It is graduation season and many young people are contemplating (and freaking out about) the next steps in their lives. Last night I had the privilege to speak at the Baccalaureate service for the high school from which I graduated. This is the transcript from that message…
The class of 2016. Wow.
Let me bask in your glory for a moment.
Did you ever think this day would come? Some of your parents wondered. But here you are.
I have to tell you, I was very humbled and honored that you would invite me to speak at your baccalaureate. Some of you I have known since you were in seventh grade. It has been a privilege to watch you grow up.
It is also amazing that I would be asked to speak at this event for the class of 2016 of all the years.
That’s because 30 years ago, in 1986, back when no one knew what a cell phone was, when tweeting was something only birds did, and dinosaurs roamed the earth, in 1986, I sat right where you are sitting.
I played football on that field. Threw shot and disc from those rings. Created art in those studios. Did not play in that field house or eat in that cafeteria (you guys are so lucky to have those, by the way). Studied in those classrooms. Performed on this stage. And…sat in those chairs.
No seriously, I think those are the same chairs we had 30 years ago. See if my initials are carved in row…Just kidding.
Even though 30 years have passed and the world has changed dramatically, my guess is that you are feeling the same kinds of emotions and asking the same questions that we did when we sat in those chairs.
Part of you is so excited to finally be done with high school. Part of you is sad that it is over. Part of you is totally freaking out that you are becoming adults and will be moving on to find a trade or go to college.
You wonder what will happen. Will you succeed? Will you find love? Will you be happy? Will you end up looking old like that guy in 30 years?
Well, as an old Cardinal, as a Father of Cardinals, and as a pastor, I would like to give you two pieces of advice as you move into the next phase of your life.
The first is this:
Don’t be afraid to fail.
I think this is one of the biggest challenges people face. As I’ve worked with youth for the past few years this seems to be even more prevalent today. You have so much pressure put on you to be successful, and there are so many options for you out there, that sometimes it can be paralyzing.
Hear this. You are going to fail at things, and that’s OK.
If you think about everything, not as a win/lose scenario, but as an opportunity to learn, then you can never really fail. You only learn what not to do next time.
That’s easier said than done, though. And, in all honesty, you can’t live like that unless you follow the second piece of advice.
The second is:
Stay Rooted and plugged-in.
Let me explain.
Here is an image. I love art. I love creating art. I think art speaks to us as much as words. This is a drawing I did recently that helps me to dwell in my favorite passage of scripture.
I would like to read this passage to you while you dwell in this image.
The passage of scripture found in the Gospel of John, chapter 15.
I have been captivated by this passage since I was a boy when I first read a book by Andrew Murray called Abide in Christ. This text has been my guiding light throughout my life, so I want to share it with you now.
Jesus was hanging out with his friends for a dinner party, on the night before he was to be arrested and taken away to be executed. It was a sort of baccalaureate meeting for them. They were about to graduate from disciples into Apostles, and they were freaking out.
Jesus said to them,
I am the real vine and my Father is the farmer. Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. (The Message)
Jesus used this metaphor with his friends because he lived 2,000 years ago when most people were farmers.
I think that if Jesus were standing here, right now, talking to you, he might have said this…
I am the true power grid and my Father is the generator and the internet. Stay plugged in to me.”
Let’s look at this picture. Whichever metaphor works for you, go with that.
What is the point of growing a grape vine?
It’s to produce grapes. Grapes are food. They are made into wine and juice and jelly and all kinds of good things.
How do grapes grow? The Vine is rooted in the ground. The sun, the rain, the soil, they all provide energy to the vine. The branches are rooted in the vine, and the sap flows from the roots, through the vine, through the branches, and the fruit grows on the branches.
The fruit becomes food and wine for the purpose of giving nourishment and joy to others. It is outward focused. When one crop is harvested, the cycle begins again, the branches grow a little further out, and more fruit is produced.
Jesus used this metaphor to describe what it looks like to be a successful disciple.
How many of you want to succeed as you move into your adulthood? Yeah, I hope so.
How do you measure success? Success is achieved when you have accomplished what you set out to do. When you know your purpose and you have fulfilled it.
You are about to set out into your adult lives. You are going to pursue career paths. Statistically, most of you will actually have many careers by the time you get to my age.
And that’s OK.
Because here’s the thing.
It doesn’t matter WHAT you do in life. It matters HOW you do what you do in your life.
This world needs all kinds of people and all kinds of trades, and they are all important.
Success is when you have achieved what you set out to do.
As a follower of Jesus, connected to this vine, what is fruit? What is the goal?
The fruit is love.
Jesus was rooted in the love of God the Father. Jesus loved his disciples.
He loved them so much that he was willing to die for them.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit is love.
As followers of Jesus we live in a weird sort of paradox.
We must always move in two directions at the same time.
In order to move forward in life in order to make progress, we must always move deeper into the roots of God’s love.
Look at this video. This is how a vine grows.
Isn’t that cool?
How many of you feel like that branch right now?
You’re kind of spinning around, not knowing exactly where to go next or what to do.
Notice why the branch can do that.
It is totally rooted in the rest of the vine.
It is free to reach out and explore because it knows it is not alone.
If you want to be successful in your life, remember this.
Your worth, your value is not found in accomplishing great things.
It is not found in getting the big scholarships, or landing the perfect job, or finding the perfect mate.
So many people waste so much time chasing after success and fulfillment. They are always moving forward, but they aren’t rooted.
If you want to move forward and produce the only fruit that actually matters in this world, then you must stay rooted in it.
God loves you.
God is crazy in love with you.
And God wants to spread that love through you to others who are lonely and hurting and haven’t realized yet how much God loves them, too.
When you stay rooted in the love of God,
when you continually dwell in scripture
and stay connected to a worshipping body of believers,
then the Spirit of God is free to work in you and through you to spread the branches into every corner of our society so that all people can know and experience the love of God.
So, class of 2016.
Don’t be afraid to fail.
Know that when you are rooted and plugged-in to God’s love, through Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, you are free to grow.