Pentecost 2 (Year A - LCMS Readings)/Baccalaureate
June 6, 1999
Preached at the Baccalaureate for the 1999 8th Grade Graduating Class of St. Philip Lutheran School, Dublin, CA
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear friends in Christ, especially you, the Eighth Grade Graduates, Ryan, Gavin, Sean, Stefanie, Michelle, Lexi, Zoltan, Megan and Chris.
I have told you a lot of things this year, I have told everybody a lot of things about myself this year while I have been here. But there is something I want to talk about this morning that I haven’t told you.
I’ve got the blues. Sometimes I get so down, so sad, that I’ve got the blues. And due to a dear friend in the congregation, I’ve come to appreciate blues music so much more this year. And I’ve really appreciate it, because of the way it expresses how I feel sometimes, how I get sad sometimes, and then I can listen to that music and I can hear those lyrics and I can hear the beat and I can hear those guitar solos, and it expresses all of those feelings I have. So I get that sadness out of me.
And usually I get the blues, it usually hits me when I realize that I’m not so perfect, that I make mistakes, that I’m not making the grade, that I’m a sinner. That’s when the blues hit me. But you know, as I look around, I’m realizing that I’m not that different from everybody else. It seems that everybody’s been having the same dream: we all want to be perfect, and then we realize that we’re not.
So then the blues come, and usually we think of the blues as just being sad, lyrics that are saying, “Oh, woe is me.” But with blues, we shouldn’t forget the hope. There are some great hopeful lines in blues music. Well, first of all, just blues itself, if you’re gonna start talking about how sad you are and start singing, we at least you’re singing, at least your foot is tapping to the beat. But then also in a lot of blues songs, there is a line or two of hope. Oh, the refrain might be about how sad life is, but at least there is a line or two of hope, and that’s what we need to remember. We can’t forget the hope, because if you just concentrate on the sad lines, you’ll never see the hope.
Now in Deuteronomy Chapter 4, Moses says a similar thing to the people of Israel, and that line permeates the rest of the book of Deuteronomy. The people of Israel are wandering around the wilderness, wandering around the desert, and it’s getting hot. And they’re wondering where the next water is gonna come from, where the next food is gonna come from, where they’re headed even. And they’re starting to grumble.
And Moses says, “Don’t forget what you have seen.” And what Moses is thinking about is: “Don’t forget, people of Israel, that God brought you out of Egypt, brought you out of slavery, brought you out of being oppressed, brought you and saved you from Pharoah’s army. Don’t forget what you have seen. Don’t forget that you have seen that God loves you and is going to protect you.
And so I say the same thing to you, Eighth Grade, don’t forget what you have seen. We’ve seen a great deal of things. You’ve probably more here at St. Philip than I have, but just in our year together, we’ve seen a great deal about how God loves us.
We’ve seen God’s creation at Outdoor Ed. How He has made this whole world for us to enjoy and to take care of. Don’t forget what you have seen.
We’ve seen God protecting your families, your relatives, as they have gone through illnesses and trials this year. Even while you were going through that, God stood by you and kept you in His care. Don’t forget what you have seen.
We’ve seen the comfort in the Gospel of Mark as we studied that together. How when we get made fun of as Christians, we can remember that Jesus suffered persecution as well. And we can know that He understands what we’re going through. Don’t forget that comfort. Don’t forget what you have seen.
We’ve seen God’s peace as you led Chapel back in December teaching the younger grades about Advent and about how Advent is peace for us, because when Jesus comes back, it is a peaceful day, because you’re going to be taken to heaven. Don’t forget what you have seen.
We’ve seen how the 7th graders offered forgiveness for you making fun of them. That day when you apologized and said, “I’m sorry,” and they forgave you. That was a wondrous day, because there you saw the forgiveness that God has for you as well. Don’t forget what you have seen.
We’ve seen Lexi be baptized at that font during Chapel. You’ve seen Lexi become a child of God in your presence. You’ve seen the Spirit come upon her. Don’t forget what you have seen this year.
Because the way to keep from giving up hope, Moses was saying to the people of Israel is to remember what they had seen, to remember God’s love for them. The way for you to keep from giving up hope is to remember everything you’ve seen.
Because the people of Israel, if they gave up hope, they would have ended up just standing around in the desert, being sad, just moping around, and the next thing you know, they would burn up in that hot desert sun.
And that’s the same thing for you, you need to move forward, but sometimes moving forward is scary. And so the way to keep moving, the way to keep moving with hope is to have the Walking Talking Word of God Blues.
