To the honor and glory of the one who creates us and redeems us and sustains us, amen.

Good morning. Are you all awake? Good morning. My name is Kym Lucas, and it is an honor and a joy to be here with you on this day. I am a graduate of this fine institution. I am – in case you are wondering – a founding member of the Pi Beta chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., founded on this campus. I am bishop of the Episcopal Church in Colorado. And if you don’t know what bishops do, that’s OK; I’m not sure of that most days myself. But I do know that I am responsible for 92 congregations, 19,000 people and over 104,000 square miles of the most amazing country with beautiful mountains running down the middle of it. It is a joy to be here celebrating the Class of 2023. Thank you, Dean Walker, for the invitation. It is a joy to look out and see you, Class of 2023. You are beautiful. So shiny.

As a I look and see all of you gathered here, I suspect that some of you are people of faith. I suspect that some of you might consider yourselves more spiritual than religious. And maybe there are some of you who find yourselves done with the whole church and religious enterprise in and of itself, and you’re here just to make your momma happy. That’s not a bad thing.

But if you’re in that last category, I feel you. I feel you. I just finished reading Brian McLaren’s book Do I Stay Christian? And in the early chapters, he makes the negative case for people who might walk away from church, including the church’s history of antisemitism; the history of crusades and colonialism and death that has followed the church; the over-arching notes of white patriarchy in church; the oppressive, toxic theology that is anti-women; and the lack of transformation. The world does not look a whole lot like the realm of God. The church is actually the enterprise of Christianity. It’s a good book. If you’re asking that question of yourself, I recommend it, but I will confess to you that when I finished the book, I closed it and was thinking to myself, “Bruh, you’re 60 years old. You’re just now getting to this? Where have you been?”

Because I can tell you that in 1988, I was on that quad right out there watching a man in a clerical shirt and a clown nose make balloon animals. I found this curious.

So I walked up to him and I said to him, “Excuse me. Are you a priest?

And he said, “Yes, my name is Bob McGee, and I am the Episcopal chaplain here at Wake Forest.”

I said, “Oh. I used to be an Episcopalian.”

And he said, “What do you mean by ‘used to be’ ”?

I said, “Well, I don’t do church.”

And he said, “Why not?”

And I said, “Well, because it’s racist and it’s misogynist and it’s antisemitic and there’s no room for dissent and there’s no room for actual intellectual conversation in the church.”

And as I listed my list of complaints, Bob said, “Uh, huh.” And then he looked at me and he said, “What are we gonna do about that?”

I said, “Who is this ‘we’ that you’re talking about? There is no ‘we’ here. I just told you I don’t do church.”

And he said, “Yes, what are we going to do about that because you and I know that none of that has anything to do with Jesus.”

And I thought, “Darn. He’s right.”

So I stand before you this morning as a self-avowed follower of Jesus – though I sometimes have a hard time keeping up – and I want to unpack that for you in case you were wondering. When I say I’m a follower of Jesus, I am talking about a Jew from Nazareth. I am talking about a radical who said crazy things like, “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you” and who said things like, “Why do you look at the speck in your sibling’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own”? Who said things like, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

But I want to be clear about this because say this to my 15-year-old twins and they don’t understand that doesn’t mean do to others what they have done to you. It doesn’t mean do others what you think they’re going to do to you. It means do to others that which you would like them to do to you.

I serve the Jesus who said, “Whatever you do for the least, for the lost in this world, you do for me.” That is the Jesus I follow and the one I proclaim. And that is the Jesus who showed up on a road to Damascus to confront a zealot who had church-sanctioned permission to persecute his followers, who showed up on that road and said, “Quit it. Just quit it.”

I chose this text from Paul’s Letter to the Romans because it has been a powerful text in my life. I recently saw a meme that said, “If you want to outline all of Paul’s Letters, you can follow this particular outline. Paul’s outline says, ‘Grace. I thank God for you. Hold fast to the Gospel. For the love of all that is holy, stop being stupid. And Timothy says hi.’ ” That is pretty much all of Paul’s Letters. But I chose this particular passage from Romans because there are some tools that I think are helpful in navigating this world.

