Graduates of Fairview High School
Class of 2016
Rev. Rolf D. Preus
Dear graduates, parents of graduates, friends and family of the Fairview High School class of 2016:
It is a privilege to be invited to speak to you today. I have raised twelve children. They all graduated from high school. Still, I have never attended a baccalaureate service. So, while I appreciate the invitation, I am not sure what I am supposed to talk about.
I could talk about how you have gotten a good education. I could tell you that your future is bright and that you can succeed at whatever you set your mind on doing. I could tell you that we Americans have every reason to be optimistic about the future.
But I don’t know about that. I graduated from high school forty-five years ago. Then what happened? Well, let’s see. Less than two years later, the Supreme Court legalized abortion and millions upon millions of unborn babies have been legally killed as a result. We lost the war in Vietnam. True, the iron curtain fell – and that was a good thing – but persecution of Christians by Muslims has increased. Terrorism broke out around the world. The national debt increased to trillions and trillions of dollars. The me generation grew up; no, I take that back. They never did grow up. The sexual revolution that began in the sixties repealed the Sixth Commandment – you know, the one about not committing adultery – so that nowadays every kind of sexual perversion imaginable has become a civil right and if you don’t agree, you’re a hater. I know that people in their late teens are probably not thinking of retirement. That’s a good thing, because my generation is going to break the bank and leave you guys to pay for it.
All in all, a pretty bleak future, I would say. But it gets worse. The bad things in the world that prevent it from being what young dreamers dream it should be are not just out there somewhere as a distant enemy, but those bad things are very close, in fact, hidden deep down inside of our hearts. So we can’t blame the system, the older generation, the man, or whoever it is fashionable to blame these days. We need to blame ourselves. That’s how it is. The world’s broken and we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves.
If you don’t believe me, I’ve got a simple self-diagnostic spiritual inventory test you can take that will prove I’m right. Consider everything you have said and done in, say, the past week. Did you follow the golden rule? Did you love your neighbor as yourself? Or did you put your own wants above the needs of others? Did you love yourself first and most? If you did, how are you any different than the people out there who have damaged the world in which you must live? Those who jeopardize our future – where are they? They’re right here. It’s like the old comic strip character said: “We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.”
Well, this is depressing! The world is all screwed up and we can’t fix it. That’s right. But that looks a lot worse than it really is. As a matter of fact, I would say that, all things considered, now is a wonderful time to be alive, entering into adulthood, and getting ready to go out and meet the world. I say this because I know the One who fixes what we ruin and who picks up the pieces of our lives that we have broken. He not only knows what’s going on when no one else does, but he’s the One who is in charge. A bird doesn’t fall from the sky without his permission. When things look as bad as they can look, he’s not worried. Since he’s not worried, neither should we be worried.
I know the arguments against him. People accuse God of all the evil in the world. They think they’re so smart, as they put God on trial, asking him to explain how he can permit evil, suffering, tragedy, and pain? If he is the almighty God, they ask, why doesn’t he use his almighty power to fix what’s broken in this world?
If someone points out that the world deserves the suffering it suffers, well, sit back and listen to the indignant howls of outrage. As if human suffering is the fault of humanity! As if my troubles are mostly caused by me! What are you suggesting? I’m not just suggesting. I’m saying. Repent. Yes, you! You want a bright future? You want a life worth living? You want success in everything you do? Repent. Confess to God that you are a poor, guilty, helpless sinner who cannot climb out of the troubles you have brought upon yourself. Confess to God and ask him to forgive you.
Your success is not in your hands. But the One in whose hands it is loves you. I wouldn’t go around confessing sins to just anyone. You never know what people will do with your secrets. Remember what Mark Twain said about confession. He said it was good for the soul, but bad for the reputation! But the God who made you, who knit you together when you were in your mother’s womb, the God against whom you have sinned and done what he forbade, the God who, if he were to judge us according to the justice his law requires, would judge us, condemn us, and punish us for our sins, is the God who loves us with a love greater than any human heart can feel, greater than any human mind can discern. His love is greater than our sins. It is more powerful than all of our combined failures.
Look at Jesus on the cross and see this love. He is not just a good and decent man, an innocent man, a holy and righteous man. He is the eternal Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds. He is God, our God, become our brother. There on the cross he is lifted up to bear in his body all our sin, to pay the debt we owed to divine justice, to take away from us the just anger of God, by bearing that anger in his own body.
Look at Jesus on the cross. What’s going on there? God is judging all the bad people who did bad things to ruin the world he loved and loves. Mercy is meeting justice and God is righting every wrong, not by pretending that sin doesn’t exist, not by defining sin away, not by some clever lawyerly trick to evade the requirements of justice – no! God is confronting all evil, all sin, exacting every bit of retribution his justice requires, and he is doing this by becoming the substitute for all sinners who have ever lived, paying in full their debt, dying their death, and washing away all of their guilt.
Look at the cross and see what kind of a God it is who governs this world. Oh yes, you can focus in on the unfairness of the system, the obstacles that your weaknesses and disabilities place in your way, and all sort of other reasons why your future is in trouble. But I would offer you a different kind of advice. I would consider the crucifixion of the Son of God and then take to heart these words of St. Paul, the apostle,
Here’s the thing. Success brings more success. Failure brings more failure. Any coach will tell you that. If I were to shoot pool with a fellow and beat him decisively several games in a row, I think I can safely say that when it comes to him, me, and pool, I’m in charge of the situation. Wouldn’t you agree?
Well life, isn’t like a game of pool. So forget about this illustration. It illustrates the wrong thing. Life is the tornado. It’s the flood. It’s the fire. It’s your own failure because you did what you said you wouldn’t do and you did it because you were too self-centered and boneheaded to remember your promise and now you’re stuck with the consequences and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s life. It’s not winning the game, getting the prize, succeeding at whatever you put your hand to doing. That’s a lot of talk. Real life is facing real losses.
And Jesus is a real Savior who rescues us from every single problem the world dumps on us and every single sin we bring upon ourselves. His love is divine. It covers our sins and sets us before God as saints. God reckons to us the obedience and suffering of Christ as a beautiful robe of righteousness, covering all our sins, and God sees us, for Christ’s sake, as saints. That’s success. That’s a future. When you know the One who has got your future in his hands, and you know that he is on your side, you don’t need to know what’s going to happen down the road. You know him who’s going to make it happen for you. He’s got your life in his hands and he loves you.
Congratulations, class of 2016. May God bless you and keep you!
Rolf D. Preus