I speak to you in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Amen. For the entirety of this school year, I have heard people say “You won’t know how fast the year went by until it’s over.” At first, I was glad for this sentiment because I have been ready for graduation since the first words of Convocation were spoken. But now, as I stand here speaking to you all, with only eighteen days left as a high schooler, I have started to think about how I got here, and what made my successes possible.
A large part of what has made these successes and my growth as a person possible is the community here at St. John’s, and the greater Episcopalian community here in this city and this state. My spiritual life began with the Episcopal Church. I went to Vacation Bible School where I learned about different stories from the bible, I went to Holy Comforter where I learned my ABCs and how to sing along to the words of Jesus Loves Me, I went to Sunday school where I learned about Jesus and his love, and I went to Camp McDowell where I met other Episcopalian kids from all over the state, some of whom have become my best friends. This goes back to the words of today’s Gospel in which Jesus tells Simon Peter to “Feed my sheep.” Jesus repeats this challenge to him multiple times because like us, Simon Peter has to be reminded of his spiritual commitments all the time.
My spiritual life has been fed by the community that surrounds me, and that is why I am the Christian I am today. I have grown up surrounded by a community that extolls the freedom of opinion and a community that has taught me that the most important aspect of being a Christian is love. St. John’s is unique in the fact that it is a church guided by its place in history as a cornerstone of this city but that it is also a church that looks towards the future. This church’s commitment to the future is most evident in its commitment to its families and its youth. This commitment is best exemplified in our strong youth programs. St John’s Youth Group and Youth Education programs have guided my development as a Christian by showing me that diversity of opinion and intellectual curiosity is what makes our faith strong, and that our traditions and beliefs bind us together as a community.
It was through our traditions that I first learned that not every church is like St John’s. When I was in elementary school, I went to church with one of my friends. After the opening hymn I noticed something quite odd: there were no kneelers. I looked around, wondering if they were just missing from the pew we were sitting in. They were not. I turned to my friend and asked what we were supposed to do when we prayed and he said “We sit.” This was such a revelation to me. All my life I had thought that you were supposed to kneel at certain points in a service, stand in others, and bow at other points. Here was a place that didn’t even have books of common prayer. I quickly realized that the traditions we have are unique in the Protestant community. When I would come to school on Ash Wednesday kids would tell me that I had dirt on my forehead, and when I made the Sign of the Cross after prayers kids would ask me if I was Catholic. When I would tell them that I was Episcopalian, they would pause for a while and then say “… well I’m a Christian…”, which to their surprise, I would tell them I am too.
The greatest thing St. John’s has given me is the love of Christ and the meaning of being a Christian. Throughout my entire life, from my health complications as a young child to my father’s death, there have been people praying for me. The people here at St. John’s have loved me like their own son and they have cared for me like I am a member of their flock. Jesus wasn’t just speaking to those of us in positions of leadership when he instructed Simon Peter to feed his sheep, he was instructing all of us to take care of each other and to ensure that our communities are set up so that every member is taken care of. Our calling is to take care of ourselves, but our calling is also to extend this community to those who need taking care of. This is what has be so central in my life here at St. John’s, we are a community that takes care of each other, and reaches out to others, and we must not drift away from this. Our community, our love, our respect for each other is what makes us strong. A pray that has always meant a lot to me is the prayer of Saint Francis, so let me end my sermon here today with this: Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen