Sunday, June 11, 2006

Commencement Address for the Five Graduates of The River Academy, 2006

Five…smooth…stones. They were just five smooth stones. Nearly indistinguishable from all the other igneous material in Israel, save they were lying in a riverbed, smooth to the touch, and chosen for the day of battle by the future king of Israel.

They hadn’t always been smooth. They hadn’t always possessed the balance, beauty and well-roundedness that would assure the straight flight, the sure line, the obedient path that would topple the hope and glory of the Philistines. But years in that rambunctious river had smoothed the edges and honed the symmetry of those five stones. Sometimes it was the river itself that effected these changes as it applied its gentle but inexorable pressure to these rough-cut rocks. And other-times it was the stones themselves as they jostled and scraped against one another that effected the slow but steady erasure of jagged edge, coarse surface and unsightly crease.

But the single most distinguishing feature of those five stones was not resident in the stones themselves. For there were hundreds, nay, thousands of similar stones in the shallow streambed that day, the stories, uses and ends of which we will never know, nor for that matter care to know. No, it was the sovereign choice of Israel’s anointed one that distinguished those stones from all the rest, and appointed them to a meaningful service, a martial duty and a memorable victory.

Class of 2006, you are here today as five smooth stones about to be plucked from The River by David’s greater Son and launched into the fray as instruments of war; as God’s means of securing the victory accomplished by Jesus Christ in his death, resurrection and ascension to his father David’s throne at the right hand of God the Father.

Now, in likening you to stones, I am not saying that you are dumber than the proverbial “box of rocks.” Few things could be further from the truth. However….I still wonder to this day how on earth you wound up in the middle of that swift-flowing stream, how you managed to get “left behind” on the camping trip, and on other sundry occasions said and did things that proved beyond disputation the absolute necessity of progressive sanctification. But, I digress….

In your short time at The River Academy you have been shaped and sharpened, polished and perfected, battered and balanced, honed and whetted for the day of battle. You have been sanded and smoothened, sometimes by instructors, workloads and exams; and sometimes as you jostled and scraped against one another, forcing you to learn the sanctifying rhythm of confession, repentance and forgiveness.

You have been lovingly formed, not merely into receptacles of data, but into walking, breathing expressions of truth, goodness and beauty. But never forget that truth, like stone, is by its very nature hard and unyielding, because it is (as we have labored diligently to teach you) simply an attribute and revelation of him who is the truth, and who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But truth without the smoothness of kindness, humility and grace is unusable truth, one might even say: untrue truth. Truth with awkward and angular edges will not fly true when released from the sling of the Great Shepherd. Your usefulness in God’s service depends most of all upon your purity. It is not great talents nor the mere accumulation of knowledge that God delights to bless so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy student is an awful weapon in the hand of God.

As noted before, the five smooth stones did not choose David. David chose them. And herein lies your protection from the ever-present temptation to the hubris and haughtiness of pride. You have been given much, but it is all of grace. You have attained much, but even that is all of grace. Great things lie in store for you this coming year, and indeed for all of eternity, but those things as well will be all of grace. As Paul taught the Corinthians, you were called to service in God’s kingdom, not because you were wise, mighty or noble, but precisely because you weren’t. The glory that God received from David’s victory over Goliath would have been greatly, if not completely, diminished had David used a grenade-launcher instead of a single smooth stone drawn from his shepherd’s purse. Never forget our Lord’s delight to confound the wisdom, grandeur and might of the world with the foolishness, simplicity and weakness of His servants. Never forget His perfect ability to subdue His enemies with unremarkable rocks drawn from babbling brooks.

As others have noted, you are in many ways, a very special assemblage of individuals; diverse and yet wonderfully knit together by your experiences in and around The River Academy. God’s blessing upon you all is visible and tangible. We, your parents and teachers, would not be at all surprised if one or two of you turned out to the next Robert E. Lee or Booker T. Washington; Lady Jane Grey or Elizabeth Elliot. But it is important to note, that although David chose five smooth stones from the riverbed, only one was immediately (and with stunning effect) put to use in the battle. Apparently the four remaining stones were called to wait. It is very likely that David had four stones in reserve for the four known brothers of Goliath, should they have sought revenge for their brother’s death. But the point is, that God’s call is very often a call to wait in reserve. And this can be most trying.

For most Christians, the patience required for waiting is infinitely more demanding and difficult than even the painful activity of the martyr’s stake. But waiting upon the Lord is the clarion call of every Christian, and according to scripture, the path to great blessing and the sine qua non of godly maturity. Class of 2006, you have been, and are being, prepared for the day of battle. But you must also learn to wait. The ability to delay immediate gratification or instant glory in exchange for future, more substantive and satisfying recompense and reward is the hallmark of true sanctification and godly transformation. God’s command to subdue the earth and to make it fruitful remains as urgent and binding as it has ever been. But, as you continue to prepare your minds and bodies for Kingdom service, you must continue, at least for a short season to wait in studious preparation. To understand the extreme folly of “not waiting” for God’s timing and direction, one has only to imagine one of the four stones held in reserve rolling itself across the field of battle and into the iron toe-piece of Goliath with a pitiful tink, and a pathetic, “Take that you brute!”

Similarly, God’s command to fill the earth with godly offspring has never been more important than it is today. We live in the context of a worldwide culture obsessed with barrenness, death and the resultant despair. The barrenness of sodomy and self-centered, self-imposed sterility; the violent death dealt by our abortion mills and the slow death murderously spread via lawless sexual activity. It is into this great darkness that our Lord calls you to be beacons of light. Against this backdrop of barrenness, death and despair, He calls you to the fruitfulness, life and hope of His everlasting kingdom and glory. But here again, He also calls you to wait, not grasping for His good gifts before their time, but rather patiently preparing yourselves, your talents and your graces to one day compliment the godly woman, and the four godly men that the Lord will very likely and very soon bring across your paths. One stone for the sling. Four in reserve. Learn to wait upon the Lord and His perfect timing.

Little smooth stones, you know my affection and respect for you. Here now the words of Your Savior, who reminds you, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.”

May the Lord keep you as you continue to discover His several callings for you, and may the Lord bless you as you fulfill them, working and resting, serving and being served, loving and being loved, laughing, feasting, singing psalms (and of course…reading good poetry) whilst the giant idols of our age topple to the ground all around you, stunned by your joyful service and gladsome songs of praise. Fly true to your marks little stones. Fly true to your marks. Soli deo Gloria. Amen, and amen.