What follows is the sermon I preached today at Reveille United Methodist Church. I entered the pulpit to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” and wearing an academic robe and a mortar board and tassel, proceeded to imagine Saint Peter giving a graduation speech to the Jerusalem University Class of A.D. 33.
The Valedictory Address to the Jerusalem Class of A.D. 33 by Simon Peter
Reveille United Methodist Church
Pentecost Sunday – May 20, 2018
Greetings honored guests at the graduation of the Jerusalem University Class of 33. I would especially like to greet those of you who have come long distances to be here in today. Greetings to all Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs. Welcome. This is an important and joyous occasion which has been a long time coming, and I want to say how wonderful it is to be here in Jerusalem, speaking on behalf of the inaugural graduating glass of 33. Truly, it is an honor to stand before you this day.
Frankly, it is indeed something of a miracle that I am even here today at all. I never considered myself to be either a public speaker or an academic. In fact, I never imagined being a student at all. However, our class had such a tremendous teacher who did amazing things for us, and who helped us to regard our lives, the world, and one other in an entirely new way.
Before I began my studies, I was working a blue collar job in the fishing industry with James and John when a new professor named Jesus approached us and taught us how to catch more fish than we had ever seen before. We were duly impressed, as well as a little frightened. But then he did something even more amazing: he told us to leave the fishing business behind entirely and follow him so that we could catch people, and so we did.
Our professor’s new student recruitment did not stop with us. He chose women to follow him. Really! I mean, who in this day and age associates with women like he does? He even treated a Samaritan woman like a real person, taught her as though she were one of us, something none of his peers would ever do.
He was always surprising us with who he was willing to include in his lessons and what he was willing to teach. He even picked guys like you, Matthew. You know what I’m talking about! I mean, you were working as a collection agent for the Department of Taxation when Jesus invited you to come to school. And I don’t think I am telling tales out of school, Matthew, when I say that you were not the most popular guy in town back then. Even you can’t doubt that, Thomas!
Yet that was the thing about this incredible, wondrous teacher of ours. He never once choose the obvious people to be his students. He did not choose the rich or the popular or the powerful, or even the good looking (you know what I’m saying about that, don’t you Bartholomew!). He chose us, and although our years of study were rigorous and life-changing, and although those classes forced us to reframe our worldview, and although we were often afraid, I can stand before you now and speak on behalf of the entire graduating class and say that we were indeed glad to be chosen.
Professor Jesus did all manner of amazing things. We witnessed him casting out demons, making the blind see and the paralyzed walk. He fed amazing amounts of people with only a few morsels of food. We actually saw him raise the dead. On the top of Mount Tabor, he was teaching us one of his many lessons, and suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared with him, and suddenly our teacher’s clothes were bright, glowing white.
He was a courageous teacher, unlike the other teachers we knew. He was forever dissatisfied with the status quo. He was unafraid to challenge to the other members of the faculty, even the powerful ones. He stood up to the powerful members of the administration, speaking truth to power, and he kept doing so, even when he knew that they were conspiring to have him permanently “removed from the faculty.”
He challenged the most commonly-accepted facets of our culture and our faith. He taught us that the Sabbath was made for us, and that we were not made for the Sabbath. He taught us that God is like a parent to us. He taught us that our lives should be defined as a response to how much God loves us.
I know some of you are thinking I am mad. I have heard some of you say that you believe my classmates and I must be inebriated. But consider what happened just before this ceremony began. All of you, regardless of where you are from heard members of the Class of 33 speaking in your own language, which must be a miracle wrought by the power of God! I mean, honestly, who have you ever known who got drunk and suddenly became bilingual?
This is not to say that we have not been doing quite a bit of celebrating for the last fifty days as we awaited this glorious day of celebration. You see, our professor was killed; framed and executed, although he was without sin. And yet, three days later, by the power of God, he rose from the dead and appeared to us and blessed us with the power of the Holy Spirit so that we could all stand before you, full of confidence, grace, and truth, as we do on this day of Pentecost.
