Sojourn Commencement Address 2014

Sojourn Academy Class of 2014 Commencement Address.
Written and delivered by Jonathan Hunter.

When I stepped into the icy snow-ladened wind, I stopped and caught my breath. It was 1 AM. What have I gotten myself into? But the person in front of me moved on, and there was someone waiting behind me. So I took a step further out of the doorway and felt the full power of the wind hit me. I could hear the bits of snow and ice on my hood, as they were hurled at my body through the gusty night. I took another step. What was I thinking? Why did I leave my bed, oh warm sweet, comfortable, warm, dry, warm sleeping bag. But still I stepped forward. Again, and again, and again. My feet were heavy. Aside from the wind on my hood, the only thing to be heard was the clanking of our ice axes on the rocks, like dull bells warning the mountain of our approach. We trudged up the path, muffled lighting peering out of our headlamps. I realized that I was trembling, though from excitement, cold, or terror, I could not distinguish. Probably all three. So I gripped my ice axe tighter, put my head down, and focused on taking another step.

After my first attempt at the snowcapped 19,000 ft giant, nicknamed, “the neck of the moon”, nightmares flash before my eyes every time I shut them. I didn’t even have to be asleep. I saw myself trip and fall, and felt again the panic of sliding down the steep, icy slope, repeatedly jabbing the point of my ice axe in the ice and snow to stop my fall.

No one ever achieved anything significant by lying on the couch, playing it safe and easy. Faith is hard to come by from the comfort of your pillow. Go out and do something dangerous, something that has high stakes.

In one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the king and his men are defenseless. They only have two swords for their six hundred men. They have no power to stop the enemy who was raiding towns all around them. What will they do? The son of the king had one of the only two swords, and he says to his servant, let’s leave secretly and go to the enemy’s camp. ‘It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.’ And his servant says, let’s do it. And they attack the camp! And the King sees them fighting off in the distance, and takes his men into battle. And those who were hiding in the hills in caves, came out to chase down the Philistines. The prince was a hero and was well loved in the land. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.

Reserve action for things that are worth doing; dangerous things. Those where the stakes are high, and you have a lot to gain or lose. The kind that forces you to have faith. I could never climb a 19,000 ft volcano in a sleeping bag, and Jonathan, prince of Israel, would have never had become a great leader if he was too nervous to act on the faith he had in God.

Risk is not encouraged by our insurance-hyped, liability-crazed, wellness-infused society. When I was 21 I walked into a jewelry shop to buy a diamond ring. There were several older men in the store. “Don’t do it!” they cautioned! “There’s still time to back out!” Although the Jeweler himself was quiet—he wanted my business—our society cringes at the idea of someone getting married so young, and taking such a big risk.

Do not quit; never surrender.

And that leads me to my second point… Get married before you turn 20.
Just kidding, that’s not my second point
For real though, the other side of risk: Don’t just take a risk and turn around and quit at the first sign of trouble. You have to be committed to follow through, don’t quit, never surrender.
In College I read this story:

Growing up on the Oregon coast, I watched the Seaside Marathon from my house each year. Runners of all shapes, sizes, and speeds would come by over a five-hour span. The winner each year would complete the race in less than two and one-half hours. The rest of the field would string out for several more hours. One year, I remember the very last runner to finish the race came in so long after everyone else that the runner's banquet was over before he crossed the finish line.This last runner took more than eight hours to cover the twenty-six-mile distance!
I watched when he came by my house at the twenty mile mark, all alone with dusk settling, his pace little more than a shuffle. Grit and determination showed in his single focus of putting one foot in front of the other. No matter that there was a celebratory banquet going on someplace else with food and comfort. No matter the finish-line banner had been taken down already. He knew his goal and he wouldn't be satisfied until he achieved it. And he did, crossing the finish line some three hours after every other racer had showered and eaten dinner. I don't remember the name of that eighty-year-old runner, but his perseverance left a lasting impression. He was running a marathon when many of his peers were confined to walkers and wheelchairs..

The one thing we’re assured of in Scripture is that if we follow Christ, our life will be marked with suffering. The book of Hebrews describes life as a race that has been put before us. And we are challenged to run that race with endurance. Don’t quit. Keep going.  Never surrender.
But it hurts not to quit. Sometimes people laugh. Sometimes, people get angry and lash out. Sometimes life gets unbearable. It is only on the faithful and the loyal that receive scars, because they didn’t give in when the pain began. Bear your scars with honor, knowing that you are no greater than your master. Scars and wounds are, in fact, the mark of a faithful Christ-follower. In one of my favorite poems, Jesus questions he who walks without a wound or scar:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?
(Poem by Amy Carmichael)

Don’t quit on God when He seems so distant, or when injustice calls on you, and the heavens are silent. Never surrender. Don’t quit on church when you realize that it’s full of sinners like me and you. Be a person who is known for his daring acts and constant endurance. Don’t quit on a promise or commitment just because you get busy.

I didn’t make it to the top of 19,347ft Cotopaxi. We were turned back by some really bad weather. So I tried again. This time, we were on the glacial ice when a lightning storm hit, and we ran for our lives through the dark to get off the ice. That night being the scariest moment of my life as the thundered deafened us, and the lightening was blinding. But as of today I’ve stood on the summit of that volcano 3 different times. Don’t quit. Never surrender.

What you might not realize is that following Christ is possibly the Riskiest thing you’ll ever do, in the eyes of the world. God promises adversity. Homes have been burned, people hunted and beaten, imprisoned, mocked, shunned, and laughed at. In addition to what other might do to you, you run the risk of following Christ wherever he calls you. Just look at all the people here, in this room, who have left all the comfort of familiarity and family. They stand as witnesses to the great risk and reward of the faithfulness of God. And now, as you leave the safety and comfort of your pillow and home and venture out into the dark, howling, unknown, the stakes just got higher.

So I charge you: Since you are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, run with endurance the race that is set before you, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of your faith. Remember what Christ endured from sinners against himself, that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

Sojourn Academy 2014 Graduates:
May the road rise to meet you, 
may the wind be ever at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face, 
and the rains fall soft upon your fields. 
And until we meet again, 
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Family, Teachers, Friends:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
                the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
                the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.


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