You have been wonderfully made for the journey to all those places you will go. I pray you realize that and trust you do so with humility. You are to be cheered for your many accomplishments and the manner in which you have conducted yourselves during the course of your high school journey, especially during this past year. As a result of what you’ve experienced and what you’ve learned, you have some of the stuff that is necessary for making the trip to all those places you will go in life.
What you need, though, is much more than a high school education. You need to couple with that education a strong and an abiding faith in the Holy God of this universe who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. My prayer is that each of you is experiencing that Way, that Truth, and that Life. You’ve been shown that Way, Truth, and Life here at Tabernacle. This Graduate Dedication is not so much a graduation thing as it is a God thing. You are here to worship God. This is not about you; this is about God.
You are Christians and have a worldview that is dominated by the Risen and Ascended Lord Christ. Jesus Followers want to gather with others in worship and study. You need other believers in a gathering such as this as you journey into your future. And what a wonderful future it will be if you publicly declare with your lips, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. You are to do this always, especially on the Lord’s Day with others.
Jesus is a good example for all of us to emulate. He, too, was wonderfully made for the journey to all those places He would go. And He didn’t go very far geographically. But what an impact He made wherever He went! That impact is still being felt today. His example provides the impetus that prepares you for the impact you can make on humanity, if you will.
That is God’s desire: that you impact humanity for the good. That’s why you are wonderfully made. The Old Testament words we read from Genesis 1 are, indeed, words that affirm God’s desire. This ancient poetic expression is a reminder that it all began in the beginning with God creatively speaking the universe into existence. It doesn’t tell us how He did it. It may have been with a Big Bang or it may have been with a Little Bang or with no bang at all. Whatever any Christian’s view may be on how it happened, one thing is certain: God said, “Let there be…” and there was. He spoke it all into existence. And God saw that it was good – all of it, especially humankind.
God spoke each one of you into existence. Wow! You bear His likeness. You are in His image. You are not God, but you resemble Him. Look carefully at the person beside you. Go ahead. Do you see the resemblance? OK. Maybe you don’t! Maybe I ought not push my luck. But that resemblance is there. And He has entrusted to you the stewardship of His wonderful creation because you yourself are wonderfully made. He also knows that you are flesh and blood.
The imperatives in these two passages of scripture are words of authority – authority in the good sense. Jesus told the Eleven, as the
I ask you to make a difference as you go to wherever you go. Some of you will venture into the field of medicine. Others of you into the world of education. Others of you into the world of business. Others of you into the world of technology and science. Others of you into the world of the helping profession, such as ministry or counseling. Still others of you will venture into the world of the arts and fine arts. Whatever field you enter, commit to making a difference.
Whatever you do, remember that it is not about you. It is not about fulfilling the American Dream. It is about living life in such a way that other lives are touched for the good by how you live. From the Christian worldview it is about others. It is about giving one’s self to the world in need. It is about offering yourself so humanity can experience some of the blessings you’ve experienced. It is about doing good so the world can see the likeness of God in you.
Gerald L. Sittser, in his book, Water from a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries,[i] notes, “The goal of life in this world is not ease, prosperity, and success.” Rather the goal of life is “intimacy with God, maturity of character, and influence in the world.” You are to understand that and if you do, you will make a difference as you influence a world that is full of needs.
The needs really are great, aren’t they? You know that. They seem insurmountable. Every day, 30,000 children under age five die of preventable diseases like diarrhea, measles, and malnutrition. AIDS has orphaned 15 million children. By 2015 there will be 40 million. One can only imagine the increased risks for these orphans. Every year more than one million children are forced into the commercial sex trade to join the more than 10 million who are already trapped in it. 246 million children are engaged in cruel child labor. More than 675 million children live in poverty, which means lacking the resources to meet basic human needs. 90% of all casualties in armed conflicts around the world are civilians and half of those are children. It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? It’s tempting to say, “Why bother?”
