Well, here you are, members of the Class of 2023. You’re on the cusp of a great adventure. And I think that it’s not only appropriate, but also needful to focus a little time and attention on where you have been and on where you are going. That’s the purpose of a baccalaureate. Now, do a Google search on the word, and you will find this definition: a sermon for a graduating class. So, for all that you have done and all that you will do, this baccalaureate is for you.
Did any of you have a moving up day at some point in your secondary school experience? Both of my kids did. For them it was a big time of transition between 6th Grade and Junior High. It was an opportunity for them to consider where they had been educationally for the past six years, 8 if you include preschool and kindergarten. Most of all, though, it was a time for them to look forward to what was coming: multiple subjects taught by multiple teachers, changing classes, lockers, study halls. It was a new world that would grow out of the old one that they were leaving.
This is not something that’s new, or strange, or unusual. Let’s peek again at today’s Scripture reading from the first chapter of Acts. It’s moving up day for Jesus. After three years of preaching, teaching, healing, and casting out demons, it’s time for him to move up to God. It’s also moving up day for his remaining disciples. Jesus has been preparing them for this moment, but they’re still living and thinking in their old world. They want to know when Jesus is going to establish the kingdom like David and Solomon did. He tells them that they will receive power in Jerusalem – power to be his witnesses throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And then he’s lifted up in a cloud and disappears. How’s that for an exit? They stand there staring up into heaven, no doubt with their mouths hanging open. That’s when two men in white robes remind them that Jesus will return in the same way that he left. In other words, their lives will be lived in the new world, rather than simply existing in the old.
You and your families are on the cusp of a big transition in your lives. It’s a transition that will be fraught, both with excitement and anxiety. After twelve years of secondary education, you’ve made it. Not only have you made it, but you have done so with a good sense of accomplishment.
At the same time, some – perhaps all – of you will be leaving home. That means that you’ll be leaving the place where you’ve lived since you were born. As unsettling as that can be, just remember, home is portable; you take it with you wherever you go. You will be going to a place that will hone your God-given gifts, of which you have many. They will be honed until they are sharper and more powerful than you could have imagined.
So move on up. Go and be the best writer or teacher or nurse or doctor or engineer or programmer, or composer or musician that you can possibly be. You’re ready. Your families have seen to that. Your teachers have seen to that. We, your church, have seen to that. You are standing on some very solid shoulders. Continue to strengthen your shoulders, because others will stand on them as well.
Years ago, I learned a Latin phrase that has stayed with me, labor omni vincit – work conquers all. Never shy away from hard work. Just be aware, though, that a caution comes with this Latin motto. The caution is original with Ed Friedman, the father of the family systems counseling movement. He said, “If you keep your nose to the grind stone, you will lose your nose.” I’m not worried about you, though, because there’s another Latin motto that serves as a balancing companion to labor omnia vincit – omnia vincit amor, everything is conquered by love. If we have done nothing else for you as your community of faith, I pray that we have filled your hearts with at least as much love as we hold for you in our hearts today. Trust your hearts as much as you trust your heads, and you will thrive. And the world will be a better place because of it.
It’s time to move up to the new world that beckons you. It’s time to move out and bear witness to the love of God that lives in each of you. Sail on over, lifted up on our blessings and our hopes for you. Walk in this new world as you have among us – as precious children of God. And may the grace of that God always enfold you.
~Rev. Steve Hall, May 21, 2023