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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This past week I received a letter containing a collection of the personal notes exchanged by children with their pastors. Let me share with a few of these messages: Dear Pastor, I know God loves everybody but He never met my sister. Arnold. Dear Pastor, Please say in your sermon on Sunday that Peter Peterson has been a good boy all week. I am Peter Peterson. Dear Pastor, My father should be a minister. Every day he gives us a sermon about something. Robert. Dear Pastor, I’m sorry I can’t leave more money in the offering, but my father didn’t give me a raise in my allowance. Could you have a sermon about a raise in my allowance? Patty. Dear Pastor, I would like to go to heaven someday because I know my brother won’t be there. Stephen. Dear Pastor, My father says I should learn the Ten Commandments. But I don’t think I want to because we have enough rules in my house already. Joshua. As I read these messages, I found myself thinking, that perhaps these thoughts are no different than those that were spoken by the youth in every age. As the generations before us, we come to church to tell God the story of who we are, of what we have done, and what we would like to be. And yet this morning, there is another timeless and poignant prayer being spoken as well. It is a petition spoken by our families and countless friends in this congregation. It is a word to our graduates, “Go with God.”
My friends, whether you are today’ high school graduate, university graduate, or simply a graduate of the school of hard knocks, this morning’s sermon is for you. With these thoughts, I would like to share my own personal words of blessing and sending forth with the Graduating Class of 2014 entitled “Practical Advice for the Graduate.”
To our high school graduates- In the coming weeks, commencement addresses will be spoken. They will be filled with obvious glee that you survived the most emotional four years of your lives. They will be peppered with words like “scared.” You’ve grown mature enough to understand that the next years of your lives are going to be mighty different. And in most cases, you will be facing life without your parents waking you if the alarm doesn’t go off and without the friends they’ve shared many or all of your grade school, middle school and high school years.
If your graduating class has its way, years from now you will gather together again with architects and artists, carpenters and computer scientists, educators and engineers, interior designers and journalists, mathematicians and nurses, psychologists and scientists. Maybe even a pastor or two. You are all soon off to fulfill your dreams. That word “dream” will come up often as well during your graduation ceremonies and the endless string of parties that will follow. Yes, stick to your dreams, dream dreams, let your dreams become a reality. Graduation is about dreams- it is your dreams, the dreams of your friends, and the dreams of your family- especially your parents.
But this morning, I would like to challenge you with another dream. It is a dream that we must all address someday. For a moment, consider this thought, “What dream does God have for your life?” On that Ascension Day long ago, when Jesus returned to his Father’s heavenly home, the master’s disciples were waiting for their graduation ceremony. For three years they had been studying. They had been preparing for the day that they would be sent forth to do the work of the kingdom. They too were dreaming dreams. And even to the very last hour, Jesus was struggling to impart one last tidbit of wisdom and direction. He too had his warnings for the graduating disciples. “It is not for you to know the times and periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” But Jesus also had three words of practical advice for his graduates. That is what I would like to share with the Class of 2014 this morning. Be patient, be positive, and be prepared.
Let us consider his first word of advice, be patient. Before he was lifted up, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” I am reminded of the young woman whose car stalled at a stoplight. She tried to get it started, but nothing would happen. The light turned green, and there she sat embarrassed and holding up traffic. The car behind her could have gone around, but instead the driver added to her embarrassment by laying on the horn. After another desperate attempt to start her car, the young woman got out of her car and walked back to the honking driver. The man rolled down his window in surprise. “Tell you what,” she said. “You go start my car, and I’ll sit back here and honk the horn for you.”
As graduates, you will be urged to rush to act, and you will be encouraged to sprint to catch your dreams. You will be invited to live and learn with sacrifice. At your first class reunion, five, ten, twenty years from now, you will be expected to state boldly how everything fell into place for you, and to describe your path to success. And if you can’t, you will be lead by your acquaintances to the fearful judgment that your dreams have passed you by. My friends, don’t be afraid- Jesus’ practical advice to his disciples is the same word for you –to be patient. For if you live with God’s dream, he will empower you with his Holy Spirit, and new and greater dreams will be offered to you. 37 years ago, when I walked across the auditorium stage of Austin High School, I could have never dreamed the life that was to unfold. I hope and pray that by being patient, you will discover God’s wonderful dream for you as well.
Jesus’ second word of advice is to be positive. Before he was lifted up, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be witnesses.” You may have many dreams for your life. Hopefully, these dreams will serve you well. But part of God’s dream for you is that your life will be a positive, living witness of Christ’s presence in the world. Mind you, there will be many who will tell you to abandon the Christian faith of your parents. They believe that the Christian faith is nothing more than a set of rules to ruin a perfectly good time. You may be tempted like Mark Twain to view the Church and your faith as excess baggage best left behind. Twain, however, wryly wrote, “When I was 17 years old, my father was the most ignorant man in the world. But when I turned 22 years, I was surprised to discover how much he had learned in five years.” Yes, there is something to be said about the faith of your parents.
A father was approached by his small son who told him proudly, “I know what the Bible means!” His father smiled and replied, “What do you mean, you ‘know’ what the Bible means?” The son replied, “I do know!” “Okay,“ said his father. “So, son, what does the Bible mean?” “That’s easy, Daddy. It stands for ‘Basic Information Before Leaving Earth.’”
Graduates, be discerning with your faith- search again for the core values so that you may remain a positive witness of God’s dream for you and the world. Hold to your ideals, and simply put, don’t lie, cheat or steal. Have that dream — and go for it! But you too, may need to review your “Basic Information Before leaving Earth.” I hope and pray that by being positive, you will discover God’s wonderful dream for you as well.
Finally, Jesus’ third word of practical advice for his graduating disciples is simply be prepared. Before he was lifted up, Jesus said to his disciples, “You will be my witnesses – in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t command his disciples to go to the end of the earth first. That was to be the final dream and destination. The disciples would certainly journey to those places. But Jesus’ practical advice is preparation for God’s dreams for you begins in your own backyard.
No matter the distance, hold tight to your parents, your sisters and brothers, and all your family. Remember who ran up to school with the essay you forgot at home. Mind you, don’t expect them to drive to North Dakota or Iowa to do the same next year. Prepare for God’s dream for you, in the relationships that are nearest to you. Keep in touch with your other greatest supporters your friends – if even it’s only by e-mail and Facebook. I hope and pray that by being prepared, you will discover God’s wonderful dream for you.
Of course, there are other words of practical advice for graduates- remember that “Creativity is fed by sleep, and Keep a journal – hardbound and in ink so it will last.” But even as Jesus was uttering his own last words, and as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
My friends and dear graduates, there is nothing more to say than God be with you and may your life be a part of God’s dream. I do hope though that you will be more gracious than little Ralph. “Dear Pastor, I liked your sermon on Sunday. Especially when it was finished.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.