On May 18, 2019, Calvin Seminary celebrated the graduation of 121 students. In his commencement address, President Medenblik challenged and encouraged the graduates as they moved on to the next phase of their ministry. This month’s Medenblog will be the commencement address, titled “Stand Firm. Whole Hearts. Trust God.”
Dear Graduates of Calvin Seminary: This day is a historic one for you and for Calvin Theological Seminary. Since 1876, for 143 years, God has used Calvin Seminary to form leaders for His church. What began with one pastor teaching five students has led to Calvin Seminary training leaders for a global church. This is the second largest graduating class ever at Calvin Seminary.
There are 19 countries and territories represented in our Certificate, Masters and PhD graduates: Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Sweden, Taiwan, Venezuela, and the United States. We have students who came through our local Latino/Latina Certificate programs as well as our distance program.
In just a few moments, one by one – you – our 2019 Calvin Theological Seminary graduates will walk across the platform and be congratulated for your achievement.
Why even have a Commencement Address? We have this because I have the opportunity on behalf of the Faculty, the Staff, the Board of Trustees and your fellow students to provide one last word of blessing and challenge to you.
We desire to join others in giving thanks to God for your gifts and accomplishments, but we also desire to frame this moment in the larger story of God and His unfolding Kingdom. This moment is certainly not yours alone. In a few more minutes, we will also give thanks for the family and friends who have prayed for, supported and encouraged you – step by step. This moment is also a step in the journey of fulfilling your calling. A certificate or degree is a reflection of how you responded to that calling of God and developed your gifts in a season of study as preparation for even greater service in the Church of Jesus Christ.
To all of you graduates – I know that when your name is called that there will be a flood of memories. You will remember wondering if Calvin Seminary was going to be a good fit for you. You wondered if you would find friends and you wondered how hard your classes would be. Some of you even wondered if you would ever – ever – get through Calvin Seminary! You will also remember the times when you prayed for God to provide and He answered your prayers.
There may be other things you remember – especially from this last academic year. As I have for the last few years, I want to briefly review some of these events from the past year.
Since the last Calvin Seminary Commencement, we have again seen the effects of division and hatred in our world. The last day of Passover saw a young man unleash bullets and hatred in California and on Easter Sunday, we saw premeditated attacks upon those gathering to worship in Sri Lanka.
Since the last Calvin Seminary Commencement – we have seen much in the world that causes us to pause and worry about this world.
What will await you as you begin or continue your ministry service?
We have seen trouble around the world, but we have 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. In this year, we know of stories of loss, disease and even death. We live in an age of uncertainty and anxiety and you will teach and preach in this age of uncertainty and anxiety. 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 was at the close of a recent seminary chapel given by graduates in waiting that centered on a message from Paul’s emphasis on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. As Paul centers his ministry and our hopes on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he concludes with key words and instructions for all believers for at all times.
The Apostle Paul writes the following – 1Corinthians 15:55-58:
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[i]
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
In keeping with this text, I invite you to center your ministry with these few words –
Stand Firm. Whole Hearts. Trust God.
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, Paul points us to the power of the resurrection and also how that message is to be the foundation of our being messengers and witnesses of that gospel!
If there was no resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have a message to share on Sunday mornings or any other day of the week.
But with the certainty and from the certainty that even death is ultimately defeated by Jesus Christ, Paul says here is what we are to do:
I. Stand Firm.
In a world where there are shifting sands and pressures, Christians and Christian ministers are to stand apart and stand upon the gospel message of Jesus Christ – Who came. Who lived. Who died and who lives again. We stand on that gospel message and we are also called to have that message invade and shape all of our lives.
Paul says – Stand Firm – Let nothing other than this gospel and the God who created you, redeemed you and lives through you move you.
For those of you who began your Calvin Seminary training with a class on Ephesians by Dr. Mariano Avila, you will recall the call to live out our unity and our ministry by faith in Christ through grace alone. Stand Firm on that unity in Christ.
II. Always Give Yourselves Fully to the Work of the Lord – Whole Hearts
Graduates – for these words – I want you to think of the hallway that leads to the chapel at Calvin Seminary. Along one wall are tapestries that were made by Edgar Boeve – long time faculty member of Calvin College and a friend of Calvin College and Seminary who died just a few months ago.
As I listened to friends and family share key memories at a memorial service, I heard this consistent refrain. Edgar Boeve gave of himself – fully. He gave of himself – completely.
As one of his good friends, Nick Wolterstorff, summarized – Ed – He gave himself. He did not hoard himself.
Do not hoard yourself. Give of yourself – not a little and not even a lot. Give of yourself – fully to the work of the Lord.
For your ministry to be a ministry that honors God – give of your whole hearts. Do not be half-hearted. Do not stand on the sidelines.
Our hearts can be less than whole hearted when we follow the temptations that so readily can tangle us up. In the church at Corinth, there were temptations named of money, sex and power and those same temptations exist.
I urge you to be aware of the temptations that you will face – day by day. Don’t go into ministry alone and don’t go without being fully and whole heartedly connected to the living vine – Jesus Christ.
Stand Firm. Whole Hearts and
III. Know that What You Do For the Lord Matters – Trust God
Your Labor is Not in Vain!
At some point in the future – not today – you will wonder – Is ministry worth it? You will preach, teach, lead, counsel, visit and nothing will appear to change. You will doubt yourself and at times, you will even doubt God and whether He really called you and will be able to use you.
Satan can use those doubts to distract you and cause you to live with disappointment and even despair. Paul knew that feeling. He knew about disappointment and even despair. You know his message was about Jesus Christ and especially about the power of the resurrection.
He left the church in Corinth having shared of his life – his whole heart and then Paul hears about this church that he loves and their divisions. He hears about the sins that people over look again and again and he hears that they have strayed from the gospel.
To those who still hold on to the gospel – he says – Stand Firm. Whole Hearts and finally, Trust God. Know that What You Do for the Lord Matters. It is not in vain!
Our ministry is really about an audience of one – God. At some point in the future, you may have a reunion and you will share statistics about the size of your church, ministry or school. But what does that ultimately matter?
The fruit may not be always visible. The ground may be hard and not produce much of a crop. But – Stand Firm. Give of your Whole Heart and finally, Know – Trust – that what you do for the Lord matters. Why? Because God will use you and even more importantly, God loves you.
In ministry, you are called to serve others out of love. 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 is 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.
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, the grace and the love 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.
Stand Firm. Whole Hearts. Trust God.