Class of 2015: Welcome to the Body of Christ that is Highland Baptist

11391520_10100348761840343_4225143896630823934_nTo our beloved Class of 2015,

The past two weeks, I’ve spent every evening combing through the thousands upon thousands of photos that I’ve taken at Highland over the past nine years – all in search of your faces. If the pictures in your senior slideshow tell us anything, they speak to the countless hours we have spent together seeking out joy through shared experiences and creating sacred spaces where our lives were shared.

On this day, we seek to do the impossible – we attempt to wrap all these years together with a bow to celebrate it through tangible traditions that allow you to transition into the next life stage before you.

You have many places in your life you’re marking this transition –lacrosse banquets, proms, and high school graduations. Though this moment is similar to those, I must tell you what today is not in order to make sure you know what this day here at Highland is all about.

Today is not about putting together your life’s experience at Highland into a frame-worthy image of the perfect youth group experience. We are not trying to gloss over the hard parts or project an image of idealism. This is not because this hasn’t been ideal. It is because if we only had good times together, we would not have lived our real lives together. As we said earlier, smooth seas never make skilled sailors.

Through your time here, I hope that you have learned that we find God most profoundly when we come to the cross – when we find that place where it feels like we have met our end. It is precisely there that God shows up through granting us a community that waits with us through the long three days until we are able to see the miracle – that-which-terrified-you is nothing compared to the God who is by your side redeeming even your worst days.

Today is not about simply celebrating your success, your belovedness, and your greatness. You possess all of these things but you do not own them.They are gifts. They have come to you through the parents that have raised you, the teachers that have taught you, the mentors that have walked with you, and the friends that have made life livable and joy-filled.

They have come to you through our God that that has granted you belonging in the Body of Christ that is this youth group. In Christ, we see love become flesh through the giving of love away. It is my hope that in youth group, you have felt the magic that is embodying love in order to give it away. However, in these culminating moments, you must be careful not to let your belonging in the Body of Christ mistake itself for ownership. You belong to the Body of Christ, you do not own it. For if you buy into the owning of it, you will miss the immeasurable blessing it is to be part of the community God is building which is much bigger and grander than you or I could ever create.

Today is not about ending your relationship with the Body of Christ that is Highland Baptist Church. As Drew named in her sermon, the rest of the world is showing you to the exits of the cruise ship that is high school. They are motioning you to single-person rowboats, handing you oars, and waving to you as you sail off on your own. The culture will tell you that is now time to “find out who you really are,” as if there exists a treasure map with college parties, study abroad, and distance from home that will lead you to “x” marks the spot.

Look around. Who you are is right here. Your true self is not defined by what you do, who you love, or the name you create for yourself. Your true self is as a child of God who is blessed and beloved in order to be agents of love, transformation, mercy, and grace.

You have been given the greatest gifts here…

…relationships that have held up a mirror to show you who you truly are

…lessons on forgiveness, empowerment, and empathy to teach you how to love this world,

…invitation to connect with the One who grants strength for any storm and peace even amidst the largest waves.

This is a gift that you must share. The world is desperate for you to go and put this into practice – to be love’s hands and feet, mouths and ears, minds and hearts.

We speak to you the calling we receive from Jesus – to go and make youth groups of your hall-mates, communities of love out of your fraternities and sororities, teams of transformation out of your co-workers…or as the ancient words say, disciples of all nations preaching to them the good news that love is stronger than hatred, life is stronger than death, and hope is stronger than despair.

As we end this form of community, we welcome you into the larger body at Highland Baptist Church. It’s a wonderful place to be.

Love you always,

Carol