A Graduation Speech I Would Love to Give But Will Never Be Asked to Deliver

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Most of you will not remember my name so I’m reluctant to give it. However, convention dictates I introduce myself. I am Richard Bryant, professional student, Methodist Minister, and veteran of three graduation exercises. I will be your commencement speaker. I hope to tell you a few things you’ve never heard a graduation speaker say and because they’re new; maybe you’ll remember them. If I make you a little angry, uncomfortable, and question some of the truth you walked in here with this evening; then I’ll have done my job.

First, I want to offer my congratulations on graduating from high school. You’ve just finished the easiest part of your life. Your life will become immensely harder from this moment on. The past eighteen years have been punctuated by daily trips to a place of love and comfort. You’ve lived with your families. Your lives have been easy. Life only becomes more demanding from here. The world will not love, care, and appreciate you in the same way in which you’ve grown accustomed to in the past eighteen years. You’ve done a good thing today but you’ve not done it alone. This momentous event we celebrate tonight was the easiest part so far. Get yourself ready for tomorrow.

Secondly, take a look around. Today, you look your best. If you’re one to be concerned about appearances, superficial things like weight, hair, and skin; tonight is the best it gets. From here on out you will put on weight, you guys will grow bald like me, and stress will take a toll on your physical appearance. Maybe tonight is a night to think about what makes each other beautiful beneath our skin, hair, and other physical features?

Third, take another look around. You may never see some of these people again. They will leave this place to never return. Some will move, some will die, and some people will simply stop returning your messages. This is life. Someone needs to tell you the truth. You’ve heard about the truth. It’s like poetry, not everyone enjoys it. So enjoy this moment. If you’ve got any lingering baggage with anyone, tonight is the night to make peace. Be nice to each other. Say something kind; find meaningful words to say tonight. Turn to your neighbor and tell them, “I love you.” Bear hug one another. If I don’t see it happening, when this over, I’m coming down there.

Fourth, if you think you’re life is mapped out on a perfect course, think again. Most maps are out of date as soon as they are made and GPS’s are becoming increasingly unreliable. Most people in your generation will change jobs four to five times over the course of their life. That is an economic reality. And those jobs will have nothing to do with what you studied in college. Be flexible and be ready for change. Keep learning. If you see yourself in a professional or personal dead end, make a change.

Fifth, it doesn’t matter how good your GPA is here, how much scholarship money you’ve won, where you’re going to school (or not), or if you graduate from college with a high GPA and a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford if you’re a crummy human being who treats people like our world treats fossil fuels. Would you rather have good grades and be what the world deems successful but be unable to look yourself in mirror and say, “I am happy with who I am and my relationship to the human race.” Be a good person who is successful; in whatever form success comes.  That is a tough challenge. I believe you are ready to meet it.

A few additional thoughts:

Thank everyone who is here tonight with these words: “This diploma is part yours, thank you for your help.” This includes your  teachers and staff.

You will have no memory of the drama, conversations, and things which held life or death importance over the last for your years by the time you are 30.

When you talk about Instagram with you kids, they will roll their eyes and say “you’re old”. Your expensive phones will be sold at the thrift store. Spend wisely.

You will remember people. It’s better have one or two people you can count on than 500 people on Facebook loosely known as your “friends”.

You can be happy, successful, and do good things in the world no matter who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or how many justices sit on the Supreme Court.

Waste your time on the looking at blue sky and birds in flight or listen to the sweet sculptural rhythms of jazz legend Charles Mingus; not on who’s sleeping with who or who got drunk at a frat party.

Lots of people love you.  Pay it forward.  There are so many unloved people in the world.

Good night, good luck, and God Speed on your journey.

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Inconceivable-A Sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21_

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I want to begin, briefly this morning by telling you about a movie called The Princess Bride.  It’s one of my favorite movies and Mary loves it as well.  The movie was released in 1987; so it’s been around a while. There’s a chance you’ve seen the movie but just in case, I want to tell you a bit about the film.

