Good evening 8th Grade Scholars.
And good evening to all of you, parents, grandparents, faculty, family and friends.
My name is Erik Dunkin, or around here at HPCS, Mr. Dunkin. This past year I taught middle school English and also taught the 8th Graders in Bible class. And as one who’s spent at least two hours per day with these 8th Graders every weekday for the last nine months, it’s a privilege now to offer them this charge upon their graduation.
8th Graders, in case you haven’t noticed, this is an evening when all of the attention is on you. We’ve put you up on this big stage, your mom’s insisted that you wear a tie, you were all forced to wear funny looking hats for a reason. We want to draw attention to you. We want to celebrate your accomplishments, and we want to call you forward to the even greater demands of the future.
But even as we’re here to celebrate accomplishments, I want to give you a charge tonight that’s less about what you do, and more about who you are.
I want us to think less about achievements, and more about character.
As you sit here tonight and consider your transition from High Point Christian School to high school, I want to invite you to do some personal reflection. I want to ask you to examine what it is that motivates you to do everything that you do.
The key question for tonight is this: Why do you do everything you do? Why do you do it? What is your underlying motivation behind your athletics, your social life, and your studies?
When it comes to why you do things, I would suggest that you really only have two choices.
Intrinsic joy. (Yes, I am an English teacher, and yes I am utilizing a graduation ceremony to teach a new vocabulary word. Intrinsic. Repeat after me. INTRINSIC. [CHARACTERIZATION]. Sorry, inside joke. Intrinsic. In of itself.)
There is joy in an activity itself. For example. You can be playing a basketball game, and for a fleeting moment during that game, you can find yourself fully immersed in the competitive, fast paced flow of the game, the dribbling of the ball, the running down the court, the leaping through the air. In that moment, whether you win or lose at the end is irrelevant. In that moment, you are simply immersed in the enjoyment the game of basketball simply because it is an enjoyable game. God made it that way.
You can also experience intrinsic joy in your studies. Yes, in fact, I believe Mrs. Krumbach would attest there can be a kind of joy to be found in factoring complex polynomials and working your way toward a solution. And in that moment the grade you get on the test doesn’t matter—what matters is the experience of performing mathematics, of seeing the handiwork of God in numbers on a page.
If you look around a school like ours you’ll often see young children completely absorbed in a simple task. My four year old recently discovered the phenomenon that is legos. And it’s amazing how entranced he can become in this simple activity. Yet as we get older, it seems we all lose some of this ability to simply enjoy an activity for what it is. We get focused on outcomes, on usefulness, on whether or not we’ll be recognized, on whether or not we’ll be noticed. Whether or not this experience can fit into a two inch square on someone else’s screen, whether or not the aesthetics of that square will be appealing to their preferences, and whether or not they will give it the highly coveted “like”.
But 8th graders, don’t lose this. Don’t lose the ability to simply find joy in an experience itself.
The moment you begin to pursue your studies, to play your soccer game, or to pick up your trumpet for no other reason than that you hope others will appreciate you, or see you, or become impressed with you, that is the moment that you begin to forfeit the far superior joy of simply picking up your instrument and playing music.
8th Grade scholars, hear this: In life, the bigger that your circle of experience becomes, the more you realize that there is always someone out there who is better at something than you. Someone in your high school will be a be a better performer than you, a better dancer than you, a better outside shooter than you, a better class clown than you, a better student than you.
And because of this reality, many of you are probably within a couple of years of experiencing rejection or failure, perhaps for your first time.
In the next couple of years, many of you will be cut from a sports team you hoped you’d make. In the next couple of years, some of you will not be offered the role in a play you were hoping to be casted. In the next couple of years, some of you will fail your honors History class (in spite of Mr. J’s best efforts).
And the question is, when that failure comes, what power will it hold over you?
If up to that point in life you have only studied so that you could be the best, then you will be crushed when you discover you’re not.
But if, on the other hand, you have pursued athletics, and academics, and church activities simply for the joy of participating in those activities and the pleasure of honoring God as you do so, then experiences of rejection will only be minor disappointments instead of debilitating blows.
If you can learn to embrace the experiences of life simply for what they are, and for your ability to honor God as you go about them, then there will be no end to the pleasure you will find in the ordinary happenings of every day life.
So 8th Graders, as you go from here, my charge to you is to do everything in your life before an audience of one. Make God the one person you seek to please in all endeavors, and you will find satisfaction. Make God’s voice the one you seek to hear in all circumstances, and you will find encouragement.
For God, when he looks at you, does not see your failures, nor your successes. He doesn’t see your awards, nor your GPA. No, when God looks at you, he sees only the one in whom you have placed your faith, his perfect and all-satisfying Son, Jesus Christ.
With the full knowledge that God approves of you in Christ, you are free to enjoy the world around you without the anxiety that comes from constantly trying to please others.
Audience of one Violinist story:
There’s an old story I heard from a previous Pastor of mine, Jackson Crum in Chicago, about a world class violinist who performed at a well known venue in NYC. At the end of his performance, the audience erupted into applause; a standing ovation ensued. But even amidst all this applause, the violinist appeared stoic on stage, no emotion on his face, and even looked a bit concerned. He was looking into the audience at one chair, where there was a man still seated. After several moments passed, finally the man in the chair stood and joined in the applause. At that moment, the violinists face lit up. He smiled big, took his bow, and left the stage. It turned out, the man in the chair was his teacher.
He wasn’t pleased until his teacher was pleased. He performed for an audience of one.
The same is true for us as followers of Christ. You can have a thousand voices cheering you on and applauding your efforts, but if God is not pleased, then you will not be pleased. And in your displeasure you’ll know that you must return to him, find his forgiveness, and change your ways. And on the other hand you can have a thousand voices ridiculing and criticizing you, tearing you down, but if God is pleased, then you are pleased. Because you are not living for the crowd. You are living for an audience of one.
Paul said it well, as we saw many times throughout our study of the book of Acts this year, Acts 20:24, as Paul looked into the face of his upcoming arrest, his sufferings and hardships, and the mocking that would come, he said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may complete the race and finish the take the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”. Paul had the courage to carry out his mission, even unto death, because he was living for an audience of one.
So 8th Graders, as you go from here, go with the encouragement of your teachers and staff, go with the love of your families and friends, but more than anything else, go with the grace and the unwavering faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
Show the world what a group of young people can look like who care not for the applause of the masses, but only the approval of God. If you do so, you will find joy in the presence of others, peace in the presence of God, and contentment at the end of the day in the presence of your own soul.
That is our hope for you.
Let’s pray for these graduates.
Okay, it’s time for us to let these scholars do what they came here to do: graduate.
GRADUATES: PLEASE STAND.