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Sermon for Graduation

John 10:7–18

James T. Batchelor

Eighth Grade Graduation
Unknown Location  

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Thu, May 28, 2015 

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St. John Lutheran Church, Buckley, IL

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It is graduation season and the media will tell you about many speeches and talks at graduation ceremonies this year.  Some of the speakers will, quite honestly, be trying to score political points as a warm up for a run at an elected office.  Other speakers will be there as an honor for some achievement or another.  There will be a lot of compliments for the graduates how hard they worked the opportunities they have.  Generally speaking, there will be a lot of pep talks for the graduates.

I am not going to do that this evening.  The changes that have hit our culture the changes that have taken place in Europe and North America the direction this world is headed compel me to speak a little bit differently this evening.  I must speak about the dangers that face these graduates this evening and I must speak about the Jesus who has promised to be with them during these dangers.

The world these young men and women have in their future is massively different from the world I faced at their age.  I was born a few years after the end of World War II.  At that time, the citizens of all the allied countries at least paid lip service to the power of Almighty God for bringing an end to the evil of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.  It was safe to assume that everyone you met on the street went to church somewhere.  There were even public service announcements on T.V. encouraging us to attend the church of our choice.  That has all changed.

Today, many powerful people consider religion to be a blight on society.  Our culture is ready to tolerate anything and everything with the one exception of Christianity.  The one time our culture becomes obsessively intolerant is when it comes to religion.  Our culture claims that any religion that claims to have a handle on spiritual truth is narrow-minded, bigoted, arrogant, and hateful.

The Supreme Court of the United States is even now in the process of making a decision regarding same sex marriage.  Various businesses such as photographers and bakers now find their freedom of speech and religion under attack.  The United States Government now feels free to violate our religious freedoms in the name of more comprehensive health care coverage.

I went to kindergarten in a public school and we learned Bible stories.  We prayed.  We sang Jesus Loves Me. Today, that kind of educational activity would draw a law suit.  People would lose their jobs.  Most modern day colleges and universities have whole departments that consider it their duty to liberate students from their foolish notions of faith in God.  Even schools that have historical roots in Christianity are no longer safe for Christian students.  These young people who graduate this evening have a very challenging future in store for them.  The world has indeed changed.

When I was confirmed back in 1964, the pastor asked, Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death? I answered, I do, by the grace of God. Then the pastor asked, Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it? I answered, I do, by the grace of God. I took my confirmation vows on pain of death.  At the time, that didnt really mean much to me.  I didnt have the foggiest idea that faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins might someday get me killed.  That was something that happened long ago in Bible times not now.  I simply did not understand that I was growing up in a very rare society a society that tolerated and even encouraged Christianity.  Now-a-days, when I confirm young men and women and I ask those questions, one thought that goes through my head is that they may be called upon to keep those vows with their blood and their lives.  The changes that have taken place may mean that these young graduates may face the choice of surrendering their faith or surrendering their life.

The simple fact is this: Gods people have been dying for their faith continuously ever since an angry Sanhedrin stoned Stephen and King Herod killed James.  The death toll has risen steadily over the centuries.  More people died confessing Christ in the twentieth Century than the combined total of all the preceding centuries.  Now, the twenty-first century has set a pace that indicates it will easily outstrip the twentieth century.  If the trends of our society do not change, these young people will enter their adult lives in a society that hates them and their God.  Cardinal George of Chicago expressed this trend very well when he said, I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

We just heard a reading from the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to John.  Many Christians refer to this chapter as the Good Shepherd chapter of the Bible since Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd and us as His flock.

As He compares Himself to a shepherd, Jesus teaches that there are thieves and wolves who will try to take His sheep away from Him.  The thief and the wolf refer to the devil and his demons.  They are already condemned forever and they want you and your sons and daughters to join them in everlasting condemnation.  They are ready to do anything to pry you and your children away from Good Shepherd Jesus.

Then there is the hired hand.  Defending the sheep from the thief and the wolf is above his pay grade.  He is interested in his pay check and not in the safety of the sheep.

The problem the hired hands have is that they believe that they can do business with the thief and the wolf and escape unharmed.  They are like Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, who became infamous for His policy of appeasement with regard to the activities of the new Chancellor of Germany, Adolph Hitler.  Chamberlain failed because he believed that Hitler would keep his word.  He thought that Hitler might be satisfied if he gave him a minor concession.  He did not understand that Hitlers signature on a piece of paper was almost worth as much as the ink used in writing it.  He did not understand that Hitler would never be satisfied.  In the same way, the hired hand believes that he can make a deal with the wolf and the wolf will keep it.

The thing that makes me very sad is that I must confess that I have been a hired hand.  I have compromised the teachings of Gods Holy Word in order to get along with the world.  So have you.  We all have.  Think how many times we have set aside the clear teachings of the Bible simply because those teachings might be unpopular offensive politically incorrect.  We might even be so arrogant as to judge the Word of God and call it counterproductive.  How often have we pulled the old bait and switch lure people in with entertainment in the hope that we can teach them the truth of Gods Word later, but later never seems to come?  Our church services have more and more entertainment and less and less Jesus.  We sing Stand up, stand up for Jesus, but when the time comes to stand for Jesus, we are nowhere to be found.  We must confess that we have been hired hands.

Thankfully, Jesus is not a hired hand.  He is the Good, the Noble, the Heroic Shepherd.  In the Gospel we just heard, He promised His disciples that He would lay down His life for the sheep and He did just that.  When the soldiers came to Gethsemane, He allowed them to arrest Him.  At any time during the proceedings, He could have said, You know what, this is ridiculous.  I am God and I dont have to put up with treatment like this. Then He could have come down from cross and walked away, but He didnt.  He laid His life down into death for the sheep.  He even laid down His life for you and me, the hired hands who ran away.  Think about it.  The Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  He has redeemed you to God by His blood.

Jesus made one other promise in the Gospel we just heard.  When He promised to lay down His life for the sheep He said, I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. (John 10:18) He not only promised to lay down His life, but He also promised to take it up again.  Many martyrs have laid down their lives and some have even promised to come back to life, but Jesus is the only one who pulled it off.  After He paid for the sin of the world after He died He rose from the dead with the promise that those who die in Him will also rise and live with Him forever.

There is the true strength for you and your children.  Here is the true strength for the young men and women who graduate in this place this evening.  It is time for our youth organizations to be more than a holding tank with ice-breakers and pizza.  As these graduates make their way through the gauntlet of this world, they need the comfort of knowing that the One who died on the cross is still with them.  The wolf stalks them 24 / 7.  What can be more important than knowing that Good Shepherd Jesus is there to protect them?

Dear Graduates, Katelyn, Mikayla, Caden, Kylie, and Ashley,

I pray daily that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would reverse the course of this country.  I pray that this country would return to the standard of religious freedom contained in the first amendment of its constitution.  Whether it does or not, your religion class is more than just a grade on a report card.  The Holy Spirit has promised through the Apostle Paul that the Gospel you heard is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16) It is in those words that the Holy Spirit will keep you in the protection of Good Shepherd Jesus the same Jesus who laid down His life for you and took it up again the same Jesus who has promised you life forever with Him.  Amen

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