Congratulations! You have obtained your degree during a very difficult time. I’m amazed by your dedication and your perseverance. The whole church is proud of you!
You’ve studied hours and hours and stayed up late (sometimes all night) to make sure you are ready for your exams and papers. I have watched you come into church from especially tiring weeks of midterms and I was always amazed that on little sleep, you still chose to come to pray. I want to speak to your faith for a moment, something I’m pretty sure your graduation speakers and your party attendees will probably not mention.
As your pastor, I am proud of you. God is proud of you. I can say that without any doubt in my mind. Yes, you have passed your exams, but the pride I am talking about is the hard work and spiritual dedication you’ve put into your own soul and spiritual growth. When you entered our church doors, you were hesitant. Understandably so! Growing up, Christians told you that you had to change so that God could love you. You sat in the pew by yourself and the first time you were at church, tears flowed from your eyes. Your soul was alive, yet so hurt. I saw you walk in with a faith that needed nurturing and I knew the whole church would walk alongside you as you learned that you didn’t need to be anyone else but you. A few weeks later, you and your friend were in that pew together.
During the passing of the peace, matriarchs and patriarchs reached out their hands and opened their hearts. You became family and we knew we had a job to do: to love you, to pray for you, to be with you in your questions, and to hold the space for the hurt.
The first time we met for coffee, I remember how carefully you watched your words, believing you had to say things in a specific way to make sure to not offend the pastor. Little did you know just how many questions and wonderings your pastor also had. You began to trust me, I began to get to know you, and you began to trust the whole church. God was working in your life; God is working in your life.
As you opened up more, I saw the hurt from things people representing God told you. You wanted so badly to believe that maybe there was a different way — the way of Jesus: forgiveness, and compassion, justice, belonging, inclusivity. You saw others like you trying to live that way, too. Like an old building with brittle bricks, slowly your old church teachings began to be replaced with new bricks of stronger and more compassionate theology.
There was a day when your laughter caught the attention of others around you. In that moment, I knew that you were becoming more comfortable. Some of the anger and hurt softened, and I saw healing. Laughter is always a good sign that God is healing our hurts. I think laughter is the Holy Spirit’s favorite language. I hope the next chapter of your life has a lot of laughter and joy.
And now, just as we are getting started, it is time for us to let you go. The sadness we feel is only because we love you so much and we see how much you now believe that God loves you. You are so smart and I love listening to what you are passionate about. Oh, the world needs your passion!
I have one final sermon for you: Faith is like a garden. You will need to continue to attend to new questions and new thoughts you have about God. As you attend to your spirit, new flowers of spiritual growth will grow. You will find that faith will hold you in the rich soil of God’s loving presence. Just like I have to weed my garden so those annoying weeds don’t choke the life of my vegetation, you too will need to continue to pay attention to your soul.
God can take all of your questions. God can take all of your tears. God can take all of your joy. Most importantly, you never have to be ashamed of who you are. Yes, you will make mistakes, but who you are is a beloved child of God. No title or degree is greater than “beloved.” As you continue to trust that love, God will work in your life to help others share in that love, too.
I am so proud of you. God is so proud of you. The whole church is proud of you. Thank you for letting us get to know you and support you and learn from you. We are better as a church because of you. You always have a home here.
Be strong and courageous. God is with you always.
In the love of Christ,