On the Edge of Commencement: A Blessing and a Challenge

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Commencement is one of the most highly anticipated events of the academic year, and this year it did not disappoint. May 21, 2016 marked a wonderful day!

We were blessed to celebrate eighty students who had completed a course of study. We commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the class of 1966, and awarded awarded Distinguished Alumni designations on Rev. Archie Bazuin and Rev. Dr. Leanne Van Dyk.

11 different countries were represented in the graduating class of 2016.  Students came from Brazil, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, Madagascar, Nepal, Nigeria, South Korea, Trinidad & Tobago and the United States.

In keeping with recent tradition, I was privileged to provide the final words of blessing and challenge as part of a Commencement Address. Every year, I prepare something new based on a Biblical text that strikes my heart.  This past year, God prompted me to focus on Romans 12: 9-18.

These words are written by the Apostle Paul to encourage the church in a time of uncertainty and anxiety.  I asked the graduates to consider where they would find focus and security as they face the future that God is preparing for them.

To the class of 2016, I read the following:  

Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

I then narrowed in on the challenge for the graduates to center their ministry in keeping with the wisdom of verse 12 – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  

Be Joyful In Hope.    

Joy is a precious commodity in this world. Cynicism and Skepticism are part of the toxic atmosphere that is in the world that has even invaded the church from time to time. This passage does not call for happiness that puts on a smile and says everything is fine when it is not.

The joy that is to be expressed is founded on the hope that comes from God and an understanding that God is at work in this world. The passage that I read this morning really begins with these words from Romans 12:1 – Therefore, I urge you in view of God’s mercy, …. 

In view of God’s mercy, we are to be people of hope and as people of hope, we can have joy. You can even carry joy to those who are mourning. You carry with you the good news that the grave and the coffin are not the end for those who are found in Christ Jesus. You carry the good news that a bad medical report or being let go by an employer or a breakdown within the family are still under the watchful and caring eyes of God. God cares for you and He cares about the people who you will meet and minister to. Be Joyful in Hope.

Be Patient in Affliction.     

For some of you, you enter into this day with many questions and maybe one of those questions is – What am I to do next? You may have an answer, but some of you are waiting. You are waiting for a church or school or other ministry to call and you are wondering what is next. Maybe on the edge of this moment, you wonder how God may use you in the years ahead. Even as we provide a diploma for you and a serving towel that says – Calvin Theological Seminary – CTS – Called to Serve – you may wonder where you will be called to serve.

On this day, I invite you to hear this challenge – Be Patient. Be confident and be attentive to this gripping reality – God is preparing something for you.  

Now the passage goes on to say Be Patient in Affliction. Patience is not revealed in moments and minutes. Patience is revealed over time and even through difficult times. The passage we read notes that there is evil in this world. There is a lack of peace. There is disharmony. There is pride. There may be those who will persecute you.  

When I think of the countries represented by you students at this commencement – I think about the variety of contexts and difficulties that you will face. What does affliction do to our relationship to others? People tend to separate themselves and isolate themselves from others in times of affliction.  

Our passage calls us to community as an antidote to isolation – Cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another even above yourself. Practice hospitality. Be willing to associate those who others may consider lowly. Share with one another.  

You and I cannot be patient in affliction by ourselves. We need each other. We are meant for community.  

Be Joyful in Hope. Be Patient in Affliction and finally!

Be Faithful in Prayer.      

This verse concludes by calling us to a life not just of community, but to keep in communion with God. Prayer is the link by which we not only give thanks to God, but we cast all our needs – our daily needs upon Him.  God wants you to keep developing a relationship with Him even as you teach or preach or counsel others in their relationship with God.    

Grace comes into our lives and grace works at the stains of sin in our lives and in this world.  Even though you are graduating from a seminary today, please keep this truth before you – God is not finished with you.  God desires to call you to a deeper trust – a deeper faith in Him.  He has the gift of grace for you to open and unfold for you and this gift is bountiful and very fruitful.  

You may have turned in a final paper and taken a final exam, but God is not finished with you.  You are at the edge of Commencement. Every day, God desires to refine you, develop you, sustain you, and provide you with the gift of grace that comes from faith in Him.  Be faithful in prayer.  

On this day where we acknowledge your gifts and abilities, we are invited to see through and beyond your gifts and abilities to the God who has created you and who is still working on you and me.  

Today can be a testament to achievement but may today also be a reminder of how you are instruments of His grace – Be joyful in hope, be patient in affliction and be faithful in prayer.     

May God encourage and direct you as you are Called to Serve Him.  

Congratulations!  To God Be the Glory – Now and Always!  

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