Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Spring is normally a time for great endings and new beginnings. It is a time for grand farewells, and the initial strides of graduating student steeping out along the unknown journeys ahead. Yes, normally, spring is a time for studying the patterns of parents and their youth and the coming of age. It is a time for blood, sweat and tears- and it is not always the young men and women who are anxious fretting about what tomorrow’s final examination will bring. Parents who once laughed with their sons and daughters have begun to discover a lump in their throat as they wonder, “Are these kids ever leaving ?” Parents may grow misty-eyed with the thought that a beloved child will no longer be a part of their home, but they’re disheartened that they are still in the house at 11:00 in the morning.. As for their sons and daughters, the graduates of 2020, this normally would be a time of unbridled optimism – a time for great endings that make great beginnings. Unfortunately, that was not what was in store this spring. The great endings and new beginnings of our graduates were suddenly rewritten in the second week of March.
As we have all discovered this year, there’s so much that is still unknown, and so little that can be taken for granted. In the blink of an eye, the coronavirus erupted into a global pandemic, and interrupted our lives. But for the graduating classes of 2020 across this country, this pandemic came with little to no chance of having a normal ending to their senior year. Events which seemed so common, so 2019, prom, late night parties with friends, graduation ceremonies and open houses, disappeared. Over and over again, these graduates are being told that this springtime should not be regarded as their defining hour, but it certainly will color their perspective of the future.
If there is any consolation, dear graduates, it is this. Jesus’ own disciples experienced a disruptive springtime as well. On that first Ascension Day long ago, when Jesus returned to his Father’s heavenly home, the disciples were preparing for their own great endings and new beginnings. For three years they had been studying with Jesus. They had been rehearsing for the day that they would be sent forth to do the work of the kingdom. They too were dreaming dreams. And like you, they were crushed, when their master Jesus was crucified on that long Good Friday. Even after his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday, his disciples wandered with him somewhat shell-shocked for another 40 days. To the very last hour, Jesus struggled to offer assurance and direction to them for the journey ahead. And then like you, the disciples were told to stay home, “So stay here in the city until you have been clothed from on high.” Jesus, however, also offered three practical words of advice to his disciples- which are just as fitting now for the Class of 2020, as they were that graduating class of disciples 2000 years ago. It is the practical advice for each one of us, for those preparing to leave home, to the graduates who are making plans for a new beginning, and for all of us who are experiencing changes in our lives and careers. I might even add, it is fitting counsel for anxious pastors wondering when and how we should move on. The three words are, Be Positive, Be prepared, and Be Patient.
Let us consider Jesus’ first word of practical advice, be positive. This spring, we have all learned some things about ourselves- and how negative we can be when things don’t go our way. It is said, “You Can Tell a Lot About a Person by How They Handle Slow Internet and Tangled Christmas Lights.” Before he was lifted up, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.” 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 his presence in the world. Mind you, there will be many who will tell you to abandon the Christian faith of your youth. You will meet other who will say that the Christian faith is nothing more than a set of rules to ruin a perfectly good time. The may tempt you to look upon the Church and your faith as excess baggage ready to be left behind. I hope instead that you will be like the American humorist and author Mark Twain who once 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.”
Dear Graduates, be discerning with your faith. As you move on and start again somewhere new, search for the positive core values of the Christian faith so that you may be a living and vital witness of God’s dream for you and the world. Hold to your ideals. Have that dream. Be positive and go for it!
Jesus’ second word of practical advice was simply to be prepared. As former Boy Scout, I lived by this motto. I learned as well Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Before Jesus was lifted up, he said to his disciples, that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sin is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t command his disciples to go to the ends of the earth first. That was to be the final dream and destination. Instead, the disciples were told to begin using their time, preparing for that task in Jerusalem, their own backyard. The disciples would certainly journey to distant places. But Jesus’ practical advice for the future is that preparation often begins and is performed close to home now. It is where initiate new beginnings.
In 1887, Thomas Alva Edison, the great American inventor opened a new laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey. He called it his “invention factory.” In 1914 the laboratory burned to the ground. Edison took the loss calmly. “All of our mistakes have been destroyed,” he said. “In a new factory we can start our experiments with a clean slate.” Perhaps more remarkably, he said, “I am 67, but I’m not too old to make a fresh start.” Dear Graduates, no one can go back and make a brand new start at this ending, you certainly wouldn’t want to start middle school and high school over again, just so you can have the right ending to your high school career. But anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. So do the things now that will prepare you for that new future.
Finally, be patient. Before he was lifted up, Jesus said to his disciples, And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so wait and stay here.” As men and women always on the move, we are constantly being pushed and urged to act. No doubt, in your life you too will be encouraged to sprint to catch your dreams. You will be invited to live and learn without sacrifice. Surprisingly, we learn more about ourselves in the empty time- than when we are to busy to notice.
Dear Graduates, don’t be afraid-of Jesus’ advice to be patient. Live with the assurance that 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. The disciples waiting in Jerusalem could have never imagined the adventures and challenges they would encounter as they began doing the work of the kingdom. And it all began as they waited patiently, positively, preparing for the future, in their own backyard and they were not disappointed.
Yes, like Jesus’ own disciples, Class of 2020, you have been told to “stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” This may not be the graduation celebration you were expecting. But this I can tell with confidence. God has great things waiting for you. So Be Positive, Be Prepared and Be Patient. God has a dream, yet to be revealed, for you and for your life as well. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.