Summary: 8th Grade Graduation sermon for Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois
Good Shepherd Lutheran School Graduation Sermon 2011
Repent, Rejoice, Reach Higher
We are all thankful tonight for what you have accomplished in the last nine years. Wednesday evening I was here for the Kindergarten Graduation, and it was a joy to see their exuberance and enthusiasm. They are just beginning to learn what you have learned: How to read; How to write; How to solve problems; and How to be creative... But most important, How to glorify God by knowing Him, believing in Him, and following His will. Among all the things we have taught you to do here, there are three that I want you to continue doing all of your lives:
The first is repentance.
Recently researchers at John’s Hopkins University ran across the notes a 19th century neurosurgeon named Harvey Cushing. What surprised them was his meticulous self-evaluation and self-criticism. He carefully documented every mistake he made on the operating table. Most people try to hide their mistakes, but not Dr. Cushing. He cared about his mistakes, and he was always trying to correct them. It is no surprise that during his lifetime some of the most profound improvements were made in the field of neurosurgery! One of the first steps toward any improvement is to admit to what needs to be improved.
Jesus urged people to repentance constantly. St. Mark boiled down all of Jesus’ preaching to five words: “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1.15). Listening to Jesus and learning from Him above all means to take an honest look at ourselves and to bring our sins and failures to Him. His Gospel tells us that we are not fools for doing that, but rather that we are forgiven, loved and lifted up by His grace. When Jesus died on the cross, He died to take away our sins that would otherwise hobble us, hurt us, and keep of from being all that He wants us to be.
The second thing that I urge you to continue doing is to rejoice.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible comes from Nehemiah 8.10 “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Because of your youth and the many opportunities that lie ahead, you can anticipate a lot of happiness in your lives. Soon you’ll be enjoying more freedoms and experiences that I know will bring you many rewards. But along with all that happiness there will be trouble and sorrow. Pain and heartache lie ahead just as much as happiness. Many people don’t plan for that, and when it hits they are knocked down. It is easy to become negative and cynical. I have never met a negative or cynical person who has ever been able to accomplish much in their lives. That is where Satan always wants to keep us.
Joseph is one of my favorite examples. His brothers sold him out. He was framed for a crime he didn’t do. It looked as though he would spend the rest of his life in prison. But God had other plans for him. He never lost his faith. Even when he had the opportunity to take vengeance on his brothers he was gracious and forgiving. He said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, for the saving of many souls alive.” Joseph knew that in the end God had a plan for him and he trusted God to accomplish it. He knew there would be joy in the end, and that was his strength.
The last thing I want to urge you to keep doing is to reach higher.
St. Paul said to the young man Timothy: “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4.15). I love that word “progress.” Because of His forgiveness, because He is always guiding our lives, there is no reason why we shouldn’t expect to make progress. But we will never make any progress if we don’t expect it.
When I was in high school, I worked as a janitor. I was the summer help, and I was teamed up with the regular janitor named Jim. Jim was a rough character. When I first met him he reminded me of Charles Manson. He was a former Marine who had been through some very difficult times in his life. He would often ask me to do things that I just didn’t feel I was ready to do. I would say, “Jim, I can’t do that.” Jim would look at me with his wild, crazy eyes and say, “‘Can’t’ never did nothing.” The grammar was so bad that at first it took me a second to figure out what he was saying. Then I gradually got it: “‘Can’t’ never did nothing.” As long as I keep telling my self “I can’t... I won’t.” I realized that I needed to let God determine what I can and cannot do. But from my point of view I would at least try and look to God to help me.