Monday, June 9, 2014

It's Not About You, Graduates

Graduation is upon you.

What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you've learned to hate, to be launched upon the world full of's a great feeling. Heck, just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don't get enough of that these days, of being delighted in and pumped up by others. It's your moment in the sun. You've earned it. Congratulations!

The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don't let anyone tell you who you are or what you can't do. No doubt there is some truth in these, even stuff God would agree with.

Yet as the ceremonies and banquets conclude and the pictures flood Facebook, the life of Jesus intrudes upon this season and offers a word that, frankly, a lot of us aren't sure we want to hear.

It's not about you.

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." - John 12:23

As Jesus walked the earth, his eyes were fixed upon the cross as surely as your eyes have been fixed upon the cap and gown. That was his goal. He brought it up all the time. He kept his disciples thinking about it. He shushed up most of his miracles so that his "big moment" wouldn't be diminished. The cross was Jesus' graduation. He thought of nothing else, because it pleased his Father.

And what was the cross? Sacrifice. Pain. Shame. Jesus' ultimate emptying of himself. His identification with the lowest. Putting others first.

But he called it "glory".

Something in me just revolts at that, if I'm honest. Blood is glory? It doesn't match up with my system. And it doesn't match up with this graduation season, which, if we're honest, has a way of putting focus on ourselves.

But we know what we hold as believers. Jesus' whole focus, his great mission, was not an act of achievement but an act of sacrifice.

When we young folks (dare I say, we young Americans?) think of glory, we don't often equate it with emptying ourselves. We equate it with college degrees, prosperous jobs, families, success. I tend to, also. We talk of "making a difference", but I'll wager that half these valedictorians with their glowing speeches don't see themselves working at McDonald's. Will they end up there? I don't know. That's asking the wrong question. The question is, can Jesus use us there?

In case you haven't noticed, the world is a mess. Shootings. Starvation. Slavery. Everyday people riddled with shame, self-hatred, and shattered hearts. Christians are desperately, desperately needed, and not in a self-actualizing way. Contrary to popular belief, changing the world is not done by one person with an awesome scientific discovery or piece of legislation. It is done in a million small battles that will never make it into the history books. It's done on street corners, in shops, in classrooms, in counseling offices, on the manufacturing line and on the firing line, on the factory floor and the kitchen floor, in random acts of kindness and secret Santas and anonymous donors. That's where people's lives and hearts are healed. That's where they see Jesus.

I know. Hardly glory by our standards. Yet Jesus could hardly be worried about his image if he were climbing onto the cross. And he called that glory.

So many of these valedictorians' speeches seem to be envisioning some far-off moment, some pinnacle of achievement, that we should work towards. Maybe that will be true for some of us. But a lot of folks commit their entire lives to finding it and never do. For us, our shot at glory might lie before us everyday. Some of us might already have made an incredible impact and we won't even see it until heaven.

This is actually immensely good news, very freeing. We need no worldly position, no decades of work, to be Jesus to those around us. We need only a humble and willing spirit.

Graduates, this is not meant to diss your diploma. Congratulations. Really! Enjoy the parties and cards and loved ones and cake. You've earned it. Just guard your hearts against the hype of the season, because some of it is of the world, cleverly disguised. Don't lose sight of the One who showed us what graduation really is.

"For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God." - Hebrews 12:2

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