Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Across our nation this Memorial Day weekend, innumerable students complete their high school or college academic programs, receive their degrees, and begin a new chapter in life.
Today, life is a little different, however, with the pandemic raging across our nation. Normal graduation ceremonies are suspended. Additionally, graduates enter a world of uncertainty. We pray the Holy Spirit guides their decisions and actions.
The world they enter will be both complex and challenging. For many high school graduates, this new world means adapting to campus life with virtual classes. Most college grads ultimately hope to attain a job or learn an occupation in times of historic unemployment.
Customarily, congregation use this day to offer a baccalaureate service. A baccalaureate service traditionally provides an opportunity for graduates and their families to worship together and reflect more deeply on the spiritual dimension of this transition in life and give thanks to God for blessings bestowed upon them.
To mark and inform this occasion, we use a passage from the Gospel of John to inspire our reflections. Here Jesus speaks with his disciples at the Last Supper and then prays for them. The fate of his disciples weighs heavily on his mind. He says “And now I am no longer in this world, but they (the disciples) are in the world. I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” The underlying theme of the text is that the disciples remain in the world, but not of the world.
Clearly, Jesus believes we ought not become entangled with the world. But the question we ask today is, “What is the world?” There are at least three meanings attached to the word world. First, the Bible says that there is the created world. “God … made the world and everything in it” (Acts 17:24). Second, there are the inhabitants of the world, whom God loves and for whom Christ died. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). Finally, there is the cosmos, the world system, which is headed by Satan and based upon self-love, greed, and pride. This is the world that God warns us about, and it is this world system and philosophy Christians ought to shun and remain unstained by it.
Throughout Scripture, lines are drawn between the world of unbelievers and the world of the children of God. “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Jesus Himself said, “The world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).
Scripture also teaches us Christians face opposition in the world. Just as Christ’s life, with all its love, concern and selflessness, was a rebuke to the cosmos of His time, so too our lives with Christ, abiding in us today, brings criticism, opposition and persecution from those who fail to understand the mystery of God’s redemptive grace.
In this complex time in which we live, it is not easy for the Christians to distinguish between the spiritual and the worldly. This cosmos has its own entertainment and diversions that so permeate the atmosphere to make the way of the cross seem antiquated and irrelevant. In much of the entertainment media fostered by the cosmos, the name of God is profaned, sex is glamorized, and high, ethical living and Christian moral standards are scorned.
Many Christians believe they cannot enjoy life, except as a member of the cosmos crowd. However, the happiest people I know are separated followers of Jesus Christ. They are not dependent upon artificial stimulants. They do not have to abuse their bodies to relax their minds. The Bible says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
Christianity is no list of restrictions. It flings embraces the joy of living. The cosmos argues following Christ is nothing but “thou shalt nots.” The cosmos wants us to believe Christianity is a killjoy, a stolid kind of life, unnatural and abnormal.
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). And those who have been truly converted to Jesus Christ know the meaning of abundant living. Scripture teaches worldliness is a force, a spirit, an atmosphere of the cosmos that opposes to all that is godly and Christian. Its goal is selfish pleasure, material success and the pride of life. It is ambitious, self-centered. God is not necessarily denied; He is just ignored and forgotten.
The Bible is clear that the world’s inhabitants are either under the influence of this cosmos with its cunning, deception and spell; or they are in Christ and under the direction of the Spirit of God. There is no neutral ground. The lines are drawn by scripture.
The Bible warns us about being taken in by the evil of this cosmos. Satan’s lies are cleverly mixed with truth. When tempting Jesus, the devil was convincingly logical and even quoted Scripture. So the Bible instructs Christians to make a clean break with the evils of the world and be separate from them. The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore ‘come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you’”
Christians are like the gulf stream, which is in the ocean and yet not part of it. This mysterious current defies the mighty Atlantic, ignores its tides, and flows steadily upon its course. Its color is different, being a deeper blue. Its temperature is different, being warmer. Its direction is different, being from south to north. It is in the ocean, and yet not part of it.
We, as Christians, live in the world. We remain in contact with the world, and yet retain our distinctive kingdom character and refuse to let the world conform us to its mold.
To our graduates on this day, we send you out into this world. But we do not send you unprepared. You have heard the word of God. You have received the Holy Spirit. You go with our love and prayers. We understand the challenges facing you but wish you success in all you do. Be in the world. Make a difference in the world. But do not be conformed to its values. Instead, live by Christian values. Love others, as Christ loved you. Let God, thru the Holy Spirit, guide you in all you do and then serve God’s greater purpose for you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.