Graduation Address 2015

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A Rising or Setting Sun?

May 31, 2015

Dear family and friends of the graduates, and especially to you seniors,

At 81 years of age, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate to the Constitutional convention in 1787. Throughout that summer, not only was the outside heat stifling, but the debate on the floor as well. The question of whether this new nation could withstand the struggles that were presented to it brought the future of the nation into question. Many did not think the nation would make it. There were so many points of contention during those months. But finally, the Constitution was finished and it was presented to the delegates for signing. It was unanimously accepted—although some were still skeptical since the Constitution yet had to go out to the individual states to be ratified.

On the final day, as the last delegates were signing the document, Franklin, the elder statesman, pointed the delegates toward the sun on the back of the Convention president’s chair. Observing that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising sun from a setting sun, he went on to say: “I have the course of the session...looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting.” Consider the symbolism. A rising sun is a sign of hope, confidence, of assurance that there is a bright future. A setting sun is a sign of questioning, a hesitant wonder, and possibly even discouragement of the unknown of darkness sure to be upon the watcher momentarily. Benjamin Franklin went on to say, “But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun."

The hard work and long hours of the delegates paid off. Their achievement was recognized by the young nation, and the states did ratify the Constitution two years later in 1789. Truly this moment in 1787 showed a rising sun.

I think you already see the parallel. It was not a matter of months for you, but rather years. It was not always easy. Whether it was struggles with class schedule, content, or with grades, sometimes it was a struggle with classmates and friends. Maybe there was a disagreement with a teacher, or with parents at home, but the struggle was worth it. It was time well spent and now you are at the moment when you will receive the documentation of your achievement. Is this a moment of a rising sun for you or a setting sun?

It is a rising sun. It has to be. This is America. It is the land of freedom and opportunity unparalleled in the world. And you are here to receive the proof of achievement and hard work, and coupled with that is proof of the blessing of God poured out upon each of you in a very real and physical way. The doors are wide open for you to pursue your dreams and goals. You can’t help but see that as an opportunity for a rising sun.

And if that was the most important thing in life we could quit this address here and say “Well done!” and get on with the presentation of diplomas.

But you are flesh and spirit. Not merely flesh. You are physical and spiritual, you have a body but also a soul. For the human nature, this moment is a grand achievement and worthy of the confidence and hopefulness that earthly honor brings. For the spiritual nature, this is a day of apprehension—it is the day that marks the beginning of a different sort of freedom for you. 

This day marks a stepping out away from the safety and security of your physical family who directly encouraged you to be here and the security of a learning environment which takes as its foundation the Word of God. It is the day that parents, extended family, Christian friends, pastors, and we as teachers leave your side as you walk out on your own for the first time. And we look at that event like we look at the sun and ask, “Is this a rising sun for you or a setting sun?”

It isn’t so obvious. It is a question for which we may not know the answer until we meet again in heaven. Does that mean that it is left to chance? Certainly not—it is simply unclear. 

So what can be done to give one the confidence that it is a rising and not a setting sun? “Holding fast to the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain” (Philippians 2:16).

You have a diploma to give confidence and encouragement to your physical nature. But you have something so much more precious and powerful to give confidence to your spirit—it is The Word of Life, which is not just paper that you can look at. Paper is just paper and ink after all—it represents achievement, but—the Word of God is not the same—“The Word of God is living and powerful” we are told, “sharper than any two-edged sword piercing even the division of soul and spirit …and of the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It is “power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16). It actually moves and changes hearts and lives. With the result that, when you struggle with the temptations of the world, or the sins of your youth, or later in your life you look back and wonder in your spirit whether your faith is rising or setting, the Psalmist says, that as you look to Christ, and His message of salvation for each of you, this word becomes, “a very present help in trouble, and a comfort in affliction, for Your Word has given me life” (Psalm 119:50). 

So again, “Holding fast to the word of life, so that you may rejoice in the day of Christ that you have not run in vain or labored in vain.” 

Your diplomas will soon be placed in your hands. You will walk out to a rising sun. But with even more excitement we, as a congregation gathered here, place into your hands the blessing of God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit who has given you the confidence of a more glorious sun that has risen on your hearts by faith – the glorious Word that has grown in you during your years here at Immanuel. And, on behalf of the faculty and staff, thank you for letting us take part in that blessing which God has begun in you. Amen.

Mr. Philip Matzke