Move beyond that temptation and do bother. You see, God wants you to make a difference – even if it is in but one life. And if each of you will make a difference in one life that means one less life that is affected by the horrors of evil in this world. And that one life will, I believe, see God – God in you and you can tell that one about His Son, wonderfully made, and in the telling about Jesus, hopefully a disciple will be made in the spirit of what Jesus commanded His followers to d “…go and make disciples of all nations, …” (
Even as you seek to make a difference, be mindful that, hard as you may try, you can’t prepare for everything that will happen to you in your journey. Tuesday morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution had on the front page this headline in bold type: “Nothing can prepare you…” Those are the words of Robbie Sims, who lives in Ellenwood, a community like Carrollton and Carroll County that was hard hit by last Sunday morning’s storms. “Nothing can prepare you for a storm like this,” she said. There are some things in life, some of which are terrible storms, for which you simply can’t prepare.
I watched the Kentucky Derby and, with some of you, watched a tragedy unfold. The second place finisher, Eight Belles, collapsed, going down, shortly after crossing the finish line. The beautiful filly suffered two compound fractures in both front legs and she immediately had to be euthanized. I was shocked. My heart broke. I certainly wasn’t prepared for that. I don’t think anyone was.
Even though you are wonderfully made, you’ll find yourself going down, from time to time. Most of the time, you’ll get back up. But something may happen that results in you not getting back up. I hope it doesn’t. But you need to know that none of you is immune from the horrors of life. None of you is even immune from death. Some things you simply can’t prepare for as you journey. But you can prepare your heart to face whatever may come to you in life as you attempt to help put the world on a right course, even if you yourself die as a result of your efforts.
Winston Churchill once said, “I am prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” If you seek to live your life under the authority of Jesus Christ and show the world that He really does care through you, then when you meet your Maker, on the day your faith becomes sight, He will gladly meet you and welcome you with a word of resounding affirmation, “Well done.” And who knows? The books may be opened and you’ll be invited to review what you did across the span of your life to make a difference and hopefully, at the end of the narrative about what you did, you’ll read some concluding words that may go something like, “And God saw that it was good.” Sound likes
Born in 1917, Oscar Romero was named Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. He was a voice for the voiceless in the Latin American nation of El Salvador. He boldly challenged the government’s mistreatment of the people and became a thorn, so to speak, in the side of the military government. On May 24, 1980, while saying Mass in the Chapel of the Carmelite Sisters’ Cancer Hospital in San Salvador where he lived, a single rifle shot was fired from the rear of the chapel. Romero was struck in the heart and died within seconds. Reflecting on his own ministry, shortly before his assassination, the 20th century martyr observed, “It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about…
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between The Master Builder and the worker. We are workers not The Master Builder. We are ministers and servants, not The Messiah. We are all prophets of a future that is not our own.”[ii]
Even though you are going into your future, the future really is not your own. It belongs to the God who wonderfully made you. As you’ve made the journey to this Worship Center, I pray you, like Oscar Romero, will reflect, not only at the end or near the end of what I hope will be a long and fruitful life, but each day of your journey. I hope you are reflecting now. I hope you’ll reflect before you go to bed tonight. I hope you’ll be able to say at the end of every day for the rest of your life that, “I sought to make a difference in this world, God’s world, a world that He loves so much.”
My dear younger sisters and brothers, you were in the Fifth Grade when I became your pastor. Some of you I baptized. With some of you I went on missional journeys and participated in various functions. I’ve watched you play football and baseball or cheerlead. I watched you in the Band. I certainly have watched you here at Tabernacle week-after-week. I have walked with you through the sorrow of one of life’s darkest valley, the valley of death’s shadow, as I conducted the funeral of a friend or a parent or grandparent. Maybe I was just there with you. Oh, you are so wonderfully made for the journey to all those places you’ll go and I’m looking forward to hearing about your travels in the years to come.
Go and follow the ways of your hearts. First and foremost always worship, as the Eleven did, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, who is risen indeed, as
Congratulations! Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU ARE the one who’ll decide where to go.
You really are off to Great Places! Today is your day. No. Today is the Lord’s Day. He has given each of you a mountain and it really is waiting. So, on this Lord’s Day, go ahead … get on your way!
And as you get on your way, don’t ever forget that you have been wonderfully made in the likeness and image of the Creator God of the Universe who, in the person of Jesus Christ, is with you always as you make the wonderful journey to all those places you will go – even if it is just across the street. Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Let it be so. Let it be so.
[i] Gerald L. Sittser, Water From a Deep Well: Christian Spirituality from Early Martyrs to Modern Missionaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2007.
[ii] Thanks to my friend, Philip Wise, for Romero’s words.