Sermon for Graduate Recognition Sunday
Second Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 7:1-10
Sermon Theme: “Keep the Faith, Be Healed, Don’t Give Up”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries and Illustrations; original ideas; The Parables of Peanuts by Robert Sharp; Online Jokes and Quotations for Graduation; Brokhoff’s, Series C, Preaching Workbook)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s sermon text from the Gospel according to St. Luke is a text about faith and healing. When a loved one passes away, do we question God, ‘Why wasn’t my loved one healed?’ And when our children graduate from high school or college, do WE have the faith, and do THEY have the faith, to believe that God will lead them to a secure future.
The Centurion speaks in our text, “Just say the Word, and I know my servant will be healed.” Now there is faith! Luke is reminding us of the power of the Word. All words are powerful. They hurt and heal, condemn and save. Just ask anyone who has stood before a judge or heard such words from a loved one or a doctor or a minister.
In our text, the words spoken BEFORE the Centurion’s servant is healed, and AS he is healed, are not merely words from human mouths, but are the Words of Jesus, our God incarnate.
When our children graduate, especially from high school, lots of words are spoken by educators at the Commencement Ceremony and by parents at home. Not coming from God, sometimes these words are powerful advice, and sometimes they are shallow and funny, or a mix of both. Since today is Graduate Recognition Sunday, let me share some of those words spoken to graduates.
“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”
“Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”
And here is my favorite: “Go to it. Be bold. Be true. Be kind. Rotate your tires. Don’t drink so much; there aren’t going to be enough liver transplants to go around!”
The best words we can offer our graduates are God’s words from Holy Scripture, and the words in today’s sermon text are no exception. These words from St. Luke speak to our graduates, but at the same time speak to all of us, single adults, married couples, parents, and grandparents. The graduates are having to deal with many issues at the beginning of their adult life’s journey, and some of us senior citizens are having to deal with doctors’ appointments, medications, mobility, diet, etc., as our fan belts wear thin and our engine slows down.
Each of us has a tendency to want to follow Linus’s advice in a Charlie Brown cartoon, — “The best way to solve problems is to avoid them. No problem is so big or so complicated that it can’t be run away from.”
Linus is Lucy’s younger brother, and Sally is Charlie Brown’s younger sister. In a very early Peanuts’ strip when Sally Brown was a toddler, too shaky to walk very well, and still crawling on the floor, Linus asks Lucy, “How long do you think it will be before Sally starts to walk?”
“Good grief,” Lucy replies, “let her crawl around for a while. Don’t rush her. She’s got all the time in the world. Once you stand up and walk, you’re committed for life.”
No doubt that’s the way many 12th Graders are feeling this week in the countdown to graduation. Some of us elderly ones wish we could walk a little better than Sally could. We all have our difficulties, our struggles, our doubts, and our fears, — after all, we’re human beings after the fall of Adam and Eve. That’s a good reason for needing God’s Word.
In today’s passage from God’s Word, we are told that the soldier was a centurion, which immediately commands a certain respect for one who is recognized as a leader of men. That he had a servant may indicate that he was wealthy enough to afford such luxury. What is very clear is that he valued highly his servant, for whom he was willing to go to extra measures to provide care.
He was very much a part of the community he served, — a community defined as a family of friends. This is shown by the fact that the Jewish elders were willing to take his request to Jesus. They spoke well of him as one who loves the people, even though he represents a government that was oppressing the people. It is obvious that he loves, and has faith in, Jesus.
Yet he feels so unworthy to have Jesus come into his home, that he sends friends to tell Jesus, “Just say the word that my servant will be healed.” Now there is faith! He believes his servant could be healed long distance! And he was! When the friends returned to the house, the servant was well!
This is good news for us, isn’t it? Since the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, the only way that you and I can relate to Jesus is from a distance; we have no other choice. We are here; He is in heaven. Yet if we trust in the power of Jesus’ Word to heal and to give life, we do indeed encounter Him through His Word and through the Holy Supper.
Jesus said of the centurion, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” That is an implied criticism of the Jews and us. We who are of such little faith.
Not too many Roman soldiers were like this centurion. He was a Gentile who was loved an accepted by the Jews. He helped them build a synagogue. He was truly a part of the community, that is, he was part of a company of friends. The Church, the Body of Christ, is a company of friends who love, support, and care for one another and strengthen one another’s faith. A company of friends will plead one another’s case before God through intercessory prayer.
To be sure, the centurion found himself in the company of friends because he loved the Lord and related to his neighbors with compassion and generosity. In like manner, the church is a company of friends because we are called to relate to one another in compassion, love, grace, and generosity. In the troublesome times we live in, with all of our individual difficulties, struggles, weaknesses, doubts, and fears, every single one of us, young and old, graduates and long since graduated, need the powerful underpinning of a family of friends, and we need what today’s Word teaches: faith and healing.
When you graduate from school, leave home, and go off on your own, you don’t have to leave your company of friends, the Church, the Body of Christ. Even though you may find yourself living a long way from Wallis, you can find a Church, which, like St. Paul’s is part of the Body of Christ, where you are, and you can stay in touch with us. We will always be your family of friends.
We lose some young people right after Confirmation. They are confirmed and we never see them again, an occurrence so common that the standard joke is, “You want to get rid of the mice in your church? Confirm them, and you’ll never see them again.” That happens after Graduation, too, though, of course it’s usually because the young person goes off to college or takes a job in another town. But that’s not an excuse; every town has a church, a family of friends.
A Church, a Family of Friends, is also a Family of Faith. That’s why we need it. Faith is hearing; faith is believing; faith is trusting; and faith is seeking help. A Church, a Family of Friends, a Family of Faith, helps us when we succumb to Linus’ philosophy, “The best way to solve problems is to run away from them.” That’s giving up. A Family of Faith will be there for us; we don’t have to give up.
My closing words to our graduates, and to all of you, are: Keep the faith; be healed; don’t give up! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.