Topical Sermon on Graduation
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 6/13/2020
©2020 by Maylan Schurch

To watch the YouTube video of this service, click this link (the sermon starts at the 50:20 mark):

Please open your Bibles to Matthew 25.

I am holding in my hand my two high school diplomas!

No, I did not graduate twice from high school. Let me fill you in on the story. For the first eight grades of my schooling, I attended Sunrise Church School, a one-room Adventist elementary school located near Plainview Academy, about a mile southeast of Redfield, South Dakota.

Then I attended Plainview Academy for my freshman year, and would have continued except that they closed the school. So for my sophomore year I attended Redfield High School, the public school in town. During that year I worked at an after-school job at the dairy in town where my Dad worked, and the job worked out so well that my folks suggested I work fulltime, and homeschool the remainder of high school. They had heard of a correspondence institution called the American School, based in Chicago. It was a fully-accredited high school, attended by government diplomat’s kids, and missionary kids.

So I enrolled in the American School, and they sent me several standard high school textbooks, along with a workbook for each one. I would complete the tests—they were all open-book, but the questions were hard—and send them in.

And finally, they sent me the first of these diplomas. I brought it in from the mailbox, and showed it to Mom. She looked at it and said, “But they’ve spelled your name wrong!” And sure enough, it proclaimed in beautiful hand-inscribed calligraphy that “Maylon Schurch” (with an “o”) had completed the American School high school course.

I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal, because my name is always getting misspelled. But Mom said, “No, we’ve got to get them to change that. I’m going to send it back!” So she did, and pretty soon we got this second diploma along with an embarrassed letter of apology.

And I never had a high school graduation ceremony, and never really felt bad about it. I just finished American School, got my two diplomas, and enrolled in a nearby state college that fall.

And there I studied to be a teacher, and got a bachelor’s and masters in education, with an English major and speech minor. And soon I was down at Union College, an Adventist school in Lincoln, Nebraska, as an English instructor and later associate professor. Somewhere—probably in a box in the garage—I have the actual gradebooks I kept student records in. I had the power to pass or fail the kids in my class—but I had been well trained to make the grading fair.

When I started, like all new instructors, I taught the basic classes—freshman English (Expository Writing), sophomore English (Literary Forms and Ideas), as well as Persuasive Writing, and also speech. These were core classes, which all the kids had to take. And I rapidly discovered that basically nobody liked Expository Writing. So since the kids had to take it in order to graduate, I did my best to make it as interesting and as fair as I could.

As you know, our Question of the Week had to do with commendation God gave to people who deserved it. This morning I’d like us to look at two “core classes” which God or His Son told us we need to pass successfully, and which He will commend us for. As you’ll see, these are really important “classes” to do well in.

Here in Matthew 25, the first course could be called “Principles of Investing.” It’s a familiar story—but this time I’d like us to look carefully at the “course work” God wants us to complete. Back when I was an English teacher, the course work included themes, quizzes, tests, and in one case a research paper.

Let’s read through this famous story again:

Matthew 25:14 – 19 NKJV: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

So now it’s time for the final exam. Let’s watch what this lord of the estate says to them, because of course he represents God.

Verses 20 – 23: “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Okay, what is the actual course work here? Let’s watch closely. The first two servants turn out to be careful investors, probably from closely observing their master do it. Let’s list the course work.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s the course work, right there. Let’s break it down.

The first course work is “good.” This servant is a good one. When you and I serve the Lord, we need to be good, and do good. There are good ways to do the Lord’s work, and not-so-good ways. There are proud ways, and there are humble ways. The Pharisees and other religious leaders who opposed Jesus were trying to do God’s work, but not in a good way. They were trying to murder their Savior. Paul the apostle thought he was doing the Lord’s work in a good way, but he wasn’t.

So to make sure we’re serving the Lord in a good way, we need to keep going back to the textbook, the Bible, and comparing our actions and attitudes with what God approves.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Not only do we need to be good—morally upright and commandment-keeping Christians—we need to be faithful. That’s the second item of course work we need to do.

Faithful people show up when they’re needed. They come to Sabbath school if they’re teaching that day, and they come even if they aren’t, to support the one who is teaching.

Faithful people show up to do other things—bring potluck food, work in the kitchen on potluck Sabbaths, show up to wedding showers or baby showers, show up by keeping in touch with people, caring about people, working in our clothing bank, contributing financially to the work of the church.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

If you’re serving in a church office right now, you’re most likely not able to do it the way you’re used to doing. We’re having a few online Sabbath School classes, which is a whole lot different than looking across a table at someone. But a huge number of you are “showing up” in ways you can. Because the most effective servants of the Lord are just that—servants. They have a servant’s heart. The servant’s heart doesn’t say, “My own priorities are not more important than the Lord’s priorities.”

The first two servant investors Jesus tells us about devoted their whole attention to investing what the master had trusted them with. But the third servant wasn’t really a servant at all. Somebody once suggested that the third servant actually despised his master. It’s not that he was timid and fearful of investing—he didn’t even take his portion of money to the bank to earn interest. He just dug a hole and buried it, and forgot about it. He had no interest in increasing his master’s estate. So he was a servant in name only.

So what’s the course work? Be “good,” be “faithful,” and be a true “servant.”

And what happens when you graduate? What happens when your internship is over?

To the first two servants, the master says exactly the same thing: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

Why do people go to school? Maybe in high school you might go because your parents want you to. But by the time you go to college, you’re taking more of a responsibility for your future. You’re developing dreams, and goals. And if you get an internship, you most often can’t wait until you’re working in your chosen subject area for real.

Which is exactly what this investment-expert master was hoping for. He’s hoping that his servants get so excited by their modest successes that they will want to go on to greater things, take on greater responsibilities. And after he promises them greater responsibilities, he ends with, “Enter into the joy of your lord.”

