Monday, May 21, 2018

A Graduation Sermon

Introduction
            It’s amazing how fast the years go by.  One minute you're a kid excited to be starting preschool or kindergarten and it seems like it will be an eternity before you graduate high school.  But the years go by so fast and before you know it you've gone through elementary school, middle school, and high school and your graduating.  Then maybe you've finished college and gotten your first job or you're getting married or having kids and then your own kids are graduating high school!  The older I get, the faster it seems the years go by!
            This is the time of year high school students graduate and begin a new phase of life as young adults.  They are excited and maybe a little apprehensive about what lies ahead.  Parents are proud, but also full of bitter sweet emotions--seeing their babies grow up, happy and excited for them, but also maybe a little worried and sad to let them spread their wings and leave the nest.
            Today, I want to share something for parents and graduates to comfort and encourage you in this transition.  However, it's not just for graduates and parents.  It's for everyone who if we has ears
to hear.

Psalm 16:7-11
7 I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.  8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.  9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.  11 You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Praise God!
            Can we just take a moment and, as the Psalm suggests in verse 7a, just praise the Lord for all He has done?  Parents, you've survived changing dirty diapers and crying babies, the terrible twos (when your precious angel baby turned into a diabolical demon child)!  Somehow, you managed to keep food on the table and the bills paid when there never seemed to be enough money to make ends meet!  You taught them to drive and they didn't crash a die in burning ball of flames!  You survived boyfriends and girlfriends and arguments over prom dresses and makeup.  And, through it all, you had the joy and pleasure of holding this precious life in your hands and nurturing them and learning from them and being challenged by them because they are so much like you and yet so distinct from you!
            Graduates, you managed to grow from a baby who had to learn to use the toilet to learning the ABC and how to write and math and algebra and geometry and maybe calculus!  And you survived history and English literature and writing essays and countless pop quizzes and finals and SATs.  And you managed to deal with parents who love you so much but just don’t really fully understand your life and the new times we live in!
            Can we all just pause for a moment, just to praise God for being with all of us every step of the way!  Just close your eyes (or keep them open and look up to the heavens) and shout "Thank You God!  You have been so good to me!"

You Know What to Do
            And if you’ve been walking with the Lord, if you’ve let Him be with you through it all, He's now incorporated into your heart—into everything you are, the way you think, the way you act.  You don’t even have to think about it, any more than you have to think about breathing or making your heart beat.  Have you ever noticed that when you go to sleep, you don't have to remember to breathe?  It's just keeps happening.  And you heart keeps right on beating.  And the Psalmist says, “Even at night while I sleep, my heart instructs me.”  If you've let Jesus into your heart, his Holy Spirit instructs you every step of the way, and you don't even have to think about it.
            Graduates, as you go off to your next adventure, you take with you all you have learned from school, from your parents and teachers and friends and your church.  It’s part of who you are now.  You need not worry about the unknown that may await you.  You’ve prepared.  Our thoughts and prayers go with you, but not only that.  A part of all that has loved you and nurtured you and cared for you goes with you. It is now part of who you are.
            Parents and family, friends and loved ones, church, you have invested in your young ones so faithfully.  Your wisdom and experience goes with them, as does the Lord.  So take heart and have faith.  Do not worry or be anxious (it wouldn’t do any good anyway).  But in everything give thanks and praise to God for what He has done and give your cares and concerns to the Lord in prayer.
            We can all go forth with confidence, thanking the Lord for all we have shared with one another, trusting that each graduate has the wisdom and character to make the right choices in the days to come. 

Verse 8-9 – Keep your eyes on the Lord. 
            Keep your eyes on the Lord.  Remember what you have learned.  Remember the Lord and His ways and what He has done for you.  For you!  And so walk with Him.  You will grow and mature.  Your faith may change as you gain more knowledge and wisdom, but faith need not be shaken.  Only let your childish ideas grow up and change if needs be, but never lose your childlike faith and trust in Jesus.

