Graduates of the class of 2009, I congratulate you on this landmark day. The papers have been turned in, the finals are over. And here you are in cap and gown. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and I and the whole Crossroads community congratulate you today.
But let’s be honest – these are scary times. Recession, job losses, swine flu. I’m reminded of the 1994 movie Reality Bites, which came out the year I graduated from here. In that movie, Winona Ryder gives a college valedictorian address and says, “But the question remains… what are we going to do now? How can we repair all the damage we inherited? Fellow graduates, the answer is simple. The answer is... The answer is... I don't know.”
It’s a jarring scene, but I like it because there are no easy answers. There are a lot of things we simply don’t know. But as Christians, we have hope and confidence that our all-knowing God leads us even when the future is unknown.
So let me give you one main image to take with you. As you go on from here, do things not because you are driven, but because you are called. This comes from the author Gordon McDonald, though it’s probably not original with him. Don’t do things because you are driven, but because you are called. I love the contrast in imagery. One is the picture of a cattle drive where someone drives the cattle to go one way or another, perhaps against their will. The other is a picture of a gentle shepherd, calling his sheep to follow him, for he knows them by name, and they know the sound of his voice. That’s the kind of life that God calls us to. Don’t be driven to succeed, to achieve. Don’t be driven by outside expectations or pressures or fears. Be called. Follow the voice of our Savior Shepherd.
All of you are here today because God has been calling you from the start. At some point in your life, you heard God’s call to follow Jesus. It may have been at church, in Sunday school as a young child. Or it might have been later on in life, at a point of crisis, a moment when you realized that your life had to change. And you heard that first call, “Come, follow me.” So you turned to Jesus. And your life has never been the same.
Later on, somehow or another, you heard a second call, God’s call to come to this college. It may not have made sense, it may have been an unlikely choice for you. For many of you, coming here was a costly act of sacrifice, and you gave something up to come here. But you sensed God’s nudge, and you answered the call. You came.
And many of you have overcome great personal challenges and obstacles to get here today. Financial challenges. Personal doubts. Academic struggles. Maybe family opposition. Let today be a day of vindication, that whatever you may have faced in the past, you are here now, and you are a graduate of the class of 2009. Remember this when you face discouragements in the future, because nothing can take this day and this accomplishment away from you.
But that’s not all. Somewhere along the line, I hope, you’ve also heard a third call, a more specific call, to ministry, to mission, to participate in God’s global and eternal purposes for this world. You might have been at a camp or on a short-term mission trip. Or you may have heard the still small voice in a classroom here, or in a late night talk with friends, looking at the pond or standing up on the hill. For me it was all of the above, at a fireside at Pine Haven Christian Assembly, and during a God’s Hands trip in Minneapolis, and in classes at this college. I heard about how God was on the move, and that he was at work to redeem and restore this fallen world. And he was calling me to participate somehow. I didn’t know exactly what I would do. But God had called, and I would answer.
Today, graduates of the class of 2009, you continue to answer the call. And you are graduating for such a time as this. A time of foreclosures, bankruptcies and global recession? Yes. Because every scary headline in the news represents people who are struggling, in desperate need of hope. And God needs people like you to make a difference in their lives. More now than ever.