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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jesus' Graduation Speech

John 15:9-17
“Jesus' Graduation Speech”
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
Sunday, May 21, 2006

The end of another school year. Let the students in the congregation say, “Amen.” And let the teachers in the congregation say, “Amen!” We have a daughter graduating from First Grade – and that's emotional enough for her parents. I can't imagine how it must be to have one graduating from, say, High School. The partying, the dancing, the late-night whooping it up – and that's just the parents. It's also time to listen to all those Graduation Speeches – which aren't exactly sermons, but are a great opportunity for preaching, because you've got a really captive audience. You don't stick it out – you don't get a diploma. We attended a college graduation for our niece a couple of years ago, and of the graduation speaker's fourteen carefully points of wisdom, I remember only one. He commanded the graduates, “Call your mom.” Good advice. And don't call her collect. Unless you're in a Mexican prison. Go to Wal-Mart and get a calling card and write on it in big letters, “Mom Card.” Use it for calling your mom and nothing else. When you use it up, get another one. Good advice, unless you're moving back home. In which case you should go visit someplace in a different area code every couple of months, and call your mom once or twice, without asking for money.

In a way, today's scripture from the Gospel According to John reads as though Jesus is giving his disciples a graduation speech. He's summing up their three years of education. He's going over the finer points and instructing them on how to live after they graduate from his care. These guys are about to be shoved out of the classroom and into the real world. And after all the things they've seen and done with their Teacher, here's the stuff he really wants them to remember.

“I've loved you.” He tells them. But not just any love. Not the love of Britney and Kevin, who love their daughter, but can't ever find the time to buy a car seat. Not the careless and incomplete love of this world. He says to the disciples, “I've loved you -- the way my Father has loved me.” And then comes his first command to the disciples who are about to move out onto their own. “Make yourselves at home in my love.” He goes on to explain, “That's what I've done – kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.” “If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love.”

If your child is graduating from First Grade, what's your hope? That they'll be able to find a home in Second Grade. That they've been adequately prepared. If your child is graduating with a Ph.D., what's your hope? That they'll find a J.O.B. Which will lead to an H.O.M.E., somewhere other than your basement. A home isn't just a place to live. A home is, literally, where the heart is. You hope the graduating student will find his or her heart in whatever the little bugger decides to be.

On Sunday mornings, we come here, to God's house. And if we live in God's house correctly, it's more than just a house. It's a home. If we do church right, keeping Jesus' commands like he told us to, this house becomes a home. If we make ourselves at home, if we join our hearts in Christian love, love to God and love to each other – if we live in God's house in love, we'll make ourselves at home in God's love. God wants us to have a home.

Jesus continues: “I've told you these things for a purpose.” What's Jesus' purpose in all the teaching he's done? Here's what he says: “That my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.” The joy of graduation brings on a lot of parties. And not too many of them qualify as “mature.” Driving past campus, most of the parties sound like dramatic interpretations of Jimmy Buffett songs. The joy of the night dissolves into a brand-new tattoo, “a real beauty, a Mexican cutie,” and how it got where where you can only see it with a mirror you haven't a clue. Clearly, this isn't the kind of joy our Lord was recommending.

But, our Lord WAS recommending joy. His joy. Wholly mature joy. Now, I don't like picking on Presbyterians. It's so much more fun to pick on the Baptists. It's easier, too, because there are so many of them. But here's my gripe with us Presbyterians. Too often, we leave off the last word of Jesus' stated purpose. Too often, instead of “wholly mature joy,” we settle for “wholly mature.” Or, we make a substitution and get “wholly mature seriousness.” We Presbyterians would rather get organized than get spiritual. You can't organize joy. You can't substitute seriousness for joy and get the word of Christ. Wholly mature joy laughs. Wholly mature joy laughs until it cries. And cries until it laughs. Wholly mature joy sees that birth and death, life and afterlife are all in God's hands. Wholly mature joy sees the world from the top of a cross, from the highest point of a stone rolled from a grave. Wholly mature joy knows that whatever the real world throws at us, the real-er world – the kingdom of God – will stand firm. The lesson of Easter is that you can't kill God. We can't kill God's joy. We can't kill God's hope. We can't kill God's love. And if our churches ever become places where those things can't live, God will find other churches to plant them in. The disciples might graduate from Jesus' schooling, but they'll never outgrow his lessons. The stated purpose of Jesus Christ will survive. His joy will become our joy; and our joy will become wholly mature – IF we live in his home in love.

