High school graduates from Wilson Hill Academy at LINK 2023

On June 3, Dr. Vierra delivered the commencement address at LINK 2023. Please enjoy his words of encouragement to our graduates here:

Graduates, before I share my words of exhortation, I want to begin with a word of gratitude.

I want to thank you for giving me the gift of this past school year. I have taught so many of you, and as I look at you now, I see precious men and women that have become my friends. I will not soon forget you!  

I want to congratulate you – you have reached Rivendell. You have journeyed and have seen much. You have been challenged – you may have had your moment on Weathertop and wondered if you would ever make it here. You have traveled but you have not traveled alone. You had your family, you had your friends, you had your teachers. And now you are here. It is a Rivendell kind of time. A time to celebrate and a time to rest.

But the journey has only just begun. That is the significance of Rivendell. That is the significance of this moment in your lives.  Much lies ahead. Much remains to be done. You must go, and the time to go is approaching. It is a time of celebrating, and of rest; but it is also a time to think ahead.

(For clarification, this is not the last Lord of the Rings reference).

I want to call our attention now to a biblical scene, one that resembles Rivendell, but one that carries a more sobering message. The tribes of Israel left Egypt; they wandered in the wilderness for forty years; they finally fulfilled the purpose of the Lord in securing the land of Canaan. We are early in the book of Judges, chapter two, and Joshua has just died. We are then told that the rest of that generation were also gathered to their fathers, and a new generation arose.  

And here is the important statement, so quick you might miss it – and by missing it we miss something deeply profound. “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”

That is stunning. That is sobering. This is not just that the story of Jericho was lost to the next generation, or that of manna from heaven, or the Exodus; it is the loss of the entire grand narrative that frames all of life, all of what matters. And it is this refrain – they did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel – that lies at the very root of all that troubles Israel, all those dark years and cycles of deep spiritual dysfunction, that we find in the pages of Judges and in the years beyond.  

It was not supposed to be this way, of course. This was the Promised Land. So many years of waiting, hoping. And within a generation, the people of God had forgotten they were the people of God; they had forgotten they were a people with a purpose, and they had forgotten God.  

My friends, graduates, a new chapter in your lives lies ahead. And such a speech as the one I am giving now is typical for casting the false vision of self-centered fulfillment – as though your purpose is ultimately and finally self-realization. The temptation is now, and it is heavy, to entertain the siren song of “making something of yourself,” or to “make a name for yourself.” As such, you would leave Rivendell to go and explore, to live your own life, to seek your own adventure, or at least to see new places – and most important, to seek and find your own definition of happiness.  

Senior Class of 2023 throws their graduation caps.

And all the while Mordor rages, threatens, advances.  

God wins, and we know that. And I will speak to true hope in a few moments. But evil is real, the enemy is real, and we are called to action. He who is not with Christ is against Christ; and he who does not gather with him scatters. There are either/or fallacies, and this is not one of them.  

My point, in short, is this: in this moment, as you reflect and as you anticipate, the question before you is not about you. The question is this: what will you do to prepare yourself so that the next generation after you knows the Lord and the works he has done for Israel? The question is whether you will take on a biblical vision for your life, a multi-generational vision, a vision that extends far beyond your life. Or whether you will take a self-focused vision, one that will end with you.

So as you consider the work you have to do, I want to exhort you to always work with two things in mind: that you work with memory, that you work with hope. And to clarify, by work I do not mean your career or professional status; by work I mean how you will spend the time and the strength and the talents God has given you. That will be your work.

Work with memory

To work with memory is to situate your work within the context of the Providence of God. It is to work, always remembering who God is and who you are in Him. It is to work, remembering that we are fallen in the first Adam, raised in the second. It is to work, remembering that by Christ’s work we are saved. When we lose our bearings about who we are, and most importantly who we are in Christ, nothing else will hold; nothing will remain.  

One of the most fascinating of Tolkien’s characters is Theoden, King of Rohan. We find him in The Two Towers as a frail lord who can hardly get up from his own throne. He is lost in the darkness and thus has no sense of the outside world as it is; no sense of the evil that is advancing, the evil that has indeed almost already engulfed his own kingdom. He has forgotten who he is, and this has resulted mainly from the evil influence of false counsel that has driven this once noble king to wretched powerlessness.   

What are the ways we are tempted to forget who we are and are thus ensnared? Are we tempted to find our identity and value in our performance? It may be grades now, it will be career later, or perhaps something else. How much self-satisfaction do we draw from likes and followers? And how long, friends, do we feed our own sense of self by voices other than God before we become lost and are rendered useless to the kingdom of Christ? Gandalf, Aragorn, and the rest of the Fellowship needed Theoden. And only when Theoden was brought outside, into the light, and grasped the sword (see the symbolism here), did his sanity and power return.  

