Sermon for Graduate Recognition Sunday
Friendship Sunday, Easter Five, May 18, 2014
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:2-10
Sermon Theme: “Blocks That Fall and Stones That Live”
(Sources: Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Series A; SermonSuite/Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas; “The Chief Cornerstone” by Johnny Hunt; Funny Graduation Stories Online; “A Lesson in Life” by Michael J. Fox)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
“A graduation ceremony,” says Robert Orben, “is an event where the commencement speaker tells thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that ‘individuality’ is the key to success.”
That’s funny because it’s a contradiction, isn’t it?
Sometimes we get to feeling that life itself is a contradiction, don’t we? Especially if we’re a graduating Senior. The fact that we seem to struggle and struggle on the path of life and yet get nowhere is a paradox. We need to keep in mind what Frank A. Clark once said, “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”
About this time of year, some high school seniors may not only be thinking that life is a contradiction, but also that every situation has two sides to it.
There’s a story about a high school senior who got his last report card the final week of school, took it home, and showed it to his mother. Of the five grades on the report card, four were C minus-minus, — not just C minus, but C minus minus. Naturally his mother was very disappointed in her son who was graduating merely by squeaking by, as she put it to him in a loud, angry voice.
“Well, look at the bright side,” her son said, “you know for sure that I didn’t cheat!”
With future plans a little unclear, the next steps on the path a little shaky, this two-sided contradiction called life may loom ahead like a puzzle or a game, such as the popular game created in 1983 by a business person in Ghana, — Jenga. ( ).
You start the game with a tower of wooden blocks. Each player takes a block and puts it on the top of the tower, making the tower taller, but less stable below. So you’re taking blocks from lower and putting them higher and making the structure become taller and taller but also less and less stable. The player who causes the tower to fall loses.
That’s a good analogy for life. What if there was a special Jenga ( ) block in the foundation that anchored everything together, that as long as it was in place, the structure was secure and solid, no matter what? What if there was a block holding everything together, so that if you removed it, the whole tower could never be built?
That’s JESUS in today’s sermon text. Jesus is the “blockstone.” He is the cornerstone. The stone on which all other stones stand together. Although rejected by the builders, God has made Him the cornerstone.
Peter says that Jesus Christ is the Living Stone, the Head of His Church. Christians are living stones in God’s building, cemented by grace and placed by the Holy Spirit. Each time someone trusts Christ, another living stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and cemented by grace into the building. God is the stumbling stone for unbelievers, but the cornerstone for those who have faith. Peter’s metaphor of living stones makes us do a double take. Plants are living. Animals are living. But stones are not living entities!
Not necessarily so, Michaelangelo would say. The great sculptor would search the marble quarry near Florence, Italy, for just the right piece of marble for his works of art. A particular sculpture would call for a particular piece of rock. One day, a friend observed Michaelangelo methodically examining a particular block of stone.
“What are you doing?” the friend asked.
“Michaelangelo quickly replied, “I am seeking to release the angel within the stone.” For Michaelangelo, that stone was truly alive.
During this Sunday when we recognize and celebrate our graduates, we look at our sermon text with Ryan and Avery, and all others who are graduating this week or this month, in mind. Peter’s epistle speaks to them, but it speaks to all of us as well.
Here’s the text in a nutshell: Since stone is a symbol of that which endures, Christ is the foundation stone of our faith. Christ is the cornerstone of the church. Christ is the stumbling stone of offense to nonbelievers but precious to those who have faith. Come to Christ, the living stone and be an integral part of the living church. Offer spiritual sacrifices to God of obedience, prayer and praise.
OK, now all of that has a nice, holy sound to it, but what does it mean to graduates facing a new beginning, a new life in the form of a career or college ahead of them? What does it mean to any of us facing the contradictions and struggles of life?
Obviously, we need a cornerstone, a guide, a reference point to oversee both ends of our life. There is great hope for those who have Jesus, because He is those things.
The state highway department in Pennsylvania once set out to build a bridge, working from both sides. There was a bridge gang working on one side of the waterway and a separate bridge gang working on the other side. Each bridge gang worked independently and there was no reference point. When the workers reached the middle of the waterway, they found they were thirteen feet off to one side of each other. Each crew of workmen had used its own reference point. No wonder they did not connect.
With so much chaos in society today, what we all need is a universal reference point so that we can say, “Here. Here is how the good life is lived.” For you, for me, and especially for our graduates, that reference point is Jesus, our cornerstone.
Some of us sitting in here today could give our graduates examples of how we launched into life after high school without a reference point, without The Cornerstone, the consequent misery we suffered and the way God pulled us out of the quagmire. But this doesn’t just happen to ordinary folks like us, it happens to famous celebrities, too, and some share their stories as a help for us. I want to talk about two of those celebrities.
The first one, Michael J. Fox, famous TV star and movie actor, who continues to suffer today from Parkinson’s disease. He tells his story in his book, aimed at graduates, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future. Because of the strain and stress of an acting career while still in high school, Michael flunked classes, and had to drop out of school. At the urging of his own son, he did, however, fifteen years later, go back and get his GED.
In his book, he offers some advice to high school graduates. He says they need to learn about spending money. During those high school years, as an actor in Los Angeles, he earned $50,000 per year . . . but he spent $75,000. “That doesn’t work,” cautions Fox.
They also need to learn about spending their time. He said he rehearsed the TV show, Family Ties, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, then he would work shooting the movie, Back to the Future, from 6 p.m. to 4 or 5 a.m. He was so exhausted, someone would have to get him out of bed and dress him each day. Young people think they are indestructible and can do everything; he learned the hard way that you can’t. No doubt he hopes graduates will learn from him.
From the great suffering he has endured from Parkinson’s disease, he learned many good lessons. Grads, you learn from your pain and your losses.
The second famous person whose story can help us is Franklin Graham, son of the world famous evangelist, Billy Graham. Franklin grew into his salvation. In his younger years, he was rebellious and lived a lifestyle quite different from his parents. He loved motorcycling, gun collecting, and beer drinking. He was expelled from Le Tourneau College for breaking dormitory curfews.
People from his hometown remember him for mowing down a tree with a machine gun. Christ was obviously not the cornerstone in his early life.
But because he had early on learned about Christ from his parents and witnessed their great faith, he was able to turn his back on his bad behavior and allowed himself to be built into a spiritual house. He soon began to assume dynamic leadership in Samarian’s Purse, a program offering emergency relief. Later he became an ordained pastor. He has faced gunfire in Bosnia and preached in Cambodia while under mortar attack. Now he will succeed his father as CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which oversees missionary work, relief operations, and preaching crusades.
When Christ became the cornerstone of his life, and he became cemented to God’s building by grace, he turned from being a loser to becoming, as Peter says in our text, part of a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession.”
So, too, with our graduates and with all of us; let Him be our living stone and us living stones in Him. Apart from Him, we are just dead rocks. Not God’s people, unholy priests who deserve no mercy. But in Him, His holiness will become our holiness. And life will not be a confusing contradiction. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.