Welcome graduates, welcome family, and welcome special guests. We thank God for bringing us this far, and bringing us together on this occasion. Today, we are all friends and fellow adventurers. We've been on an amazing journey together. For two years we've walked alongside each other, and today we meet one last time at the final mile marker. After this, we'll part ways and begin another adventure, each in our own unique direction. Even apart, however, we'll remain HOPE School family. We'll always have this wonderful journey in common. I'm happy to have been a part of your lives and proud to have witnessed what each of you has accomplished. Even more, I am excited to see what you'll do next and where your HOPE School education will lead you.
I wonder how many of you have had thoughts of giving up over the past two years. I know some of you came up against very hard and challenging circumstances. I know others had to make the difficult decisions to sacrifice things great or small to complete this diploma program. You've been challenged and tested, but we are here today to recognize that you persevered and succeeded. You stayed the course and finished the race. Congratulations.
You've just been presented a diploma. A piece of paper recognizing the reaching of a goal. It's more than a pat on the back or handshake or a "job well done." It's both a personal achievement and a public acknowledgement that you've accomplished something great. Most everyone in society will recognize the significance of this event in your life, while realizing that not everyone is able attain this level of education.
ThIs piece of paper on its own, however, is incomplete. Its incapable of moving forward with you. It's an award of your past. It's been well earned and signifies the great accomplishments we've already mentioned, but if that's all we celebrated today, we'd be missing the most important aspect of your HOPE School education.
It's not often that graduates are told this truth on graduation day. As you've noticed, though, HOPE isn't the typical school. We see things differently. We work under a different set of priorities, and believe there's more to life than what we can see and understand.
Your diploma will likely find a place of honor in your home, sitting on a shelf or hanging on the wall. It rightfully should. But please remember that this diploma was never the goal. Where you put the diploma is not nearly as important as how you put it to use. The journey that begins from this day forward is the goal.
Today, there is something else that I want to present to you. You've just been handed a cup with the school's insignia. Like your diploma, this cup is not a gift, but a trophy of your hard work and accomplishment. Unlike the diploma, however, I want you to treat this differently. This cup doesn't belong on a shelf. I expect you to use it every day. It's durable. It's useful. And it will last a very, very long time. This cup needs to be used daily, because if it is, it will never collect dust. Yes, It may get dirty, but it can be washed. It needs to live among the other dishes in your home, find its way in your sink, and into your hand at the kitchen table. Let it get used: well used and used often.
So why the cup? The cup represents five important principles that we learn from the Bible, that will serve you well as you graduate from HOPE School. As you take this cup home and use it, I hope you'll often be reminded of these five truths.
First: This cup represents blessing.
In Psalms, we read from David in chapter 23: "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." The cup represents a measurement of blessing. In chapter 16, David writes, "Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup." David recognizes his blessing with the measurement of a cup. It's a measurement of just enough, and then even more. I want this cup to remind you of God's great blessings. Everything you need to be sustained, and then some.
Second: This cup represents a covenant.
At the last meal with his closest disciples, Jesus shared a cup with them. He told them that it represented the covenant of His blood, that was to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus shared with them the message of salvation and atonement by using a cup like this. When the son of God shares the redemption story with the world, it's told with a cup. Every time you use this cup in your house, remember that message and promise. As you move forward from today, go remembering the covenant he has established with you and for you.
Third: This cup represents a warning.
When Jesus challenged the Pharisees and teachers of the law, he called them hypocrites. He said they were careful to keep clean the outside of their cup while leaving the inside full of greed and self indulgence. He called out their (and our) tendency to work on outward appearances while neglecting our heart. As you look at this cup, you'll see it is plain and simple. It's not designed to outwardly impress. When you use this cup and wash it, remember what Jesus told us about keeping ourselves pure. God sees inside our hearts, where others cannot see. Guard your heart.
Fourth: This cup represents a great responsibility.
In the days leading up to Jesus' death, He prayed many times for the cup to be taken away. He knew it was his responsibility to become the sacrifice for all humanity, and it seemed too much to bear. He prayed for the cup to be taken away, but followed up by accepting that God's ultimate will be done through him. Upon your graduation today, you now have the added responsibility that comes with an advanced education and a deepened understanding. You now have a cup of responsibility in front of you, and I hope you will embrace it and the desire for God's will to be accomplished through your life.
Fifth: This cup represents the opportunity to serve.
I've included the passage from Matthew 25 on the back of your program. Jesus is describing to us the day of judgement, the coming of His kingdom. In an incredible scene, we see that the Lord God will gather all the nations, and will separate people one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus explains clearly that one day He will come back and separate those that are His followers from those who are not. Our inheritance, it seems, hinges on a few crucial details: who we've shared our food with, who we've welcomed in, who we visited and cared for and loved, and with whom we shared even a single cup of cold water.
So my words of blessing for you today are these:
As you go from this place, go remembering God's abundant blessing. Go, remembering God's covenant of redemption. Go, remembering the warning to keep your heart pure. Go, with a greater understanding of your responsibility and the willingness to submit to God's will. Go to feed, to share, to welcome, to love and to serve. And finally, brothers and sisters, go in peace. Be blessed.