June 22, 2015
Over the past few months, we have been focusing on 1 Peter 4:10, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” As we have explored this verse, we have come to realize that stewardship is simply about serving others by using whatever gift God has given you. As students journey through their time at Sioux Falls Seminary, they learn from professors, one another, and by serving others. This week, we share part of Dr. Ron Sisk’s final sermon at Sioux Falls Seminary (delivered at the commencement brunch on Saturday, May16, 2015. He reflects on the journey of theological education and shares a few of the secrets he has learned about serving others.
Adapted from Dr. Sisk’s Final Sermon
Delivered on Saturday, May 16, 2015
Graduates, I’ll tell you a secret about ministry as you finish your time at the seminary. Everything you do doesn’t have to be new! One of the great things about serving others and building our lives around a two thousand year old text is that most of it has been rather thoroughly tested by now. For example Paul’s words to his favorite church, the church at Philippi, as he begins his letter, are words that have been meaningful for me throughout my career in the pastorate and in theological education, just as I want to commend them to you this morning. I discovered them for myself just as I was finishing my first pastorate in the summer of 1982. This has been the text for my final sermon at every pastorate I’ve ever served, and it applies just as well I think to the way you and I end our time together this morning as you graduate and I retire.
Philippians 1:3-5 says, “I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.”
Today, take a moment to look around at these colleagues and faculty who’ve been part of your lives and realize you’ll be thanking God for these memories in the years ahead. People who’ve been honest with you. Who’ve argued Bible and theology and counseling technique and what in the world the church really ought to do about worship with you. People who’ve shared your pain and given you the honor of allowing you to share theirs. Today may be the last day on this earth you ever see some of them. But you’ll be thanking God every time you remember.
Constantly praying with joy . . . that’s the second secret of the day. It’s a secret Paul learned when he served at Philippi. It’s a secret I’ve learned through serving a denominational agency, four churches, and thirteen years here at the seminary. Once somebody’s in your heart, no matter what different directions life takes you, you never quite give up lifting them with joy to the Lord. In the trustee Academic Affairs Committee at our spring board meeting, they asked me why they should vote to approve this year’s graduates. A sensible question, I thought. So Doug Anderson, Nathan Hitchcock, and I started telling stories about some of you. Like John who could easily have said, “I’ve had my career in ministry, why do I need a degree?” but had a dream that he refused to let go. Or Shihan who came all the way from China to South Dakota to become an engineer only to discover that God had other ideas! Like Kori, pastoring her church, raising her children, helping on the family farm, and working seminary in along the way, or Jesse who convinced one of the most conservative groups we serve to ordain him and still doesn’t actually own a pair of long pants, as far as I know. And Gary who came here as a child from the Congo and plans to spend his life counseling and helping folks who struggle to cope. The stories could go on and on. The trustees listened for a few minutes, and they didn’t have any trouble at all when it was time to vote. My guess is, with the Apostle Paul, you and I won’t have any trouble when it comes time to pray for one another in the years ahead. Constantly praying with joy…
Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day till now . . . . A diverse school like ours always creates a lot of questions. Questions like, “Are these really the only others God could find to call?” Then when you started hearing each other’s stories, how you got here, and what you wanted to do, bit by bit you began to realize that you each just love Jesus and want to help people.
Then, one day it hits you. That’s the third secret Paul learned in his journeys as the very first Christian missionary. It’s so very simple that we should have known it all along: you and I don’t have to look alike or think alike or do things the same way. We’re all partners in the gospel who are using our gifts to serve others.