Jesus continues: “This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I'm no longer calling you servants because servants don't understand what their master is thinking and planning. No. I've named you friends because I've let you in on everything I've heard from the Father.”

This is the graduation. The disciples graduate from being servants to being Jesus' friends. Here's a wonderful bit of irony: Downtown at First Presbyterian, they have a Sunday School class called, “Jesus' Friends.” You want to guess who it's for? The mentally handicapped. I'll bet the Jesus who graduated his disciples from servants to friends just loves that one. It's living proof that you don't have to be an Einstein to be Jesus' friend. You just have to be able to love.

The organized church – not just Presbyterians, but all organized Christianity – has spent so much energy trying to make God's love complicated. You have to make these statements, you have to live up to those standards, you have to answer questions one through seventy-two in the affirmative. You have to feel a certain level of guilt. All in order to improve upon the simple command Jesus gave us.

A while back, some folks were joining our church, and their young kids were in the office with the Elders and me. After listening to his parents profess their faith in Jesus Christ and pledge to be faithful members of the church, one of the kids, about eight years old, asked his parents, loudly, “Did we just join some sort of club or something?” I told him, “Yes.” And taught him the secret handshake. Not really. And that's the great secret of the church: there IS no secret to being a Christian. Love one another, the way Jesus loves you. Period. No handshakes, no hazing, no application process. Put your life on the line for your friends. And maybe even for your enemies. Jesus did. Love. Simply and honestly. Love one another the way Jesus loves you. Graduate from being a servant to being a friend.

The final part of Jesus' graduation speech to his disciples gives them their stated purpose. “You didn't choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won't spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.”

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

You may think you woke up on the only free morning of the week, put on uncomfortable shoes, and sat in a wooden pew because you chose to. Wrong. You're here this morning not because you chose to be. You're here because Jesus chose you. You may think you're in charge of your life. But you're wrong. You may think you can resist the love and mercy of Jesus Christ – God knows you might try. But you're wrong. You may think you can develop your own plan, your own vision and mission statements – you may think you can DayRunner your life into serenity – you may think you're the deed-holder to all you survey, but you're dead wrong. You're here because Jesus chose you. Your life has meaning and joy because Jesus chose to give it to you. You love because He loved you first, and taught you – and teaches you – what true love is. Jesus put you in this church, and put you in the world to bear fruit in his name. Whatever you need to get that job done, he'll give you.

You might say, “What does it mean to bear fruit for Jesus' name? I don't know how to do that. I'm no Billy Graham. I can't save the world. I can't leave my family and responsibilities.” Stop! You're making it more complicated than Jesus said. You don't have to raise children who graduate and win the Nobel Prize. You don't have to make a bazillion dollars and give it to the poor. Forget all the complication the world tells you and remember what Jesus says, “Remember the root command: Love. Love one another.” Graduate from servant to friend. Have joy. Live in the home of Jesus Christ. Love.

That's the end of Jesus' graduation speech. I want you to imagine yourself reaching up to your invisible funny black mortarboard hat, and moving your tassel from one side to the other. Because if you know how to love, you know what your Master is thinking and planning. Whether you realize it or not, you've graduated from servant to friend of Jesus Christ. The band is about to play. The party's about to begin (in mature joy). And a lifetime of friendship with Jesus lies before you. When you step out of the church building doors today, you'll be different. When you go forth into the real world you'll be changed just a few degrees. There is no diploma to tape to your chest. There is no secret handshake. There's no resume of accomplishments to send before yourself. There's just love. Love is the only assurance you'll have. Love is the only assurance you'll need. Love is the blessed assurance that you belong to Jesus Christ, and you are his alone.