My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
This past week, I had the singular pleasure of spending a few days in the Denver area for my brother’s doctoral graduation (picture above for reference). Keith graduated from the University of Colorado – Boulder with a Doctorate in Musical Arts. His specialization was in “Guitar,” which really doesn’t begin to sum up the things Keith can do with a stringed instrument.
If you would allow me a moment to brag/explain, I’m happy to expound on his gifts. To complete his doctoral degree, Keith had to:
- perform four recitals, two solo and two chamber
- perform and record an entire CD of solo music
- learn to play Baroque-era instruments: namely the theorbo (Google that) and the Baroque guitar
- complete hundreds… thousands… of hours of practice
- memorize dozens of full-length pieces of music and perform them from memory.
And, he did this all while maintaining a teaching schedule, welcoming a new daughter into the world, and remaining the kind-hearted person he has always been.
But, he did it! He’s done! He is now “Dr. Keith Barnhart” with all the privileges and honors that the title should carry. And, now the question is:
When you’ve finally reached the goal you have been seeking… when you graduate with that terminal degree… when you accomplish something momentous at work… when you get a kid potty-trained…. what next? It is a question that we all will visit over the course of our lives. In fact, in many ways, it is one of the most recurrent questions we get to carry with us.
For Keith, the road forward is full of exciting possibilities: more teaching, time with his daughter, more inspiring projects, a concert in Flagstaff (I’m just putting that out there). But, these are all available to him because he finished well. He put in the time and now the world opens up to him. A brilliant end of a doctoral program opens up many new beginnings. Thus is the nature of life. Endings are followed by beginnings.
Our Gospel reading this week (John 13:31-35) is exactly about this kind of moment. Jesus is sitting down for one last meal with his disciples. He is trying (and not being wholly successful) to bring his time with them to a beautiful conclusion. He reminds them of who he truly is, what he must do in the coming hours/days, and, at the last, a final commandment: love one another.
In this ending, Jesus answers the question of “What next?” simply and plainly. What if the world rises up against his followers? Love one another. What if the church flourishes and welcomes in many new people? Love one another. What if?
My friends in Christ, can it be this simple? For the many moments that we ask “what next?”, can we simply respond “Love one another”? In a world full of possibilities, I know there are many other answers. But, perhaps, if we dare to believe and live in the power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, there is no better answer than the one he has already given.