This past Sunday at New Garden Church in Nashville, we had our Graduation Sunday where we affirmed and honored the achievements of our high school grads. As the Student Minister, I got to share a message with our awesome graduates and our church. Here’s a manuscript of the message:
Let me just say that this is one of my favorite Sundays every year. I’m so glad to be part of a church that says we want to affirm our high school grads in front of everyone. So grads, let me start by saying, these are your people. And church, let me start by saying, that we have a lot to be proud of with this group.
This week, in preparation for this morning, I spent some time wondering about the question:
“What does a student graduating from high school need?”
I asked my Facebook friends, and I got some good and weird answers (as Facebook does), things like:
A Cell Phone Charger, Access to transportation, A book, and A tool box. You need to know your SSN, you need someone you can talk to, A mentor. You need money management skills, Bandaids, and Laundry detergent
When I graduated high school, I thought I needed a lot of things. I thought I needed to go to college, I thought I needed some graduation gifts, I thought I needed a new pair of shoes, and maybe most of all, I thought I needed to get a girlfriend. Like me when I graduated, you probably don’t have all those things.
You all have been raised in a new era. More and more you are able to see what the world has to offer. You’ve grown up in a world where at just the tap of a screen, you can find anything that you want, good, bad, or ugly. You’ve grown up in a world where at just the tap of the screen, you can make someone feel good, bad, or ugly. Some would say that the world that you’ve grown up in is a better world than some past generations, and some would say that the world you’ve grown up in is a world that is farther gone than it was before.
I think either way, you’re not ready for the world.
I don’t think you’re ready for the heartache and the conflict. I don’t think you’re ready for the inevitable failure coming your way, and I don’t think you’re ready for those things that you can’t control. You’re going to make mistakes, and it’s going to hurt. And I know that on some level, you’ve already been through some stuff that you weren’t ready for.
But here’s the thing, it’s not just you that’s not ready. Look around at all these adults, none of us were ready when we were in your position, and we’re still not ready.
And 2,000 years ago, Jesus gave his disciples a task that they weren’t ready for.
After hanging out with this group of people for three years, they surely ate over a thousand meals together, they traveled together, and they had seen many miracles done in the name of Jesus. The sick were healed, the blind received sight, and the dead were raised back to life. But they still weren’t ready.
After Jesus was raised back to life, he was around and appeared to different people until it was time for him to go away. And so Jesus has these people, his friends and followers meet him on a mountain for his final words to them on earth.
We’re going to pick up there in Matthew chapter 28:
16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!
Even after everything they had seen, three years of hearing Jesus teach and watching Him interact with the world, three years of miracles, and then being witnesses to the ultimate miracle, Jesus rising out of the tomb he was barricaded in, these people still doubt! We find it easy to blame them, but I think this shows that doubting is part of the journey. Along the way, we all doubt our faith. It’s hard and confusing, but it’s part of following Jesus. Having doubt is not wrong, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. In those times of doubt, what’s important is that we don’t isolate ourselves. Keep the conversation going. Find people who are willing to be in that with you. If you need someone, I would suggest taking a look around this room.
Now we get to Jesus’ final words to his followers, A pep talk of sorts.:
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.
He starts off letting them know He is in charge. Jesus has authority. What Jesus has said will come to pass. We can trust that when Jesus says something, God’s going to back it up.
Then Jesus gives them some parting instructions: “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” Now sometimes we see this and we think it means we need to move to away to find people and turn them into church people, but this is better translated “As you go” instead of simply “go.” So as you are doing whatever comes next, make disciples, baptize, and teach.
Sounds pretty easy, right? Wrong! These followers of Jesus were not ready! And when we read these instructions, neither are we! I know that you’ve grown up in church or youth group, but this is scary and confusing. Where do we start? What do we say? How do we get from here to there?
Jesus doesn’t wait till we’re ready to give us a push.
But Jesus doesn’t just give his followers a command, He gives them a promise. And that’s what I want us to be focused on today. Jesus goes on to say:
“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
When Jesus tells us to go out into the unknown, He doesn’t leave us. When Jesus tells us to make disciples, baptize, and teach the world, He knows we’re not ready! When Jesus tells us to seek justice in an unjust world, He doesn’t expect or desire that we do it alone.
When Jesus gives us a push, He also gives a promise.
There used to be a kids swimming instructor in the area who had an interesting strategy for teaching kids to swim. If you went to her lessons and didn’t know how to swim, and refused to get in the pool, she would literally push you in. But guess what? To my knowledge, they didn’t let anyone drown. The instructors were there, in the pool, for when the kid needed a hand. There was a push, but there was also a promise, “You aren’t going to drown.”
Now I know that this season of life has a lot of potential stress involved in it. People asking you “what’s next?” “where to?” and all those other question that you don’t have a great answer to, and even if you do have solid plans, those will likely change. You’re not ready, but you’re not going to drown.
So today, I want to give you, and all of us, a push. But I also want to give you a promise.
Your life is here now, and it has been here. A story has already begun to be written with your life. As you go about what’s next, fill those pages with a life following Jesus, you won’t regret it. And that doesn’t mean your life will be boring! Dream big, try new things, don’t be afraid to fail! As you transition from this stage into what’s next, keep in mind what we are called to do, share our faith with the people we encounter along the way. There will be plenty of opportunities to fiercely love your friends and your enemies. There will be plenty of opportunities to seek justice for those who are not treated the right way. There will be plenty of opportunities to show humility and place the needs of others above your own. In all of these things, I am pushing you to follow Jesus, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard.
With that push comes a promise. God will be with you always. And that will look different at different times. Sometimes God will give you the words to say to a friend in need. Sometimes God will give you a friend’s warmth when you feel alone. Sometimes God will show up right when you’re ready to give up. God will be there.
Furthermore, I want to promise that the people of God in this room today will be there for you. I don’t know how you feel about church or church people, and I don’t know how you’ll feel about church or church people in 5 years, 20 years, or 50 years, but I can tell you that no matter where we meet, what songs we sing, or what we call ourselves, the people of God care deeply for you. We cannot follow Jesus on our own. And guess what, you don’t have to be perfect or even pretty good to be with us.
I always say, that there’s nothing you can ever do to make God love you more, and there’s nothing you can ever do to make God love you less. And we want to have that same mindset. You are never too far gone to find a home here with us. Never. Our door will always be open to you.