Graduate Sunday

GRADUATE SUNDAY

DENBIGH UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

JUNE 21, 2020

 

Sermon by Wylie Pennell Crane, Doctor of Pharmacy

 

Christian Vocation

1 Corinthians 12:7-11

June 21, 2020

Wylie BP Crane

Denbigh United Presbyterian Church

 

When Deborah first asked me whether I’d be willing to deliver the message today, my gut reaction was “What?! What in the world do I have to share that could possibly be of any use?! I’m ONLY — thirty…dang. Well, sure, I have a lot of life to live, but…maybe I should have something worth sharing by this point in my life…” And here we are.

 

I remember the first time Deborah asked me to do something I initially felt totally unqualified for. It was the summer of 2008, I had just graduated from college, and I was trying to figure out my next steps. The economy was in the beginning stages of crashing and jobs were becoming harder and harder to find. I had entered college having decided I was going to be a pharmacist, I started taking the coursework, but when I decided pharmacy just wasn’t for me, it was too late to change course. So here I was with a BS in biology and a desire to do nearly ANYTHING but science jobs. I was floundering. But then Deborah called me up and asked whether I would be game for starting and running a children’s summer food program for a community here at home. Again, I doubted her faith in me, but it was the beginning of something that I regularly reflect on and that continues on today. I rely on skills and experiences from that summer every day. (Side note: I graduated with my BS in 2008 and the economy crashed. I have now graduated with my PharmD in 2020 and we’re in the midst of a pandemic and another struggling economy. With this kind of track record, I give y’all my word that I will never. again. seek higher education.)

 

At this point, I would like to congratulate all the graduates today. We worked hard and stressed through many semesters of high school, undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. And then we worked hard and stressed three times as much during the last semester of our degrees. Safe to say, the last three months or so have not been easy for anyone and certainly not what anyone expected. But we do have something in common with every graduate since the beginning of time: we still constantly field the logical question, “What’s next?!”

 

That spring and summer of 2008, I remember thinking “What in the world am I going to do after graduation?” My parents, who have always been supportive of me doing whatever I tried for, couldn’t understand the absolute paralyzing stress of job searching and figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I remember my dad coming up with a handful of possible jobs he thought I’d be good at. I remember my mom saying “You have the whole world in front of you. When I graduated, women could only be teachers, secretaries, or housewives. You’re so lucky to have limitless options!” All I felt was the crippling intimidation of figuring out how I could use the talents that God gave me to find employment that best serves our world. And I don’t think that’s uncommon. I think a lot of us enter jobs that we think are interesting or that we’re good at. But sometimes we just enter a role because it’s the best option we have at that time.

 

And that’s where today’s scripture from 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 comes in. I’m going to back up to verse 4 from The Message and read it again.

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

wise counsel

clear understanding

simple trust

healing the sick

miraculous acts

proclamation

distinguishing between spirits

tongues

interpretation of tongues.

All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.”

 

Earlier in the Bible, Mark 16:15 says “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’” God calls us to serve. God gives us all different gifts and He entrusts these skills to us and expects us to use them to serve His Kingdom. We must work and have jobs to live our lives, but employment is not our real purpose. We are put on earth to serve God. Who says we can’t do both simultaneously? What we read in Corinthians supports what we read in Mark.

 

Let’s keep looking through the Bible. (Forgive me, I’m trained in sciences — the more information the better.) Looking at the NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 7:17: “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.”

 

So now we address the question: How do we make our work our mission? How do we go about discovering and fulfilling our “Christian vocation?”

 

We get the English word “vocation” from the Latin “vocatio,” which translates to “calling.” While preparing for this message, I came across the PCUSA website information about Christian vocation. The information discussed the pre-Reformation idea that this “calling” was only to professions in the Church. But John Calvin and Martin Luther were among the first to oppose this idea, arguing that God calls every person to their life work and service in all we do. It also contained one of the most enlightening phrases I read during all of my research, which was, “Some Christians emphasize the question ‘Am I saved?’ Presbyterians emphasize the question ‘What am I saved for?’”

 

We can also see this continued in Colossians 3:17 and 23-25, where the NIV translation says “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

 

So first we have the idea that God calls us all to spread his word. The scripture reveals that this does not have to be literally preaching or proselytizing. Then we have the idea that He gives us all different talents that we can use in our service to Him. And then we added the additional idea that no matter what we’re doing, we are to be glad servants of the Lord.

