A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Baccalaureate – May 14, 2006
(As transcribed from a recording made at First Lutheran Church.)
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Especially this evening, grace and peace to each of you seniors, Class of 2006. It is because of you that we are here – we are here to honor you this evening and to bless you as we send you on your way.
A pop quiz for you tonight, because this is probably the last time that one of your pastors will get a chance to ask you a question to see how well you were paying attention! It’s easy, though. So, here it is: In our readings we just heard the names of twelve men – twelve people who were close to Jesus Christ, who were his friends and his followers. What – this is the question – were they called?
Disciples – yes! But they were also called something else in our reading, and that is…? Apostles – thank you, yes! Disciples and apostles, these same twelve men were known as both.
And tonight I want to talk to you about being a disciple and about being an apostle. First of all, we need to know what the heck these two words mean.
A disciple – a disciple is someone who is a student, a follower. Someone who is learning discipline. (The words are from the same place, “disciple” and “discipline.”) An apostle, on the other hand, is someone who is sent out. Someone who has a message to bring, someone who goes on behalf of another person.
So it seems to me, graduates, that you are at the point where “disciple” and “apostle” cross. Being a graduate, being about to walk across that stage and receive your diploma, makes you right at the edge, and you are going from discipleship into being apostles.
See, as disciples you have spent the last twelve years of your life sitting at your teachers’ feet. Well, maybe not quite at their feet like Jesus’ disciples might have, but you have sat in their classrooms. You’ve learned from them. You’ve taken notes. You have studied and you have gained all kinds of knowledge – more than you even realize right now. You have spent these twelve years listening carefully and taking it all in, not letting things slip by you, and you’ll be surprised at how much of it you remember. You have asked questions of your teachers – you’ve challenged them! (Sometimes you don’t even realize how much you’ve pushed them to grow themselves as you’ve asked them questions.)
And you have learned discipline these twelve years as well. You’ve learned discipline of your mind – how to study, how to write, how to do a bibliography or footnotes, how to argue, how to reason. You’ve also learned discipline of your body – you’ve done that in gym, in sports, but also in simple things like learning when you were little in school how to “hold it” through a whole class period. How to wake up early in order to catch that bus at the awful dark hours of the morning. How to – hopefully – eat well and to be healthy. You’ve also learned disciplines of the spirit these twelve years. You have learned prayer from us, you’ve learned Bible study. You’ve learned through Sunday school and through being youth leaders, through confirmation and through all of the many other things that you have done in your churches.
You have been disciples, and right now I know that you are chomping at the bit to not be disciples anymore, but to be apostles, to be people who are sent out, to get the heck out of Dodge and to get on with what you want to do.
But not just to be loose – but we send you out. You are our gift to world, do you know that? You are the very best that we have to give to it, and so in your graduation we send you out and you are apostles to the world from us. Some of you are going to travel a long way, some of you are going to stay much closer to home, but all of you have a purpose. All of you have a mission – in fact the word “mission” comes from the same word in Latin as “sent.” So you are sent with a mission.
You’ve been preparing. Some of you have prepared for even longer than your twelve years of school. Some of you will go on and continue to study and prepare for many more years to come. But graduation is a turning point for each of you, a moment when our community acknowledges your great value and puts our hopes in the future on you. You go from discipleship into apostleship.
But I’d like to encourage you not to give up on discipleship just yet. Not to abandon being a disciple.
See, we all begin as students at Jesus’ feet. In our lives of faith with him, that’s the only place that we can start. We learn from him, and he is a good teacher to us: he gives us just what we are able to learn, and then lets us take it in, and lets us grow into learning more from him. Jesus sometimes is one who will discipline us, it’s true – he says to us, “Take up cross and follow me.” (Notice he didn’t say “Take up my cross.” Only he can do that.) But he does say, “Take up your cross, whatever it may be, and learn discipline from me. It will make you the person I want you to be.” And he becomes in the process of this more than just a teacher to each of you, he becomes your friend and your mentor. This has already happened, and we have seen this in your lives.
And although you long to graduate, to be sent out by Jesus into the world just as we send you out into the world, don’t rush.
Yes, Jesus does give each of you a mission. And he gives you the gifts that you will need in order to see your mission for him through. But becoming an apostle does not mean a “graduation” at all, friends – we need our Lord’s wisdom and his guidance more than ever when he sends us out.
When the disciples went out as healers and people casting out demons on Jesus’ behalf, they didn’t stop being disciples when he sent them out. They needed their teacher more than ever. Our work – your work – is going to take discipline. It’s not always going to be easy, and you’re going to have to buckle down sometimes in order to get the job done. You will need to return to your Master’s feet in order to regroup and recharge your batteries.
You have been disciples, and you have been good disciples. And you are now about to venture out as Christ’s apostles, sent out into the world. Friends, Class of 2006, take joy in the mission that your Lord gives you because you work for him – whatever you find yourself doing, you are doing his work, so work hard at it. But also return often to the feet of Jesus your Teacher. Come to his table and be fed because you will need it. Hear him again and again in the words of Scripture. Gather with your fellow brothers and sisters – your fellow students – here in God’s house or wherever you happen to be, and let us support you in your work. (And also come to support us in our work, because we need you.) Pray always. In short – never give up your first vocation, your first job, the vocation that you’ve been practicing these last twelve years, the one that will you will put wind into your apostle-sails with – never give up on being a disciple of your Lord Jesus.
God bless each of you. We are so proud of you. Amen.