Graduation is upon you.
What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you’ve learned to hate and launched upon the world full of possibility. Just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don’t get enough of that these days. Everyone is flying in from across the country just to attend your party, churches are holding banquets in your honor, and all of it is wonderful. It’s your moment in the sun. Bask.
The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or what you can’t do. Perhaps there is some truth there.
But we have a few problems here.
One, our gifts always tempt us towards pride. Two, there are some graduates who don’t have as many tassels, who have spent the last four years feeling just as lost and invisible in the high school hallways as they do now in the rank and file of the gym floor. And most of all, as the ceremonies conclude and the party pictures flood Facebook, the life of Jesus intrudes and offers a disruptive word that, frankly, a lot of us aren’t sure we want to hear.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – John 12:23
And a disruptive fact:
Thousands of people plunge into hell on a daily basis.
Just sit with that phrase for a moment. Let it permeate your priorities. It should change things for all of us.
As Jesus walked the earth, his eyes were fixed upon God’s mission for him, as surely as yours have been fixed upon the cap and gown. The cross and empty tomb were Jesus’ graduation. He thought of nothing else, primarily because it pleased his Father, but also because billions of souls were counting on it. That is our example.
And what was the cross? Sacrifice. Pain. Shame. Jesus’ ultimate emptying of himself. His identification with the lowest. Putting others first.
And he called it “glory”.
Something in me cringes. Blood as glory? When we young folks (dare I say, young Americans?) think of glory, we don’t often equate it with emptying ourselves. So many glowing valedictorians’ speeches seem to hint at some far-off moment, some pinnacle of achievement, that we should work towards. Maybe that will be true for some of us. But others commit their entire lives to finding it and never do. We equate it with college degrees, prosperous jobs, families, success. The speeches talk of “making a difference”, and I’ll wager that they aren’t talking about McDonald’s.
But could Jesus use us there?
The world is a mess at every level. Shootings. Starvation. Slavery. Everyday people riddled with shame, self-hatred, and shattered hearts. Christians are desperately, desperately needed. The world is not changed solely by the rare individual’s scientific discovery or legislation, but in a million small battles that will never make it into the history books. It’s changed from street corners, shops, classrooms, counseling offices, the manufacturing line and the firing line, the factory floor and the kitchen floor, by random acts of kindness and secret Santas and anonymous donors. That’s where people’s lives and hearts are healed. That’s where they see Jesus.
So…be willing if God takes you there!
Suffering and disappointment may come. It comes so that God can open your eyes to the plight of the lost. The compassionate, noble people you know have been shaped by that pressure. In the midst of a season that tends to shift focus to ourselves, let us remember that both ourselves and our success are defined by Christ. That’s actually freeing. We need no worldly position, no decades of work, to be Jesus to those around us. We need only a willing spirit, and to accept whatever path God has for you.
If you are blessed with gifts and talent, remember why you have them. They weren’t bestowed to fill some hole in your heart or elevate you. Think instead of how they might help others. They are needed.
If you don’t feel so blessed, remember that you don’t need to be. You have been gifted with a message – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and the Holy Spirit’s power to conve it. You needn’t be looking up at that valedictorian in envy; you are the very type God has his eye on – Gideon, Saul, the fisherman disciples – for some of his greatest works.
The future is not ours. It is God’s. And that is the best news you could possibly hear today.