Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 6/03/2012

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

Four weeks ago, Nancy and I sat under the tent on the campus of Colby-Sawyer College, and heard Tom Galligan speak to the 2012 graduating class.  As he spoke, I began to think about what I might say if given the opportunity...  and then I wondered what friends might say or family members... or some of you.  During the last couple of weeks, I have gotten some remarkable responses -- clever and profound...and worth a hearing... and I think in the future I might outsource all my sermons.

In fact I’m running all of your ideas by President Galligan and he will choose the best work and then he will choose the best words and ideas and then he will choose the Commencement speaker for next year 2013... and that person will get an Honorary Doctorate and a Hood... and his or her picture in the Kearsarge Shopper!

Here are some of the ideas I’ve received:

     Someone said simply:  Faith, Hope and Love...

     Someone said: Be honest with yourself, find your passion, and serve others -- big ways and small...

     Someone said:  You need a notebook, strong boots, and a compass.

     Someone said:

          a.  The Earth - understand it, care for it, leave it better than you found it.

          b.  Listening and Understanding, especially differences

          c.  Gratitude and Love -- for good grace and  abundance.

     Someone said:  Accept what you know as your realistic limitations.  On the other hand, don’t listen to adults in anything -- they’ll just tell you it can’t be done.

     Someone said:  Be brave and try.  Be comfortable with yourself.

“The New York Times” stated that the most common words in Commencement Addresses are:   “be yourself,” “dream”, “others”, “risk” and “reward”.

Thank you for all of these.  This was not merely an exercise; they represent some serious thoughts about the challenges to America’s college graduates and to the rest of us rethinking our goals, our lifestyles, and our priorities.  We are going to print these, so we can all live with them for a while, and see what they might say to us.Once more, thank you very much!

Now, as your Commencement Speaker, I’m going to suggest 3 composite ideas,3 metaphors that I think represent the overlapping, and the amazing coalescence of many of your ideas.

Here goes:  First, the symbol is a mirror and it focuses on the question “Who am I?”Second, the symbol is a wash basin and responds to the question: “Why am I here?”Third, the symbol is a sailboat representing the wind and answers the question “What is my source?

To answer the fundamental question of life, who am I, we have experimented with all sorts of testing devices.. from Myers-Briggs, to MMPI, to interest testing, to Rorschach, to personal interviews and evaluations, but the question remains for many of us, while the answer eludes us because we are constantly growing and changing.

Yet there are some givens:  our essential DNA... maybe yours is similar to mine; I am mostly male, but somewhat female.  I am basically Caucasian white, but also a generous mix of races.  I am North American, Yankee, with New Jersey and Virginia family heritage, and as Nancy discovered, my lineage could be traced through numerous English, French and Scottish kings, all the way back to 1st Century and Old King Cole!

But all of us are more than our DNA, more than what tests reveal about our life style, more than our history and the shaping of our past.  We are in large measure the values and the commitments of each day we live.

Maurice Boyd, formerly of City Chancel, NYC, writes:  “If what you are after is power, you had better forget about love; it is very difficult to be after both.  If you put self at the center, you had better be prepared to find your outer limits there; and that can be very lonely.  If you believe only in justice, and not in mercy, you’d better not make any mistakes.  If you are a gossip, don’t look for confidences.  If you believe that life is a rat race, you mustn’t hope to find any dignity in it.  If your basic stance is confrontation, don’t expect people to knock on your door when what they need is tenderness.  If you are ruthless on the way up, you shouldn’t look for sympathy on the way down.  If you never forgive, you must never offend.  If what you are after is security, you’d better forget about ecstasy.  If your work is your life, you had better keep one eye on your relationships.  If you believe that your children are your possessions, you must not look for free, spontaneous and creative spirits.  If you are a materialist, don’t consult us gurus about spiritual values; there is little we have to say to you, and even less that you would understand.  If you believe that life is purely quantitative, you had better keep your averages up.  If you spread yourself thin, you mustn’t expect to go deep; and if you move in the fast lane, don’t set your heart on anything that takes time.  If you decide to live by the sword, then, by God, you had better carry one.  Because life is moral; things come round; we reap what we sow; the chickens come home to roost; fearful symmetry is the shape of life; and we really can’t have it all.”

