Feel free to grab a cup of coffee, get comfortable, and join our conversation about life and faith, the things that make sense and the things that don't. I'll raise some questions and themes along the way, and you can chip in with some of your own. What we're after here is perspective, some practical wisdom about life, and maybe a little light for the journey. Life is a pretty tough test for everyone, so we might as well compare notes and prepare for it together.
Two pictures to begin with today – one on the screen and the other in your mind. The other day I was doing some of my spring yard work and I noticed a new addition to our own wildlife population. I noticed a bird nest wedged in between the gutter downspout and the house under the eave. And there was the mother sitting on her nest, warming her eggs, and waiting for the big day. I’ve been watching all week, but nobody has hatched so far.
It was kind of a sweet picture for a Mother’s Day weekend and it’s not a bad reminder for us as we think about graduation. It might even sum up some of the thoughts and feelings of your moms and dads as you graduate and head off into your future.
Some of us thought you never would hatch. We were worried you might turn out to be a bad egg. For the first part of your life, all you did was eat and chirp for more. We wondered if you would ever be able to fly, and now, like it or not, we’re just about ready to shove you over the edge. Enough worms already, it’s time to fly. I guess only you really know if you are ready to fly.
The second picture is in your mind. I want you to reach into your future, and imagine the year 2036. By then my kids will have wheeled me off to some nursing home, but you, you’ll be right back here in Sedalia at Smith Cotton High for your 25 year class reunion. Now promise me you will come, no matter how much weight you have gained or how much hair you have lost. You better come, because you will learn more about life at your 25 year reunion than you ever did in school.
So picture yourself at your 25th class reunion, sitting around the tables catching up with your old friends from high school days. You can bet, each one of you will have a story. Some of you will want to brag about it, while others will keep quiet. A few of you may be tempted to make up a story or two. What will your story be? How will your life be going? What will you have accomplished?
The reason I ask is simple enough. You are beginning your story today. Right now, you are writing the introduction and you have many chapters ahead of you. What will your story be?
I came across an old story a few weeks ago that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. It’s an old parable that I think might have something important to say to us on this occasion.
One day long ago, over the hot sands of a Middle Eastern country, a white skylark flew in joyous loops about the sky. As she swooped near the earth, she heard a merchant cry out, “Worms! Worms! Worms for feathers! Delicious worms!” The skylark circled about the merchant, hungry at the mention of worms, but puzzled about what the merchant meant. Little did the skylark know that the merchant was the devil. And seeing that the skylark was interested, the devil motioned her nearer. “Come here, my little friend. Come! See the lovely worms I have!”
Cautiously, the skylark landed and cocked her head to the merchant. “Come! Taste the juicy worms!” The skylark became aware that she was indeed, quite hungry. And these worms looked bigger and tastier than any she had ever dug for herself out of the hardscrabble ground of the desert. The skylark hopped closer and put her beak up close to the worm. “Two worms for a feather, my friend. Two worms for merely one!”
The skylark was unable to resist. And she had, after all, so many feathers. So, with a swift motion she pulled out a feather – just a small one – from beneath her wing and gave it to the merchant. “Take your pick, my little friend . . . any two, your heart’s desire!” The skylark quickly snatched up two of the plumpest worms and swallowed her meal with delight. Never before had she tasted such wonderful worms. With a loud chirp, she leapt into the air and resumed her joyful flight.
Day after day the skylark returned. And always the merchant had wonderful worms to offer: black ones and blue ones, red ones and green ones, all fat and shiny and iridescent. But one day, after eating her fill, the skylark leapt again into the air – and to her horror, she fell to the ground with a thud. She was unable to fly!
All at once with a shock she realized what had happened. From eating the delicious worms she had grown fatter and fatter; and she had plucked her feathers one by one, first her body, then her tail, and finally her very wings had grown balder and balder. Horrified, she remembered how, slowly, imperceptibly, day by day, it had been getting harder and harder to fly, and how she had told herself it was no matter. She could always stop before it was too late. Now suddenly here she was, trapped on the ground. She looked up and saw the merchant looking at her. Was that a sly grin spreading across his face? He grabbed the now helpless bird, put her in a cage, and walked away laughing.
It’s a sad story, don’t you think? But maybe it’s a good story for us to ponder for a few minutes this afternoon.
One thing I know for certain. All of you, at one time or another, will be tempted to trade your wings for worms.
You were handed a feather a few moments ago, just a little reminder for you to keep, maybe stick on your mirror or the dash of your car or in your purse. Let it be a friendly reminder.
You were made for the skies, you know. You were made to rise on the wings of your remarkable gifts and talents and skills. You were made by God with awesome capacities and amazing abilities. You are one big bundle of undeveloped potential and boundless possibilities.
Possibilities – that’s the word for you guys, alright. Unlimited possibilities – that’s what God has given to you. You were made by His plan and for His purposes.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)
My word for you this afternoon is this: As you seek to fulfill your God-given potential, be wise, be careful, and never trade your wings for worms.
Anything else we can learn from this old story? A few other truths stand out to me.
First, choose your mentors and models carefully. You have probably already noticed that not everyone has your best interest in mind. Not everyone that calls you friend is your friend.
Second, live by your aptitude, not your appetites. Don’t just live by your empty stomach, your craving for attention, your sexual desires, your greed for more money, more stuff, more spotlight. Live by your aptitude, not like an animal.
Remember that compromises lead to cages. Even little compromises can lead to big problems. So guard your heart. Live by your convictions. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t be easily led to compromise your character, your values. Compromises always lead to cages.
And don’t forget, the higher you fly, the farther you can see. If you want to find God’s plan, if you want to see the path God has prepared for you, than fly high. Earthbound people can only see the ground right in front of them. Fly high, up where you can connect with God and soar in His presence day by day, and you will begin to see the path that leads to a distant horizon of blessing and usefulness.
Here’s one last truth for you: Your faith in God will be the wind beneath your wings. Not mine, not your pastor’s or youth minister’s faith. And not even your parent’s faith or your grandparent’s faith will do you any good from now on. Only your own faith in God will carry you to the skies. Do you remember the old promise from scripture?
But those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NIV)
Never forget how to fly, how to dream, how to soar high enough to see new lands and far horizons.
Don’t let anyone bring you down to the ground. Don’t let anything tie you too tightly to this earth. Spread your wings. Take to the skies.
Don’t forfeit the future God has prepared for you. And never, never trade your wings for worms.