maggie-l-walker-governors-school-logo-smJune 13, 2019

A hearty congratulations to the Maggie Walker Governor’s School Class of 2019. I pray God’s richest blessings upon each of you as you reach this tremendous milestone in your lives. All of the work, the late nights, the tests, quizzes, exams, homework, projects, classes, and lectures are finally and gloriously done. No more pencils, no more books, etc., etc., etc.,

I would like to begin my remarks this evening by acknowledging that our gathering is smaller in number that we hoped and prayed it would be with the passing of your classmate Eli Greer two years ago. In his honor, I would like to share a poem with you. I had already planned to read one stanza and discuss it, but tonight it seems fitting to read it in its entirety. The poem is one of my favorites, a poem titled “To an Athlete Dying Young,” composed by the English poet A.E. Housman.

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market-place;

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers

After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,

The fleet foot on the sill of shade,

And hold to the low lintel up

The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Graduations are typically times of, at once, looking backwards and forwards. We gather to reflect on the successful journey that has brought you to this esteemed milestone. We also gather to gaze into the future, imagining possibilities, discussing the responsibilities borne by each new class of graduates as you depart to make your mark in, and on, the world.

For a moment, however, I would like for each of us to turn our attention not to those who will graduate from high school this week. Instead, I would like for all of us to consider for a moment those people who will be born this week and in the months and years to come, for this nascent generation will offer us something, a challenge perhaps, that each of us, and we as a society ignore at our peril. Someday, as they reach maturity in the decades to come, just as you are no doubt doing now, they will ask us, each of us, questions that it behooves us to learn to answer well.

Allow me to share with you how I know this to be true.

I am the father of two strong and wonderful daughters, one seventeen and the other ten. More than they realize, they already hold me accountable for being kind of Christian, the kind of pastor, and the kind of man that I am and will be going forward. They have not yet done so, but I know them well enough to know that someday they will look back, and they ask me about these current years of my life and ministry, and how I utilized the resources, the life, that God has entrusted to me.

I know that someday they will ask me about my days here at Reveille. They will ask me about the days when it seemed the world was falling apart, and I had this tall pulpit in this great sanctuary, when I had a large budget and hundreds of people each week who would give me a listen, and they will ask me “What did you say, and what did you do?”

When the United Methodist Church who raised me, baptized me, confirmed me, educated me, ordained me, and gave me my life’s vocation decided to treat a subset of its membership as second-class citizens based solely on who they love: My children will ask me, “What did you say? What did you do?”

When our government, as a matter of policy, and as a punitive measure where, by no standard did the punishment fit the “crime,” locked children in cages: “What did you say? What did you do?”

When gun violence, especially in our schools where our young people gathered for the simple purpose of learning, became an accepted fact of life as we refused to have the hard conversations our nation needs: “What did you say? What did you do?”

When we passed laws that re-victimized women who were already victims themselves: “What did you say? What did you do?”

When white supremacist groups were on the rise and anti-Semites were marching in our streets. “Daddy, what did you say? What did you do?”

You have heard some of my causes. What will yours be?

Indifference is a luxury of privilege and each of you has a pulpit in the world, for each of you has a voice.

Here is the thing: it is not merely my children who will ask these questions, it is God, who in the fullness of time, who will ask me, and ask you, and ask all of us together these two questions as well.

In the fifth stanza of the poem with which I began, A.E. Housman writes:

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

Members of the Class of 2019, as you depart to go an make your mark in this world, remember to live in such a way that you can stand beneath the weight of the questions that the next generation will ask of you, and remember to live with such courage and fortitude that you challenge the powers, the principalities, and the people of the generations born before you to live lives, to make choices, to enact policies, and to pass laws such that they, too, can bear the weight of your questions and your challenges.

Regarding Houseman’s poem with which I began: an adulthood given to the practice of ordained ministry has convinced me that the only way for our names to truly outlive us is to not seek the laurels of victory for ourselves, but to generously and persistently give ourselves in service to others, resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. I believe that this is what Jesus means when he tells us in the Gospel of John that we gain our lives by losing them, and it is my prayer that your gain comes in great measure in the giving away of your life, to God and to one another.

So, congratulations to the class of 2019. I can say without a trace of hyperbole that each of you has received a truly world-class high school education over the course of these last four years. As you go forth from Maggie Walker Governor’s School and into this world with all its great blessings, its great needs, and its ever so great challenges, what will you say? What will you do?

 

Gloria In Excelsis Deo.