Who am I today, and who will I be tomorrow?  Look in the mirror!

Second, and most of us here are struggling with the second question, and that’s good and essential:  Why am I here?

We spend a lifetime answering these questions, don’t we.  On Thursday a couple of our friends suggested two basics for this aspect of our Commencement Address.  They said the grads need to hear “it isn’t about you, look around you and listen, listen, listen.”

I’m sort of mentoring a young man whose parents are two of our closest friends.  Teddy is 26, and came out as gay when he was 10.  He has seriously explored Buddhism and liberation theology, he was fully involved in Occupy Boston, Teddy likes living on the edge, and coming down hard on those who don’t agree with his radicalism.

Most recently he has gotten into shouting matches and foul language in e-mails with his parents, sister and an aunt, all who deeply love him, and have always been fully supportive in his lifestyle and decisions and friendships.  But still, Teddy is angry and resents them.  Two weeks ago, he graduated from Harvard Divinity School, and is awaiting a call from a UCC Church as their Associate Pastor.  Teddy has no idea who he is, much less, why he is here.  As we talked about his anger and his bitterness and his lifestyle that pushes people away and deeply alienates them, I suggested that he think about taking a ‘bowl of water’ and begin washing his parents’ feet.   You know, I said, it has been done before.  Maybe we all can get on our knees and demonstrate humility.  We can wash each other’s feet!

The night of the Passover when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, the New Testament says, “Then he poured water into a basin and begin to wash the disciples’ feet.. and then says to the Twelve.. so if I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet... you ought also to wash one another’s feet.”

Could that be the mantra for why we are here... the broadest possible life attitude... to wash each other’s feet!

Who am I? 

Why am I here? and

What is my source?  What is your source?  The sailboat is the symbol for my source because I can’t picture the wind,  but the wind is relentless, the wind is constant, the wind is essential, the wind is ubiquitous, the wind is eternal.  The Bible says,

      “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes... so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”   John 3:8

For me, the wind, the Spirit is my source:  the source of my strength, the source of my security, the source of my calling, the source of my peace.  It’s curious, ironic, this Sunday throughout the world in Christian churches, is being celebrated as Pentecost, the day the Spirit, represented by a great wind, came upon the believers near Jerusalem.

Yet not limited by that tradition, I believe we are all filled with the Spirit...

Ann Bonney and her husband went out sailing with some friends on a lake one July.  It was a hot day with heat vapors rising off the land.  there was only a hint of a breeze on a smooth glassy surface.  She tells about it.  “We set the sail and we were just barely moving.  As we sailed and were enjoying leisurely conversation, suddenly out of nowhere, a huge dark cloud appeared.  I was terrified.  I had a friend in high school who had been struck by lightning while in a boat, so I never ventured near the water when a storm was brewing.  I voiced my concern, but it fell on deaf ears.  ‘There is nothing to be worried about.  It’s just a dark cloud.  Relax, Ann.’  I didn’t.  The ripples turned into waves and four foot swells, and the boat lurched over on its side and the gunwale was practically under water, and we started hauling fast like an arrow shot from a bow.  Everyone else loved it, ‘Yippee, ride‘em cowboy’.  We were heeling over so far the water was spilling in.  I closed my eyes and I held on for dear life.

Suddenly, it was all over. I opened my eyes, and I could not believe it.  The sun was shining.  I turned and I looked behind us.  There was the cloud, and the rain and the wind and the waves, and there at the boundary between the storm and the calm was God’s covenant rainbow.  We pulled in our sails and we headed right into the middle of it.    We were surrounded by such glorious colors of red and yellow and orange and blue and green and purple, the most glorious colors I had ever seen in my life.

We would never have known the rainbow, unless we sailed into the storm.  We would have never experienced the miracle without first expressing our faith.”  Accepting the challenge; it’s the same in life, isn’t it.

Yes, we know there are not enough rainbows. but the Source, the wind, the eternal Spirit is ever with us!

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