Israel had forgotten their origin and their heritage. The future lay open before them, as it does before you. It was the time to make something of themselves, to make a name for themselves. They heard the call of Babel, they sang Babel’s song, and so they canonized themselves.  

Liberalism is not opposed simply to conservatism. Liberalism is opposed to memory, it is opposed to history, and thus to true culture. True culture bears the scars of the past, the evidence of what ought not to be done, that they may remind future generations. This is why Wendell Berry wrote that “Culture preserves the map and the records of past journeys so that no generation will permanently destroy the route,” and adds that “to lose the scar of knowledge is to renew the wound.”  

This is why we find scriptural songs that remind us of our failures, as does Psalm 95: “Today, if you hear his voice,” the Psalmist writes, “do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.  For forty years I loathed that generation and said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.’ Therefore I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”  

What then if we fail to remember? What is the modern world that we have inherited if not the result of a systematic attempt to oppose memory? The Cartesian attempt to start afresh, from a wholly new foundation?  

King Lear, perhaps more than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, images the tragedy of the modern world. It is a story of hubris and autonomy, followed by heart-wrenching disaster. In one particularly critical scene, the Earl of Gloucester, despairing of life and seeking suicide, is saved by the loving intervention of his own son, which serves as the beginning of the Earl’s redemption.  

But the Earl must never forget. And we must never forget, that we may return again and again to the Cross in repentance. Remembering, in other words, is necessary for repenting. And only by repenting can we return to the work. Only then can we work with true hope.

Work with hope

Second, you must remember to work with hope, that is, you must work with clear sight as to what lies ahead. I mean this in the Chestertonian sense of sanity: to see the world as it truly is and, critically, as it will be.  

To do this, we must see what God has afforded us to see. Deuteronomy 29:29 says that the secret things belong to the Lord, but the things revealed belong to us AND TO OUR CHILDREN forever.” God has revealed some truth; not all truth, but some truth; it is fundamental truth, and it is truth not only for us but for our children – for your future children.  

Again, the temptation now, in this season of your life, is to think entirely about your life – what you want to do, or who you want to be. Have you not been called to something greater than yourself? Have you not been called to a work that extends far beyond yourself? Will you work with the kind of hope that sees to it that the next generation will know the deeds of the Lord and what he has done for Israel?  

In failing to impress upon their children the law of God – to speak of it as they get up, as they lie down, as they walk along the road — Israel failed to work with true hope that God will indeed bless faithfulness to a thousand generations. They gave up on that hope, and worked for a different hope – something self-defined, self-trusting, something present and tangible. We can ascend to heaven by the work of our hands!  And so a new generation arose, one that did not know the Lord or the things he had done for Israel.   

Recall the story of the rich young ruler who believes he has satisfied the law of God even since childhood. We know the story: Jesus tells him to give up all that he has, give it to the poor, and then follow him. We know that the young man walks away sorrowful, because he had great possessions. Recently rereading this story, what struck me was the narrowness of the young man’s vision, and the absence of his hope.  What then was the purpose of his supposed righteousness if he could not prefer treasure in heaven over treasure on earth?  

By contrast, it was a true vision and hope that drove Abraham. Hebrews 11:8-10 says that “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

Again, you are leaving Rivendell soon. Where are you going? What are you seeking? What will you do? Will you work with Abrahamic hope? Will you work by faith, looking forward to and working toward the True City? And will you see this work generationally as Abraham did? That Isaac and Jacob – his son and grandson – were heirs of the same promise?  

There will be sons and daughters to follow after you, and others to follow them. What will they know? Will they know their God and what he has done for his Church?


Consider with me one final time the scriptural theme for this year’s LINK. We are told this Psalm is “a prayer of Moses, the man of God.” It is the only Psalm attributed to him, and I have always pictured him writing this near the end of his life.  Moses has seen much, but he will not see the Promised Land except from a distance. He will not enter. And we hear him cry out in song to his God, “establish the work of our hands; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

And so our time together has come to an end. We will part to go our own ways, joined together by the memories of the time we have shared – such a precious time. Let us never forget this time. Let us never forget one another, and the good we have seen. There is good in this world because there is grace in this world.  God has begun a good work in your hearts; he has formed his church; he is saving souls; he is raising the dead; and because we are His, and He is at work in and through us, there is love in this world; you have seen this love from your families and from one another. His Spirit will not return void but will fulfill all that the Lord has purposed.

And so when you hear the creation groaning, and you hear of wars and rumors of wars; when you hear the cacophonic noise of our culture, the sounds of desperate souls lost in the darkness, and you are disoriented, let memory and hope reorient you once again to the work you have to do. The work that is not your own but is His. Remember always Paul’s words in Philippians two: “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

My prayer for you, for all of us, is that we will daily sing with Moses, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands.” Amen.  

I love you all. Congratulations!