You gotta get those blues in your heart, and surround yourself with the Word of God. We keep singing the blues not because it always just so sad, but we keep singing the blues because its got hope in it. And we keep reading the Word of God not because it keeps reminding us of how bad we are. We keep reading it, because we are reminding of the hope that we have.
Moses gives us five actions in Deuteronomy 11 for us in order to have the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. Fix, Tie, Teach, Speak, Write. Fix, Tie, Teach, Speak, Write the Word of God. And then you can have the Walking Talking Word of God Blues.
First, you gotta fix it. You gotta fix it in your heart. You gotta fix the Word of God in your heart. And that’s just like blues music, because when you’re listening to the blues, you gotta get the beat into your soul. And then when you’re fixed on it, your foot starts tapping, and then your head starts nodding. And even if you’re feeling pretty sad, and you’re thinking the lyrics are exactly what you’re thinking about, at least your head is bobbing and at least your foot is tapping. And you’re starting to feel just a little bit better.
And that’s same with the Word of God. You gotta fix it in your heart, because when you got it fixed in your heart, your head starts bobbing remembering God’s love for you. Then even if you’re feeling pretty sad, pretty scared about today, then you got the Word of God there fixed right with you. So you fix it in your heart, and you got the Walking Talking Word of God Blues.
The second thing Moses says is that you gotta tie it. You gotta tie it on your hands as symbols; you gotta place it between your eyes as frontlets so you always see the Word of God. Well, that’s the same as the blues, isn’t? The blues musician puts, he puts the sunglasses on. We think he is just being silly, just being cool. But the thing is that he’s singing the blues, and that music is coming from his heart. He’s crying underneath, the tears rolling down his cheeks. Because he’s feeling as sad as the music is, but he puts the sunglasses on, hiding those tears, so that he remembers that tomorrow is a new day, tomorrow the sun will come up, tomorrow there is hope. And he hides those tears.
And that’s the same thing with the Word of God. You gotta tie it onto yourself somehow so that you remember it, and so you’re looking at the world through the eyes of hope not the eyes of despair. So you tie it on somehow. Maybe you have a cross necklace. Maybe you have one of those 30 Hour Famine bracelets. Something so that you always remember God’s love for you. And then you slip the Word of God on like sunglasses, and you look out at the world through Word of God. And that’s how you remember the hope. So then you have the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. Your foot’s tapping, you got the sunglasses on, and you’ve got the Walking Talking Word of God Blues.
The next thing Moses says is you gotta teach it. Now, first of all, you gotta be taught it, but then you gotta go teach it. And that’s the same thing with the blues as well. In fact, during the 30 Hour Famine, we had a little dance, and I played a song by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, a great blues song. Now Kenny Wayne Shepherd is 20 years old, and he knows the blues like you wouldn’t believe. A wonderful guitar player. But the thing is, he’s not out there on his own. He’s been taught by the generation before him, and that generation was taught by the generation before him. What, we’ve got 3 or 4 generations of the blues, and it just keeps getting passed on, passed down the line. Nothing’s really new in blues music, just somebody else playing it in a slightly different way. It just keeps getting passed on.
And that’s the same with the Word of God. It’s been passed onto you by your parents, your families, your teachers, your friends here at school. The Word of God is being passed onto you from generation to generation, so that you can know the hope in the Word of God. But then, the great thing is that this year you’ve turned around and passed it onto the next generation. This past month you’ve seen how we’ve gone to all the other grades, and you have taught them the Word of God. You taught them about the Book of Acts, about St. Paul as a missionary. So you gotta be taught the Word of God, and then you go out and pass it onto the generation to follow you. And that’s the same thing with the blues. So you’ve got the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. It’s fixed in your heart, your foot’s tapping. It’s tied onto your eyes, so you always see it. And you’re teaching it.
The next thing Moses says is you gotta speak it. And you gotta speak wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing. Speak it when you get up in the morning; speak the Word of God when you go to sleep. Speak it while you’re walking down the road. And that’s the same thing with the blues as well. You’re having a tough day? If I’m having a tough day, then I think of some blues song that I like, and I just keep singing it in my head, over and over, no matter what I’m doing. And it just helps me to keep moving forward. If I didn’t have that, then I’d just stand around like the people of Israel and burn up in the desert. But if I’ve got a blues song, I keep moving forward. I just keep speaking it to myself.
