Fuller Seminary's graduating class of 2013 was honored on June 5 at a special Baccalaureate service held at the First Congregational Church of Pasadena.
Faculty and graduating students in full regalia filed into the church's sanctuary to celebrate the class of 2013. Provost Emeritus and Professor of Anthropology Sherwood Lingenfelter, preached a powerful sermon on "The Risk of Following Jesus" based on scripture from Psalm 84 and Matthew 26.
He explained that his sermon is based on reflections taken from his meditations on the gospel of Matthew on what it means to follow Jesus, and his 50th class reunion at Wheaton College. What he took away from those two things, he said, is that following Jesus is a "risk-filled, anxiety-producing journey."
Many of his classmates at the reunion, Lingenfelter said, had gone through serious testing and some had lost their zeal for the Lord. He wondered aloud how Fuller's graduating class might fare in 20, 30 or 40 years.
"Could you say our soul yearns and even faints for the Lord's glory?" Lingenfelter asked. He acknowledged that even now might be a moment of anxiety as students wonder where God is leading and what it means for their lives. "No one can predict where Jesus will take us or what he might say on the way or where the journey will end," he said.
Lingenfelter then turned to the scripture from Matthew, which details the days and moments before Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. He pointed out that there are three areas of tension that the disciples experienced that are pertinent to the graduating class and followers of Jesus today: conflicting priorities, deception of hungers, and denial of vulnerability.
In the story of the woman with the alabaster jar, Jesus defends the woman from disciples, who were more concerned with finances than his suffering. Lingenfelter noted that these conflicts of priority can also occur in the church, which can lead to accusations, harsh words, and broken relationships. He emphasized that Jesus' priorities may be different from that of his followers.
Next he looked to the story of Judas' betrayal of Jesus in accepting a few pieces of silver instead of life with Christ. Lingenfelter said that often people trade the glory of God for lesser things because they feel that God has not lived up to his end of the bargain, their hungers have not been satisfied.
"It's not about what expectations do we have from Jesus, but how will we respond when he disappoints us," he said. "How long can we drive on low fuel and wait for Jesus to make his will and purpose clear for us?"
This led to his third point: denial of vulnerability. Lingenfelter noted how his disciples were not able to see how vulnerable they were to challenges.
"At this time in my life, Jesus has not stopped leading me into places I do not want to go," Lingenfelter said. He shared a personal story of challenge, when he was called to do something he was very afraid to do. He noted that this is the most important lesson that he took from this text, that everyone is vulnerable.
Lingenfelter concluded with a message of great hope from verse 33 of Matthew 26, where Jesus tells his disciples, "But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Throughout the book of Matthew, Jesus foretold of his death, but it was only on this fifth time in chapter 26 that he includes the line about him rising up and going ahead to meet them, Lingenfelter explained. He told students that with the hope that Jesus is risen and going ahead, one can't refuse to follow Jesus even when the journey looks difficult.
"Men and women, you have prepared at Fuller Theological Seminary for this commencement and now you're ready to leave Fuller and to follow Jesus on his mission to build the ministry of his local church," Lingenfelter said. "Like all the graduates who have gone before you, you will find conflicting priorities in that church. You will be tempted to judge and condemn others, and your hungers will not be satisfied."
But, he challenged students that in those moments of great fear and anxiety, "don't forget the last line."
"'After raised from the dead, I will go ahead to Galilee and meet you there.' This is the critical issue! Christ is risen!" he said. Though some may be scattered to satisfy their hungers and alleviate their fears, Lingenfelter said that the gospel assures that Christ will never abandon his body the church.
"So come with your precious alabaster jar and pour it out on his broken body," he said. "And when you do this, you will discover he is risen indeed, and he will meet you there."
The Baccalaureate service concluded with the hymn "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus." A reception honoring the graduates was sponsored by Fuller's Office of Alumni and Church Relations.