The text 2 Corinthians 13:5-14 from The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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Quick! What’s your favorite part of graduation? The commencement speaker! Of course! All over the country, people are dressing up in funny gowns, gathering in auditoriums and theaters and sports arenas, to hear their name called so they can walk across that stage. But first! They have to listen to someone give them words of wisdom and his or her perspective on life. The commencement speaker.
It is a tradition for schools to get some well known politician or public figure: Oprah is speaking at Stanford. I have a feeling that will be good. George Bush is speaking lots of places – from Greensburg, KS high school to the Air Force Academy and Furman College.
There’s some disappointment among some hoity toity Hahvahd grads this year – JK Rollings – the author of Harry Potter is going to be their speaker. One graduate said, “I feel cheated. When I look back at my commencement, I want to be reminded of something I was a part of. I don't want to think of Harry Potter."
Well, I have news for her: I’ve graduated a bunch of times, and I can barely even remember who the commencement speaker was, much less if they “reminded me of something I was a part of”. And shouldn’t someone who is graduating from Hahvahd say, “something of which I was a part”???
The most controversial speaker is at a law school in Illinois. Northwestern Law School has asked Jerry Springer to be give their commencement address. That could be interesting. Or really, really bad.
Well. I bring all this up, because on the Sunday in which we recognize significant milestones in the lives of some of our young people, I opened up the Bible and found that one of the lectionary passages sounded – for all the world, like a commencement address, given by Paul. It contains wise advice, cautions against the folly of inexperience, and offers encouragement to go out into the world and live a life worthy to be praised.
So let’s look at what Paul has to say as we celebrate these students’ transitions to exciting new stages of life:
Paul begins by harkening back to school – specifically to that feature of school life that many of us learned to dread: No. Not school lunch! Tests.
Many people think that when they leave school, they are leaving behind the palm sweating, stomach knotting ordeal of taking tests. What everyone soon learns, however, is that the test you take in school are the easy ones. Those of us who have been graduated for a long time absolutely LONG for a good, multiple choice, fill in the bubble standardized test. Because the test that come outside of school are the really tough ones. . . .
Paul says that the most important test is one that you can give yourself: “Test yourself”, he writes, in fact, “Give yourself regular checkups.” This is a test that you will take over and over again in life. And this test has only one question: – Is Christ in you?
In your relationships with your friends, teammates, family – is the love of Christ in you?
In your relationships with irritating people – jerks and enemies – is the patience of Christ in you?
In your relationships with people who are weaker than you – is the compassion of Christ in you?
In your relationships with people who are strong and think might means right – is the courage of Christ in you?
This isn’t an essay test – words don’t mean all that much. This is more like the President’s Physical Fitness Test: It is active. It is based on your heart’s capacity and your actual physical effort. Test yourselves often. Is Christ in you?
“If you fail the test” sometimes, as we all do, “then do something about it.” What can we do if we realize we’ve gotten an F in Faith?
Talk it over with God. Talk it over with someone you trust from Church. Make amends to the person you have hurt. And then plan how what you are going to do differently next time.
Remember that we are pulling for you. And God is pulling for you. We want you to succeed. And to us, success isn’t straight A’s or trophies or scholarships or rank in class. Success is when your strength develops and God’s truth triumphs in your life. Paul says, we hope it all comes together for you. I like that phrase – we hope it all comes together for you. At each stage of life, we are gathering little bits of knowledge, little bits of experience, little bits of perspective, little bits of practice. And what we hope is that as we go along, we can put it together, assemble the pieces, into something beautiful and good.
Paul elaborates on what getting it together would look like:
First, he says, – Be cheerful. Some stages of life are easier to cultivate cheerfulness than others. But you have the joy of God in your heart and look at all the people who love you. Remember the ones who have cheerfully greeted you and taken an interest in you. Let the thought of Jim or Marlene put a smile on your face. Remember Roger. Remember Mary Simon’s little Christmas presents after the pageant. Remember that we love you. Be cheerful.
Keep things in good repair – it’s easier to maintain things than to have to have a massive “cleanup” effort when you’ve let them go to hell. Army is known for this – uniforms clean, spit polish, policing your area every day. The thing is, that’s true spiritually too. Keep your lines of communication open with God. Keep your most important relationships in good repair.
Keep your spirits up – Each of us has a spiritual gift. Keeping your spirits up means continuing to use and develop your spiritual gift. Amanda, you have the spiritual gift of listening. – Keep it up!
Hannah, you have a gift for music – Keep it up! Connor, you have such a spirit of friendliness – Keep it up! Matthew, you have what I’d call a spirit of industry. That just means you are not afraid of hard work. Keep it up!
And Donny – you have such a wonderful gift of gentleness. Keep it up!
Whatever spiritual gift you have: Strength of body or mind
Deep thinking – Gentleness - Generosity
Making wise decisions - Keep it up!
Whatever gifts God has given you – Keep it up!
Then Paul says, Think in harmony and be agreeable. Now harmony is not possible if you are singing a solo. It takes several people singing together to make harmony. Same thing with agreement. If you agree with yourself, that’s not saying much. Agreements are between people, a feature of groups of people. So this part is about being a part of something bigger than yourself, namely, US.
You are not going up into the next stage of life all alone. Hannah and Connor, You are not going into Unity Jr. Hi as a single, isolated individuals. You are not going into Unity High School as the Lone Ranger, Matthew. Donny, you are not headed to Basic Training as an Army of One – no matter what the recruiter told you. And, Amanda, when your parents drop you off, and you wave goodbye and watch them drive away. You are still not alone. You are part of . . . a great cloud of witnesses, the body of Christ, you are a vine rooted in Christ, you are a part of the family of God here at Philo Presbyterian. Our love and prayers go with you. You will be part of what we do while you are at school and away. And what you do affects us. Don’t forget who you are. Remember, you are one of us through Jesus Christ our Lord. “Do that, and the God of Love and Peace will go with you for sure.”
Now the thing about commencement speeches is that they are imminently forgettable. Tim and I were talking about commencement speakers and he told me that he remembered only one thing from any speech he heard at any of his several graduations. His eighth grade graduation speaker said, “You probably won’t remember anything I say today.” And that’s all Tim does remember. Well – if you forget, at least you have Bibles, you can look this up.
But most of all, just remember this, that we love you. And
So we give you a hug of congratulations. Send you on your way with love. And
“The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, will be and go with you always.” Amen.