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7:30 a.m. – Holy Eucharist, Rite II (In-person only)

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A Message From Duncan- May 30, 2023

A Message From Duncan- May 30, 2023

Eagles and Grasshoppers

Last Thursday Duncan had the great privilege of preaching at Montgomery Academy’s Baccalaureate, and of giving the Invocation at Commencement.  Some of you have asked for a copy of the sermon, and so here it is, below.  I hope it makes an interesting alternative to his normal weekly article.

Montgomery Academy Baccalaureate, May 25th, 2023.  Isaiah 40:21-22 & 28-31

 Good morning, magnificent graduating class of 2023.  You did it.  You’re amazing.  Thank you for inviting me to share this day with you.  It’s an honor to be with you.  I bring the warm congratulations and best wishes from the members of St John’s Episcopal Church downtown and all the Episcopal community in Montgomery.  You’ve been brilliant, and we’re all super proud of you.

If you were starting a school and were going to pick a mascot for the sports teams, I wonder what you’d choose.  Probably not the animal Williams College, Massachusetts picked – The Purple Cows, or the mascot chosen by The North Carolina School of the Arts – The Fighting Pickles, or the one selected by The UC Santa Cruz – The Banana Slugs.  No, you want an animal that symbolizes strength, like a bull, or ferocity like a lion, or teamwork like wolves; anything, really, that conveys courage, power, and all-round invincibility.  So, why did the Swiss city of Zurich give its professional soccer team the name The Grasshoppers?  OK, so grasshoppers might be useful at track and field (they’d surely do well in the jumping events), but when it comes to intimidating their opponents, grasshoppers have all the fear factor of, well, grasshoppers.  Someone once said that the metaphors you use shape your life.  So, what were the good people of Zurich thinking 136 years ago when they named their professional soccer club after a harmless insect?  Well, whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem to have done them any harm because, get this, Grasshoppers of Zurich have won the Swiss Super League 27 times.  They are the most successful team in the history of Swiss soccer.  But face it, you’d rather be an eagle than a grasshopper, wouldn’t you?

Eagles and grasshoppers, eagles and grasshoppers, eagles and grasshoppers.  It doesn’t matter how many times you say it, you’re never going to choose to be a grasshopper over an eagle.  The Hebrew prophet Isaiah gets it.  He wrote about eagles and grasshoppers in our scripture reading just now.  “Have you not known? Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  God sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”  That’s how the reading starts.  With human grasshoppers.  That, says Isaiah, is what we are, compared to the power of God.  That’s humbling isn’t it.  Y’all are grasshoppers.  Live with it.

But that lowly beginning evolves into something more majestic by the end of the reading.  He finishes with this: “Even youths faint and get weary, and young people fall exhausted, but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  That is some evolution – a magnificent mutation, from grasshopper to eagle in just a few sentences.

This day is one of celebration and joy.  Today we remember exams aced, recitals nailed, hurdles cleared, and potential fulfilled.  Today you soak yourselves in our praise for all your victories won, your challenges conquered, your successes earned.  But it wasn’t always like that, was it?  Each of you survived the pandemic and all the crazy ways it disrupted your lives.  Remember the exhaustion, the anxiety, the loneliness, the alienation, the feeling out of sorts with yourself and with the universe?  That you are still graduating despite missing crucial months of school speaks highly of your resilience and of God’s strong presence in your lives.

Because God gives power to the faint and strengthens the weary.  And the fact that you are here, today, breathing, preparing to be presented with a scroll this evening and a metaphorical passport into a new and exciting time in your life, proves it.  “Those who wait for the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

I want you to do something.  Close your eyes (but don’t fall asleep) and imagine an eagle.  Everyone seeing an eagle?  OK, open your eyes.  Now what was your eagle doing?  I bet your eagle was soaring.  It wasn’t flapping its wings frantically, working hard to stay airborne.  It likely wasn’t perched in a tree or sitting on the ground.  It was soaring.  Hanging there – effortlessly and free.  Eagles find the thermals – pockets of warm air – and they rise without effort, climbing higher and higher without even a flap of a wing, they rest in midair.  That is the picture Isaiah had – “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall soar with wings like eagles.”

