By Dr. Keith Wagner
Graduation is a rite of passage where our young men and women are leaving one world and entering a new one. This new world is quite different than the one they are leaving. Now they will be expected to build a career, find a mate, thus separating themselves from their families. The bar is being raised as the challenges of life become more complex.
For some, this means the end of free board and room. They will now have to pay their own bills, including car payments and insurance. Most will be expected to work unless they plan to continue their education in a college or university. Those that choose that avenue will have to learn to manage on their own, away from the protection of their parents. There will be high expectations about getting good grades and acquiring skills for the job market. It will mean making new friends and living in an environment which could even be hostile at times.
The world young men and women are stepping into is quite different from the world that I graduated in. In the 60’s we lived under the “cold war.” No one ever thought of terrorism. We didn’t have cell phones, VCR’s or DVD’s. Instead of the Internet we contacted our friends with a rotary telephone. Gas cost about 30 cents a gallon and it wasn’t difficult to find a job. Even paying for a college education in those days was relatively easy. But, that has all changed.
This is a different world. The job market is tight. The world is much smaller and we can communicate anywhere in the world instantaneously. It is very challenging to venture out on your own, since things like utilities, rent and health insurance are very expensive. The world travels in the fast lane and the majority of folks are doing whatever necessary to survive, even if it means stepping on people in the way.
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Our culture has changed too. Our society is much more diverse. For example, your doctor will most likely be from another country. It is very possible that your next door neighbor might be from Japan or Mexico or Vietnam. The company that you work for may be owned by someone overseas. Its a very different world.
Hopefully, parents, teachers, the church and community has prepared our young adults for this new and different world. But, will they survive?
In our text Jesus is preparing his disciples for their life in the world. He prays for them and assures them that they will be protected. He will be leaving the world soon, and he wants them to know they will not be abandoned.
However, there is something unique about the disciples. Although they will be living in the world they represent “another world.” That is the world of the believer, followers of Christ, disciples of God’s kingdom. They will be in the world but not “of the world.”
Because of their faith they will be tested, face overwhelming odds, and they will not always be accepted by the world in which they live. Why? Because as followers they won’t sell themselves out to the ways of the world. It will be more important to help their neighbors than be successful. Relationships with people will matter more than material things. Their language will be the language of love and unlike the world in which they live they will make sacrifices and align themselves with the oppressed.
That is a tremendous challenge and few will be able to embrace it. It will be easier to give into the ways of the world and look, talk, act and feel like everyone else. And yet, Jesus is counting on his followers to “keep the faith,” and be a presence in a world where some remain connected to the kingdom of God.
Jesus gives them a message on how to survive. First he stresses “oneness.” The only way to withstand the fierce elements of the world is to stay together. Disunity is their greatest threat.
When we think of threats we usually think of terrorism, disease or lack of employment. But, Jesus says our greatest threat is divisiveness or disunity. Without “oneness” we will perish or become “worldly.” In other words he reminds his followers to maintain a relationship with God, with Christ and with one another. Relationships are the key to survival. Just as those with addictions need a support group, people of faith need to stay connected to the church.
In March, 1984 there was a malfunction a the Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Northern California. It triggered a chain reaction of events that darkened the lights for millions of people in six Western states. The blackout occurred at rush hour which caused hundreds of traffic jams in all the major cities. The trouble originated in Round Mountain, California substation, about one hundred miles south of the Oregon border. A circuit breaker tripped and circuits all over the West automatically shut down to protect themselves.
One little circuit breaker, tripped in a remote rural area, hundreds of miles away changed the lives of millions of people. How dramatically that breakdown symbolizes the interdependence of our country’s power, transportation and even food production systems. We are one people in more ways than we think. What affects one, can affect all.
The unity of the church is no different. The good one person does makes the task easier for us all. On the other hand, one bad example can set back the entire church. God’s people, wherever they live on earth, are linked into a grid of community interdependence from which we can never escape. The more we are one, the more we will be an effective church in the world.
Secondly, Jesus tells his followers that we still have to live in the world. Therefore we should take advantage of the resources the world creates and use them to witness to the gospel. Using the tools of society doesn’t mean we have sold out to society. It means we are taking advantage of all available resources to be faithful to the task of building the kingdom.
Just this past week I received an email from a student seminarian in Troy. Several weeks ago I received one from a student in St. Louis. They were thanking me for my sermons that are posted on the internet. You hear horror stories about the misuse of the internet by children and youth, or people exploiting the system all for their own personal game. The internet can also be used by the church to spread the word, teach and share the good news.
Each of our graduates will choose some vocation in the future. That will hopefully bring them fulfillment as they participate in the greater community. We still have to live in the world and each of our individual skills can be used to enhance the kingdom. Some are more visible than others. Some are very subtle. For example; Idlers of a seacoast town watched the village smith day after day as he painstakingly wrought every link of a great chain he was forging. Behind his back they scoffed at such care being taken on such an ordinary thing as a chain. But the old craftsman worked on, ignoring them as if he had not heard them at all.
Eventually the chain was attached to a great anchor on the deck of an ocean vessel. For months it was never put to use. But one day the vessel was disabled by a breakdown in its steering apparatus while nearing the coast in a storm. Only a secure anchorage cold prevent the vessel from being driven onto the rocky coast. Thus the fate of the ship and hundreds of passengers depended on the strength of that chain. No one knew of the care and skill that had been lavished on each link of that chain by an obscure smith who was only doing his best. The chain held, both the ship and its passengers and crew were saved. A man from a “different world” had saved the day.
Finally, Jesus places the future of the faith community in God’s care. Jesus prays that God will be present in the life and mission of the faith community. Although we are called to live in the world we are not outside the protective care of God. Our lives may take us to distant corners of the earth but we will never be out of God’s reach.
A man by the name of Pen Hadow, 41, was recently stranded at the North Pole. He was the first person to reach the North Pole alone and unaided from Canada. He hiked there but was running low on food and supplies. He had to be rescued in order to return safely home. A plane made a dangerous ice landing last Tuesday to rescue the British explorer. Hadow made a makeshift runway with plastic bags to guide the plane. Fortunately Hadow was rescued from the furthest point on earth. Our faith may take us to far away places too, but like Hadow, who hiked to the North Pole and was rescued, we too are never out of God’s reach.
Yes, to be in the kingdom of God is to be from a different world while living in the real world. It will be scary at times. There will be times when we feel alone and overwhelmed. Nevertheless, God will be there to protect us as Jesus has promised.