Easter VII, 2019
Congratulations graduates! You’ve reached the end, the big finish. That’s right, today we recognize a number of our community who have completed a course of study and celebrate their degrees, diplomas and certificates. All those pieces of paper and parchment that proclaim the culmination of report cards and transcripts ends in success.
Perhaps for our graduates today there is the sense that you have sweated out your last report card, your last grade, worried about your GPA for the last time. That’s a good feeling. Again, congratulations, and whew! Well done. I’m glad you reached the end.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t ended. Like the scene in The Graduate when Mr. McGuire offers his famous one-word advice, “Plastics,” the future may seem as if there is always someone in our life looking over our shoulder, giving us advice and marking us grading us.
We can set aside the academic report cards, but all too many of us submit to a grading system in life. We grade on the life we lead, the work we do, the friends we make, the people we reject in our lives, the house, or car, or vacations we buy. We grade our neighborhoods and the schools we send our children to, the churches we join, or these days, choose not to join. We grade the clubs we’re in, how simple we can make life appear, or how complex it can be. We grade ourselves against our parents and families, what’s our parenting GPA. For children caring for aging parents, we’re marked against prior generations and that doubles our anxiety.
In recent years we even graded virtually, as we tallied friends, followers and reposts as a way evaluating ourselves. Finally, some of us even try to grade our faith, marking ourselves against a supposed biblical litmus test.
So, as graduates come to this day to celebrate an end to an academic journey, it is fitting that as we celebrate the completion of study for graduates, we come to the completion of the biblical story. The conclusion of the biblical story offers advice to graduates and all of us as we continue the journey. And the advice here, frankly, is for you, for all of us, to skip life’s report cards. Set aside all those benchmarks and grade marks that are coming your way, seeking to evaluate you based on life’s grading system.
Why? Because all you need to know about a grading system for life is right here at the end of the biblical story. As graduates sit on the precipice of the next climb of life, the text accurately presents how the journey will go. Look at all that is present in this one passage: promise, yearning, evil, warning, fear, salvation, testimony and hope. These are the emotions we experience all along life’s journey.
These are the highs and lows, the successes and complications we encounter and will encounter. Some guy did try to make a report card out of this. He put it on cars in the parking lot last week with all sorts of numbers and a grading system. But he is a false prophet. What we find in this text is not a predictive prophecy, but a series of metaphors of hope and warning. Hope for those surrounded by oppressive forces. And a warning for those struggling with the challenges of life that there is a better way.
You see, the gospel is not about some other world. It’s not about getting passing grade so you can go on to the next level. It’s not about getting the right numbers to complete the test. It’s not a test at all. It’s about this world, where Jesus came and walked and laughed and cried and bled and died. In Jesus God has embraced the world in all of its complications.
At first glance this can be unsettling, we want the grade, we want to note all the unsettling words in this text and mark ourselves against them. Come on, really, how do I stack up. We are conditioned to want to know. And so we focus on that, creating our faith grading system.
Yet for all these unsettling words in the text, for all its cautions and warnings, we need to recognize that the last word in this passage, the last word in the whole Bible, is grace.
Ultimately, the biblical story is not about our failings and our shortcomings, it’s not about the things we did wrong and the words we didn’t get right or the actions we didn’t take. The last word is about grace. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. That’s the big finish. That’s where we end up. You may never hear that from a teacher or professor or dissertation board or certification panel, but you hear it here. For all that the Bible is and for all that the Bible says, the last word is grace.
When it’s all said and done, when the book of our lives has been written, what counts most is not what some lifetime report card says about what we’ve done, but rather what God has done in Jesus Christ.
As hard and as complicated and as unsettling as the story can be, whether the biblical story, or our own life story, the conclusion of the story rests in the hands of God; God whose love for us has no boundary. It is a love stronger than death, stronger than our fears, stronger than our failures, stronger than our doubts, stronger than any report card we could ever put together.
We don’t deserve it. We haven’t earned it. But this love seeks us out anyway. That’s what grace is: God’s unmerited favor, bestowed on us in Jesus. There is no report card, no GPA, no tally, simply grace.
That this story ends in grace should not come as a surprise. That’s how it began. In the beginning when there is nothingness and darkness and chaos, God sets about creating and ordering the earth. Without any help from us, God graciously calls forth life and calls it good. From the Bible’s first page to the last page, from Alpha to Omega, grace persists.
Life, like the Bible, begins with grace and it ends with grace. In between, along the way, sure, things can get complicated, unsettling, hard and painful, awkward and sorrowful.
But grace persists: in song and smiles, in blue skies and bright flowers, in newborns and new opportunities, in the witness of well-worn friends, in the joy of new companions, in the pet that comes to live with you, in water and word, in bread and wine, in sighs too deep for words, in peace that passes understanding, in a love that will not let us go.
So graduates, and all, congratulations, you passed, you made it. Now, save your anxiety, skip life’s reports cards and revel in the full and certain knowledge that grace persists, all the way to end, and even beyond. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.