Each of us has faced our share of turmoil and challenges as we moved through our academic careers. Like all students, we had times where our teacher made us pull some late nights. We even had some classes where we fell asleep when we should have been paying attention. We certainly gave our share of wrong answers. We got in arguments amongst ourselves when we should have been paying attention to the instructor, like that time we were all going for a walk, and we were arguing. You guys remember that? Jesus asked us what we were arguing about and no one wanted to tell him, but he knew. He knew we were arguing about which of us was the greatest, and he called us on it, teaching us that we had to become like little children if we were to inherit his Kingdom.
It was not easy. Our classmate, Judas, the class treasurer, dropped out of school and got in all sorts of trouble, something which eventually cost him his life. Frankly, I can’t believe I am even graduating, because of my performance on the final exam, which was an assignment that I chose for myself. It was to not abandon Jesus no matter what. This is what I signed up for. This is what I agreed to do. Yet when things got hard, I quit. I hid from everyone. I denied even knowing Professor Jesus, and I did it three times.
Still, he searched for me. He found me, just as he did at the beginning of all of this. He sought me out, forgave me three times, and even gave me a special job after for after graduation, saying to me, “Take care of my lambs.”
Like I said, he really isn’t like the other teachers we have known.
But that was the thing about this teacher of ours. He never choose the obvious people to be his disciples. He did not pick the rich or the popular or the powerful. He chose people like me, the ones never voted most likely to succeed. Never chosen first for anything, other than maybe rowing the fishing boat. Perhaps the most miraculous thing about Professor Jesus is that he does not limit himself to those who are most like him. Instead, he opens the door to everyone, even those of you from out of town. Even those of you who have never heard of him before.
By the power of this graduation gift known as the Holy Spirit, Professor Jesus gives us all that we need to not only learn what we must, but for us to become the instructors, for us to teach others about God’s great love for us, and for the entire world.
On this day of Pentecost, many of you have, by the power of the Holy Spirit, become believers, and in so doing, you have joined the ranks of your fellow students, now known as your brothers and your sisters, in this lifelong work of pursuing holiness, laboring for justice, and sharing what you know about yourself and what you know about God, with all you meet. You are called the scatter light in the darkest corners, hope amidst the hopeless situations, and love to everyone you meet.
I challenge you this day to tend to the brokenhearted, to speak for the voiceless, to nurse the wounds of the downtrodden, to offer truth to those who doubt, and to offer grace to those who sin, for we now serve the great teacher of our souls who not only heals the sick, who not only gives the blind their sight, who not only preaches good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed, who has not only set the captives free, who was not only raised from death, and who not only ascended into heaven, but we serve the great teacher who has promised to be with us, come what may, to the ends of the earth.
New believers, trust in the God who has made you, who has saved you, and who has laid claim upon your life, for this is the God who is calling and empowering you to be who you authentically are: chosen, redeemed, loved, and sent. And always remember that the gift of the Holy Spirit in your life will teach you, will lead you, and will sustain you through all the lessons and trials of life as together, we live, love, and serve together as one, as witnesses to the world, as we speak to the world in the common tongues of love, grace, and hope.
Indeed, it is good to be here. It this is such a joyous day. Yet our work has only begun. The lives we lead going forward as Jesus’ disciples will impact the lives of those not only here in Jerusalem, not only in places like Cappadocia and Crete, Arabia, and Pamphylia, but in Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, even in lands yet to be discovered, remembering that our great instructor does not always call the qualified, but always qualifies the called, just as he did with us, and his power is never limited by time or space.
So as the class of 33, we invite you to join with us in this ministry to the nations. Join us, and share in these visions. Join us, and dream big dreams. Men and women, young and old, join together with us, and be a part of God’s great dream for the world, empowered by the great gift of the Holy Spirit, to do the new work God has set before us.
Then and only then we shall be prepared for the Lord’s great and glorious day, as described by the prophet Joel when, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Gloria In Excelsis Deo