Russell and Duenes

On What to Say at High School Graduations

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It seems to be a yearly thing with me to get all pensive and reflective while sitting through high school graduations. Perhaps this is because the refrain always seems to be the same, namely that the whole world’s ahead of us and we’re can do great things. In one sense, this is true. The world is ahead of the graduates, and they can do great things, however that might be defined. But it seems to me that we might do well once in awhile to actually warn the graduates in the way that the Scriptures do so often. I mean, could we ever talk about biblical texts like the following…?

15 Then the LORD appeared at the Tent in a pillar of cloud, and the cloud stood over the entrance to the Tent. 16 And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. 17 On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’ 18And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods. 19 “Now write down for yourselves this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. 20 When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their forefathers, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. 21I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” 22 So Moses wrote down this song that day and taught it to the Israelites. 23 The LORD gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.” 24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: 26 “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.” (Deut 31:15-29)

Didn’t the Israelites have “great things” in front of them? Hadn’t they just “graduated” from their wanderings in the desert? Were not some of them faithful, believing Jews? Wasn’t Israel a spiritual community just like our Christian schools, indeed, even more than our Christian schools? Didn’t everything look rosy, and wouldn’t this have been a time to pump them up? But instead God says that He knows the kind of people they are. Do we flatter ourselves and suppose that our high schoolers are not very much like them?

And how about Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders…

25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.Be shepherds of the church of God,  which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:25-31)

I know, I know. It’s a graduation, and so it’s the wrong time, but the thing I keep thinking is, “It’s always the wrong time.” Meaning, we tell ourselves that we cannot issue the warnings of Scripture against falling away, which are contained heavily in both the Old and New Testaments, ever! We cannot tell our graduates biblical truth, which is that they are in mortal spiritual danger, some of them, and that they would do well not to think not so much about how they are going to change the world, but about how they are going to escape the wiles of the devil, fight the good fight, and keep themselves from hardening their hearts and incurring God’s judgment. Graduations are not a proper place to bring up these things, we say, but then we find that virtually no time is proper, and so we’re never warned. The reality of our waywardness is never exposed. We come to believe that we’re never like the Israelites or the New Testament churches to whom these warnings were addressed. We cannot abide Scriptures such as 1 Cor 10:1-12,

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.  6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.  11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

It’s always impertinent, just like it was in Jesus’ day, to bring up such things. But wouldn’t a high school graduation, when students are feeling their freedom and pride the most, be a real good time?

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

June 11, 2011 at 7:19 am

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