Baccalaureate Vespers 2015 Sermon
June 3, 2015
Isaiah 32:14-20; John 10:1-10
If you’ve ever travelled outside the country, you perhaps have experienced the same thing I have: the excitement of what is new and foreign can turn into fear as you cross the border: the language, the customs, the law is different. What will happen to me? Who will protect me?
No matter how happy the experience is, there is something very soothing about hearing the customs officer say, “Welcome home, sir,” and crossing back into your native land seeing the sign, “Welcome to the United States of America.”
You are about to cross a border, into a new, exciting, yet dangerous world. You will have new opportunities but also new threats.
Others have been this way before. We can learn from them.
Our story as a human race is to go from order to chaos, which leads to disordered slavery.
Our first parents had order in God’s garden, and with it great freedom. In the fall, they were cast into a wild world, untamed, hostile. Soon brother slew brother, and man became completely enslaved to his desires.
The children of Abraham became literally enslaved, in Egypt. Through Moses, God freed them – but they couldn’t handle their freedom. When I think about my own experiences in high school, I wish I had not had so much freedom. I wasn’t ready to make good decisions. You graduates have received a far better education than I had, and I pray you will use it to make good decisions. But the best decisions are those made in humility, by staying close to your parents, your church, friends who are a good influence on you, people who have been where you are going.
As Israel went from Egypt to the wilderness, they went from tyranny to chaos. The only way through the chaos, the anarchy of the wilderness was to listen to their shepherd, to listen to Moses. But they didn’t want to do that, and not listening led to their death.
Contrast that with what we heard Jesus say tonight: “The sheep hear his voice.” Your success or failure in life, in the end, won’t depend one iota on your grades, your popularity, what college you eventually get into, what your career looks like, or how much money you make. Listen to the voice of Jesus your shepherd, keep His Word foremost in your mind and heart – that is what you need above all else.
What does Jesus give you? “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” What is this “abundant life”? Remember this: almost everybody is lying to you. The abundant life that the culture offers you is artificial – really no life at all.
What is it, then, this abundant life of which Jesus speaks? His own life was a walk toward the cross. Death by crucifixion hardly seems like abundant living. But when we see that His cross is the supreme act of self-giving love, then we discover that the abundant life does not consist of succeeding for yourself, but in self-abasement, humility, loving God and your neighbor ahead of yourself.
Do we have time for one last Latin lesson? Graduation has gradus as its root. We get “grade,” like “8th grade” from it, but that derives from the word “step,” like stair-steps. And it all derives from an even earlier meaning, “to walk, go.”
The point is that graduation doesn’t mean you are done. It means now you walk, go to the next step on the journey. What’s the destination? For a Christian, the goal is the world-renewal that has begun with the resurrection of Jesus, which we heard Isaiah describe as when “the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,” when “the effect of righteousness will be peace.” God will bring about the great world-renewal at the resurrection of your body, when He makes new all things.
But as you go, you also do now what God gave our first parents to do in the beginning: tend the world. Make and build beautiful things, useful things, things that praise God and help other people. Be righteous – do the things in the Commandments, and make peace with others.
And then, when you can no longer take another gradus, another step, we rest in the Jesus who not only stepped up to the cross but stepped out of the tomb. Jesus is risen from the dead. That’s the one graduation that gives all the others their meaning. The crucified Jesus is risen from the dead. Let that true thing guide you in all your steps.
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