School just isn’t the same this year. My favorite colleague retired and I can no longer retreat to his eclectic room during break to listen to jazz and sip coffee. I don’t have anyone to debrief after staff meetings or anyone who will shamelessly glom on to my contribution to the faculty potluck. I don’t have a favorite monthly chapel speaker who, though his speeches contained stories peppered with the names and personalities of seniors and a recurring character, seemed to be talking directly to me.
Yesterday, when I trained some students as peer listeners, I asked them if they could think of someone who was genuinely accepting of all students. I realized as I asked that previous students had always said his name.
Sure, I still get to see my favorite colleague. In fact, I like being able to see him even more as we “collaborate” on projects outside of school. He’s darn good at the extracurricular projects as well (photos and explanation will be in a forthcoming post). However, today, after a staff meeting with no relatives in the room, I really miss working with my dad.
It’s a little long for a blog post, but I’ve returned to it so often that I thought you might want to read it as well. Dad’s graduation address to the class of 2008. Here it is…
SCHS GRADUATION 2008
â€œâ€¦but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.â€ (Isaiah 40:31)
The text our graduating seniors have chosen for this occasion is the concluding verse to the powerfully eloquent 40th chapter of Isaiah which begins with these familiar words: â€œComfort, comfort my people, says your God.â€ Letâ€™s read together out loud the text the graduates have chosen. It is printed in your program: â€œâ€¦BUT THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD WILL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. THEY WILL SOAR ON WINGS LIKE EAGLES; THEY WILL RUN AND NOT GROW WEARY, THEY WILL WALK AND NOT FAINT.â€
To catch the full impact of this verse for the occasion we celebrate tonight, we must first recall the occasion for which the prophet Isaiah originally wrote these words from God. Isaiah began his ministry around 700 B.C. He spoke forcefully about the events in his day: Israelâ€™s sin and Godâ€™s coming judgment at the hands of the Assyrians. The Holy Spirit also gave Isaiah a sharp, telescopic view of the future as well, when God would use Babylon to punish the tribes of Judah for their sin. It happened, of course, about a hundred years later in 586 B.C. when the forces of Babylon leveled Jerusalem and hauled off the brightest and best of Judahâ€™s youthâ€”including Daniel and his three friends.
But Isaiahâ€™s vision into the future did not end with his prediction of judgment. The Spirit also gave him the light to see that Cyrus, rising leader of the Persians, would defeat Babylon some 50 years later and release all captives who wished to go back home to Judahâ€”and this, friends, is the first occasion to which Isaiah addressed the words of our text.
The Judean captives were on the very threshold of freedom. They would be able to leave Babylon and go back to their homeland. But the trip was long and treacherous. Besides, they had no money to sustain them along the way and no military force to protect them. And even if they reached the homeland of their dreams, they would find only ruin and enemies who had already laid claim to what was once theirs. Many became despondent, convinced they did not have the strength to cross the threshold and step out on the long journey.
Enlightened by the Spirit, Isaiah saw their situation from afar, and so he wrote to them, â€œâ€¦those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.â€
I canâ€™t say for certain, but maybe you graduates picked these words of Isaiah as your class text because the occasion for which they were first written bears some similarity to the occasion of your graduation from South Christian. Tell me, do you feel a little bit like captives on the threshold of freedom? No longer will your days be defined by the sound of a tardy bell. No longer will you have to get a signed permission slip just to walk down the hallway or go to the restroom during class time or use the computers in the library. No longer will a dress code prescribe what you can wear and how you can or cannot wear it.
And maybe, too, you find all this new freedom from school and home to be somewhat frightening. You donâ€™t face the same things that the Judean captives in Babylon faced when Cyrus set them free. But the fact is, you face formidable obstacles and challenges. The economy is not good. Jobs are getting scarce and energy costs keep getting higher. You may worry if there is work for you with a living wage. Perhaps you have chosen to go to college, but youâ€™re not sure what you should choose for a major. Meanwhile, college is expensive, and you wonder how in the world you will ever be able to repay a college debtâ€”and perhaps start a home of your own at the same time. Besides all this, we are a nation at war which is always a special burden of the young.
But these are not even the most serious challenges you face. You will find that the most serious are always within your selves: struggling with the sin that is bent on destroying you, managing the weaknesses that threaten to unravel your lives.
