Spring 2010 Matriculation Sermon
"I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants," Matt. 11. 25.
It seems, at least at first blush, that this Matriculation service is rather a waste of time. Worse still, that all of us, matriculating or not matriculating, students, teachers, and well-wishers, all of us, are in the unhappy position, as regards life's richest mystery, of having just landed at the wrong airport. I say this because I assume, students, teachers, one and all, that we count ourselves, in some sense, and with all due modesty, amongst the "wise and intelligent." Or, if that's too bold, at least among the "aspiring" wise and intelligent: after all, surely you are not undertaking master's degrees for the sake of becoming foolish, ill-informed, and dull. That being the case, this gospel is a little awkward. Jesus seems to be telling us that we are barking up the wrong tree and, what's more that he's rather pleased about it. Thanking his Father, no less, at the thought that just as we rush up to the throne of God, waving our certificates, and brandishing our signed copies of the latest dreary nonsense written by our very own faculty, we find to horror that the heavenly Father has left to go hobnobbing with readers of the National Enquirer. This is a problem. And this text constitutes a rather critical challenge to the admissions department in terms of what is technically called student retention.
Of course, if this is bad news for us, it may be very good for somebody else. That, indeed, is the way Jesus' elated statement has been read for a lot of the time. It's a "let's reverse the pecking order" statement. A bunch of Corinthians decided that a robust rush of glossolallic ecstasy was as good as a bar fight on a Wednesday night, so they "dissed" the sermon in favor of what Paul politely refers to as not knowing what they were talking about. They began a great tradition: upturn the order, put the theologians in the basement, and celebrate everyone who can't tell a concept from a cockroach. Oddly enough, that is a principle rarely applied to one's dentist. Of course, just in case you hadn't noticed, I am being facetious. I don't think Jesus simply wanted to reverse the customary disposition of sneering rights - so the lookers-up-to can become the lookers-down-on, and vice versa.
What did he mean, though? And did he mean something that will allow us to proceed in humble peace and hopeful confidence to the rest of this matriculation?
The clue, I think, is in the second half of our gospel reading: "No one knows the Son except the Father." Do you know how lonely that is? Jesus looks out into the world and there is no one to recognize him. No one to know who he is. No one to wink across the table at that shared joke that comes from being understood. No one. Who he is, the set of his heart, the vocation for which he puts one foot in front of another, all this is hidden in the Father. Everywhere else, he is a stranger. Mother, father, brothers, friends, he is still among strangers. Until now. "Blessed are you Father. You have widened the circle of our acquaintance. And men and women are stumbling like children, blinking and unsteady on their pins in the blinding light that makes everything different." Of course, they are foolish and babies, these whom the Father has blessed with eyes to see and light to see by. What else could we be but fumblers, falling over our feet in this life he shows us? Think about it. Do not judge, trust what you don't see, forgive your enemies, accept the Divine love that gives and demands everything, pray without ceasing, defend the weak, do not fear death, trust in God, live as those who don't live here. Who can do that without falling? When we wake up to all this, when we see this is the way things truly are: then we know the Son and, through him, the Father. The wise and intelligent don't get this, not because wisdom and intelligence is bad, and not because folly and ignorance is good. It is simply that wisdom and intelligence and learning and study and skill and insight are only good after we have been knocked to our knees by the staggering knowledge of who Jesus is and what he offers us. Of course, we are babes in his world, unfamiliar, as green as tourists, existential hicks up from the country where all is bleak and frozen. We are getting our bearings in the bright lights of his city, where he is the light, and where we learn, as raw as children, to do things his way: to love him and his Father. And to see the world the right side up.
So don't worry, you can matriculate. It's not a waste of time, you are not fated to wait for ever, clutching your credentials, at the wrong bus stop. On the contrary, you'll need all the wisdom and intelligence and skill you can muster: so that you can find your way about this new world of strange sacrifice and baffling love, where death and life, wealth and poverty, glory and shame have all changed places, and condemnation is off the books. You'll need wisdom to keep his face, the face of the Father's Son, always before you, so, as Paul says, that you may grow up, wise in Christ. Amen.