I really wanted to be Graham.  I’d have given anything to be Graham.  Graham was the son of a famous father.  His dad played a sport called cricket.  In fact, he was one the most gifted cricketers of his generation and played for the English national team over 100 times.  He was knighted by the Queen for his services to the game.  Graham’s dad was a legend everywhere in the world where cricket was played.  And for a boy like me, who was mad about cricket, Graham’s dad was the ultimate hero.

I met Graham when we were fifteen.  We both went to high schools in the South of England, about 50 miles apart.  Graham’s school were the cricket champions of their county at age fifteen, and my school were the champions of our county.  And so, we played each other in the first round of the national tournament.  And there was Graham.  Everyone on our team knew who he was.  We talked about him all the way to the game on the bus, nervously, hoping that we’d be able to overcome our feelings of unworthiness when the game started.

Graham looked like his dad, and he played like him; at least, a 15-year-old version of him.  Needless to say, his school won, and went on to become national champions.  I forget how many runs I scored.  (Actually, I remember exactly how many I scored, and it was way fewer than Graham.)

Four years later I met Graham again.  Now we were both freshmen at colleges in the north of England, about 130 miles apart.  Our colleges were due to play each other, but it rained all day and like when it rains in baseball, play never even started.  But I recognized Graham sitting around watching the rain, with the rest of us.  Actually, I’m glad it rained that day.  I didn’t want to see just how good Graham had become, at least not through the eyes of an opponent.  Truth is, he’d become very good and left university at the end of his freshman year to play professionally.  Now I really wanted to be Graham.  World famous dad and now a professional cricketer.

Over the next few years, I often saw Graham, but he didn’t see me.  I paid to see him.  I bought my ticket, took my seat, and watched, and yes, he’d become very good.  He eventually retired after a successful fourteen-year career.

I heard nothing more about Graham for years.  Then, a few months ago, I was scrolling through the BBC’s sports pages and was shocked to read that Graham had died.  It rocked me because I had wanted to soar like Graham.  I’d have given anything to bat like Graham.  People like Graham were special.  They lived long and happy lives.  They did not retire from cricket and then lose all their money in a failed business venture; they didn’t lose their home and have to live in their car; they weren’t forced to drive a delivery van just to earn the money to buy food.  And they didn’t die at the age of 56.  Except, according to his obituary, Graham did all those things.  And it didn’t make sense.

I wonder if he tried to fly too close to the sun.  I wonder if being the famous kid of a mega-famous parent caused the eagle that was Graham to be stunted inside, as if he had to prove himself by flapping as hard as he could, becoming as wealthy as he could, achieving all the success he could, but losing his identity in the process.  I don’t know if Graham believed in God.  I don’t know if he belonged to a community of faith that would have helped him remain true to himself as God’s dearly loved child.  Flapping hard with all you’ve got can get you places.  But it can’t get you as far as will resting on the thermals of God’s love.

What’s the key to soaring like an eagle?  Waiting on God.  Today you stand on the threshold of something new and wonderful.  You have a future.  God is designing the right journey just for you.  Some of you will enter the exciting world of work, others will prepare for starting college in the autumn.  But whatever flightpath God is creating for you, hear the words of Isaiah “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall soar with wings like eagles.”  Flapping hard to earn God’s love won’t do it.  Striving and fretting and beating yourself up in order to feel worthy of God’s love can’t do it.  It is resting in the knowledge that you are already loved beyond limits and beyond understanding that will allow you to soar.  The thermals of God’s love will lift you – let it happen.  You don’t need to work hard for that love, you already have it.  All you’ve got to do is accept it and let it lift you high until you soar.

Eagle or grasshopper?  The choice is obvious.  Be the person God made you to be.  Don’t strive to be someone else, because if you flap too hard you might crash and burn.  But rest in the knowledge that the God who created you did so because he is crazy about you just the way you are.  So go out into God’s world and soar like an eagle.