And that’s the same thing with the Word of God. You just gotta keep speaking it. When you wake up in the morning and it seems like it’s gonna be a tough day, speak the Word of God. When you’re going to bed at night and you’re really tired from tough day, speak the Word of God. When you’re walking to school, when you’re walking home from school, you just keep repeating verses from the Word of God to yourself so you always remember that hope. So then you’ve got the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. You’ve got it fixed in your heart. You’ve got it tied, so you remember. You’ve got it, so you can teach it. And now you got so you can keep speaking it.
And the last thing Moses says is write it down. He says write it on your gateposts or your doorposts, and I’m not gonna tell you to do that, because I’ll get in trouble with your parents. But write it down somewhere. Write some hopeful verse. Like John 3:16, and you can write it in this way, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die for ME, so that I might have eternal life.” You can write it that way. Write it down and put it up in your bedroom, so you see it in the morning. Or you put it on the mirror, so you see it when you’re getting ready for school. Or you put it somewhere at school so you’ll see it.
And I’ve done the same thing with blues music, but it’s just a little more comforting when it’s the Word of God, because it’s the ultimate truth. But I used to the same thing, I’m having a tough day, sitting in class, can’t concentrate on what the teacher’s tells me, but I gotta concentrate on what the teacher’s telling me, because otherwise, I can’t graduate. So how am I gonna concentrate? I gotta get my sadness out some way. So then on the front of my notebook, I’d write down some hopeful line from a song. And then I’d just keep looking at that line if I was feeling sad, but it helped me get back on track.
You can do the same thing with the Word of God. You gotta write it down somewhere, so you always see it.
So then you’ve got the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. You’ve got those five actions that Moses has told you about. Fix, Tie, Teach, Speak, Write. Fix, Tie, Teach, Speak, Write the Word of God.
You surround yourselves with the Word of God, and then you’ve got the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. You surround yourselves with the Word of God, so that you’ll remember those hopeful lines. Those hopeful lines that say if you’re a child of God, your days in the land will be numerous in the land, Moses said. But actually for us, if we are children of God, our days will be numerous in heaven, so numerous that it’s eternity. If we are children of God, we have salvation and have eternal life.
Surround yourselves with the Word of God. Get the Walking Talking Word of God Blues. So then you’ll remember those hopeful line when you realize that you’re not living up to God’s standards, that you’re not so perfect. And that reminds me of my favorite verse from a blues song, from a song called “Thanks to You” by Jesse Winchester: “Someday, up in glory,/I’ll weep and I’ll tell my story/To someone, who will smile/And say, ‘You’re a mess, but you’re my child.’” I love that last part: you’re a mess, but you’re my child. And that’s the whole Gospel right there. That’s the most hopeful line you can find in a blues song. That’s the most hopeful line you can find about the Gospel. You’re a mess, but you’re my child.
We’re all a mess; we’re not perfect at all. But still we are God’s children, and he still loves us and wants us to be in heaven. That’s why He sent Jesus Christ to die for you.
Think about this year. There are times when I could have said that you, ‘you’re a mess, you’re making mistakes.’ But all along you’ve been my students, and I love you as my students. Despite the fact that you’re a mess, I wanted to be there everyday with you. I wish I could go forward with you, and keep seeing how you’re gonna grow. But I can’t. But that’s my feeling. I love you despite the fact that sometimes you make mistakes. And that’s how God feels about all of us: we’re a mess, but we’re His children. We’re a mess, but He was going to make sure we were in heaven. So He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross and give us salvation, so despite the fact that we’re a mess, we would be up there in eternity.
Now, because we’re a mess, we still gotta suffer those consequences of our sins. There are sins and mistakes that we make, and there are always consequences to that. Sometimes we still have to go through that. But there is one consequence that God did not want you to suffer, and that’s eternal death. He’s made sure that you’re not going to die for eternity; you’re going to live for eternity through faith in Jesus.
That’s the hope. That’s the hope to surround yourself with as you go forward to high school next year, when you go forward to new adventures, when you go forward and the day seems like you’ve got the blues, you surround yourself with the Walking Talking Word of God Blues, you surround yourselves with that hope. And then you’ll remember that God is right there with you, that God is protecting you. Remember everything you’ve already seen about God’s love, and then you can move forward.
So that’s our prayer for you, Eighth Grade, that you will have the Walking Talking Word of God Blues, and that you can Fix, Tie, Teach, Speak, Write the Word of God and always remember the hope that you have. Amen.