When It's Time to Go: A Message to Graduating Seniors

A message based upon Genesis 12:1-4a by Sean Peters

In a few weeks twelfth grade students around the country will take their senior exams; turn in all their books; say goodbye to their favorite teachers; and close their lockers for the very last time. They’ll get fitted for the caps and gowns; plan their graduation parties; and many will start packing their bags: preparing to leave home for the perhaps the first time in their lives.

It was 24 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. The excitement of finally being free: free from the demands of high school; free from the rules of my parents; free to finally live. But when the day of departure finally came, I began to sense a certain feeling in my gut – you know the feeling – a sudden realization that what’s about to happen is actually going to happen! In my case, I was actually leaving. Although freedom was something I desperately longed for, there was a part of me that didn’t want to let go of what had been commonplace for 18 years. I was afraid. I was suddenly not so sure that I had made the right decision. Holding on to what was familiar seemed much more logical … and safe.

Perhaps some of you know what I am talking about.

I wonder if Abram felt any of these emotions when YHWH called him to pack his bags and leave his home. He didn’t even know where to go. The text doesn’t give us any insight into Abram’s decision making process either; it doesn’t allow us to psychoanalyze the father of the faith; we don’t get to eavesdrop on his conversation (argument?) with Sarai after he tells her to dust off the old luggage. No, all we get is a simple phrase: “So, Abram left as the Lord had told him …” (12:4a).

Very few of us spend our lives in the same place anymore. We are a nomadic people. And it’s not always easy to leave. U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind reminds us of the difficulty of transition and the pain involved in saying “Good Bye.”

But I think there are some lessons that we can learn from father Abraham in the story from Genesis 12.

First, I think when we are faced with the reality that it is time to move on, we have to exercise healthy SEPARATION. Jesus tells us, somewhat shockingly, that “"(i)f anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life-- he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26 NIV emphasis added). The Greek word miseo does not have quite the same force as its English translation “hate” however. Some scholars actually translate the word as “love less,” which is actually a more appealing translation for me. Although I love my family, friends and hometown, I need to “love them less” than I do God. When I am able to separate myself in this way, I am able to heed the voice of the Lord and go where he leads me. While I love my family and friends and am able to express the pain and sadness that I feel about having to leave them, I am able to cling to the greater love that I have for God, and trust that I am being led to do His will.

Secondly, the PROMISES of God must guide us wherever we are sent. Before we go where we have been led to go, we must have unwavering confidence in the fact that God has made certain promises to lead us, guide us, protect us, go before us, sustain us, comfort us, encourage us, carry us, make a way for us, provide for us, deliver us, and heal us. Abram had no idea where he was going or what God had prepared for him; he knew only that God had told him to go. The rest was up to God. In the words of R. Kelso Carter:

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

Third, I think that as we plan to leave, we must remember that the Christian life, by very definition is a journey: we are on a PILGRIMMAGE. The doctrine of missio Dei reminds us that God is a sending God: the God of Mission. As His followers we are all called to “go.” The entire story of faith as laid out in the Bible is a story of a people on the move. Metaphors of “roadways” and “paths” and “journeys” abound. As pilgrims we should always be prepared to go where we are sent. This leads to the final point:

OBEDIENCE. We end where we began, with Abram’s simple acquiescence: “So, Abram left as the Lord had told him.” We must be willing to trust in the voice of our God: to know that He has told us where and when we are to go. We are to trust that a great adventure awaits us as we exercise our faith and launch out into the unknown.

Will leaving be easy? Probably not. But when we practice healthy separation, cling to God’s promises, and remember that we are on a pilgrimage in this story called life, the pain of saying goodbye won’t be quite so intense.

So as you prepare to go. I pray that you will go with the faith of Abram. And like Abram, I pray that God will work through you to change the world in ways you can’t even begin to imagine!

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