Below is President Medenblik’s commencement address from the May 2018 Calvin Seminary graduation. To watch the commencement ceremony, click here.
Commencement 2018 – Calvin Theological Seminary
What began with one pastor teaching five students has led to Calvin Seminary training leaders for a global church.
There are 12 countries represented in our Certificate, Masters and PhD graduates: Canada, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, and the United States.
What world will await you as you begin or continue your ministry service?
We have seen trouble around the world, but also seen trouble that comes from the hearts of people and is expressed in bitterness, fear, anger and even prejudice.
You know the brokenness of society and of persons. Each one of you has stories of joy and sorrow. As I prepared for this day, I could tell you that this was just a very unique year, but it is not. We live in an age of uncertainty and anxiety and you will teach and preach in this age of uncertainty and anxiety. How will you do so? What will center your ministry?
Every year for a commencement address, I ask that God will lead me to a specific passage or phrase to share with you. The word that came this year is this word – Hope. You and I are to be witnesses and ambassadors of hope.
In a letter to Christians who were scattered by persecution and trouble, the Apostle Peter writes the following – 1 Peter 3:13-15:
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
I would like to challenge you to center your ministry in keeping with these few words – Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have – some translations say – the hope you have within you.
These few verses do give a picture of ministry. We have already recounted some of the trouble in the world and there is trouble in the text. In the text, Peter does clearly understand that some of his readers will suffer in ministry. You may suffer in ministry.
When you suffer you may turn silent or withdraw from trouble or even be tempted to withdraw from the world, but Peter says – get ready. In times of trouble, people of hope will stand out. .
From 1 Peter 3:15, I want to give you this summary of ministry.
What does it mean to revere? It means to admire, respect, honor, esteem, look up to, and more. Ultimately, Peter is saying in your hearts –center your life on this one person – Jesus Christ.
Whatever else you do or say, begin with – nurture, follow – center your life and your ministry upon Jesus Christ as Lord.
Peter wrote those words when people would revere and even fear Caesar. The power of the Roman Empire is the backdrop to Peter’s letter to a church scattered and to a church that saw itself as weak in comparison to the power of Rome. But Peter says – that is not true.
Peter says here is the center – here is the source – here is the person to always esteem – always revere – the Lord of Heaven and Earth who stooped down – came down to be with us and for us and our salvation.
As you minister in this world – revere Jesus Christ as Lord. May your heart always be aflame with a living connection with this Jesus Christ.
2. In ministry, you and I are called to be carriers of hope that is within us.
Hope is both a fragile feature of life – sometimes we even say that hope can be crushed – but it is also one of the strongest character traits that helps us face the ups and downs of life.
Peter makes it clear that this hope is not in our abilities. Hope is not in our learning. Hope is not in our situation or class or ethnicity or political affiliation. Hope is not in our bank account or zip code or our last name. Hope is something that is carried within us. Hope is something that flows from our hearts when we revere Christ as Lord.
Hope is something that allows us to stand out in a world of trouble. Hope is present through tears and in times of trouble. Hope is fed by, nurtured by and enflamed by the work of the Holy Spirit. On the eve of Pentecost, we again can remember how a small band of believers became bold witnesses for Jesus.
Peter gives us a picture of the world in trouble, but somehow we are people at hope. We are people who face this world with confidence and faith. In this world, people come and ask – why do you have hope – even now? In that moment, Peter says – be ready. Be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about where that hope comes from. This hope is again brought about and flows from hearts that revere Jesus Christ as Lord. This world – is not the way it is supposed to be; but that is not the end of the story.
In the midst of trouble – we also say that God is at work in this world. God has not turned away from this world. God loves this world and God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit will prevail over this trouble. We may not always see it, but the eyes of faith helps us see this world as it will one day be. We see this world as still being re-created by God.
In ministry, you are called to serve others. Today, you will receive a tangible reminder of this call to serve. Even as we provide a diploma for you, we will also provide you with a serving towel that says – Calvin Theological Seminary – CTS – Called to Serve.
As you go into this world of trouble, bear witness – but do so in ways that will help this world to listen. Our hope is not in how loud we are or how many tweets we may send out. Our hope is expressed in an understanding that the person we seek to connect with is a person who is a fellow image bearer of God. When you and I see the world and the people of this world as a prayer away from being a brother or sister in Jesus Christ – it helps us look at them and listen to them with hearts full of love and hope.
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 – in any and all contexts.
Now – you know it is not wise to add to the words of Scripture – but I want to add two key words that I think fit this text and the context.
The Apostle Peter says give the reason for the hope that you have and do so with gentleness and respect. I would add these key words – Passion. Courage. This really matters! Have passion and be attentive to the Holy Spirit – opening doors, opening hearts and even opening conversations and then have the courage to go through those open doors.
On the eve of Pentecost Sunday – when we have just read a few verses from the Apostle Peter – we need to recall that God caused the doors to open for a small band of believers and that they – including Peter – were empowered by the Holy Spirit – to spill out into the streets and begin to witness to the hope that they carried with them.
You and I are Pentecost people. And as a result, may we be people of Hope. May you – graduates – always be people of hope!
As you graduate from Calvin Seminary today, please keep this truth before you – the story of ministry is really the story of hope – by the power and the grace of God – always! God is calling you to a deeper hope that is always and only centered on Him.
We love you. We will pray for you. We look forward to what God will do through you. We look forward to hope coming alive in you and in your ministry.
And all God’s people – say Amen!