There is a beautiful princess (who’s not quite a princess).  Her name is Buttercup.  Buttercup is in love with her farmhand, Wesley.  Wesley is poor and impoverished.  Eventually, like many from our own island seeks his fortune at sea.  Word returns to poor Buttercup that Wesley has been captured and killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts.  Her heart broken, she is betrothed in marriage to Humperdinck, the Crown Prince of Florin.  On the night before her wedding, she’s kidnapped by a mismatched crew of bandits; a Romanian giant, a Spanish swordsman, and an Italian intellectual.  Humperdinck is planning to have her murdered and blame a neighboring country, Guilder.  Her body will then be planted on the Guilder frontier.

In the course of the kidnapping, which is a ruse (not a ransom) to provoke a war between the neighboring kingdoms of Florin and Guilder, the famed Dread Pirate Roberts appears from nowhere.  Does he want to rescue the princess or kidnap her for his own benefit?  The Spaniard first raises the question.  The pirate’s ship is gaining on the kidnapper’s vessel.  After examining all the possibilities, the Italian intellectual answers with one word, “inconceivable”.

The next morning, the three kidnappers come ashore and taking the princess, and climb impossible “Cliffs of Insanity”.   While ascending the Yosemite like cliffs, they look back and see that the Dread Pirate Roberts is again following them.  Using their own rope, he’s right behind, scurrying up the rope in a manner that can only mean he will soon catch them.  When this observation is made, we again receive the one word response:  “inconceivable”.  By this time the Spaniard is catching on.  He says to the Italian, the ring leader of the kidnappers, “You keep using that word.  I’m beginning to think you don’t know what it means.”

Inconceivable

Do we know what the word means?  Are we using it properly?  Please, check your dictionaries.  You might want to Google it now, as I am about to use it.

It is inconceivable that God would not burst out of the room in which the disciples would have kept God contained.  We cannot keep the Holy Spirit contained the Upper Rooms of our lives.  From our private devotions, prayers, or even Sunday morning attendance; at some point it will spill out onto the street.

It is inconceivable that the movement Jesus began would be limited to the people Jesus knew and interacted with.   I resist the urge to call the first group of disciples huddled in the upper room, waiting on the Holy Spirit, “the First United Methodist Church of Jerusalem”.  Though I admit, it’s something I’ve called them before.  They weren’t a church; they weren’t supposed to be a church.  That idea came much later.  They were the Jesus movement.  As the late Clarence Jordan, translator of the Cotton Patch Gospels, they were concerned with Jesus’ “doings and happenings”.  They knew each other’s and happenings.  Doings and happenings did not mean gossip about Simon Peter’s mother in law or that when Jesus called James and John the Sons of Thunder, he meant they passed gas all night long.  It meant they were always on the move doing more, meeting more people, experiencing the happenings of life in different places than they did in previous days.  Staying put wasn’t an option for the disciples.

It is inconceivable that God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit would ask you to check your identity at the door, and abandon what makes you, you, before you entered the kingdom of God.  You don’t have to declare pre-existing conditions to the Holy Spirit.

It is inconceivable that other languages of the spirit were speaking in unintelligible tongues that no one understands.  The real, living, actual languages we speak define who we are.  They are part of a brain, or DNA, and our identity.  Your language defines you, your baggage, your culture, your family, the food you eat, and the hands your eat it with.  This is real tangible stuff.  It is inconceivable that God does not deal with the tangible means of giving men and women the ability to speak in known foreign languages.

God wants to speak our language; this is why it is inconceivable that God would not want to embrace at the most basic level of our humanity.

It is inconceivable that the Holy Spirit would say; you must speak my language.  The Holy Spirit is saying, I will speak your language.  The Holy Spirit is saying, I will go to the classes, learn the grammar, the crazy alphabets, the weird pronunciations, and speak to you in a way you can understand.

Pentecost is a God driven language experience.  God wants to talk to us, through the Holy Spirit, in dialogue in conversation; in our normal language and dialogue.  When we roll our eyes about inclusive language debates and politically correct speech; please remember this:  the birthday of the church is marked by a festival of divinely ordained politically correct speech. God doesn’t want to offend us.  The Holy Spirit spoke to the Parthians in Parthian, to the Romans in Latin, Arabs in Arabic and this offended the people of Jerusalem so much so they accused the disciples of being drunk.  Good upstanding religious people not only do they not speak Arabic, Latin, or Parthian they don’t speak about religious matters and God’s dream for the Kingdom of God to be established on Earth.

