Essay / Theology

Good Works, Class of 2015

graduation trophy good work

A prayer for the 2015 graduates of the Torrey Honors Institute, from the commencement service last week:

Father, we rejoice with these students in the hard work they have done in Torrey, and we present them to you as exhibits of good work. Furthermore, this good work they have done is also their good works, the productive deeds of righteousness they have to show for the last four years of focused effort toward a goal. We are proud of them, and we offer them to you.

We admit to feeling a little bit silly about coming before you in solemn assembly to say “look at us, we did it.”  Later today we’ll feel even sillier when we join a larger group and put on our special graduating costumes with our special graduating hats and robes.

We are well aware that the good works we are celebrating have been in constant danger of being bad works. Every good motive met its match in a mercenary motive. Every attempt at serving became somehow self-serving. Every devotion had its deviation, every promise was a near miss, every offering a little off. Our days and nights of study were sown alongside nights and days of slacking. These students know they often competed when they should have cooperated, often felt a pang of envy when they saw others succeed, plotted a tiny betrayal when they should have planned to bring a blessing.

And these are our good works! Never mind the evil works. And I am talking about our good works, not just theirs, because we, the faculty and administration, along with the parents, feel very implicated in the works of these graduates. If they’re not quite our vicarious self-congratulation projects, they’re somehow indirectly still about us somehow. After all, we’re the ones who asked them to put on special graduation costumes and stand here in your invoked presence.

Out of these depths of our good works, Lord, we cry to you: If you, O Lord, kept a record of the sins we committed while we did our good works, O Lord, who could stand? Not the class of 2015. Not any class or kind of people. No flesh can glory in your sight.

We are, if anything, especially aware of this today. Every one of these students reached the limits of their abilities at some point during these college years. Every one of them cried out for your help and made promises to you of what they would do if you would just get them through this. Some cried out more than others, and more often. Some cried out weekly, but all cried out from weakness.

And you, Father, answered. You got them here. We present to you your own good work, your own workmanship, created in Christ for good works that you have prepared in advance for them to walk in. We present to you your own workmanship, with some of our smudges on it.

Unless the Lord builds the education, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the honors program, the student stays awake in vain. It is in vain that they rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious Chipotle, for you give to your beloved sleep, and you give to your beloved in their sleep.

These students are exhibits of your mercy, trophies of how much you can put up with. But they are also displays of your power in them, manifestations of your power in them to bring about the obedience of faith.

Your grace has schooled them, your mercy has instructed them, your lovingkindness has trained them to deny the works of unrighteousness and to be a people zealous for good works. Accept from us these firstfruits, these early offerings, these initial payments in what we pray will be fruitful lives of faithfulness, accepted by your fatherly tenderness, forgiven through your Son’s sacrifice, and empowered by your Spirit’s fellowship.

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.


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