Posts Tagged ‘celebration’

Graduation season is in full bloom. Our youth group will graduate this month 25 seniors from thirteen schools and two homeschool groups. We hosted an 8th grade graduation (last Wed) and host an upcoming Senior Sunday (this Sunday). Personally, my youngest son’s eighth grade graduation from the school of dialectic at Augustine Academy was last night and my oldest son’s graduation from Jenks Public High School is Monday night. You might not be shocked to discover I have been thinking about graduation celebrations.

As I called a number of senior’s families this week and several 8th grade families last week, I heard their stories and was able to encourage and to pray for them. I was struck again – as I am each year – by the privilege of “coming alongside” and “being with” families in times like these. I jotted down some thoughts about graduations in the church. They are almost stream of consciousness. Let me know what you think:

Why do we celebrate graduations in the youth ministry and in the church?

It seems to me that the very heart of what we should be about finds its antecedent in the ministry of Jesus. He was WITH people both in the common times (along the way, at a meal) and at the celebrations (wedding, parties, Passover feast etc) and other transitions (funerals). It is interesting that His ministry both starts and ends with a wedding celebration.

How should we celebrate? The Incarnation as presented in the ancient Christ Hymn in Phil 2 calls us to not seek our own interest or agendas, but to value highly those of others. It calls us not to be grasping at position or power or role, but to empty ourselves and serve. It calls us to go on others turf and to experience with them their joys and sorrows. We have talked a lot this year in our youth ministry about Christ as a model of invitation and not exclusion. Scripture teaches us that we may choose to exclude ourselves, but that Christ gives us every opportunity to understand and respond to His invitation. As His ambassadors, we seek to operate the same way.

Graduation is a time perfectly created for youth ministers and other incarnational missionaries in our culture. The whole culture celebrates, but has no answers. They know this is a meaningful time. But they don’t really know why. That is a great starting point. Graduation provides a time for us not to preach or correct, but to join in with those that celebrate…to serve…to encourage…to alleviate stress for…and with our very presence in the parties as Christ’s ambassadors…to lift up Jesus Christ.

How does that work within our programming? I believe Jesus would be at the graduation parties. Jesus would be listening to the parents and grandparents brag. Jesus would take an interest in the half-formed dreams of kids. Jesus would show up….and lift up…and shower with love in all joy. And so…

We go. We attend every graduation and we connect with every graduating family. At least one of us is there. We cheer. We affirm. We ask good questions. And we listen.

We throw a party. Not only to celebrate, but to do the things that a rite of passage does – to offer “safe passage,” to provide significant learning, to connect to community, and to provide opportunity for transformation. But also to celebrate. As the First Family – the priority relationships for those who belong to Christ, we join graduates in their joy.

We invite. Every single phone call is a chance to share in the joy and to offer pray for this joyful, stressful and occasionally painful time. Every intentional personal invitation is a reminder that they are not forgotten. That they are loved. That we long to be included in their joy. So we call everyone. The program is announced. But the people are contacted. We invite. And we discover stuff. And so we pray.

We stay in touch. Because our sheep are not just the ones that find their way to the church each week. They are those we have been given to shepherd. We have compassion. We understand that they – like we – are just dust. We know how sin and busyness alienates. And we keep the bridge clean and the door open and the communication inviting.

Why do we celebrate graduations in the church? Because we are Christ’s ambassadors!

When my oldest daughter was two years old, I watched The Father of the Bride. (The 1991 remake with Steve Martin, not the Spencer Tracy classic from 1950) Someone had told me it was a great comedy. I was totally ambushed by the flood of feelings that came at the thought of letting my little girl go. I suddenly realized with more than a little panic, “From here on out, my fathering is a gradual letting go! I thought it would be different. I don’t know if I can do this!”

That was then, this is now. Earlier this week, an outstanding young man called me to ask for my blessing and counsel as he and my oldest daughter planned a wedding and a life together. Again, I was a little unprepared for my emotions. Years ago I expected to laugh. This time around I expected to grieve. In both cases, I was wrong.

I’m excited for Rebekah and Philippe. They love the Lord. They are facing life with courage, creativity, and compassion. They laugh easily and include others well. They bring out the best in each other and don’t shy away from the rest. They are not conformers, but transformers with the favor of God clearly on their lives. Those that know Philippe talk about what an incredible guy Rebekah is getting. Those that know Rebekah talk about the treasure that Philippe has found. I’m as proud as can be to be Rebekah’s dad. And I’m as pleased as possible to welcome Philippe to the family.

God gave us an incredible gift with Rebekah’s life….a gift that keeps on giving. I probably will cry at the wedding. But it will be tears of joy and thanksgiving!

I wasn’t really thinking about the Super Bowl today. I planned to watch it.  I love competition.  I like football.  It’s right up there with futbol and basketball.  🙂  And the Super Bowl is a cultural event for North America.  But I admit I wasn’t following the stories very closely this year.  The truth is that I like the Rams and the Packers….as well as some individual players and coaches – almost none of whom are on the Giants or Patriots team.  Once they were out, I focused on other things.

Oddly enough, out of nowhere, during communion this morning I started thinking about the Super Bowl.   I dearly love taking communion.  But believe me, distractions come….and it’s been worse than football sometimes!  🙂  Anyway, these thoughts came to me:

  • We love the Super Bowl because it seems bigger than life. And we want to be part of something that transcends the everyday.
  • We want the players to be bigger than life so that we can “encounter” (safe) adversity and “overcome” through them vicariously.
  • We love the storylines.  They help us believe that we too can be  a champion.
  • We love the commercials.  More than the game even, they call out to a place inside of us.  A place that loves beauty and excellence and creativity.  A place that is fearful at times.  A place that longs to be well thought of…and well taken care of…and if we are honest, in control.

Now I’m not hating.  In fact, in a few moments I will be heading to a Super Bowl party….and not as a wet blanket!  But during my communion rabbit trail this morning, I was struck by the contrast between the the annual “story” of the Super Bowl and the timeless story told in the ancient Christ hymn in Phillipians 2:3-11.

The Super Bowl narrative would tell us that we must consume to be happy, to be powerful, to be loved.  The Christ hymn gives us the model of One who emptied himself and became a servant.   The Super Bowl narrative tells of seeking to be #1.  The Christ hymn tells of One who was “in very nature God” but did not grasp at His position.  The Super Bowl narrative tells of happiness that lasts for a day (I think of John Elway staying in the stadium, not wanting to go home, knowing the feeling would never be the same again).  The Christ hymn tells of lasting honor coming through obedience and laying down our lives.

Dr. Autry was preaching this morning.  He said this: “It is almost unAmerican to speak against consumption.  After all, our economy is built on spending.  But….(God) didn’t call us to be consumers, spending our money and our lives pursuing more and more stuff.  He called us to be holy, sanctified by our worship of him, and devoted to his purposes in the world.  His purpose is to bless and heal the world through right relationships with God and one another.  We’re called to be part of that healing.”  Good word, Arden.  Thank you.

How do you do it?  How do you navigate the fun and celebration of the Super Bowl while choosing the narrative of the Christ hymn?   I’d love to hear your thoughts.