A hope and a future (Graduation Sunday)

Good morning, Friends!

It’s Graduation Sunday! You know, graduation is really tough for grownups. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home, and now their kids are grownups, too. After 18 years of being Mom and Dad, all of a sudden you’re unemployed.

But for the young people, it’s worth it. After twelve years of carrying your books to school every day, you’re now prepared for a career in backpacking.

It was graduation day and Mom was trying to take a picture of their son in a cap and gown, posed with his father. “Let’s try to make this look natural “she said. “Junior, put your arm around your dad’s shoulder.”

The father answered, “If you want it to look really natural, why don’t you have him put his hand in my pocket?”

The Scripture I’ve chosen today is one which ought to be partly familiar to you. That’s because the opening line is printed on our Sunday bulletin every week.

The rest of it may not be as familiar. So, I want to read it, so we can appreciate the full message.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.

I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

– Jeremiah 29:11-14

Graduation is such a time of hope. There’s hope that the graduates feel. And there’s hope from all the parents and grandparents and family members.

There’s hope from all the people here in the church, too. Your friends, your family’s friends, the teachers who worked with you in Sunday School, the leaders of the youth group – everybody’s excited!

We are so proud of you. We love you so much. We all want the best for you. We want you to do better than we have done with our lives.

There’s also a lot of anxiety mixed in with all this. The graduates are thinking, “What am I going to do next?” we think. “What’s it going to be like? Am I going to make it? Am I going to be popular? Will I have any new friends?” It’s pretty stressful.

And the family’s got their own stresses. “Will our son or daughter be OK? Will they succeed at school? Will they find the right friends?” And so on.

The church here has its own feelings. We’re proud of you – more proud than you can ever realize. But we know that for the next few years at least, we won’t see you very much. Maybe Christmas and Easter, or if you’re home for a long weekend.

We’ll try to stay in touch – every year we have what we call Secret Saints, who write to you and send you cards and little gifts. We’ll send you the newsletter. But we know that you’ll be busy, with courses and friends, and you won’t have much time for Springfield.

But we won’t forget you. Not next week. Not next fall. Not ever. You are always a part of the church where you grew up. You might not have carved your name on the back of the pew. But you are a part of this church forever.

Do you remember how to say the Lord’s Prayer? The “Our Father”, the prayer that Jesus taught? Maybe I ought to test you all, right now.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

You probably learned that prayer right here at Springfield. And it’s a part of you forever. I hope that you learn a lot more about prayer than that. There is so much more to learn. I hope you’ll find time to learn some more in depth about prayer. But you’ll never do better than the prayer that Jesus taught. And just remember – you learned it here.

If you were really paying attention, you might have memorized the 23rd Psalm – “The Lord is my shepherd” – and the Ten Commandments. From here on out, you don’t get gold stickers for knowing those in Sunday School. But you’ll need to know them, and understand them, for the rest of your life.

I hope that you’ll have a long life, and a happy one. But chances are that some day, you’ll be in a dark and scary place, maybe one that’s life-threatening. And I hope you’ll remember those words and repeat them – “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. . .”

Never forget those words, until the day you die.

The Ten Commandments take on a whole new meaning for you now. They’re not just verses from a Sunday School classroom Bible any more. They’re rules for living, every day. They’re what God gave his chosen and confused and scared people, rules to live by, when they were heading out into the desert.

God said, “This teaching can save your life. This teaching is the difference, between life and death.”

“Remember me,” God said. “Remember there there are no other gods. All the other ones are false. Remember to worship only me. Remember that your body and your soul need rest, every week. Remember your parents, and honor them. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t cheat on the one you’re promised to. Don’t steal. Don’t lie about other people. Don’t set your heart on things that don’t belong to you.

It’s all pretty basic. But you’ll see, when you get out and spend some time in the world, how few people really live that way. You’ll see how many people talk one way about Jesus, but walk a different way.

I want you to remember the words that I read to you just a few minutes ago.

God says, “I have plans for you. I have plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Never forget that. God has a plan for you and for your life. It’s a good plan. It’s a life-giving plan. It’s a plan of hope. Always be hopeful. You have a future.

And God says, “Call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” God is always listening. God is always only a prayer away. There are people here who can tell you that. They know.

Prayer isn’t always words. Sometimes a prayer is just a longing, a longing after the Lord. Sometimes a prayer is just trying to turn around and face God again. You can always do that, no matter where you are.

Today’s Scripture says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you.” Prayer really works when you put your whole heart into it – everything you’ve got.

You don’t have to be perfect. I’m confident that you’ll make lots of mistakes. But turning back to God with all your heart is always the first step in prayer. And as it says, “You will seek me, and find me. . .I will be found by you. . .”

And today’s reading ends by saying, “I will gather you from every nation and place. . .I will bring you back. . .”

You’re graduating. You’re going off to new and exciting places. But y’all come back, OK? We love you, and we want to see you again. You don’t know how much we’re going to miss you.

But you have no idea how much God loves you. Even more than your family loves you. Even more than Springfield loves you – and that’s a lot!

There is no place on earth you can go and escape the love of God. No matter where you go, God is going to be there ahead of you. You will find Jesus, and you will find friends of Jesus, everywhere you go.

That’s all I want to say. We love you. We have tried to bless you. We hope for you, and we will always be praying for you.

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