Life is difficult. Life is hardâ€”even for young people. To think otherwise is to live in fantasy land. We live East of Eden in a fallen creation and will continue to do so until Jesus Christ comes again and all things are made new.
But the good news in the meantime is that God is for you. There is no greater power imaginableâ€”and he has promised to be your strength. Listen again to some of the things Isaiah says about this great God of ours before he even gets to the text you have chosen for your class text.
â€œSee, the sovereign Lord comes with power….â€
â€œHe tends his flock like a shepherd: he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heartâ€¦.â€
â€œWho (other than God) has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?â€
â€œHe sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.â€
â€œDo you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.â€
Isaiah then goes on to tell the Judean captives in Babylon as well as you, class of 2008, that those who hope in this Lord will renew their strength. Note well: Isaiah does not say that problems, obstacles, and anxieties will evaporate when you put your hope in the Lord, but he does promise that the Lord God will renew your strength, literally exchange your strength with his own so that you can make it through even the most challenging problems, obstacles, and anxieties.
But what does it mean to â€œhope in the Lord?â€ Letâ€™s deal with that.
It means to put our trust completely in the Lord. It means to stake our lives here and now as well as our eternal destiny on Godâ€”and not something less than God such as our money, our talents, or health. All these things will disappear. Sometimes they disappear overnight. Only God is eternal. Only God, therefore, is worthy of our trust. Only God is the proper anchor of our hope.
What does it mean to â€œhope in the Lord?â€ It means to weave, with every deliberate choice we make, whether small or big, the fragile thread of our own will into the steel cable of his willâ€”so that what we want is what he wants for us. And then to rest in this certainty: that what he wants for us is good and right because he is good and right.
What does it mean to â€œhope in the Lord?â€ Most of all, it means to believe the good news of the Gospel that God made us right with himself through Jesus Christ and that he implanted the Holy Spirit in us to make us over completely in the likeness of his Son. We are his children and, whatâ€™s more, his heirs who look forward to the new creation. To hope in the Lord is to rest secure in the strong arms of his grace, assured that nothing can ever separate us from his love for us.
All of us, whether young or old, are a bit like the Judean captives way back when. You young graduates cross the threshold of freedom tonight and will soon set out on a long journey, ultimately for the homeland of our dreamsâ€”nothing less than the new creation. This is your time to stretch your wings, leave the nest, and soar all over Godâ€™s creation, fallen and broken as it is now, listening for his call and searching for the role he wants you to play in his redemption of it. This can be exhilarating, but it is also tough work and it may take you on a few fruitless flights. Thatâ€™s why the text just preceding the one you have chosen says, â€œEven youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.â€ But Godâ€™s Word is sure. You can count on it: young people who put their hope in the Lord will renew their strengthâ€”and they will soar on wings like eagles.
Your parents generation has crossed the threshold of freedom a bit before you. They are at a run on this journey to the homeland of our dreamsâ€”this redeemed creation that is our inheritance in Christ. Their lives are often one harried race against time. If they are not dashing here to see after you, their kids, they are running somewhere else to attend an important meeting for the church or school, to take a meal to a needy family, to lead a youth group or some other mission in the church, to look after their aging parentsâ€”all while working full time. If they donâ€™t fall asleep at night exhausted, they lie awake worrying about you. Godâ€™s promise in the text you have chosen is for them too. They may become weary, but their weariness will not bring them down and cause them to give up: â€œthose who hope in the Lord will renew their strengthâ€¦they will run and not grow weary.â€
And then there is my generation. We crossed the threshold of freedom way back in the Middle Ages. We are long past those days of soaring or even running. We are on a walk, a slow and steady walk, to the homeland of our dreamsâ€”that new earth beneath a new sky. You may find it incomprehensible that anyone merely walking should grow faintâ€”but then, you are still young. Doubts, fears, and temptations plague us tooâ€”and we have found from experience, many times along the way in this journey of ours, that it is only our hope in the Lord that renews our strength and keeps us from fainting. We have known Godâ€™s promise to be true: â€œthose who hope in the Lord will renew their strengthâ€¦they will walk and not be faint.â€
As you graduates leave South Christian, test your wings, and soarâ€”you may some day notice an old guy plodding along. It might just be me. Drop on down for a visit, and we will talk about our hope in the Lord, the hope that renews our strength and keeps us going, all the way to the homeland of our dreams.