I don’t know where time went! One minute I was holding a newborn daughter and the next minute she was graduating high school. Amazing. Congratulations to my not so little girl Cally and the entire class of 2016!
These graduates are entering a rapidly changing world. Most recently, Prince (the artist formerly known as) died. ISIS remains an ongoing threat and these graduates will be voting in a presidential election for the first time. A much less significant yet more notable development, Kelly Ripa came back to “Kelly and Michael” after a brief hiatus caused by the shocking news of Michael Strahan’s departure. Upon her return she said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” A Nixon parody for sure.
I don’t remember much about my graduation ceremony, but I did finish third in the class. This doesn’t sound as impressive when you consider there were only 16 students involved. I also don’t recall who the commencement speaker happened to be or what was said. This is probably a common occurrence among graduates. However, I did find a notable quote offered by Dr. Seuss at a graduation ceremony: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I’m proud of Cally and look forward to what is ahead for her. I also care a great deal about this millennial generation and what the church can do to minister to them. Wesley Spears-Newsom wrote about this recently in “6 Essentials for Churches Engaging Millennials.” He indicated that millennials are the largest generation in the United States, and church pews are now filled with those who are 50 and older. We can’t afford to ignore this younger demographic, and as a pastor, I can appreciate how the older generation is lamenting their shrinking population and the changes that are taking place is society.
Churches must also change to remain relevant. While this is a vital topic for our congregations, I won’t be talking about what churches ought to do for millennials on this graduation Sunday. Instead, I will be offering a challenge to our graduates about what they can do as they enter this next phase of their lives. I’ll be using 2 Timothy 3.10-17, as the Apostle Paul is instructing Timothy how he is to live faithfully to the gospel message.
In short, I will be challenging our graduates to remember who they are in relationship to Christ and the church. I will also be praying that they realize what’s truly foundational for their lives so that they might know why they are in the world.
I memorized 2 Timothy 3:16-17 early on. I don’t remember how old I was, but these verses have served me well as I’ve gotten older. However, I have also learned that not everyone interprets the Scripture the same way. I’ve also come to see how people have used the Bible to hurt and cause great harm to others. For this reason (among others), millennials have skepticism about the Bible and the church.
CNN is producing a documentary called “United Shades of America.” It is hosted by a black comedian named W. Kamau Bell who was invited to meet the KKK. It is funny, sad, and disturbing. In one scene, Bell meets the president of the local Klan who is wearing a white robe and hood. The encounter happens on a dark country road outside of Harrison, Arkansas. Bell asks who can be in the Klan. The Klansman responds, “You have to be white, and you have to be a Christian.”
The climax of the show occurred at a cross lighting. The Klansmen gathered around the wood cross and each one was asked, “Do you receive the light of Christ?” Each responded “I receive the light of Christ” and then would walk up and light the cross with a flaming torch. After witnessing this cross burning, Bell said he left that place reminded of the horrifying role the Klan played in terrorizing black people.
The show illustrates the point that people can do hateful things in the name of Christ and the Bible. The challenge for graduates is to realize that these kinds of behaviors do not accurately portray the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. I recall the words from the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message in stating that “the criterion by which we interpret Scripture is Jesus Christ” (even though this was later changed by Southern Baptists, it is still the most accurate depiction of how to view the Bible).
It’s paramount that our graduates have mentors and churches who not only talk about Jesus but also live out his teachings. I have confidence in our graduates and pray that they follow the admonition of Paul given to Timothy so long ago. Many graduates will not enter the ministry as Timothy did, but they are created to make a difference in our world for Christ.
I’ll keep praying for Cally and there might be a few tears at her graduation. But, I’ll look to Dr. Seuss and celebrate “not because it’s over, but because it happened.” I’m excited for Cally and her fellow graduates, and hope that the church will remain a vital part of their lives. The church needs them, and they need the church.