This morning I was asked to give the invocation at our local high school for their National Honor Society assembly. As with my invocation last year, I wanted to try and say something of substance, avoiding the vanilla invocations I suffered through at my high school assemblies back in the day. If I were seventeen years old and sitting in those seats, what would I want/need to hear? Events of the past few weeks, and especially news that a freshman at a nearby university committed suicide just yesterday, were on my mind as I put paper to pen (well, fingertip to keyboard) and wrote this:
Would you invocate with me, please...
God, I want to congratulate those who, in a few minutes, will hear their names called and make their way to this stage. I want them to know how proud we are of them for all their hard work and dedication; and that because we are all inextricably bound to each other as a family of sorts – sharing in each other’s joys and sorrows, celebrations and struggles – in a way their success today is everyone’s success.
But if “invocation” means “calling something out”, then perhaps there’s an important truth that needs to be acknowledged: that the underlying message we are gathering here to lift up today is not “You Are Smart.” Scholarship, Service, Leadership, Character – these four benchmarks of the National Honor Society stand apart from one another, and can only be united, can only be threaded together in the life of a person by one singular twine, one overarching truth. And that truth is love.
So as strange as it may sound, the message for today is not “You are Smart,” but "You Are Loved.” You are loved if your name is called, and you are loved if you name is never spoken. You are loved if you are first string, second string, or no string. You are loved if you are in the majority or in the minority; you are loved if you fit in perfectly or if you don’t fit in anywhere. You are loved if you think you know exactly who you are and where your life is heading, and you are loved if you’ve never been more confused and terrified. You are loved if the words you hear from the adults in your life are affirming, empowering, compassionate, caring; and you are loved if the words you hear from the adults in your life are critical, judgmental, spiteful, even abusive. You are loved.
And that love is always, always greater than fear. Greater than the fear that drives some to blow up bombs at marathon finish lines; greater than the hate that incessantly seeks to divide us over stark fault lines, where the “other” is always wrong and at fault; greater than the shame we feel when we are told we’re not good enough or that our worth is fully dependent on being more than enough. Love is greater than all of that.
So that’s the message I want these fine folks to hear today – those who will be inducted and those who won’t leave their seats. That you love them no matter what. And if they let that love carry them forward into the wonderful life ahead of them, then maybe, just maybe, they will not only learn to love you and love all of your people. Maybe they’ll learn the most basic and most difficult kind of love: to love themselves.
We invocate all of this in your name, AMEN.
(on a side note, five of our church's youth were inducted, joining the three already there. Yep, I'm proud.)