Now I don’t pretend to have any advice for you, the Class of 2023. You are a class that grew up with active-shooter drills. You are a class that endured a pandemic. You are a class that comes of age at a time when our nation is almost as divided as it has ever been. And the last time we got more divided that this, we were killing each other. So I don’t pretend to have advice. But I do have a few tools to share that I have used and that have helped me navigate this life and this world.

I want to begin with the opening lines of this chapter, where Paul says, “Therefore, I urge you, my brothers and sisters and siblings in view of God’s mercy, to present your whole self. All of you. Present your whole self to God. Not just the face-tuned version of yourself. Present your whole self. With all of the broken bits and the fragments. Present yourself to God.”

One of my mentors, the Right Rev. Chilton Knudsen, told me when I was elected bishop of the Episcopal Church in Colorado, “God has called you to this place because of who you are and what you know and what you’ve experienced. These people have seen that call in you and they have called you to be their bishop. And they will spend the rest of your Episcopacy trying to make you someone else.”

This is not just true of the church. This is true of the world. Your gifts, your personhood, what you bring into the world is unique and special. And so the gift of self-awareness is that we can define who we are. We can define who we are in the wholeness of that without ignoring the broken bits, the ugly bits, the bits we don’t like. One of my favorite quotes that sits on my desk is from Audrey Lord, and it says, “If I did not define myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

Class of 2023, know who you are. Define the hell out of yourself. Bring that full, whole self to that which you were called to, that which you are able and gifted to do. Bring it all. Because it all has meaning.

The second tool I offer you is from the verse, “Do not be conformed to a pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” One of the most important gifts to living in this life is holding on to the tool of curiosity.

My diploma says I have a B.S. in Biology, and my time logged in Winston and Salem Halls will bear that out. But I also logged a lot of time in the Religion department. A long time. Enough to amass enough credits for another major. And I have endured my children saying to me all the time, “You know, you just wasted that Biology degree, right? You just wasted it.” But having a B.S in Biology is very handy when you’re trying to lead a church in a pandemic. Because when people say to me, “I believe in the almighty power saving of God,” I say, “Yes. As do I. And you know what? Virus don’t care.”

People say, “Well, I don’t believe in this virus. I think it’s a hoax.” Great. And you know what? Virus don’t (care). Viruses don’t care. Viruses do what viruses do. Very helpful to have this knowledge.

But a spirit of curiosity, I think, is so important. And learning is so important. My prayer for you is that you are lifelong learners, that you are curious about everything. And one of the things I loved about this university was that I had all this opportunity to indulge my curiosity. My time at Wake Forest University was a time when I just kept learning things. I wanted to learn all sorts of things. And my time in Biology and Religion made me ask bigger and bigger questions. I was wanting to know about the concept of eternity and the universe. And so I decided to take some Physics classes. And then I stopped. Because math. I finished Calculus I and II, and that was the end of my relationship with the Math department.

But curiosity is the key to awe and wonder. When we are curious about the world around us, it opens us to the awe and wonder of things that are all around us. We begin to know how little we actually know. The drive to be curious about the world, about people, about culture can enrich our lives. And it my contention that we cannot be transformed if we are not curious. We cannot be transformed if we are not willing to learn.

Another great book I recommend to you is Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Basically the book is about confirmation bias. It’s about the premise that we as human beings want to divide ourselves in kith or kin. We want to say who’s in and who’s out. And once we have made those decisions in our lives, we just entrench ourselves deeper and deeper into those understandings. In fact, for most of us, if we are presented with data that contradicts what we already think, most of us just entrench even deeper.

What I took from the book is that human beings don’t change their minds very often based on reasoned, rational argument. Some of us do. Some of you are gifted with that. But most of us only change – only really change – through relationship and trauma. Those are the things that shake us out of our ruts.

And so I offer you the tool of curiosity because curiosity will draw you out of that entrenchment. Curiosity will let you engage with people who are different from you. Curiosity will open your minds to the wonders of this world around you. Curiosity will draw you into deeper and better relationship: relationship with God, relationship with this creation we inhabit, relationship with one another. Stay curious, my friends.

