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Dear friends in Christ, and especially to our graduating senior Sam, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
To every 2019 graduate, be prepared to be the brunt of some good natured ribbing over the next few weeks. After all, how many university graduates does it take to change a light bulb? One, but it may take up to seven years! Or consider the fate of the young man hired by a supermarket when he reported for his first day of work. The manager greeted him with a warm handshake and a smile, then gave him a broom and said, “Your first job will be to sweep out the store.” The young man replied indignantly. “But I’m a college graduate.” The manager quickly, replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that. Here, give me the broom – I’ll show you how.”
As for your parents, they may be the ones telling the jokes. On the one hand, they are celebrating your independence and that they’ll never have to share in your grades again. One father I know, always asked his son, “How did we do on our report card?” Yes, your poor parents. Mothers and fathers who once laughed with their sons and daughters have begun to discover a lump in their throat. They may even grow misty-eyed with the thought that their beloved child will no longer be a part of their home.
My friends, whether you are today’s high school graduate, university graduate, or simply a graduate of the school of hard knocks, this morning’s sermon is for you.
To our graduates- In the coming weeks, commencement addresses will be given. 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, 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 I would like to challenge you with yet 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 advice for his graduates. That is what I would like to share with 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.”
Soon, 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, your acquaintances will assume that feared judgment that your dreams have passed you by. My friends, don’t be afraid- Jesus’ advice to his own disciples is the same word for you. 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. 42 years ago, when I walked across the auditorium stage of Austin High School, and 4 years later, when I walked across the floor at St. Olaf College. 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 my witnesses.” You may have many other 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 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 even Northfield 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. I hope and pray that by being prepared, you will discover God’s wonderful dream for you.
Of course, there are other words of advice for graduates- remember that “Creativity is fed by sleep, and that a graduation ceremony is important, but it is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success. 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 graduates, there is nothing more to say than God be with you and may your life be a part of God’s dream. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.