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“We know love by this–that he laid down his life for us–and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”–1John 3:16

I have always wanted to be asked to give a commencement address, because I have a piece of vital information to pass along to freshly-minted graduates.

Since I haven’t been asked AGAIN this year, I’m going to write it here instead.

Ready?  Here it is:

No matter where you work (and yes, the purpose of all of these years of education is so that some day you will have a job) there will always be someone who makes twice as much money as you for doing half the work.

(If you don’t think this statement is funny, you might be who I’m talking about.)

It might be a bit of an exaggeration.  At the least, you will have a coworker who makes approximately the same amount of money you do and manages to do only about a fourth of the work.

So why is it so important to me that the kiddos know this?  Because how you respond in that situation defines your character and attitude for life.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a workplace.  I know plenty of relationships suffer because one person works harder at it than the other.  I’ve served on numerous volunteer boards with people who worked as hard at their responsibilities for the greater good as they did at their “real” jobs.  And others who signed up just to be able to list the organization on their resumes.

So, when faced with those kind of people, we can respond in two ways.  We can get really ticked off and decide we’re not going to put out any more effort than they do.  Or, we can do our jobs and throw ourselves into our relationships to the very best of our abilities.

In John 10, Jesus says he is the “good” shepherd–not “good” as in “nice”, but “good” as in, this is the kind of dedicated shepherd you want taking care of your sheep.  A shepherd tough enough and courageous enough to go to battle against predators. A shepherd responsible enough to brave the elements 24 hours a day to keep watch on the sheep.  A shepherd gentle enough and sympathetic enough to lead sheep to safe pastures and call them by  name.sheep

A “good” shepherd–“good” as in “model” shepherd.  A kind of shepherd sheep like us should listen to and trust and follow.  A shepherd who puts the welfare of the sheep ahead of his own. One who loves his flock enough to lay down his own life.

Sheep, like people, do some stupid things when they ignore the shepherd and go off on their own.  I read a story several years ago about an entire flock of sheep that committed mass suicide when one jumped off a cliff and the rest followed.  (There you go–your mother had reason for saying, “And I suppose if all your friends jumped off a cliff, you’d want to do that too?”)

Moral to the story: If you decide you want to choose a fellow sheep for your leader, you’d better take a long, hard look at where he’s heading.

At any given moment in our lives, we are being led by who (or what) we believe in, and we are in a position to lead other people by our actions.

So here’s your challenge, Class of 2009: Show us what a world of sheepish leaders led by the Good Shepherd might look like.






Presbyopia: Farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity in the eye, generally occurring in middle and old age. From Greek presbus “old man” and op “eye”.

I noted the poster on my optometrist’s wall with interest Friday.  It’s a little disconcerting to have your denomination’s name associated with a lack of vision.presbyopia1

Saturday, I attended our presbytery’s quarterly meeting. We voted on the dreaded “gay ordination” amendment, which, of course, says nothing about gay ordination but everyone knows that’s what we’re talking about. 

The amendment passed in our presbytery. (Polity wonk alert! This does not mean the amendment is passed for the PCUSA.  It must be approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries with in the US before it would go into affect for the denomination.) The amendment  in part eliminates the words added in 1997 that require officers of the church to live “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” and replaces it with wording that requires “Those who are called to ordained service in the church . . . pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of Scriptures . . . Each governing body  . . . establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

Only time and history will tell whether our presbytery was “far sighted” in passing the amendment, or whether we’re suffering from vision problems.

What it does do, however, is place a responsibility squarely on the shoulders of local congregations and presbyteries to actually  pray and talk about what our standards are and should be.  Frankly, I’ve always been a little bothered that we bandy about the subject of homosexuality like it’s the only really bad sin worth talking about.  Anger, greed, malice, self-righteousness–and! Gasp! the growing acceptance of heterosexual people in the world not living in chastity in singleness or fidelity in marriage–we give those subjects only a passing wink, well, because, hey, nobody’s perfect.  If we’re going to have standards, then we’d better be prepared to be as judgmental about those sins as we are about homosexuality.

I wish the amendment would have left in one sentence: “Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sins shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”  While the original intent of that statement may have been to target unrepentant homosexuals, I think it calls all of us to stop justifying our sins and honestly work at becoming more Christ-like each day.  

The concern was raised that the new amendment waters down our convictions as the Church.  My hope is that it forces us to raise our standards, by considering all aspects of sin in our lives, not just our sexuality.

Presbyterians know that “presbus” doesn’t just mean “old man”, it also means “elder”.  It’s time elders stood up and led prayer-filled discussions and study on Scripture. 

What bothers me most were the number of churches within our presbytery not represented among the voting delegates.  Like our national form of government, we have no business criticizing the outcomes if we refuse to participate in the process.