Paul goes on to say, “It’s good for us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to.” He talks about the gift and tool of humility. Now I want to tell you that humility and humiliation are not the same thing. They share the same root, but they are not the same thing. Daryl Van Tongeren said, “Humiliation is about embarrassment, shame or subjugation. It comes from without. Humility comes from within and cannot be forced upon you by another person or an external situation.”

Now in this world, I understand that humility is undervalued. Our culture asserts that power and aggression and dominance are the way to go. None of us wants to be accused of being snowflakes or wusses or doormats.

But true humility is not humiliation or oppression; it is not an attribute of the weak or a penalty for one’s pride. True humility is not a tool of the oppressor. Humility is about having a secure openness to the world where we can be honest with ourselves and others about our strengths and limitations – see, that self-awareness piece comes back – and seeking to learn new perspectives and caring deeply about those around us. It’s not shame or guilt. Humility is not an invitation for you to be a doormat; it is an invitation own your own finitude.

You and I cannot know everything, be everywhere, do everything. But what we can do is acknowledge that truth in our community. We can offer ourselves in the service of others.

I love the Apostle Paul because he learned a lot about humility. He learned a lot and offered that to churches. I always say and people crack me up because Paul has been used as this instrument of doctrinal stuff in the church for a long time. And you know Paul was like, “Y’all, let’s just love everybody. Right? If we just follow Jesus, if we just accept this reality of grace, this freedom that you are beloved, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t earn it or you can’t buy it and that you yourselves are beloved, we can change the world.” I get tired of people talking about Paul like what he was advocating was this kingdom of God after we’re long dead and the escaton has come. Yeah, that’s fine. But he was actually talking about our ability — our corporate ability – if we would love each other, to change the world right here and now.

And the most powerful tool in that arsenal is the tool of love. And the love I’m talking about is not rainbows and unicorns. It’s not sweet sentiment. It’s the active, hard-core, furious, unrelenting love of God. Bell Hooks wrote in her book All About Love that it takes courage to love. The practice of love offers no place of safety for us. We risk. We risk loss. We risk hurt. We risk pain. We risk betrayal. We risk being acted upon by forces outside of our control and yet, friends, love is the only thing that is going to change us. Love is the only thing can save us.

Because love, when we have the courage to live it, shows up in the world. It shows up in the form of justice. My friend Rob Wright, who is the bishop of Atlanta, says justice is merely love in street clothes. We cannot advocate for equality in the world if we don’t have hearts brave enough to love. We cannot proclaim to the world that increasing another person’s equality does not diminish yours because it’s not pie. There is enough for all of us. For every human being made in the image and likeness of God. There is enough for everyone to have abundant life. But we have to be brave enough to love.

I checked the statistic this morning because I live in Colorado and gun violence is a part of my life. There have been 202 mass shootings in the United States in 2023. Two hundred and two shootings and it’s only May. There is so much brokenness and violence and it is easy to see it and throw up your hands and think, “What can I do about it?”

The great thing about embracing this tool of love is that it brings her sister, hope. Hope is necessary. Hope helps us work continually for justice. I got to hear Bryan Stevenson talk about the Equal Justice Initiative and his work. He said, “It’s a hard realization to know that you can’t save everybody.” But we do not have the luxury of giving up hope. Because we cannot advocate for justice if we don’t have hope; if we don’t have an imagination and a hope that the world can be different; if we can’t even imagine that there could be peace in the world; if we can’t imagine that all of God’s children regardless of their race, their gender identity, who they love, that all of them could find a place of safety and comfort and prosperity in this world. If we don’t have hope. It will never happen.

My favorite image of hope came from Matthew. He said, “People speak of hope as if it is this delicate, ephemeral thing made of whispers and spiders’ webs. It’s not. Hope has dirt on her face, blood on her knuckles and the grit of cobblestone in her hair. And she just spat out a tooth as she got back up and went for another go.” That is the kind of hope that we need, this persistent, relentless hope. We must have the courage to love the hell out of this world because love is the only thing that can save us.

Class of 2023, I am sad that I am not offering you a more improved world. It grieves me that the battles I fought in 1988 for women’s equality, for racial justice, for gender justice are still being fought. But I encourage you to take what you’ve learned and take that curiosity, take that self-awareness, take that understanding and lead with love. You will know life real life. Abundant life. Eternal life. Amen.