The Undeniable Love of God
I have a confession I have to make. I have always dreamed of doing a Baclaureate message. Ever since I became a pastor, and spend my first years of ministries in smaller towns and inner city neighborhoods, I have thought about what I would say if I ever got the chance to speak at a graduation or a high school graduation or even an eighth grade graduation.
You see I used to be a youth pastor. Since our group was a decent size, especially when I was in Montana, it meant that I would have to go to these events for the school in our town, the Christian school, the town to the east and the west of us when I started in youth ministry. This meant I generally attended at least 6 graduation ceremonies in May. Sometimes it also meant attending home school graduation ceremonies in people's homes as well.
The good thing about all these graduations was if I played my cards right I could go from graduation party to graduation party for about two weeks and never have to cook.
The difficult thing about all these graduations is that each baccalaureate and graduation seemed to have about the same speech. Go for the gusto! Commencement is not an end point but the beginning point! Right now is the time to take the world by storm! You can change the world!
Somehow, to heighten the drama of baccalaureate or graduation, the speaker would talk about how essential it is that you choose TO BE A WINNER. That you choose to DO THE RIGHT THING. That your generation was the LAST HOPE FOR AMERICA. That as you turned 18, your next two years determined the rest of your life, and that we are all depending on you to REACH YOUR FULL POTENTIAL.
I graduated from high school 19 years ago. Back when girls elevated their height from 5'6 to 6'0 with long bangs and hair spray that made those bangs stand straight up like a big wall. Back in the days before DVDs and laptop computers.
Some things change. Some things say the same year to year.\
The year I was graduating I really had not chosen where I was attending college in the fall by the time I had graduated. I did not know what I wanted to study when I graduated. I just knew I wanted to play football at a Christian college, and go on an adventure to some place I had never been before.
That didn't keep people from asking me a few questions every day. What are you planning on doing after graduation? What do you plan on majoring in? What can you do with that?
When I was graduating, and the summer before I went to college, my mother decided it was time for a crash course in reviewing everything she ever taught me, and everything she had forgotten to teach me before I left to college.
My evenings that summer were filled with pop quizzes on how to launder clothes and properly sort clothes for the wash, cooking some meals with her peeking over my shoulder to make sure I was doing it right, reminders on proper driving skills (that actually has not ended yet), and reminders on proper posture, how dress and groom myself so as to not bring shame on the family name. Little did she know that most of my friends went to their morning classes without showering , and chose their clothes by sniffing their way through a dirty clothes pile to see which dirty clothes could be repurposed to wear again that day. Or maybe she did……
My grandmother got in the act as well. I remember driving with my grandma and sis up to the handicapped entrance to the school to get my grandmother in the building. And my grandma telling me I had a blemish. Then, she promptly put some cover up make-up on my face to cover my pimple. My sister was about to die laughing in the back of the car. I just kept walking up the entrance in shock asking myself under my breathe if my grandmother really did just try to get me to wear make-up, and trying not to laugh myself.
Anyway….the point is this. I could give you a to-do list of what you should do to be a great success. I could give you lots of pithy quotes. I could urge you to memorize verses between now and Sunday and guarantee that they will change your life. I could try and inspire you to conquer the world. But if many of you are like me, you are trying to figure out why mom is crying more than usual, why grandma is trying to put makeup on you, how much money you are going to get for all those graduation invitations you sent out, and what is going to happen at the after-graduation party. Maybe I am wrong, maybe I am right. I have a belief some things don't change that much over time. I think I am right.
In light of all I have said, I want to say this. We at the ministerial alliance are here because we love you. Your family is with you because they love you. And if you learn anything from us today, I hope you remember that the God that created you loves you more than you ever know, and accepts you as you are and for who you are.
Does that mean God isn't going to want you to grow? No.
But I want you to know that God treasures you for the unique you that you are. And I want you to know that God is always longing to reach out to you, to love you, to guide you in the way of life and hope and goodness.
