Jun. 11, 2018.
NOTE: The following is the sermon Rev. David Miller delivered at last week’s James Madison High School baccalaureate.
I have to say that I am a little worried for you. And I think it’s possible that some of you are a little worried too. We are living in crazy times. I have been alive almost 59 years and I have never seen anything like what is going on in this country.
We all have been buffeted by the endless flow of tweets, pundits and news coming from just up the road in DC. I don’t feel a need to repeat it; it has been disturbing. I have seen news stories and plenty of social media commentaries, including my own, about how we are fighting for the soul of America. I worry about those who profess to follow their religious traditions and yet find no meaning in their own religious texts about loving all of our neighbors – the stranger, the marginalized and the poor – not just those who look like them.
So, where does that leave us when we talk about the current state of the country and the future that you will now help to create? I am on the liberal side of politics and religion, and although I disagree with many who have a more conservative agenda, I didn’t grow up hating anyone. There were plenty of folks in my community who had much more conservative views on social and economic policy, but in my youngest years, I didn’t see them as evil and they weren’t the enemy.
There have been plenty of times in the history of this country that we have found ourselves on extreme sides of specific issues. Polarity has been an unfortunate part of our American religious and political history and now we find ourselves in another time where we will have to make some choices – especially you – about what kind of community, country and world we want to live in and what you will leave for your children and your children’s children.
I’m not saying that anyone should wake up tomorrow and vote the same way, or worship in the same tradition. What I am saying is that we need to have a revolution of values in this country that will break cycles of polarization and create a different future. This future could be anchored in the core messages of all the great religious traditions: The love of neighbor, kindness for strangers, healing the world together, service, humility and sacrifice. Values no different from those that lie in the best intentions of this country’s founders. There were plenty of flaws at the time of the creation of this incredible country, but there are values that live in the ideals and words written by those mostly rich white men that rise above the imperfections of their own lives to inspire us all.
Because of the welcoming words of our founders, this country took in refugees from the despots of other lands. Because of those ideals, this country spread the hopes of democracy and freedom in the post-World War II world. Because of those ideals, this country has historically helped other countries in times of natural disaster, regardless of religion or political party. Because of those ideals, high school students have risen up all over this country and started a movement to ensure their safety and their future.
Those words and ideals have often not been matched in practice. We have been challenged at various times in our history by fear, nationalism and policies of otherness. But one thing that has helped us live up to those original ideals is our ability eventually to call out behavior of intolerance in order to work together on supporting a more perfect union. Our ability to change has helped us weather many storms of political upheaval.
My dear graduates, we may differ on significant issues of policy or religion, but I am here to call on all of you to move forward in your young lives to support all of us together. To try to live and hold the rest of us accountable to be our best selves. To break through the corruption of ego. To break down the politics of otherness and fear. To break the interpretations of religion that tear us apart rather than bind us together.
Let us strive for fair, equal, respectful and just debates while understanding that we all have to find a way to live together. We wait at the same bus stops. We hold the door open for each other as we enter the local supermarket. We all have friends or family who have lost someone serving this country – the ultimate sacrifice. We try to feed each other when hunger plagues our children.
So it is time for us all – and especially all of you – to rise up for the sake of goodness, for the sake of who we can be together, for the sake of our common soul. I am not asking you to agree with me on any issues, I am asking you to support the ideals that formed our nation – the ones we are struggling to live up to. If there has ever been a time for us to come together, it is now. For the sake of communities, for country and for this world, join together and help lead us forward.
The saying goes that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We are. And you are more powerful than you can ever imagine.
Amen, and may that be so.