When we pray, we’ve created so many euphemisms; clichés, and expectations, people think you need to know Robert’s Rules of Order to pray.  If nothing else, the story of Pentecost should lay waste to that heretical fallacy.  If we want to talk to God or about God, we do it like we do at the store, post office, or over the dinner table.  Let God speak to us and may we receive the God’s words and God’s people with open hearts, open minds, and open doors.

 

An Invented Church and Invented Rules

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I love baseball but despise inside baseball talk.  Following the tweets and online conversations from the first day and a half from General Conference have been nothing but inside baseball conversations.  You’ve not lived until you’ve heard over privileged and over educated white people use parliamentary procedure as a weapon.  Here’s my synopsis: snark, more snark, attempts to see who can be the wittiest and perennial jokes about all such gatherings that are too boring to recount here.  Frankly, it’s depressing as hell.  If Wesleyan spirituality were oil, I’d be more than a quart low.

In the self-righteous heat of arguments over rules to determine the future of the United Methodist Church; it is easy for some to forget that we are an invented church.  We have no claim to apostolic succession.  Without the benefit of rules, presiding officers, bishops, or official permission John Wesley invented this church from nothing.  Wesley created our movement simply because he could not continue to exist as he so desired in the Church of England.

Did God direct this decision or administratively was it simply too hard to continue to live by the status quo?  Was he mad at being told “no” by his Anglican Bishop? No matter how you slice this onion, he made up his own church.  Were he alive today and to replicate his actions inside the current structure of United Methodism, he’d be tried before the Judicial Council and removed from the Order of Elders he helped to create.

Ask an Episcopal, Anglican, or Elder in our own church today what would happen if they started ordaining clergy? Inventing ideas that buck the status quo which challenge the people in power are met with swift reprisal.  John Wesley would not find a place to speak at General Conference, he couldn’t get elected to be a delegate, and those with a vested interest in the invented status quo would win, again.  We can pretend to revere the man all we want (quote him like a political candidate quotes Thomas Jefferson) but he’d be on the fringe of the fringe today.

How did John Wesley come to invent our Methodist church?  Ultimately, it was because his own Anglican church was invented by a fat man seeking a big fat divorce.  We may argue fancy theological reasons, but Wesley joined a tradition created for marital convenience and European power politics.   Methodism is the product of human invention.  Sometimes God has been involved.  More often than not, we are here because people couldn’t get divorced, white men in fancy robes said no, and people simply made stuff up.   Given the abundance of humanity under-girding our invention, shouldn’t we be careful how much we claim to be speaking for God? If we’re not careful, we’ll end up speaking solely about our own wishes and desires.

Who are we fooling by trying to convince each other we’re dealing with traditions that can’t or shouldn’t be changed?  Ourselves.

 

My Teenager Confessed to Eating Cubed Soap in Our Bathroom

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How do things like this happen?  I don’t know.  They usually arise from ignorance.   I want to openly admit my ignorance about soap.  I know very little about soap.  This is my fault.  I live within driving distance of noted soap experts.  Now, I do use soap multiple times a day.  When given the opportunity to purchase soap, I buy products which claim to kill 99.9% of germs.  How the soap smells and looks are a secondary concern.  I want the germs to die.

Sometime over the past few weeks, the designated soap buyer (also known as Mother), purchased hand soap for our daughter’s shared bathroom.  The soap came in the shape of colored cubes; red, yellow, and orange.  Probably intended to be more decorative than functional, these soap cubes were as large as the ice from a decent ice machine.  Imagine, however, if you’re not as tuned in to the decorative soap world, thirteen, and hungry.  What might these cubes appear to be?  To the untrained eye, they look like huge chunks of candy, left for the taking, on the edge of the bathroom sink.

