Sermon for May 26, Graduate Recognition Sunday

Sermon for Graduate Recognition Sunday

Holy Trinity, May 26, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Tx

Sermon Text:  Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Sermon Theme:  “Does Not Wisdom Call?”  “The Call to Folly and the Call to Wisdom: Loser or Victor?”


(Sources:  Emphasis online illustrations; Believer’s Commentary; Emphasis online commentary; Images for May 16; Images for May 23 (my columns); more original ideas)


Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.


The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 1,791,000 bachelor’s degrees will be awarded in 2013, in colleges and universities in the United States, most of them being handed out this month.  That figure does not include master’s degrees, doctorates, and certifications.

The NCES also reports that 3.4 million students will graduate from American high schools this year.  There are 311,591,917 people living in the United States today.  When you consider that quite a few of those 1,791,000 students receiving degrees in American educational institutions are foreign students, that means there are over 2 million students graduating from high school who do not go on to graduate from college.

One of many examples I found that may speak to this is about a young man who was a very good football player in high school and was being considered by a number of colleges.  One college coach asked him about his grades.  To this question he replied, “I don’t need an education; I can play football anywhere I want!”

To this the college coach replied, “Everyone needs an education.  I can think of no greater gift to give a person than the gift of knowledge.  Don’t be a fool; seek wisdom.”

I’m not sure whether that coach was aware of the profundity of what he said or not, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he did.  “Knowledge” and “Wisdom” are not exactly the same thing.  Our sermon text for today from Proverbs is all about Wisdom and how we might understand the Son of God, Jesus Christ, as the Wisdom of God.

“Wisdom” is knowledge plus God.  “Knowledge,” that which we get from high school and college, is very, very important to our life, but without God, it is not Wisdom.  In the old Rabbinic interpretation of Holy Scripture, it was believed that the highest form of Wisdom was kindness.  At the very heart of God, which is His Son Jesus Christ, is kindness; and the New Testament meaning of “Grace” is “God’s loving kindness.”

Our sermon text says that God delights in Wisdom, and one dimension of that Wisdom is kindness.  While a Bachelor’s degree from college is one of the greatest gifts you can receive from God, it is not a Bachelor’s degree in Loving Kindness!  Our text says, “Does not wisdom call?  Does not understanding raise her voice?  . . . at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud, “To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the children of man . . .”

It is providential that this text appears in the lectionary on Graduate Recognition Sunday, a time when we normally talk about learning and knowledge and wisdom.

First of all, we have to make it clear that God wants us to have both knowledge and wisdom, scientia and sapienta.  God didn’t provide us with high schools, colleges, and universities so that we should remain primitive beings with Attila the Hun dispositions!  From the very beginning, He put us over the lower forms of animals, and gave us the ability to reason and think (though you’d never know that from being around some people.)

But He also gave us the connection with Him which came in the form of a Savior who died on the cross for us and arose from the dead.  It is this Son who is the Wisdom of God.

So, I want to begin by talking about the importance of knowledge and education, and why graduations are important Godly things.  And then I want to end by talking about the importance of Wisdom, which comes only from God.

It is my hope and prayer that both of our graduates, Austin and Sarah, will continue their education in a college or university and finish it by earning a Bachelor’s Degree.  There is no excuse for not going to college and earning a degree; if I could do it, so can you.  I was a dirt poor, naïve little country boy from Dime Box, Texas, who became the first generation of my family to earn a college degree since my ancestors left Germany as poor immigrants in the 1850’s and 1870’s.

America has been and still is the great land of opportunity, and the college degree is still the main key to open the door of opportunity.  I’m sure that this year’s senior class has been told that very same thing, and should be, because there is such truth to it.  Oh, I know lots and lots of people who are more intelligent and more successful than I am who never went to college, but, in general, the key is a college education.

