St. Peter's Blog 'Graduation Day' from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church – North Wales, PA's Blog

Graduation Day

Image Thursday, May 28, 2015
Author: Pastor Andreas Wagner

This is about the surporising connections between the joys of graduation and the message of Pentecost.

It is graduation time. Young people, mostly young, all over the United States gather these days in the company of their teachers, peers and proud family members. Dressed in hats and gowns, immersed in pomp and ceremony, under the wise or not so wise, funny or not so funny words of a commencement speaker, they are released into the world with their new diplomas.

I attended one last Tuesday. It was the Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary graduation ceremony held at Trinity Lansdale. Inger Hanson was the cross bearer of the  graduation class of 2015. After spending a couple of years in the east to be trained in ministry, including a year as field education student at our church, she is now setting her sights on a call in the northwestern part of the United States. I am convinced that the church where she will land will be blessed for it.  And Tristan Shin, Pastor and Mrs. Shin's son, also graduated from the seminary and will likely receive a call in the New Jersey synod, continuing a proud tradition of serving god and serving the church in the Shin family. There were smiles all around. Hope was in the air, and joy, and a sense of accomplishment. It was the Day of Pentecost.

No, no, there were no tongues of fire that I saw coming down on the class of 2015 and mind you, these Lutherans did not speak in tongues. Nobody accused anybody of being drunk. The good people of Trinity Lansdale served iced tea and lemonade only. Nevertheless, the fire of the Holy Spirit could be felt. When I read the gospel text for this Pentecostal Sunday, it reminded me a lot of what graduations are all about: the end of a certain phase of life and the beginning of something new. You can say: Jesus is a commencement speaker in our reading from John 16. While there is no diploma handed out and no degree awarded, the situation is much the same. Jesus addresses his students of the past three or so years to prepare them to step out into the world and stand on their own feet as pastors, missionaries and church leaders. We know of the twelve who were in the Master of Divinity program and how they fared, Peter with a special degree in walking on water, John with a special degree in philosophy, and Judas who tried in church finances but didn't quite make it. There were other students,  people like Mary Magdalene, Philipp, Suzanna, Nathaniel, Joseph of Arimathea, people mentioned here and there in the gospels who also may have listened to this final speech. The term "disciples" includes always more than 12. In fact, it includes you, and we are all well advised to assume that this commencement speech breaks through time and is meant for us who are students of Christ.  

Here is what Jesus says: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."  Let us please remember this: Jesus still had many things to share with his disciples, things they weren't ready for, things they couldn't possibly understand, things that would be revealed to them in due time. This is an important statement, because it touches on the fact that not all gospel truth was captured by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. There was more to come, and Jesus is the last person who could be accused of saying that all of God's truth can be captured in words or between the ends of a book. The book, as in so many school courses, provides the basics. But the application of knowledge and, in this case, the application of faith, requires us to be creative, to listen to the Holy Spirit, to walk with Christ. The Spirit will lead us into all the truth.

Actually the commencement speaker at Tuesday's graduation ceremony spoke about a very similar experience. It was Dr. Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Christian from a town called Bethlehem, also known as the place where Jesus was born. Incidentally, Raheb received his doctorate from the University of Marburg, just a few miles from where I grew up. He explained how the university training and the book knowledge of German theology prepared him for the challenges he was to face in the 1980's version of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict and upheaval in the Middle East... Well, it didn't prepare him at all, of course! And I don't know how a beautiful and quaint little University town like Marburg could do that. There are things in life that you simply can't get prepared for, period, especially not by book knowledge, as important as it may be. Raheb walked from an academic island straight into the minefield of Middle Eastern tensions. He remarked that he had no answers at the time, that he needed above all to listen to his people, to figure out what was going on in his community and where God was going to lead his aging congregation, under fire from so many different fronts. And God blessed this ministry with growth and with new relevance as he created a university college in Bethlehem, Palestine, Dar al-Kalima University.

Listening, Dr. Rahib said, is the most important skill for any pastor or disciple. Incidentally or not incidentally, Jesus also asks us to listen, above all. Now, the word "listen" doesn't appear at all in the gospel passage for today. But it is very much implied when Jesus suggests that the Spirit of God will lead us into all the truth. And frankly, I think there is an important connection between listening to other people and listening to God's Spirit. Sometimes listening to people connects us with their needs and God's compassionate side. Sometimes listening to people may reveal wisdom that comes from God. Of course, listening to people will also reveal all sorts of ungodly things - imagine that! - but the spirit will help us to filter and retrieve what is good, what is important, what is life giving, simply by listening with integrity and in the presence of God.

It was graduation time for the disciples Jesus as he addressed them in John 16. It was graduation time for more than 50 students from the Lutheran seminary last Tuesday. It is graduation time for some of us who are being led to a new phase in life, a new opportunity to grow in faith, to minister, to become a church leader, to grow beyond book knowledge, to trust that the Spirit of God will lead you deeper into the truth. If you are at such a point in your life, take heart and be courageous. If you know of someone who could be at that point, maybe someone in your own family, maybe someone who hasn't even been in church in a while, please encourage them. Be blessed and trust that there is more to come in the kingdom of God.

Pastor Andreas Wagner


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