Flights of Faith

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2011 ECV Senior Night Remarks

Welcome to the beginning of the end. And the beginning of the beginning.

In three days, three very fast days, you will be done with every ceremony, every congratulatory speech, every procession and you will be left with seven words: Remember, residences close at noon on Tuesday.

And that will be it.

Well, not it, exactly.

There will be facebook albums, a cap and gown that may or may not become your next Halloween outfit, and memories. Tons and tons of memories.

These memories, especially the ones recalled by your class and the administration, will focus on transition. Countless voices will ask you to remember move in day. Wide eyes, heavy bags, and eventually tired muscles. Moving in then, moving out now. From there, they might ask you to recall your first time receiving a grade at Yale or your first dance. Starting a career path then, receiving employment now. Or not. Romance then, moving closer to relationships that might become THE relationship now. Or not. A lot has happened in these past four years. And in three days, your undergraduate career will simply be a story.

But how will you tell it? And how will you live out the rest of your story?

My charge to you is to live it with risk and abundant, even foolish, amounts of love.

This is only my third witnessing of graduation after of my own in 2008, and – this time - I'm a fellow graduate again. Though the events of my undergraduate career have not changed, I still think I tell a different story than one I thought I was living then.

When I graduated, I had a hope of making a difference somehow. Like many of you, I'm guessing, I didn't feel particularly trained in anything that had a tailor-made career attached to it.

Instead, I had a feeling that my desire to connect more with the city of New Haven wasn't simply the guilt of being a Yalie. I sensed that my crush on a certain Branford senior wasn't something to dismiss without pursuing. And I felt that your class, the class of 2011 was somehow important to my journey, specifically my journey with God.

This was not the story I had lived for four years, but these were hunches I carried in the last season of my time as an undergrad.

So, Josh, what are you doing next year?

I'm investing in a city that does not know my name, pursuing a girl I've been on two dates with – and she doesn't even think the second one was a date....but it was –, and I'm going to love a group of people who probably expect me to leave and not come back.

No, that's not exactly what I told people. And there is the whole Divinity School thing.

Still, I let my risk taking – those three risks in particular - become my internal story – the narrative that truly motivated me.

And the only reason I did that is because I felt invited into that story of risk by a God who loves me.

God loves me when my ambition gets ahead of His plans, God loves me when my insecurities hurt a relationship He is forming, and God loves me even when I feel alone.

God's love is more than enough for the times that I fail. And I've failed quite a bit.

Thankfully, His loving voice restores us. In fact, God is in the business of commencement speeches - conversations about our new beginnings with Him. And He is merciful to start new conversations with eager hearts any second, any day, anytime.

What would you commence if you could depend on a steady relationship with a loving,
powerful and abundant,
living and active God for the rest of your life?

This is a serious question, and I hope you have already considered it thoughtfully.

Here's one thing I think you could start and something I think you're well equipped for as graduates of a diverse school that prides itself on being a microcosm of the world.

Be a God-translator.

In my experience at the Elm City Vineyard, I've witnessed God as a God who is with us.
And for God, the ultimate act of love is translation.

What do I mean by that?

I've come to believe that God will do everything in his power to translate love that will never leave, love that will always pursue, love that seeks constant growth, and love that acts with mercy, kindness, and surprising strength.

And this love exists anywhere and everywhere, beyond any walls that we could create or groups that we could form...this Love is always narrating stories of risk, fruitfulness, hope, and faith.

Can we find and translate those stories?

Jesus lived his life as an excellent translator of His Father. Even though he grew up a Jewish man, he was able to interpret God's word for non-Jews whether they be Samaritan women, Roman soldiers, or those even his own Jewish society marginalized like the poor or the sick. Reading the Gospels, I'm pretty convinced that Jesus did not have overly clever strategies for reaching these groups. He just heard God for himself and shared what he heard with everyone. His basic message: God is good for ALL people and God is setting up a Kingdom to celebrate that Goodness all the time. Then, he demonstrated that goodness. Right there.

2,000 years later what has changed from this core testimony?

The names of certain groups, the fact that people associated with Jesus have had good, bad and ugly efforts at living out his mission, and....well, nothing much else. If we would like to continue Jesus' lifestyle of God translating, we are pretty well-equipped.

And after all, you all are college graduates. You can do anything.

God is still good all the time.
In the midst of your transition, trust that promise and experience it through expecting Jesus to intervene in your life for the better.

As you hear and experience that for yourself, share it with others.

Be a translator of the Good News and wait to see how God grows those relatively small risks into transformative relationships, loving communities, and even cities that are known for the love of God.

Like most of the speakers that will come after me, I do not fail to believe that you are outstanding, future world leaders, and bursting with potential. I just hope more so than any of that, you remember that you are loved.