You see, we as humans love you so much that we want to save you from all problems, show you ways to avoid the ways that we have failed, and inspire you to live up to all the hope that we see in you. So we try and stuff all of this advice and inspiration into the graduation season with the hope that some of it will stick.
God loves you more than any of us could though. And I want you to know he loves you for the unique, crazy, sometime quirky ways that are uniquely you.
The Bible says that God knows us so well that he has the numbers of hairs on our head counted. (Matthew 10:30). That means God knows you and loves you more than you could even know or love yourself.
The Bible says that God knit you together in your mother's womb, that you were woven together by God, that you are wonderfully made (Psalm 139).
The Bible says that there is nothing you can do to escape God's love, especially if you have chosen to accept him as your Lord and Savior.
I know it is the fashion these days to talk less about the passionate love of God for each and every one of you, and to talk more about how tough God is and about how tough he wants us to be. But you cannot read the Scripture, you cannot look around you, and miss God's compassion, God's love, God's grace, and God's forgiveness.
The Bible says while we were still sinners, still running away from God, still telling him to leave us alone, that he was at that time and in that moment dying for us. Showing us the ultimate love by laying down his life for us.
So as you celebrate your graduation, as you greet all your friends and relatives, as you eat lots of cake and go to lots of barbeques. I hope you will take time to notice that God is delighting in you, not because you got a diploma or are now legally an adult, but simply because he loves you….the you that he created you to be.
And that love doesn't end when you are a child.
If you are like many of us, you are going to leave this building, the school you are attending, and get on with the rest of your life.
Some of you will start your working life right away. Others of you will choose to attend a college or university.
Some of you will graduate from college when you are 20. Others of you will graduate with your degree or certificate when you are 35 or 40 after having a few adventures.
Some of you will start your family when you are 20. Some of you will wait
Some of you will return to Fowler. Some of you will never leave Fowler. Others of you will settle in places around the state and around the world.
Many of you will go on to do some wonderful things. Some of you will be farmers or ranchers. Some of you will be single for years. Others will find someone to marry and settle down with. Some of you will be stay at home moms and dads. Some of you will be professionals and businessmen. Others of you will choose to teach or do childcare. Of course I hope some of you gals and guys will chose to be pastors. I can hardly wait to see what happens in each of your lives.
However, many of you are going to have struggles as well. You may get married and think it is going to last forever, and find that your marriage fails. You may think you are going to be wealthy, and wake up at one moment and find a bunch of bills that you don't have the money to pay. You may set out to have a little fun and make a lot of friends, and then struggle with an addiction to booze that leads you to feel lonely and hopeless.
And in those moments you may feel lost.
Remember that even in those moments, God loves you. He sees the good in you. He is longing for you. Remember in those moments that you are still his baby and still his treasure. He still knows how many hairs are on your head. Remember that he is still the one that knit you together in your mother's womb.
The Bible tells a story of a young man who ran away from home, and took a lot of his father's wealth with him. He spent his money on wild living. And when he ran out of money he lost his friends. And he had to work crawling around in pig slop, and eat the food that he gave the pigs to survive.
And something in him decided that he should go home. So he did. And he wondered how his father would respond.
He was surprised when his father ran to him, hugged him, threw him a party, gave him a job.
If you remember anything from baccalaureate, I hope you remember that whether you move to the other end of town or the other end of the country, that you can always come home.
When you go far away from what you hoped and dreamed, you have a family of churches here that have open arms and are ready to care for you, guide you, and love you more than you know.
You have friends here in Fowler that accept you for who you are, warts and all. You have family here that loves you more than you can say.
More than that though, you have a God that no matter how far away you go, is always waiting for you to come home to Him as well.
You have a God who loves you so much that he wants to throw a party for you, even when you have made a mess of things. You have a God who delights in you, not only today, but always. A God who will seek you out, who will never leave you or forsake you. A God offers you the gift of hope and a new life today. Yes today. But who continues to be your forgiveness and hope and life from this day forward.
You may forget many things from this graduation week. I hope you remember this. I hope you remember how deeply, how powerfully, and how eternally God loves you. And loves you just for the you he made you to be. Amen.