Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Graduation is a time for great endings and new beginnings.  It is a time for grand farewells, and the initial strides along new pathways.  It is also a wonderful time for studying the patterns of parents letting go, the increasing independence of the graduates. It is a time for blood, sweat and tears- and it is not always the young men and women who are anxious for what tomorrow will bring. Parents 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 a beloved child will no longer be a part of their home. And for sons and daughters, the graduates, it is a time of unbridled optimism.  It is a time for great endings that make great beginnings.

Of course, there will be a fair deal of joking at graduation, often at the expense of the graduates. Doting parents and grandparents, and aunts and uncles will recall your first day in first grade, when you sullenly told the teacher, “I don’t like school, and I just found out I have to stay until I’m eighteen.”  The teacher consoled you by sharing a little frustration of her own, “That’s not so bad.  I have to stay here until I’m sixty-five.”  Or, they will remind you of your most embarrassing driving experience. The time your car had stalled on the side of the road, and a good Samaritan stopped by and quickly informed you, “Son, the problem is you’re out of gas.”  And without thinking, but trying to avoid the chances of losing you driving privileges, you asked, “Will it hurt to drive it home like that?”

The whole senior year and that final graduation day are tough for parents. They go to the ceremony as mothers and fathers. They come home as contemporaries, and after 18 years of child-rearing they are unemployed.  So, in case you haven’t noticed, they have spent the last  year fretting about the lessons they’ve taught, and in the process, they’ve examined their own lives and values. To a parent, every day suddenly becomes one last teaching moment.  No doubt, you’ve discovered that when your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it’s merely a formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.

Of course, the same could be said of this morning’s sermon, “Do you want a piece of pastoral advice?  No. Well, you’re going to get it anyway.”  I too would like to offer you one last insight.  Interestingly, it is the same word that Jesus shared with his disciples when he left them one fine spring day. To the parents, friends and members of the Class of 2023, I would like to share with you three thoughts drawn from Jesus’ Great Commission.  Together they will make for a great new beginning. Find your passions, enjoy life now, and never underestimate the power of your actions.

First, Jesus said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” in more colloquial words- Find your passions and go.  That may seem obvious, but let me emphasize that you don’t have to know what you want to do the rest of your life when you leave high school. People are always asking you this, so you think you’re supposed to have an answer. But most adults ask this as a conversation starter. They want to know what sort of person you are, and this question is just to get you talking.  I’m sure Jesus disciples had absolutely no idea what it meant to be his disciples and to go to the ends of the earth, but still they dared to begin a three-year journey to learn.

If I were starting all over again, I’d say that my first priority was to learn what the options were. You don’t have to rush in to choose your life’s work. What you need to do is discover what you like.  The author Kurt Vonnegut was once attributed to saying. “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.”

Second, enjoy life now.  Enjoying life is often viewed as a selfish act, and sometimes it is.  I am reminded of a little sign I saw by a teller in a discount store.  “I can only please one person each day. Today is not your day.  Tomorrow isn’t looking too good, either.”  For you, enjoying life may be for your pleasure only.  So Jesus’ words to the disciples, “Teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”  may not seem so appealing.  We don’t like it when someone tells us to obey what they have commanded, especially as we’re heading off to college- even Jesus.  How can such a command be an invitation to enjoy life?

Jesus’ instruction to the disciples is not a warning of life’s potential and imminent regrets and frustrations, or the lament, “If only I would have.” But rather it is the context for you to enjoy the fullness of the life God intended for you now. Consider the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Do not worry about your life.  Have no fear, little flock. I have come that you should have life and live it abundantly.” Yes, Jesus invited his disciple to obey his commandments so that they could enjoy a God centered life now, and so they would not be haunted by regrets later.  That is his invitation for you as well.  Enjoy God’s little blessings now- without regrets.

Third, never underestimate the power of your actions.  President John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”  With one small gesture you can change a person’s life, or, with one simple look you can send someone down the toughest spiral of confusion and hate.  The truth is, you are you—the only you in all the world and you can make a difference.  So, never underestimate the power of your actions.

Finally, Jesus added to all this, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Why is this such an important word?  It is not Jesus’ warning that he is the great brother in the sky monitoring your every word and deed. No, it is a reminder that God has given us in Jesus Christ a steady presence of hope. And hope is more than optimism. Hope means God is with you in trouble and in triumph. If God is with you, regret will never have to be the last word.

Great endings make great beginnings.  And for you, Class of 2023, graduation is a great ending. No, never again, will you have to suffer through you mother’s inquisition, “How did we do on our science project this year,” Nor when you fail your math test, will you have to ask your father as a budding psychologist, “So what you think it was this time dad, environment or heredity? Nature or nurture?”

Dear friends, today, our Savior invites you to be blessed with a great beginning. So find your passions and go, enjoy life now, and never underestimate the power of your actions. And remember, that Jesus with his abounding hope will be with always, to the end of the age. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.