the temple with his parents in Jerusalem. He runs away from them, hides for days on end, so he can stay in the temple asking question upon question upon question, and talking with the scribes and the priests. So, you’ve got to figure that Jesus was one of those kids who wanted to know ‘why’ all the time and constantly.
(Do you remember being like that? Do you remember a time when all you wanted to do was figure stuff out, figure out the world around you?)
It’d wear anyone out. Probably wore out the priests in the Temple, too, after 3 days.
But you know what? All those questions turned out to be important. All those questions were how Jesus learned. They were how he figured out what parts of the world needed to be changed, and what parts were fine as they were. They were how he came to love the people around him, by learning their stories and their weaknesses. Asking questions, trying to learn, being curious—that was how grew in wisdom and faith.
That process, that asking questions process—that’s what we call an education. That’s what we’re here tonight to celebrate. Now, you graduates, you are here because we are marking together this milestone in your education.
And if there’s one thing I hope we’ve taught you it is this: questions are good. They are, in fact, the goal of all this education, all these years of going to school, of studying books, of taking tests. Because the best questions are not the ones that yield answers—the best questions are the ones that lead you to deeper and more profound questions.
The goal of education is to learn enough so that you can start asking the deeper, wiser questions, so that your questions can lead you further and further into that mystery we call truth. The goal is not to teach you everything—to give you all the answers you need, so that you head out into the world knowing more than anyone else.
The goal of education is to illustrate exactly how much you don’t know, and exactly how much there is out there to learn. Hopefully, over these past years here at St. Paul’s, your teachers have inspired you with curiosity to learn more, to ask more, to find out for yourselves.
Because your education, really, is just beginning. You are just now approaching the starting line of life–we’re waving the checkered flag at you now.
Going forward from this moment, you will be faced with a whole wide world to explore. A wide world that you can confront in one of two ways—you can either hold on tight to the answers that you’ve been given, keep to the paths, and stare at your feet as you go, or you can let your curiosity lead you into new and winding paths, you can ask more and more, learn more and more, and gaze up at possibilities above your heads that no one ever saw before.
It’s your world out there. Yours to explore, yours to uncover. So as you head on out there, recall Jesus heading to the temple. Remember this enthusiasm, remember this excitement. And never be afraid to ask your questions. It’s those questions that will make you wise.