Last night, Caroline came from her shower and stood before the assembled family council.  “I have something to confess,” she said.  “What is it?” her mother asked.  She looked so sad, much a like a kitten rejected by those tasked with creating kitten memes.

“You know those red cubes that look like candy by the sink,” she asked.  “Yes, the soap.”  “Well, I took a bite out of one.  I didn’t know it wasn’t candy and my mouth still tastes like soap.  It’s not funny!”  Her older sister was more concerned if she spat the half eaten soap back into the dish.  Jordan didn’t want to wash her hands with Caroline’s confusion.

“No, it wasn’t funny,” I said, lying through my teeth.  Caroline confessed to voluntarily eating soap.  It was a little funny.   In her defense, they did look delicious and inviting.   This is a hard one to figure out.  I can either tell her to hold her snacking until she gets out of the shower or put a jar of mints by the toilet paper.  It is difficult to put a price on sanity.  I’m leaning toward making the bathroom an environment without edible looking products.  Wait till I tell her about the time I tried to spread a sea-shell shaped bar of soap on a piece of toast.

Did Jesus’ Mother Send Him Out With Clean Underwear (Ephesians 1:15-23)

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Mothers are always sending us out into the world.  It’s one of their two or three primary duties.  They’ve got to send us out, bring us back, and clean us up when we walk back in.  Motherhood seems to be a never ending cycle of those three actions.  There is one critical item to the motherly cycle of sending children (whether grown or not) into the world.  What are you never, ever supposed to leave home without?  Clean underwear.  Yes, that’s right.  You are always supposed to leave home as my grandmother used to say, “With a clean pair of drawers.”  Why is that?  Because, even though you may have been in an awful bus accident or run over by a cement mixer, it will reflect negatively on your mother or grandmother’s ability to keep house if they find  you with a dirty pair of underwear.  Your mother is afraid, that at the funeral, people will turn to each other and start to talk, “you know I hear he was found with dirty underwear.  How could she send him out that way?”  This, brothers and sisters is not the last gift you want to give to your mother; gossip at a church funeral.

There may have been other things about which your mother stressed.  I always had a few clean tissues folded up neatly in my pocket.  That was until I graduated to full-fledged handkerchief.  She didn’t want me to be caught with either a face full or handful of mucus.  Mother knew I had a genetic predisposition to snot filled violent sneezes.  So, she sent me out with something unique to me and my needs.  I suspect it was that way with each of you.  Our mothers wanted us to be prepared for the world we would eventually face on our own and without them.

Enter, or should I say, exit Jesus.  At some point Jesus knew his time with the disciples would end permanently.  The resurrection was a temporary reality; designed to bridge the gap between the lives the disciples led with Jesus and what they would be asked to do without Jesus.  Like a mother, Jesus was finally sending them out into the world without him, on their own, and to continue the work he started.  Today is Ascension Sunday, the day Jesus steps back once and for all and gives the disciples their clean underwear.

What does Jesus giving the disciples a clean pair of theological underwear look like?  For one, he tells them we’re taking this message from the particular to the universal.   Since Israel came on the scene, Israel’s relationship with God has been the defining factor of its identity.  God is our God and we are God’s people to the exclusion of every other nation, tribe, or God.  This idea, as Jesus himself notes, is written in the stone of the 10 commandments and embodied by the Temple.  This is changing.  We’re going from the particular to the universal.  God’s relationship will extend beyond Israel to the Universal, to everyone.  It’s going to take another character, whom we’ve just barely met, named Paul to really take this idea to the streets.  Starting from here in Jerusalem, Jesus says, I need you go to everyone.   Think about it this way.  Along time ago, God was placed in one room (in a big house) and told never to leave that room.  We’re now saying God has the run of the whole house (which is like Planet Earth).   Imagine the energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, and power God is going to want to go from place to place, room to room, and see what’s all over this big house?  We’ve got to be there every step of the way.  We are partners in the process.

We are being sent out, with our spiritually clean underwear, just as Mom would give us, to be partners with God.  Our calling is to stay out a little past our bed times because the mono in monotheism doesn’t mean “God” is property of one group of people.  God belongs to everybody, everywhere.

