First I want to say to the Seniors of the class of 2016, that have received the Linda S. Treakle Scholarship award and to those who have received scholarships from our United Methodist Women’s group, we want you to know just how proud we are of you; not so much for receiving the award, I mean after all, you could have rejected it. You could have said, I don’t need that, I am going to do this college thing on my own. So getting the award is not the really big deal.
None of you probably have never even heard of Linda S. Treakle, nor even thought about who she might be, or any of these other names connected to your scholarships. Though Nancy might remember George Clarke. But I will tell you this. Each of them thought about you. They may not have known you personally, but they cared enough about the future students of Lancaster County to sacrifice and set aside something to help you; to give you a little extra incentive, to give you a little hope.
The big deal for us here at White Stone United Methodist Church is that all of you were willing to put in the work, the struggle, the perseverance, not just through this past year but for the past four years at least to maintain your grades to keep them up to a certain standard that met the criteria.
And also as you have shown us in your applications; the work of community service whether it was in our community or in some cases other communities. Community service is that willingness to put others before self. That is sacrifice, and to sacrifice is to suffer; whether it is in small ways like that of time or money, or the comforts of home or in big ways such as physical suffering on behalf of someone else.
Sometimes community service, though it is a sacrifice can be fun and easy to do; like working a relay for life or hosting a fundraiser. But often it is not. It means going out of your way to put yourself at risk to ease the burdens of others more unfortunate than yourself. Yet you did it.
Why are these things so important? Why did your school require that you do them? Why did we and other scholarship organizations ask about your community service as much as your grades?
Because it is service to the community, whether big or small that makes community work.
Community begins to fall apart when people basically live isolated lives right next door to each other.
Community is only community when we bear all things together.
When we not only share in the joys and celebrations of special holidays or events, but also when we roll up our sleeves and get down on our hands and knees and work side by side.
Community service is the backbone of a healthy society. So we applaud you not only for your outstanding grades, but for your community service that goes to serve the greater good.
Whenever we do things that put the needs of others before our own, or look out for someone else’s needs over our own needs for safety and security; we do that with a basic premise of faith.
Faith that your actions will produce something greater for someone else, even though it could potentially cost you dearly, maybe even your own life.
The question I have not just for you seniors but for each one of us here this morning is… What exactly have you put your faith into?
Now I realize that just maybe I am preaching to the proverbial choir, but for the sake of argument, let me ask that question. Maybe you put your faith into knowing that if I do all of these requirements I will most likely get some kind of scholarship, and I can understand that. Or maybe for us older folks, we put our faith into something called works righteousness, you know; if I work hard at doing good things, good things will happen to me.
In either case, let me point you to a different possibility.
Paul writes this letter to the Roman Church in all likelihood to prepare them for a visit. It is also very possible that he is writing it from a prison cell. Why is he in prison? Because he is willing to share this news about Jesus who as Paul tells them had died for their sake. Talk about your community service!
You see, Paul knew that to talk about any other gods other than Caesar was going to get him into trouble. He knew that Caesar had the power to search him out and have him put him to death if it came to that, in order maintain the national understanding that Caesar was in control of all things.
In our day and time who might that sound like? Kim Jung UN? Vladimir Putin? Maybe a few more names may come to mind. Even though Rome was very democratic, The Caesar carried a great deal of power. So much so that the citizens bowed to him.
But Paul a former Jew and a onetime persecutor of the Christian faith himself, had an epiphany of sorts and saw that real power did not come from political power and being the head of state, but that it came through the act of love and service.
You see he learned that nothing can kill love. Nothing of course except that you no longer believe in it. But even then, it still has a way of showing up.
The news that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, which is really Himself in the flesh, to die for our sake, finally sank in for Paul. He finally understood that he could put his faith in God and not his works to try and please God.
That was grace. Grace that we are a forgiven people, and faith that this God so loved us that he was willing to die for us and not requiring that we die for him.
Suddenly Paul understood the reason to have joy in his faith, because in this understanding he could finally have peace in his heart and in his mind. He had been justified, through Christ.
What most Romans were doing was putting their faith in their works to try and please Caesar who would often just demand more. More tax, more work, more allegiance and if you didn’t, then you would be punished severely.
But Paul for the sake of Christ, not because he was forced to, but because he wanted to serve Christ, who had already served him, was willing to suffer to share this message of Christ, this hope, this peace with people living under the rule of Caesar.
So that is why Paul says, in Romans 5:1-5
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” NIV
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts.
You see, it comes back down to love, and God is love. When we love as God loves us we live and thrive to serve the common good. Not just self.
You already know something about struggling and persevering as each of you worked hard to maintain your grades and keep a certain work ethic as well as a social ethic. But for this you had to push and strive to reach that goal.
What God gives us through this thing called love is the confidence to put ourselves out there for others in an effort to share the good news to them as well; and to hopefully make their lives better, richer and more fulfilled.
There is something to be gained from our problems and struggles. It is strength. It is character, it is hope. It is seeing that through it all, that God is there. Sometimes that does not come easy.
If it did, it would not be a struggle and we would not learn about perseverance. We would not know how to hold out for hope.
For all of you life is really just beginning.
There will be struggles, but you must try to persevere.
What helps make the struggles, and the sacrifices a little easier is knowing what you are persevering for and that it is worth all the risk.
By putting our faith in the God who died for us and yet rose again; the God who lived this life to serve us because of his eternal love for us, can be seen in Jesus Christ.
Jesus shifted the worlds thinking on what it meant to offer community service through sacrificial giving. His life has made such an impact and has influenced the thinking of such great world leaders as Alexander, Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Nicholas, (who saw his ministry to care for the poor and especially the children, led to him being immortalized though not with a full understanding of his true work).
There were others, Martin Luther, and Martin Luther King Jr. , even Gandhi, all influenced not so much by the sacrifice that Christ himself made, but much more so by the reason he made that sacrifice.
They understood that Christ loved them, as he loves you and me.
As you go out into this world, remember what you have been given here. Not so much the scholarship, and not so much the opportunity to be successful, as we hope each of you will;
but that you have been given a chance to make a difference in your lives by the people of this church, and especially by those who set up these scholarships in the first place.
It is because we really do care about you. We want what is best for you. But most of all, we hope that you will use the gift you have been given to make the same difference in the life of someone else.
Not because it is community service and you will get credit for it, or that you will be remembered for it thousands of years from now, but because you truly do care about the generation that will come after you.
May God Bless you on your journey!