 

Now in case some people haven’t personally experienced this, I’m here to tell y’all: this is not always easy. Like I mentioned earlier, I was paralyzed with indecision when trying to find my calling after college. Along came Deborah with an opportunity that helped me realize and zero in on skills I had and develop more. It helped me see what I enjoyed doing and what I didn’t enjoy doing. And all that together prepared me for earning the residency position I start next week. We don’t always know the talents we hold. That is where the community of God’s people and the church come in to guide each other during our life-long vocational journey. We can support each other throughout this process and get each other involved where our skills serve God. There is a joke in the article about a man who saw “PC” in a cloud formation. He thought surely he was called to “Preach Christ.” After listening to many of his sermons, some church folks suggested that perhaps he was called to “Plant Corn.” God does not have a singular plan for us to discover and accomplish, but rather, He gives us the freedom to use our gifts in limitless ways to serve Him.

 

This brings up the additional idea that our vocation is not something we’re locked into. Take Moses for example, who was out tending his sheep when he reluctantly heard God’s calling. We don’t always think we’re qualified. And we usually have to endure some discomfort and uncertainty as we make our way through these roles along the way or once we “arrive.” Sometimes our Christian vocation isn’t always the idyllic, self-fulfilling place we may think it will be. We may find ourselves teaching in the schools in the “wrong” part of town or working in the hospitals that don’t have adequate staffing.

 

Furthermore, our Christian vocation is not locked to just our paid, literal employment. Like we read in Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Whether we’re grocery shopping, out at a concert, mentoring another person, or working with the PTA, we can use our work to worship God in the same way we would at a literal job. We continually receive new opportunities to grow through multiple literal jobs and extracurricular activities. Another great thing here? We are in God’s employ our entire lives. We can’t retire from God’s call, but merely have different opportunities to serve.

 

Looking at Christian vocation tells us that it doesn’t matter what we’re doing, it’s how we’re doing it. It could be the teacher who sees and encourages the potential in each child and loves them, despite a behavior issue. She treats all her coworkers — even the ones who never refresh the coffee pot in the teachers’ lounge when they pour out the last cup — with respect and genuine care. Her calling might not lie in the fact she’s a teacher, but she answers God’s calling to her in how she treats those she encounters. Christian vocation is the active engagement between her relationship with God and how she performs all her activities. I know a lot of us are trying to stay home even though places are starting to open up, but think back to someone you encountered this past week — at the store, at a meeting, at work — and think about who, through attitude and actions, exhibited their service to God? In what way was their approach and dedication to Christian vocation evident?

 

Now usually at this point in a conversation with a patient, I would stop and ask, “What questions do you have for me?” But since I’m not trained in ministry and this is a one-way conversation, I’ll address what is likely the main question we all have: how do we live this out in our daily lives?

 

We can live out our Christian vocation by acting with integrity. We can approach situations with ethics at the forefront of our minds rather than first thinking of dollar signs or popularity concerns.

 

God calls us to spread His Word and gives us all different talents to do so. No matter what we’re doing, we are called to be glad servants. Our calling is not limited to paid employment, but anything we do during our days, and while our Christian vocation may evolve, our calling never ends.

 

Christian vocation is not about WHAT we do but HOW we do it.

 

I’m going to close my message with the Prayer from the Church of the Province of the West Indies found in “An African Prayer Book” by Desmond Tutu:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, the privilege is ours to share in the loving, healing, reconciling mission of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, in this age and wherever we are. Since without you we can do no good thing.

May your Spirit make us wise;

May your Spirit guide us;

May your Spirit renew us;

May your Spirit strengthen us;

So that we will be:

Strong in faith,

Discerning in proclamation,

Courageous in witness,

Persistent in good deeds.

This we ask through the name of the Father.

Amen.

 

 

Reflection by Ashley Nicole Morgan, High School Graduate

 

Good morning everyone! For those of you who don’t know, my name is Ashley Morgan and I am a graduate of the class of 2020 from Menchville High School. As everyone knows, the Corona Virus has changed our lives for the past 3 months. For the class of 2020, it took away the moments that we normally take for granted.

 

 

March 13th was a normal Friday. My fellow students and I woke up at 6am, got dressed, ran to the kitchen to get something to eat, and hurried out the door to make it to school before the first bell rang. Throughout the day, we saw our friends in our classes, took tests and quizzes, and looked forward to the weekend that was ahead of us. The class of 2020 had no idea that it would inevitably be our last day of high school or college.

