2015 Baccalaureate Sermon

Thirty five years ago this year I graduated from high school. I also went to a Baccalaureate service. It was probably an old man, probably in his 50’s and I have no idea what he said. I couldn’t tell you then and I certainly couldn’t tell you now. I’m sure it was boring. And one day, if you’re blessed to live into your 40’s and 50’s, and if you’re blessed to have kids, and if they’re still doing Baccalaureate services in 20-30 years, you’ll remember that a few decades ago that you went to a Baccalaureate service when you graduated. So with it being acknowledged that you won’t remember a thing I say today, here we are. And I’m expected to say something, so we’d best get started so we can finish up and go get some refreshments. I don’t think they had refreshments at ours, but I can’t remember for sure. Anyhow, I’ll do my best not to be boring, but you’ll need to do your part and be of the attitude that there might be something worth hearing. So are you ready?

Our Scripture today is written by the Apostle Paul to a church he started in a town called Philippi. He started this church, the first church in Europe, and after he got it going he went somewhere else to start another church. And he didn’t start a church with the people you might think. He started this church with a wealthy business woman, a prison guard, and a demon possessed slave girl. He taught them what they needed to know and then Paul and his group left.

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and all the other ways to communicate hadn’t been invented yet. So when Paul would meet someone from the area of Philippi he would always ask about his friends and the church. And Paul would have heard that the church had been going through some rough times. As the church grew, they had internal fighting and some people were trying to draw the people away from the Gospel. I can just hear people not letting the demon possessed slave girl forget who she used to be.

And Paul writes to them and says, “Here’s what I do. I forget the mistakes I’ve made in the past. I focus on the future that Jesus has for me and look forward to what is ahead.” You who used to be a demon possessed slave girl – no more. You are now a child of the King. You are precious. Jesus died for you. You are forgiven and His mercies are new every morning. Because of Jesus, the girl had a hope and a future. Nobody could hold her back. The past was behind her.

It makes me think of you all and your last few years here at Frankfort High School. It’s now behind you. I understand I’m speaking to a variety of young men and women who all have different experiences of high school. Whether you had a great experience, or you’re sort of indifferent about high school (as I was and am), or whether you had a tough four years and just can’t wait to get out of here, this part of your lives is over – whether you like it or not every one of you gets a fresh start. Whether you’re going to college, into the military, into the work force, or even if you don’t know what you’re going to do, you’re all going to be doing something different – something new. High school is now behind you. And most of you are going to go out in the world to find your purpose – to find that something that fulfils you.

And take it from an old man, the world does not offer you fulfillment, even though it pretends to. As difficult as high school may have been, high school was easy compared to the world. The world is tough. The world tries to sell you things you can’t afford and get you in debt. The world often leaves people homeless and addicted. The world leaves you always wanting more. The world tells you that there’s always something better out there and destroys marriages and wrecks homes. The world chews people up and spits them out. Take it from an old man, don’t look for validation and satisfaction from the world. And I hope you haven’t thought I was talking about myself when I said “take it from an old man”. You didn’t, right? No, I was talking about the Apostle Paul. He says that the world’s goal is to have us take our eyes off of knowing Jesus. Of first knowing Him and then knowing him better. Here in Philippians, Paul says that His goal should be your goal – To know Christ, to be like Christ, and to be all that Christ has in store for you. And that will satisfy your soul.

And do you know how this old man believes you accomplish that? And in this case when I say this old man I mean me, but I think the Apostle Paul would agree. I want to let you in on the secret of finding contentment in life and in growing to be more like Jesus. It’s living a life of service. It’s living a life not to get as much as you can for yourself, but to give as much as you can. And there’s nothing wrong with earning a good living. John Wesley, who inadvertently founded the Methodist Church, famously said, “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”

A little over a month ago, a group of 17 of us, most all from our church, went to Haiti. We walked around villages and hillsides giving out beans and rice to people who literally had no food. Gage Shaffer gave away a pair of shoes to a kid who received the gift of a lifetime. A kid who upon receiving the gift, just sat down in the middle of the field and was as happy as I have ever seen anyone in my entire life. Others of us left our shoes and clothes. We gave the kids soccer balls, frisbees, and ball caps. We held their hands and looked in their eyes. And we gave them some hope and love.

And they gave us a feeling that the world can’t give. A feeling like, at least in that moment, we made a difference. A feeling like we did the right thing. A feeling that a drug or alcohol or a new truck nor anything else can give you. And that feeling, that fulfilment, it stays with you forever. If you could see Missy Clark right now, I guarantee you she’s got tears in her eyes. I wanted to read you a letter I wrote to the mission team on my blog, but I knew I could never make it through the letter. A life of service is a life well spent. It’s what we were created for. And it’s the key to a fulfilling life. And you don’t have to go to Haiti.

Before Christmas this past year, someone from our church gave me several thousand dollars to go to Martins and Sav-A-Lot down town to buy $50 gift cards and give out to people – and tell them that we wanted to give these cards to them so they would know Jesus cares about them. People laughed, cried, shouted, and hugged us. It was unbelievable. It was a day I’ll never forget. And you don’t have to give away thousands of dollars in gift cards.

There’s an old adage, “The world is made up of givers and takers. Takers eat well. Givers sleep well.”  You simply begin by looking for ways you can give of yourself. And you will sleep better at night.  And you still won’t go hungry.

And truth be known, it’s what the church was intended to do. Yet because the church has bought in to our culture, the church has gotten away from practicing a life of service. And what we’re left with is a bunch of unfulfilled and selfish church people filling a bunch of churches that are not about the work of Jesus – not about giving, but taking – or at the very least, protecting.

I pray that Jesus raises up a generation of servants and I pray that generation is yours. Can you imagine how that would change the world? And who doesn’t want to change the world?

So I encourage you to go out and do well in college. Or take pride in serving in the military. Or enter the workforce and work hard. But remember that you will not find your fulfilment in those things. You can only find fulfilment in Jesus. And you will find Jesus when you serve others.

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