Going to college to gain the prestige that a college degree might have does not seem to be a valid reason for going.  Going to a college known for being a “party school” to escape the responsibility of growing up is not a valid reason either.  And going to college so that a good job might await you when you graduate is not, in my opinion, the only reason to go.

For me, my first college degree offered so much more than just a paycheck.  My college studies opened up a door to the greatest literature of this world, a gift God gave us, — Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Wordsworth, Browning, Marlowe, Keats, Rossetti, Rilke, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Twain, etc.  These writers let in not only the sunshine of knowledge and understanding, but also opened up thoughts and images more beautiful than anyone could dream of.  They gave me a reason to want to read the rest of my life.

My college studies opened up a whole new area of human understanding through the psychological insights of Freud, Jung, Reik, Bettelheim, Pavlov, Skinner, Adler, Erikson, etc.  Some of their theories have been disproved and replaced by newer concepts since then, but to have learned theories offering new insights into the human mind was extremely useful to all my relationships.  And those were just a few of the studies I encountered, all gifts from God, as all knowledge, all education is a gift from God.

My college studies were like an axe that chopped open the frozen seas within me, and freed me from the shackles of ignorance, provincial stupidity, closed-mindedness, and gross fallacies in logic.  For me, that was far more important than money, prestige, or recognition.  Austin and Sarah, a college education is worth all of the sweat, tears, and sacrifices you may be called on to make!

Austin and Sarah, and all of the rest of you here today, let me pass on to you something my father taught me by example, by example, because he could not read nor was he able to write very well:  “Do the best you can possibly do in everything you do, and let your main reward be in the doing of your very best.”  Not in the A+, not in the financial reward, not in the applause, but in the doing of your very best!  Now you have to have quality teachers for this to succeed; there is no substitute for good mentors!  Yes, you can take a country boy like me, from Dime Box, Texas, and you can lead him to Brahms and Bach and Mozart and Rembrandt and van Gogh and Shakespeare and Milton and Byron and Keats and Kant and Erasmus and Montaigne, etc.

What an outrageous lie to believe that a hayseed from Lonely Prairie Rural School cannot learn to sing Brahms in perfect German perfectly, or write a short story good enough to be chosen by the Texas Center for Writers’ Press.  If I can go from slopping hogs and feeding chickens to publishing quality poetry, you can go from who you are and where you are to where you need to be!  But I had mentors who took me there.

Finally, let’s graduate from education and knowledge to wisdom.  It is very very interesting to me that in the Book of Proverbs, both Wisdom and Folly are personified as women.  Chapter 7 we see Folly, and in Chapter 8 we see Wisdom.

What a contrast Folly is to Wisdom.  In Chapter 7, Folly is personified as an adulteress, “decked out like a prostitute.”  She stands beside the gates at the front of the town to lure the weak-minded and stupid into her lair of failure.  In our text, Wisdom, too, is standing by the gates at the front of the town, but those who listen to her and follow her will be anything but failures.  They will have the Wisdom of God.

Oh, the examples I could give you of college kids who were lured away from their studies by Folly, who were lured away from the moorings of their Christian morality by Folly.  Wallowing regularly in all the sins of the flesh, what frolicking fun they had following Folly to the dead-end street of Failure!  By then, it was too late to return to Wisdom.  From the darkness of the alley, they hear the taunt, “LOSER!”

For some strange reason, our CPH insert left out verses 12 through 21 of Chapter 8 of Proverbs, the most important verses in the chapter.  These verses list the rewards or benefits of Wisdom (which can only come from God).  They are:  Good Counsel, Sound Judgment, Understanding, Moral Strength to do what is right and resist evil, Leadership Ability, Judicial Skill, Affection, Love, Kindness, Companionship, Guidance in paths of Righteousness and Justice, and wealth in abundance, keeping in mind that wealth can be something greater than money.

You see, Wisdom, which can only come from God, is all these things.  Stay with Wisdom when she calls, and from the shadow of the cross, you will hear the joyful shout, “Victor!  Victory!”  Amen.


The  peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.