Baccalaureate Liturgy 2017
On this day before graduation, we gather to witness God’s blessings on this graduating class. It brings me so much joy to celebrate this group of young women who have stunned me by their brilliance, compassion, and amazing ability to choose just the right Pandora station!
In the gospel today, Jesus inspires a movement of belovedness in his rousing call to remain rooted in love as we grow in love. Jesus reminds us that our rootedness in God’s love is the very source of personal and communal growth.
At this point in John’s gospel, Jesus saw straight through everyone’s front. He knew that love always rises above rhetoric. Jesus used a simple metaphor to get this across, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” The vine, the strongest root, is God. We are the branches, an extension of God.
The thing with branches is they are hard to distinguish from one another – they are connected and tangled together. There is no hierarchy in this image. This is how God sees us. God does not exclude anyone because of race, immigration status, political party, education, or gender. But our society does…
We get lost in the calculus of implicit and explicit hierarchy. You need only look at the media for evidence of our love of ranking. We rank everything from celebrities, colleges, jobs; and we are all too familiar with the ranking of people’s worth from the perspectives of those in power. These fabricated hierarchies construct the platforms used to oppress. As a class you are knowledgeable of and have challenged these constructions by offering your courageous voices in the service of justice. Rooted in God’s love we can break through oppressive structures toward a resilient future if we have radical hope – the kind of hope for a future goodness that transcends the current ability to see it.
The God of our life and history rests her finger on the pulse of radical hope: our quickening desires to kick down the walls that bolster intolerance. We must work and dream and write and speak in a way that aims to demolish divisions. In doing so we allow space for everyone to grow unhindered by barriers. I have seen you create this space many times: I have seen you kneel down to color with preschoolers at St. Vincent’s, graciously walk our elders down Piedmont Ave, and shout in protest of bigotry rallying for equity. These radical acts come from radical love.
When we act from a place of love, we collectively build momentum for the creation of beloved community. We sustain beloved community when we hold space for each other. To hold space is a willingness to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they are on.
To hold space for someone requires loving attention. So, we can’t walk around with our headphones in all the time because loving and being loved is a responsibility. In other words, we must show up for others. Showing up is one of the most powerful and difficult spiritual practices. Showing up for someone is difficult because we have to check our ego at the door, actively listen, and honor differences. Rather than being a dreadfully difficult task, this invitation to hold space and show up means that you matter to others. Because…and I need you to hear this… who you are does and will make a difference to someone needing only what you can offer. In World Religions, you learned about the Jewish belief in Tikkun Olam, that beautiful belief that each of us contains a piece of what’s needed to restore the world. From Islam you learned that each of us has a responsibility to bring peace to the world. Can you imagine that exactly who you are is exactly what’s needed?
Picture again the vine and branches…Branches bear fruit but they don’t live off of their own fruit. We do not bear fruit for ourselves, we bear fruit for others. We bear fruit in the form of care for the life and dignity of every person, advocacy for the rights of workers, practicing environmental stewardship, and the list goes on. What I’m getting at is this: you matter because your life is not for you. This may seem harsh but it’s actually fantastic news. This means your life is not small and it’s not just yours. It is inherently purposeful.
Your life is not for you because your life is your message. Think about the poignant signs that were carried at the Women’s Marches across the world this spring. Women and men marched shouting their messages of anger and hope. So many refused to allow others to silence their message. One sign that stayed with me after the march quoted a Mexican proverb, “they tried to bury us but they didn’t know we were seeds.” What I know to be true is that you cannot be buried because you are powerful, viable extensions of the vine. God sees this in you even if you cannot see it for yourself. God envisions a resilient future through the lens of your humanity and divinity. You, dear family, possess multitudes of goodness. You possess an unlimited capacity to love through walls, an ability to hold space for others to grow, and a unique identity that will serve the world.
Really it’s simple: because you are beloved, you must love. Our becoming of beloved community demands that we remain rooted in love as we grow in love. So, think like a tree. This moment in time is just one ring, and a tree will have many. Send your roots down deep while always reaching out, especially when the climate is most tumultuous. Now, instead of asking, I am proclaiming: exactly who you are is exactly what the world needs. Amen.