The following exhortation was given to the members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Standish, Michigan who have recently graduated from High School and is a good reminder for all of us during this time of year of graduations and parties.
Beloved in the Lord, in Holy Baptism, God made you each a member of the Holy Christian Church, and according to His providence, He has nourished you by His Word and Sacrament during the years of your youth. As you close one chapter of your life and begin another, hear the word of the Lord:
St. Peter writes: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 2 Peter 1:2-8
As many, no doubt, have told you, graduation is not an end, but a beginning – or, as the saying goes, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
You have completed a major milestone in your life. Having graduated from compulsory education, the state considers that you have been fitted to be a productive citizen of our country. Having attained the age of majority, you have become eligible to vote in our elections and, as far as the laws of our land are concerned, you are an independent individual and responsible for your own person and your own works. For this you are to be commended and congratulated.
Likewise, in the church, you have been baptized into Christ Jesus and made a partaker of the divine nature as you have received the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. This was not of your doing, but the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel and enlightened you with His gifts and to this day, He continues to strengthen and preserve you in the faith.
And just as your education and the training of your parents to this point have fit you for life in society, the work of the Holy Spirit in you fits you to participate in the work of the church along with your brothers and sisters in this place, for as long as the Lord sees fit to have you remain among us.
In one of the earliest stories of the Bible, we read of the hatred the first born son of Adam and Eve had for his younger brother when, after murdering him in cold blood, Cain asks, “Am I my brothers keeper?”
The fact is, yes! We are the keeper of our brothers and sisters. This is true in life – which is why as a society and a culture we insist that our youth are educated and prepared to be productive citizens in society – so that they may care for those around them. In this way, God cares for and preserves the world. But He does not do so for the sake of this world as it is. Our Lord works this in order that the Word of Truth may go forth into the world and all may hear of the love, mercy and grace of our God who sent Christ Jesus. This is the only reason that the world remains to this day – for the sake of faith.
As those who have been brought into citizenship in the heavenly Kingdom, you have added responsibilities toward your brothers and sisters. You have been incorporated into His Church and, having reached the age of majority in this congregation, you carry the added burden of keeping and preserving the faith in this place, so long as the Lord allows you to remain here. And, you are charged, along with your fellows with promoting the Gospel through the work of this congregation.
You are given this burden – and this cross is placed upon you – not by me, but by our Lord Jesus who has made you a member of His body and remains our Head so that together with your pastor and your fellow members, this place may be and remain an outpost of God’s mercy and grace for all who are weary and heavy laden.
If you move from this place, God desires to continue to work in your life – forgiving your sins and preserving and keeping you as you sojourn through this life into the life to come. And so, in your travels, you must seek out and attach yourself to a congregation that purely preaches and teaches according to God’s Word and administers the sacraments according to Christ’s institution – because these are the means God uses to preserve you in this life and to continue to give you His Holy Spirit. There, he will also impose upon you the burden of loving and caring for the church of God in that place by your participation in the life of the congregation.
Citizenship in this world and the Kingdom of God brings with it great responsibilities. But God is faithful. By Him you were created and in Him you have grown. By Him you have been called into the fellowship of His Son and made a member of His Church. And in all that you undertake you have the assurance and promise that His Spirit indwells you and goes with you so that you may be led and guided.
Therefore, receive the blessing of the Lord this day in the Words of St. Paul as he blessed the leaders of the Church at Ephasus: And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. (Acts 20:32)
Prayer for Graduating Members:
Lord God, heavenly Father, we give thanks that you have faithfully raised up these young people as productive citizens of our community and incorporated them into your Church and made them members with us in this congregation. We pray that you would Bless, protect and defend them as they begin this new chapter in their life. Keep them in the confession of Your Name and as the continue, fit them for loving service to others. Keep them and us in fellowship with your saints and bring us all at last to Your heavenly Kingdom through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN.
GO IN PEACE AND JOY – The Grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, be with you. AMEN.
At the conclusion, a copy of the church constitution was handed to the graduates as a reminder to them of their new responsibilities as minions and members of the body of Christ.