Verse 10 – For God will never abandon you. 
            God will never leave you or forsake you.  Never.  “For God loved you so much, He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.  God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save it.”  And Jesus went so far to save you as to lay down his life for you on the cross.  And so, Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.  He goes with you!
            This is a promise that gives hope and assurances to graduates and parents and to all who truly trust in the Lord!  For nothing—not even death—can separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.  So take courage and rejoice!  All of you!  For if God is for us, who can ever be against us?

Verse 11 – “You make known to me the path of life…”
            We had five high school students from my church graduate this year.  I’ve known each of them for many years.  I met Rachel Ward when she was only 10-years-old (one year younger than my youngest daughter is now).  She has worked in the church nursery for several years, loving kids and serving the Church.  I'm so proud of the caring and thoughtful young woman she's become. 
            JC McDonald was also about ten when I first met her.  I will always remember how she invited me to come to her elementary school to for a special program to show pastors what they were learning.  She is also a fine young lady. 
            Twins, Meredith and Ward Barber, started coming to my church when they were in middle school.  They wanted to join the church along with their mother and older sister.  So we had a crash course in what it means to be a Christian and they made their professions of faith and joined and then came back a few months later to go through our formal confirmation classes.  I was a chaplain for Ward's middle school football team.  I was at many of the Beta Club and Honor Society meetings with Meredith because two of my children were also in those programs.  I'm so proud she is now graduating as valedictorian of her high school. 
            I had the privilege to help sponsor Will Maddox to attend a Chrysalis weekend spiritual retreat.  Two years ago, Will's family lost their home to a fire in the middle of the night.  Will's sister had to leap to safety from the second story window.  She survived, but with a broken pelvis.  And Will was such a caring big brother to her while she was in the hospital and as she recovered through physical therapy. 
            I have been a small part of each graduates' life, and part of their family, to some degree for many years.  Everything I’ve taught in my sermons and in our conversations and what our church has offered them was founded on God’s Word, the Bible, and intended to steer them safely down the path of life.  (Not just this life, but True Life, Eternal Life.) 
            These graduates' parents, who brought them to church each Sunday, wanted the same for them as I have--that they would know the love of God and trust Jesus and have eternal life.   I hope they have listened to us and taken to heart what we’ve offered.  If so, it is part of who they are and will steer them down the path of life, if they obey.
            The Word of God, the Bible, is readily available to each graduate and to us all.  Most people have many copies of the Bible (if you need a Bible contact me and I will give you one).  The Bible it is readily available on the internet at biblegateway.com, on your smart phones, you can even listen to the Bible on an app while you are driving in your car
            And these words of Scripture are the Living Word of God—the Word of Life.  They are a conversation with your Creator.  They can continue to steer you down the path of life if you will listen to them.  But will you?
            I started reading my Bible every day when I was a senior in high school.  Each night, before I went to bed, I would read one chapter.  However, when I went to college, I faced a dilemma.  My first year in the college, I lived in a dorm with a room mate.  And my first night there, I found my self laying in the bed thinking, "Am I gonna pick up my Bible and start reading?  My roommate's gonna think I'm some sort of Bible-thumping, religious fanatic."  And then I saw my roommate reach over and grab his Bible and start reading!  So my dilemma was solved and I continue my habit of reading a chapter of scripture from the Bible every night until I read through the entire thing.

Challenge
            Graduating from school is a momentous transition.  It is a great time for graduates to start a new and healthy spiritual habit.  It's also a great time for their parents to do the same.  Actually, anytime is a great time to start a new and helpful spiritual practice.  So I would like to issue a challenge--to parents, to graduates, to everyone--why not start reading a chapter from your Bible each night.  And cut yourself some slack.  You're probably not going to understand everything you read and that's OK.  Reading the Bible is not about getting and understanding more information.  It's about spending time with your Creator--the one who designed you and breathed life into you and Who loves you and desires more than anything to spend time with you and be loved by you.  When you pick up your Bible and read, you are in the presence of God and His words pour into your heart and become part of who you are without you even knowing it.  Then, no matter where you go or what you do, as the Psalmist says, God will counsel you in your heart, make known the path of life, and fill you with the joy of His presence and the eternal pleasures of His right hand.
             Will you take the challenge to read one chapter of your Bible each night before you go to bed?