Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Buchanan High School Baccalaureate Message to the Graduates: Finding Joy

Philippians 4:4-8

So here I am standing before you. I have known that I would be speaking to you for a couple of months, but you know how it is a couple of months is a long time. So I put it off because I had time to work on it later right? Once in a while the thought of this time with you would flash before my mind, and I would say to myself, what am I going to say to them? How can I congratulate them and inspire them?

And no ideas would come to me and I would put it off again. I even sat down in front of my computer a couple of times to start writing, and I just had no ideas. You all have had to write papers, you’ve had deadlines, you understand don’t you? So today just kept creeping closer and closer, and I hadn’t done a thing.

So I thought to myself, I’ll just copy one from the internet. Someone has to have given a great speech to graduates and I will just use theirs. But then I realized I was talking to people with cell phones and internet connections and they could probably just google what I was saying and I would be caught as a horrible plagiarist. And none of you would listen to what I was saying because you would know that I wasn’t being sincere.

You see, the thing is, there is so much I could share with you about life. The wisdom gained not only from my life but from the hundreds of people I have visited with over the years. I have stood alongside people as they smiled at their weddings, and I have been at their bedside as they took their last breath. I have watched people make the absolutely worst decisions possible, and tried to help them repair their relationships and their lives afterwards; and I have congratulated people on overcoming hardships and obstacles on the way to great success.

I like to think at least that I have gathered a lot of wisdom over the years, when it comes to life. I like to think that, and then I try to get out of the car with my seatbelt still on. [pause] So despite what I have learned I can still be intensely stupid. But that’s okay, I accept that. It is part of being human.

So here I am with all this wisdom, and all this stupidity, trying to figure out what is absolutely the most important thing I can say to you and . . . still blank. So I reverted to being a student and said, maybe if I include a couple of good quotes, you know with footnotes, and all the bells and whistles of a research paper I can pull it off. So I went to BrainyQuote.com and typed in graduation. And there were all these quotes from people much smarter than me about graduation. You can do that now if you want, while you are listening to me, there are some good ones there.

By the way my favorite was from Tom Brokaw: “You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.” I like that. But as much as I like it, honestly it didn’t say what was most on my heart.

What is most here, [point to heart] is that you have lives filled with joy. You see, one the universal things that all people want is to be happy. I want that, you want that. In many ways that is what the whole purpose of religion is, the search for happiness. The problem is that life is filled with garbage that gets in the way. There are things that are beyond our control that bring us sadness, that cause us suffering, and it can be very hard to find joy in those times.

What I want you to know is that you can find joy. It is possible. Even in the rough times of life. Have you ever noticed that two people can go through the exact same thing and one person will overcome it and other will be destroyed by it. One person has alcoholic parents and it ruins their life, but another finds inner strength and becomes an example to us all. One person hears they have cancer and they feel sorry for themselves and it crushes their spirit, but another faces it and says I will not let it stop me from loving life. Have you noticed that? Maybe not, but I see it all the time.

How can you be the people that face the tough times in life and still have joy? That’s where the passage from Philippians comes in:

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.

Quite honestly, it works. By trusting in God, by giving thanks for the good things that are there even in the midst of the troubles, by remembering that God is near, by showing compassion to others, by reflecting on the things that are true and holy, pure and lovely, you can actually change your frame of mind and find joy when life just plain sucks. Your attitude makes all the difference between being crushed by life and finding joy. And the single greatest thing that can help you with that attitude, is God.

I know that religion isn’t really popular now, I know that people kind of frown on church, and being a pastor I know that religion has its faults, but the thing is, if you want the peace that exceeds all understanding, if you want joy that dwells within you not just on the good days, but even on the bad days, those come from God. There is strength there and power there and hope there.

And I want you to have that joy, that strength, that hope, that peace. I want you to have that good life. But I can’t do it for you. You have to make the choice that God is going to be part of your life. You have to allow your heart to be in touch with the heart of God, to allow your spirit to be in touch with the spirit of God. I can tell you about it, but I can’t make the connection for you. You have to do that. And over time when you do that, you will find your attitude changing and a sense of deep, unshakable joy. But that is a life’s work. Work that you begin today, as you step out into that next chapter of your life.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Congratulations on a great achievement. Focus your thoughts on all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. May joy fill your lives. Not just on the good days, but on all days. That is truly my prayer for you.

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