Old Testament:1 Samuel (8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15))
All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” [Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.]
The Response: Psalm 138
1 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; *
before the gods I will sing your praise.
2 I will bow down toward your holy temple
and praise your Name, *
because of your love and faithfulness;
3 For you have glorified your Name *
and your word above all things.
4 When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.
5 All the kings of the earth will praise you, O Lord, *
when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6 They will sing of the ways of the Lord, *
that great is the glory of the Lord.
7 Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
8 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
9 The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (4:13-5:1)
Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
The Gospel: Mark (3:20-35)
The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
by the Very Rev. Jim Larsen
St. Mark’s is pleased and privileged to have the Very Rev. Jim Larsen as our celebrant and homeliest this morning.
Oakwood High School Baccalaureate
May 27, 2018
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Thank you for giving me the great honor of speaking with you on this very special occasion, as we prepare to celebrate your “Commencement”: literally, your “Beginning” of a new part of your lives.
New beginnings like this are times of mixed emotions. They are times for remembering what you are leaving behind, memories both good and not-so-good. They are times for looking forward to what will be and to what might be. They are times for hope and excitement. And they are times also for at least a little bit of nervousness and uncertainty as you take a significant step in your lives. Whether you are going on to college, or enlisting in military service, or entering full-time into the workforce, you are taking a step into a future that is not yet clear. You might think that you know where you are going in life, what major you are going to pursue, what kind of career you are going to have, where you are going to live, but chances are very good that that direction will change over the next few years and maybe change a few other times during the course of your lifetime. That is an unavoidable part of the journey of our lives.
But through all of those ongoing transitions, you need something that will always be with you, some firm foundation from which to navigate the changing circumstances and challenges and relationships of your life. You need something solid and dependable at the very core of your being. That is where faith comes in: faith in the abilities that you have, faith in what you have learned, faith in what you can do, faith in yourselves, faith also in those who have loved and supported you in the past – they are all around you here this evening! — and they will love and support you always as you move into and through your future. And this is a time also for faith in the Ultimate Reality: the one who is known as “Adonai,” “the Lord,” “the Father,” “Allah,” “the Ground of All Being,” “the Encompassing Spirit in Which All That Is Is,” and by thousands of other names: the one referred to most often simply as “God.”
I suggest to you this evening that, no matter what your religious background and convictions might be, an ideal model of the kind of faith in God that you need at the center of your life can be found in the character portrayed in our reading from the book of Genesis (12:1-3). Abram, also known as Abraham or Ibrahim, was a man of deep faith and of great courage. In the brief passage that we heard, we are told that God called Abram to “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house…” Basically, God was calling Abram to leave behind just about everything that he knew, all that was familiar to him. (Maybe you’re sharing a little bit of that feeling right now.) That in itself is scary, but it doesn’t stop there. The rest of that line has to do with the place to which he would be going: “…to the land that I will show you.” Abram did not know in advance exactly where his journey would take him; he had no idea exactly where he was going. In one way or another, that too is where you are right now. But Abram went anyway; he went with confidence in the one who would be leading the way. Now that is faith.
Martin Luther King once described that approach to life when he explained that, “Faith means taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” That’s where you are now. You are taking the first step away from many things that are familiar and comfortable for you and into a greater world, even though you can’t see exactly where that staircase is going to take you. That is certainly a step that can fill you with hope and excitement as well as with nervousness and uncertainty. Those mixed feelings, those seemingly contradictory experiences, are an inevitable part of this important time in your lives, as you look forward to a new beginning.
But as you work your way through the days and months and years ahead, you need to make time for the most important things. You need to make time, for example, to recognize and acknowledge those conflicted feelings that you are having right now and to know that everyone else is experiencing them, too. You need to make time to form some practical and realistic plans to make the most of the new opportunities that are now opening up for you. But above all, at this time of commencement, I urge you to make time to dream: to dream of what can be, to imagine the dream that you can make into reality in your lives.
There are many dreams that swirl around you at the time of your graduation: dreams that your parents have for you, dreams that your high school teachers and staff have for you, dreams that your friends have for you, dreams that you have for yourself. But above all others, there is one dream to which I call you tonight. It is the most important dream of all: the ultimate dream, the extreme dream, the Greatest Dream.
Abram had that dream before him as he set out on his journey. It was a dream about much more than just living a secure and successful and prosperous life. It reached beyond him as an individual and even beyond his future family and his many descendants. It was a dream that came from and was promised by the one who called and sent him. And that was the one who swore to him that “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Now there is a truly awesome vision for you! Abram not only would be blessed in his journey and in his life. Abram would be a blessing to those around him and ultimately to all the world. And that is what I call you to do and to be in your lives: to be a blessing to others. And you can do that if you are willing to embrace and to live that Greatest Dream.
Certainly all those other dreams that other people have for you and that you have for yourselves are well worth pursuing: furthering your education, finding and deepening new relationships, pursuing meaningful work to support yourselves and maybe someday a family, and participating in a positive way in the communities in which you live. Those are all valuable things, wonderful things; and they are all well-worth the time and effort needed to make them a reality.
But above all of them is that Greatest Dream. It is a dream that is as old as the human race, maybe as old as the cosmos itself. It is a dream that focuses not just on you as an individual but on the wider world, a world to which you have so much to give. It is a dream of refashioning that world in a positive way and of enabling each and every human being to reach his or her greatest potential, living life in all its fullness. It is a dream that can be achieved, not by focusing on what is there for you to take from the world, but by focusing on what is in you for you to give to the world. And you have so much to give, far more than you now realize.
But the only way that you will ever come to realize all the many priceless gifts that you have is for you to go out and use them in pursuit of that Greatest Dream. It is only by giving yourself away that you will truly find yourself. And it is only by dedicating yourself to the fulfillment of that Greatest Dream that you will be a blessing to the world in which we live.
The most elegant description of that Greatest Dream that I have found comes from someone who happens to be from my own religious tradition: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In his role of helping to lead his fellow South Africans out of the oppressive system of apartheid and into new lives of freedom, he held up to them this vision (God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time, pp. 19-20), speaking to them in the name of that Ultimate Reality:
“I have a dream, God says. Please help Me to realize it. It is a dream of a world whose ugliness and squalor and poverty, its war and hostility, its greed and its harsh competitiveness, its alienation and disharmony are changed into their glorious counterparts, when there will be more laughter, joy, and peace, where there will be justice and goodness and compassion and love and caring and sharing. I have a dream that swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, that My children will know that they are members of one family, the human family, God’s family, My family.”
Members of the Oakwood High School Class of 2018, that is the dream that I hold up to you today: the Greatest Dream. Dream that dream. Embrace that dream. Live that dream. Make it the central vision and guiding purpose of your lives. And if, like Abram, you are willing to do that, then the people of this community and of the world beyond it will truly be blessed in you.