I told you it was Paul who really takes it to the streets.  He’s the guy who kidnaps monotheistic jelly jar, opens the jar, and starts making Jesus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone to eat.  The key for Paul’s work, as he tells the Ephesians, is gratitude and prayer. Gratitude and prayer move God forward.  They fill people up like one of mom’s good peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Gratitude and prayer go to places that are difficult to reach, just like a good sandwich does when you’re hungry.

Paul writes to the Ephesians.  I’ve heard that the word is reaching you.   This is a good thing.  For Paul, this is a day like no other.  This is a good day.   Because it is a good day and good things are happening, prayer is an outgrowth of Paul’s gratitude.  “I don’t stop giving thanks to you when I remember you in my prayers.”  He might as well have said, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey.”

Just because we’ve made a little progress doesn’t mean we stop with the prayers and focus on your underwear and how we’ll feed the community with more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  If we’re not grateful for how far we’ve come, we will never pray our way forward.  We will become monotheists once again, not because we worship one God, but because our worship of one God stops and ends with us.

Paul goes on to say, I pray that the “eyes of our hearts will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call,” we’re called to share this sunshine idea of one God with many people.  Prayers and gratitude; Paul like our mothers spent much time in prayer and giving thanks. It’s also a key to opening our own hearts to ministering to everyone.

Listen to me!  Every child wants to be listened to!  What do we do as soon as we come home from school?  We listen to what happened that day at school.  Everyone wants to be heard but it is so important to listen to what is being said and unsaid.  I do enjoy the stories from school.  Who sat with who, who’s mad at who, and all the goings and comings of their lives.  I can say much of this because most of them are gone this weekend.   Paul also says listening is key to being sent out, with our clean gospel underwear, into the big wide world.

“Since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people,” Paul tells the Ephesians.  He’s been listening to them, hearing about them, and paying attention to their stories.  I imagine Paul heard many stories.  The Corinthians were loveless jerks, the Galatians were hard to get along with, and the Philippians were big into sports metaphors.  Somehow, through it all, he heard the Ephesians were running on all cylinders.  Many of the churches he worked with had trouble working with “all God’s people”.  That’s why that phrase is notable.  We’re supposed to love “all God’s people”.    How well are we listening to the God things going on around us?  Or are we simply feeding of the shared negativity?

 

Your Basic Guide to Handling Mother’s Day

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Mother’s Day (or Mothering Sunday in the UK) is not a Christian Holiday. It has absolutely no place in the liturgical life of the church. It’s a day, originated by two Methodist women from West Virginia in the late 19th century. Their goal was to make the day a national holiday. They certainly didn’t foresee it becoming the 20 million dollar a year industry it is today. In one sense, every day is Mother’s Day in the church. Each time we recite the creed, we honor the Mary, the Mother of God. Throughout the year, we tell the story of strong mothers and women who shaped our faith and built the early church. When Matthew recites Jesus’ family tree, five women (all mothers) among countless men are cited as Jesus’ most important ancestors. Every Sunday is Mother’s Day. The church is the product of countless mothers.

So what should we do this Mother’s Day Sunday?

1. Pretend you Mother has no computer, access to the internet, and is illiterate. She can’t read your heart warming messages on Facebook. Pick up a telephone and call her. Tell her thank you. Tell her you love her. Leave the internet out of the equation.  If you are able to see her in person, do that.  You are beyond blessed if you have that option.  Not everyone lives close enough to do so.  So, go do it.  Are you waiting on a golden ticket from Willy Wonka?

2. Do not buy a card to make the Big Greeting Card industry richer. Buy a blank piece of paper. Write down how you feel about your mom. Buy a stamp. Mail it to her. No longer pretend she is illiterate.

3. Buy her something she’ll appreciate, enjoy, or use.

4. If your Momma has gone to be with Jesus. pray. If you need help on how to pray for your Mom, see me at 11:00 am tomorrow.

5. Remember, we’re using the word Mother to include Mother figures. If your biological mother wasn’t in your life, someone else probably played a mother like role. Apply and repeat as often as needed.