Monday, May 24, 2010

Graduating from High School

Yesterday was a big day at Bethel. It was graduation Sunday and we recognized our high school graduates. Some people are saying that high school graduation doesn’t mean what it used to since many (most) high school graduates now go on to College. I don’t agree. High School graduation is as important as ever. You have to go this far to go farther.

A staff member recently told me that she was going to her grandson’s graduation from sixth grade. I can remember several such commencement ceremonies for our children.

Graduation from high school is an important marker. It is still a worthy achievement to celebrate. It means that our young people have attained a certain amount of knowledge. They have grown to a certain place in their lives. They are now ready for adulthood. Around eighteen years of age, they are moving closer to the time when they will be “on their own.”

So, we marched them into the church to Pomp and Circumstance and sat them on the front pew. There they were in all their beauty, all shined up for the day. The night before, we had a wonderful evening “roasting” them with family and friends. It was a gentle roast as family and friends tried to say something embarrassing about the graduate, and all said something nice.

There they were on the front pew. Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and many others were surrounding them. It is always a time when emotions run high. Parents are going between “I can’t believe I’m old enough to have a high school graduate” and “my baby is leaving me.”

The graduates? I can’t remember very much about what it was like when I graduated from high school back in the dark ages. I do remember thinking: “What’s the big deal?” I saw my mother crying and people were congratulating me. I was eighteen, for God’s sake, this was just the beginning. Our graduates seemed to genuinely appreciate all the love and support that we could give them.

I’ve been at Bethel for four years and this is the first group that I have seen go all the way through high school. It was for me a fun time.

In my sermon I quoted a comment made by Maya Angelou to a University graduation class. She said something like: “We’ve given you the best education that we can give you. We’ve taught you all that we know. We gave you all our wisdom.” Then she said: “You owe us something…”

I told them that they owed us. Since so much has been given to them I challenged them to live grateful lives in three ways. I told them to honor their past, to live in the present, and to walk confidently into the future.

As Christians, we are so blessed. We are blessed not to sit around and relish being blessed but so we can go out into the world to bless others. I challenged them to remember that no matter what degrees they achieved or what careers they chose, that they are called to be servants of Jesus Christ.

After worship, we stood them up there and everybody went by to wish them well. Then, we gathered in the Fellowship Hall for lunch. It was truly a wonderful day.

God speed them on their journey.
See you in church!
Dave Nichols

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Learning from Mother

I am not one who dwells on sentimentality. I care deeply but generally I am not one to get caught up in emotions. On Mother’s Day, for instance, I rarely preach about being a mother. I usually acknowledge Mothers somewhere else in the service and preach on the lectionary. Now, sometimes the lectionary lends itself for some mention of the ministry and love of mothers. And, when it does I go with it.

I became aware early in my ministry that some people have real issues about their mothers and fathers. You only have about 20 minutes in a sermon; so, it’s not enough time to open something up and get it closed back, especially if it’s a family issue. For some, Mother’s Day is a painful thing.

Having said that, Mother’s Day reminds me to give thanks to God for my mother. If you had or have a good mother you should be grateful. My mother died back in 1991, way too early for me. She was only 63. Her death was one of the most difficult with which I have had to deal.

As we come to Mother’s Day, consider this question: “What did I learn from my mother?” My mother was certainly not perfect, but she was good. What did I learn from her? I learned:

1. Faithfulness. My mother was a single parent to my sister and me. My father and she did not get along and split up early. I was one year old when my dad left. I never knew him. I spent some of my life regretting that loss and dwelling on what I missed. Somewhere along the way I came to appreciate my mother whose faithfulness made her stay with me. It’s not the parent who runs that defines you; it’s the parent who stays.

2. Faith. I learned that my mother truly struggled over divorcing my father, even though he was gone and never coming back. Still, she felt that her faith would not let her divorce him. She never gave her permission for divorce. He went to Georgia to get the divorce; she didn’t show. I encouraged her to let him go. Didn’t matter. She wanted to do the right thing by her own convictions and beliefs.

3. Love for the church. Every Sunday of our lives, as far back as I can remember, my mother had us in church. None of this: “I don’t want to go…” No, we were Christians and Christians go to church. That little church where we grew up was not perfect. I remember some know-down-drag-outs. That’s alright, my mother’s commitment to Christ and the church rubbed off on me. You could say that we didn’t have anything else to do. I would say that my mother’s priorities started with commitment to the church.

4. Compassion. My mother often showed care for people that no one else seemed to notice. Many times I would be with her and we would see someone who didn’t look very promising to me. My mother always gave people the benefit of the doubt. She would say: “He didn’t have a dog’s chance…” or “Bless his heart…” Some old, hardened person who had made a mess of his life. My mother would treat them with respect.

I learned many other things from my mother. I learned the main things, the commitments that still dominate my life. I am grateful to have had a good mother.

Dave Nichols

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