Last week, at All Saints Angican Church in Canso, we were privileged to host an ecumenical worship service in honour of the graduating class of 2019 from the Fanning Education Centre/Canso Academy.
I chose a seaside text from the Bible for these students who are so familiar with seaside living.
Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
John 21:3-6 (NRSVA)
It’s great to be here with you today as we gather together to honour our graduates. This is a time to celebrate, to remember and to give thanks. And so, congratulations to the Class of 2019!
On the day that you were born, you entered into the world gifted with endless possibilities. And, how you have begun to realize that potential. Just think of it…all the accomplishments that have brought you to now; to the celebration of your graduation. It’s been a long road from your first day of school until today.
Much has happened in your lives and in the world you’ve grown up in. For the rest of your lives, you will discover that the possibilities that were within you when you entered into the world …well…they will only continue to grow, as long as you are willing to be open…to be open enough to grow.
Much has happened that has raised you up, supported by friends and families, by your teachers, by your community. You have learned much. It’s not always easy, but you persevered. You stayed the course. And, when you encountered an obstacle you discovered ways to overcome it.
Looking around this room tonight you see many who stood by you with encouragement, even on the days that weren’t so great. They were with you then when you struggled. As you learned. And, here we are. They continue to be with you today.
In the words that we heard read a few moments ago by Reverend Susan, we heard a story about Jesus and his followers. It isn’t a long story, but in it we find every important lesson to be shared at every graduation ceremony until the end of time.
You have persistence. Simon Peter, Thomas and Nathanael and the others get in a boat to go fishing and remain in place all night long, despite the fact that they haven’t caught anything. They stay there, resolute in their task and determined that something will come of this trip out on the water. They, like you, persist.
We all know this feeling. It might have been a class you took or a job you took on. You do everything that you know how to do. You take your time, you exercise patience and, still, nothing. You don’t get the results that you want to get but, you still did it. You still tried. You still persisted. You still learned.
So, big graduation idea number one: Persist.
Then comes Jesus, though the disciples don’t know yet that he’s Jesus, they don’t recognize him which is, it should be noted, a kind of recurring issue for the Disciples. We have a number of stories where Jesus comes to the Disciples and no one recognizes him, which seems extraordinary but, there you have it.
Jesus asks them if they’ve caught anything, they say no and he says, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat” And, despite the fact that this could be any random stranger on the beach, they do it, and their nets fill up with fish.
Big graduation idea number two: Be open.
Persistence is a remarkable quality and should be recognized as such. But, just as remarkable is the ability to remain open, to be ready to listen. To be prepared to take new ideas and hear new voices – maybe not from random strangers but…you get the idea – and try new things. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. It’s how we, ultimately, find ourselves. It takes courage, as you have already learned, as long as you don’t give up.
It’s like I said, Simon Peter, Thomas and Nathanael and the others get in a boat to go fishing and remain in place all night long, despite the fact that they haven’t caught anything. They stay there, resolute in their task and determined that something will come of this trip out on the water. They could have given up…they could have given in to their weary bodies…they could have given in to self-defeat accepting that their nets were empty.
But, Jesus called to them. And, it didn’t seem to matter that they didn’t recognize him at first. What would it hurt to try one more time, to take Jesus’ advice? And, look what happened.
Big graduation idea number three: Accept others.
It’s ok to accept help along the way. And, it’s ok to pray. Wherever you find yourselves, it’s ok to accept help along the way just as your families and friends and teachers – this community – has helped you in so many ways. And, it is ok, even in those times when you feel challenged or alone, to pray to God. Remember that, in this story, the followers didn’t recognize Jesus at first. But, when they trusted, when they persisted, and when they accepted help…they overcame what seemed impossible only a few moments before.
Their uncertainty was ok. They may even have been a bit scared, who does this person think that he is…calling across the water to us? Who does he think that he is, suggesting to do something differently? I suppose that were a bit scared. Jesus didn’t judge them for being scared. He just patiently offered his help.
Being scared is okay. Being scared sometimes means you’re thinking. It means you’re paying attention and understanding that your choices, your actions, have impacts. Good, bad, remarkable or – yes – sometimes boring.
Everything you do matters. The things you will do, even the most simple acts of kindness, could change the world. Think of all that ways that you have already done this. You can do this.
Remember: Persist. Be open. Be accepting.