The Wisdom of Our Elders – November 1, 2015 – 1 Kings 12: 1 – 14, 25 – 33

Did anyone give the commencement speech at their graduation? Does anyone remember the commencement speech from their graduation? I started thinking about graduation when I read this story about Rehoboam and Jeroboam.

Here’s the back story. King David was succeeded by his son Solomon. Solomon was known for his wisdom, great wealth and herem of hundreds of women. After King Solomon, the kingdom split between the north and south. Rehoboam took the southern kingdom of Judah and Jeroboam took the northern kingdom of Israel. The people of the southern kingdom complained about the harsh taxes incurred by King Solomon. He built his great wealth on the backs of the people. The people complained to Rehoboam about the heavy taxes and asked that he lighten the load.

Rehoboam sought the wisdom of the Elders who advised his father. The Elders advised him to reduce taxes suggesting that the people would be his faithful servants if he did. Rehoboam wasn’t sure about their answer so he sought advice from his friends. His friends said, “Tax them more.”

Rehoboam was at a pivotal moment in his life. He would define his kingship based on how he responded to the situation. There was a stark contrast between the advice of his friends and the wisdom of the elders. I started thinking about the different advice we get at college graduation.

On the one hand, when graduates are applying for jobs and making plans for what they’ll do after graduation, graduates have a lot of advice for one another. It is well meaning but not always wise. Friends might tell you to take the job that pays more rather than the job that best fits what you want to do. Friends may support you in buying that new car you want or renting that big apartment you want without considering your shoe-string first job budget.

On the other hand, graduates receive great wisdom from the commencement keynote speaker from their life experience of chasing their dreams and working and trying to balance personal and professional life. They have a keen sense of reality and how to go about doing what really matters in life.

I read a keynote commencement speech several years ago that I often think about. Mary Schmich was a writer for the Chicago Tribune. In June 1997, she thought about the commencement speech that she would give if she were asked to be the keynote speaker at a graduation. Her speech was published as an article in the paper. She never got to give her address, but I’d like to share her wisdom.

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander.

You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.
Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen. (

In the difference between the advice of our fellow graduates and the keynote commencement speech, we see the difference between the way the young friends of Rehoboam thought and the wisdom of the Elders he consulted. Rehoboam’s friends were concerned with building an empire. The Elders were concerned with securing a kingdom. The Elders knew that all the money and power were not as important as the people’s loyalty.

Rehoboam’s brother, Jeroboam, was no better in the northern kingdom of Israel. He led the people astray from the covenant with God to build altars at the high places and fashion golden calves for the people to worship. This so they wouldn’t have to go to Jerusalem to the Temple and pay homage to Judah’s king Rehoboam.

Neither brother was a wise king. Rehoboam’s sin was greed and Jeroboam’s sin was leading the people away from the Lord. Had they only listened to the wisdom of the keynote speaker rather than their drinking buddies they could have been great kings.


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