God is a God of joy. Psalm 40 is partly a Messianic Psalm, and it shows the Messiah saying to God, “I delight to do Your will.”

So whenever heaven’s graduation day comes, we know that the Lord will open up to us the vast treasures of the universe, and He will allow us to fulfill our deepest dreams within the talents He has given us, so that we can feel something of the creative joy He feels.

There’s joy in building things up, enhancing things. Notice that the master of that estate didn’t assign his servants to do what was destructive. He assigned them to use capital to produce more capital, and that would make it better for a lot of people. Maybe these two servants invested in startups or small businesses, providing funds so that entrepreneurs could fulfill their own dreams. And the entrepreneurs were so inspired by this confidence that they worked harder and smarter than ever, and did some exciting investing of their own.

Now let’s turn our attention to another core class that God wants us to get a good grade in. The class we just finished looking at was “Principles of Investing,” and this next class is described in Luke chapter 6.

Luke 6 contains a version of the Beatitudes. It’s shorter than Matthew’s version, and it has a bit of a different focus. For one thing, the Matthew Beatitudes all start with “Blessed is so-and-so.” But Luke’s version lists a few blessings, but then also lists a few “woes,” like “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation,” and so on.

And as soon as those blessings and woes conclude, Jesus gives us information about a course we could call “Interpersonal Relationships.” But this course could actually be called “Interpersonal Relationships on Steroids.”

I mean, if you enrolled in a human-created “Interpersonal Relationships” class, you might study topics like, “conflict resolution,” “positive attitude,” “empathetic listening” and so on.

But Jesus’ “Interpersonal Relationship” class is pretty mind-jolting in what it teaches. Because Jesus lets us know that it’s not another human being who will be our mentor, but God Himself.

Luke 6:27 – 31: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

You don’t need me to tell you that we live in the middle of an “outrage culture.” People are shouting at each other online, and on the news media, in vindictive and illogical ways. There seems to be no place for the gentle voice, the reasoned thinker, the sensible person who suggests, “Hey, why don’t we just stop lying to each other, and sit down and just talk things out?”

Nobody seems to see any sense in that. And those who do feel shouted down, are edged out and told to stand aside so that real verbal combat can happen.

This combat, of course, comes mostly from the mentoring of Satan. We know that, because the Galatians 5 fruit of the Spirit is love. Who shows anybody love anymore? It’s mostly hate. The fruit of the Spirit is joy—but who experiences real joy any more, the joy of the enthusiastic master back in Matthew 25, the one who got such great joy in investing in other people—even in his servants.

The fruit of the Spirit is peace—where are the true peacemakers anymore? The fruit of the Spirit is long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. All of these are additional resources which help us fulfill Jesus’ Luke 6 classwork.

Okay, what’s the course work for Jesus’ Luke 6 “Interpersonal Relationship” class?

Verse 27: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies . . . .

And that’s not some sort of watered-down love. That is agape love. That’s the word Jesus uses there. Back in John 3:16, Jesus said, “For God so agape’d the world that He gave His only Son . . . .” And here in Luke 6:27 He tells us to agape our enemies. Not just “like” them; not just “be nice” to them, but agape them. Not to cave into those enemies’ wishes, not to let these enemies to force you into doing and saying things God doesn’t want you to, but to agape them the way God so loved the world.

And that, of course, requires the Holy Spirit to bring us His fruit. Yesterday Shelley ordered food from a little farmer’s style market which does curbside pickup, and sure enough, when we pulled up outside the store and called them on the phone, they cheerfully emerged with a couple of bulging paper bags and put them in our back seat.

That’s what we need to do with spiritual fruit. We need to order it, and then go put ourselves in position to receive it. Paul called these qualities “fruit” because each one is good for us, and good for anyone we share it with.

But let’s go back to verse 27 for more course work.

Verse 27: “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Notice how this goes a step further? We’re not supposed to merely agape our haters and then write them out of our lives. We’re supposed to do good to them.

And that’s a tall order. But Jesus doesn’t let up on us. He gives a few more commands, and then tells us why these shocking and puzzling behavior is so important:

Verses 35 – 36: But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

And that is why this is so important. God needs us to show people what He is like. Once Saul of Tarsus found out through Jesus that God was not vengeful but loving, Saul fell fiercely in love with the heavenly team.

Once the cowardly Simon Peter discovered that Jesus could tenderly forgive even His betrayers, he became the chief preacher at Pentecost.

Once Zacchaeus discovered that Jesus wanted to end that high-end mansion, built by taxing rich and poor, Zacchaeus’ heart changed and he became as shockingly generous as Jesus commands us to be here in Luke 6.

“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father in heaven is merciful.”

Every worthwhile course requires some kind of homework. My college English freshmen spent some of their evening toiling over the themes I assigned them. But before I ever assigned them a theme, I assigned it to myself, and then I wrote a theme following the guidelines I wanted them to follow. Then I would give them each a copy of it, and talk them through it.
I would tell them, “Now, don’t copy this theme. This is mine. But follow its organization pattern as you write yours.” Even though the kids still didn’t enjoy writing themes, they appreciated that I had actually written one first, and showed them how it was done. And it became easier for them.

And hasn’t God shown us how to be merciful? Wasn’t He merciful to us first, before we even realized we needed it? And didn’t He send us a marvelous Tutor, a wonderful Mentor for us, in Jesus Christ?

And the more we come to know God through His Son, the more we realize how much they love us, and how much they long to be finally together with us.

How’s your investing coming along? And how are your interpersonal relationships doing? If the courses get a bit rocky from time to time, just call up your divine Instructor, because He has promised to help you.

Will you do that? If so, just raise your hand right where you are.