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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Baccalaureate Address Delivered to Riesel High School, 5.20.07

Good evening, graduates. I hope that word has not lost its power for you yet. I know that with senior supplies, invitations, exams, pictures, and all of the other stuff that goes with your completion of high school, the term ‘graduate’ could indeed become something reviling. But for tonight let us revel in the word. Let the scent of memory fill us, and let the lightning of possibility course through us. For that is what all of this is about – remembering the moments that have brought you to this place, as well as trying to fix your gaze on the potential and opportunity that you now hold.
But there is something more to tonight than just remembering. Yes, there will be a tear-jerking slideshow of the graduates, and there will be more congratulations than you can shake a stick at. This event, this baccalaureate, is a worship service. All the people in this community have come to support you, not as they do at a football game, but as members of a community of faith. This service is a time of commissioning and prayer – it is a symbol of what faith means to your people, so that perhaps you will take faith along with you wherever you go.
History tells us that in the first instance of Baccalaureate, held over six hundred years ago at Cambridge University, was a service of sermons delivered by all the candidates for graduation. Each sermon was graded and entirely in Latin. So, to keep with tradition, we will ask each of the graduates to come up and deliver their Latin sermon. To be fair, let’s go alphabetically: Reese Aycock, you’re up first.
Needless to say this event has indeed changed in the last six hundred years, and today it has a much more relaxed feeling to it. It is a night to give advice and prayers. So, in the interest of time, I will combine my advice and my prayers for you all into one brief message.
First, be suitably overwhelmed. You are all approximately the same age and have now met the same level of academic achievement that this nation thinks is necessary. But keep in mind some examples of just what you’re getting yourself into now: by their mid twenties Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein had both already written and developed the principles of Physics. By the time he was 30 Alexander the Great had conquered the known world. Mozart wrote all of his violin concertos by 22. The world that you are about to enter, whether it is college, work, or military service, is big and impressive. Great men and women have stridden this patch of land before you, and you should indeed be suitably overwhelmed. Go ahead and relax between now and graduation; because as soon as the ink is dry on your diploma the world has moved on.
Secondly, see the big picture. 4 million people just like you are graduating this year. Each of them comes from a family, has a life of their own, have issues and troubles not unlike yours. There are 17 million people already enrolled in college. There are billions in this great nation. Each person has to make a living, become educated, and have a family. That’s a lot of connections. You are entering a world of competition, of corruption, of war, and of freedom. The big picture is that you are relatively on your own to carve out what life you want to have in this country. You are responsible for the things you know and do. You are responsible for your own success or failure from here on out. The big picture is a scary place, one in which you can surely get lost.
My goal is not to frighten you or worry your parents even more. Instead, I would offer you hope as you take these uncharted steps forward. What a shame it would be if all of this life was just a random scraping for food and resources. What a depressing place this earth would be if all there was to life was retirement. What a dearth of hope there would be if all we were was accomplished by the end of high school. Instead, there is meaning to life. There is a God who created and cares for you as you go your way. In John chapter 14 Jesus is graduating his disciples to the great journey ahead of them. He has taught them as long as he could, and now it is time for them to go their own way. He could have easily written his commands down in stone and expected the church to obey, but he did something quite different. He says “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
The Lord will not leave you in this world as orphans. Wherever you will go you will be just one breath from God. How marvelous a statement is that! God resides within you! This is more than the promise of John chapter one, where the Logos comes and dwells among us, this is God, the Logos, dwelling WITHIN US. Consider the implications of God going with you into the world and guiding you in truth. The big picture cannot handle this statement. The world that you are entering does not understand that you are carrying the most potent disease ever placed in the heart of humanity. You carry with you the knowledge of the truth, the truth which sets men free.
And it is your duty, and men and women of the Gospel to preach that freedom. Your lives must be living sermons to all you encounter, testifying to the truth of God. Set them free, graduates, from the chains that bind them to misery and hopelessness. Be people who show the Way to those who cannot find it. Be ready in all your choices to say “here, look and see God, the one who is with me always.” For he hasn’t left them. And he will not leave you. You are no longer an orphan as the world would tell you that you are; you are a child with parent immortal. I am reminded of a hymn which’s third verse makes me rejoice – “The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days/O may thy house be mine abode and all my work be praise/There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come/ no more a stranger nor a guest, but like a child at home.”
May your life be the bliss and peace of being a child in the house of the Lord. You are no longer a stranger nor a guest wherever you find yourself; you are with the Lord and he is with you. He will not leave you, nor forsake you. He will be but a moment from your sight.
Be impressed with the young-age accomplishments of Alexander and Newton. But I am more impressed that people such as yourselves carry a wisdom and a power greater than these with you – you carry your God. So graduate; go into all the world and do great and mighty things. Carry with you the memories of this place and these people. But rest in the calm assurance that your God is with you, and will remain with you until the end of all things.
May the blessings of the Lord Jesus Christ be upon us all in the days to come.

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