 

That night, we got a call saying that schools would be closed for the next 2 weeks. Similar to most students’ reactions, I was extremely excited to have a 2 week break before final exams started. But then the next week, we got a call saying that schools would not reconvene for the rest of the school year. I was devastated. My fellow classmates and I knew that this was a serious pandemic that we were battling, and we didn’t want to sound unsympathetic or detached from the world, but it didn’t make the situation any better. All students look forward to all the activities that come with being a senior. We never got a senior breakfast, prom, senior skip day, or a normal graduation with our family and friends.

 

Through the past few weeks, I have really struggled mentally and emotionally. I couldn’t find the motivation to finish my online class assignments, I would do everything last minute, and I had no structure to my days. I was in a funk that I could not pull myself out of. I had so many feelings and emotions within me, that I was unable to express them to anyone. I was sad, angry, surprised, disappointed, and depressed. I was angry at God. I prayed that the virus would just disappear into thin air. I prayed that I would be able to get back the memories that I missed. I prayed and prayed, and I got no response. I keep asking these particular questions. Doesn’t God want the best for his children? Doesn’t God have a purpose for everything that we go through? I couldn’t understand how a loving, almighty God, could take such special, once in a lifetime moments away from a girl who has remained faithful and steadfast. But eventually I got my answer that I had been looking for.

 

As many of you know, my family and I have absolutely no free time. Between traveling for school events and competitions, to working with our organizations, we were constantly on the run and most of the time, we all passed each other throughout the day with no problem. We never had time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the time that we had together. According to my countdown today, I leave for the University of Lynchburg in 43 days. Due to this virus, I am now able to capture as much time as possible with my family before I leave. I am able to collect my stockpile for when I move in. But I have plenty of time to reflect on these past few weeks.

 

You see, when I was waiting for God’s answer to my prayers, I had my eyes closed and my heart unopened. When I finally got past all the anger and disappointment, I was able to see his answer. We have to look past all the memories that we lost and look at all that we have gained. A Bible verse that I like to remember is Proverbs 3:5-6, which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

 

God has a plan for all of us, and it is our responsibility to have open eyes and ears to see the great works that he does for us. Yes, my senior year did not turn out the way that I envisioned, but this was meant to be. It taught me to be flexible, understanding, responsible, and most of all, more faithful. At the end of the day, this virus could have been a blessing in disguise for all of us. We appreciate the little things, we treasure precious moments, and we keep our heads held high in spite of fear and unknown circumstances. I pray that my fellow classmates and I are able to remember these life lessons and apply them to our future careers and endeavors.

 

 

 

Reflection by Erin Baldwin, Master of Arts Degree in Visual Communications Design

 

Hi everyone! My name is Erin. Some of you know me, some of you may not. I grew up in this church, but I live in Arlington, Virginia now and unfortunately am not able to attend as frequently as I used to. I’m sorry I can’t be here to celebrate with the other graduates today; congratulations to you all! I don’t know about you, but I am so happy to be done!

 

Growing up in the halls of this church taught me a lot of things. More important than the biblical stories and teachings, it taught me how to treat others, and how to spread love in a world even when it can sometimes feel filled with hate. And I learned that from you all. The way you always welcomed me with open arms, and the love you showed me, starting as early as Pre-K. I remember being in Sunday school singing Jesus Loves Me while Mr. Martin played on the guitar. My mom loves to remind me how much I always cried when she would leave me there, and I like to remind her that’s what a toddler often does.

 

I remember Sunday school with Ms. Hall and Ms. Williams, singing in the choir with Ms. Martin, attending VBS every summer and looking forward to arts and crafts with Ms. Sandi. Moving on to middle and high school I remember going to all the youth group events with Mr. and Mrs. Canaday, Ms. Randi and Mr. Dave, Mr. Pete and Ms. Liz and my mom. Going to college and completing my very first internship over the summer in Colonial Williamsburg that Ms. Lewis helped me get. And, of course, Ms. Deborah, who has always made me feel like no matter how long I am gone, I still have a place and community to come back to. There are many names I missed, but believe me when I say you have all had such an impact on me. You have truly been like a family to me over the years, and I could never thank you enough.

 

It’s because of you all that I try to lead with love and spread kindness towards others in my own life. I mess up some days, but I know the example that was set for me and that’s what I always strive for. I urge you all, especially with everything that’s going on right now, to continue to go into the world with open minds and open hearts as Ms. Deborah always says. Trust me when I say you are making an impact. Sending love to you all and hope to see you soon.