A commencement is a beginning, and like all beginnings, it is combined with an ending. This season of gowns and tassels brings with it joy and grief, relief and anxiety. Graduation caps read, “I made it!” or “Game of Loans.” Many pose a simple but critical question, “Who is hiring?” Some are poetic and muse about shooting for the moon or following dreams. The religiously oriented grads simply put Jeremiah 29:11 or the ever popular John 3:16. Most of these brief, often glittery, messages convey a sense of ambiguity about what comes next.
Will the loans ever get paid? Will the job offer or graduate admission letter come through? Do one’s visions and dreams for the future really come true? We with some distance from those days might be tempted to answer quickly in succession, “Yes, but not for a long time.” “Maybe, but the job or the graduate program might not be what you imagined it would be.” “Some do, some don’t, but there is a whole lot you can’t begin to envision, both good and bad, that will come your way.”
I think, however, those of us whose tassels no longer hang from the rear view mirror should refrain for sharing our answers. The ones crossing the stage in 2015 will discover their own answers soon enough. Instead of answers, what we might offer the graduates we know is a biblical witness of presence, equipping and commissioning.
Have you noticed the pattern? Joshua shadows Moses. Naomi advises Ruth. Eli instructs Samuel. Paul invites Timothy to accompany him on his mission. Moses, Naomi, Eli and Paul are in relationship with the ones who will embark on the next phase of God’s mission. There is a commitment of presence, time and care in preparation for the upcoming commencement.
The common core of biblical education involves a mutual trust and a willingness to allow mistakes and extend forgiveness. This is the Jesus way. The twelve are called and follow. They watch and learn. Help and hinder. Jesus affirms, rebukes and instructs, over and over again, until commencement, when he commissions and sends.
That may be the critical piece often withheld from those of us in leadership positions in the church. We hesitate to let go and allow those called and equipped to take charge in the next part of the journey. We want to give our answers to questions that Joshua and Ruth and Samuel and Timothy may not even be asking, questions that may not be relevant for the new thing God is doing through them.
During this Easter season it is imperative that we remember the words of our risen Lord in Matthew, Luke, John and Acts, words of commission and sending. Jesus says go, feed, tend, witness. Jesus entrusts his body, the church, to those twelve and to us, but we often fail to commission and send others because, well, you know, they might feed and tend differently. They might go places we’ve not gone. They might witness in ways that seem not all that churchy or proper or sacred to us.
I attended the NEXT Church Conference and I confess I had some moments where I was a curmudgeon. Here are a few of my thought bubbles: “That secular song shouldn’t be in worship.” “I could never get away with wearing jeans on the chancel.”
I caught myself being like one of the grumpy old Muppets in the balcony and I was embarrassed. I looked up and around and realized that this was the first Presbyterian gathering (a gathering of over 600, by the way) when I was not, at age 46, one of the youngest in the room. I started to listen and I heard young clergy discuss their deep commitment to mission, to worship, to the Presbyterian Church and to Jesus Christ.
I realized that they do not need my answers because, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are forming their own. They are tending and feeding and witnessing and baptizing in ways I don’t and likely won’t. Their ministry has commenced and God knows what’s next. Christ has commissioned them and, even though they do not need it, they have my blessing, too.
Grace and peace,