A Faith-Deepening, Character-Refining, Formational Experience

May 20, 2019

Having spent Saturday celebrating the amazing work that God has done, and will continue to do, in the lives of the 56 graduates in the Sioux Falls Seminary class of 2019, we share the senior class response delivered by Master of Arts in Christian Leadership graduate Tanya Gericke.

I am reminded today of different forms of celebration in our culture.  At weddings we celebrate the union of two becoming one.  At funerals we celebrate a life well lived.  At graduations we celebrate the accomplishments of years of hard work.  As you think of each of these celebrations, each one requires an appropriate response.  At weddings we certainly don’t mourn the loss of a loved one… and in the same way at funerals we do not clap and cheer.  In my context as a missionary in Romania, one of the most authentic and appropriate responses to the celebration of Christmas, is we butcher a pig on our front lawn with friends and family.  Regardless, every celebration necessitates an appropriate response.

And today, today is a day of celebration in need of a response.  As we watched 56 students walk across this stage to receive various forms of recognition, we celebrate together what has been accomplished.  At one level we celebrate not having to read N.T Wright at 3:30 in the morning, or not having to finish papers on airplanes on our way to Sioux Falls Intensives.  We celebrate the new letters that can be added to our names and the foundation this lays for future endeavors —— but beyond all of this, we celebrate something much deeper, much more profound.  The core of the education we received over these past years is based on something deeper than receiving a piece of paper or a form of accreditation.  And it is cause for great celebration.

Our studies at Sioux Falls Seminary were based on, transformative, integrative learning—allowing our studies to transcend the papers we had to write in order to enrich our ministries and the way in which we served in them.  It was based on learning in a diverse community and experiencing unity in our diversity as we encouraged, challenged, and edified one another.  It was based on mentorship, on gleaning wisdom from, and being formed by, those who have faithfully walked through ministry ahead of us.

And so today we celebrate this.  This rich, faith deepening, character refining, formational experience we’ve been a part of.  And this type of celebration demands a deeper level of response than just this moment.

I remember my first intensive at Sioux Falls.  The theme of the week was stewardship.  But this wasn’t a week where we focused on how we are to manage our finances… this was a week where we learned about the holistic nature of our call to be stewards.

We learned about what it means to be stewards of the reformation, of organizations, of people and their giftings.  Of how to steward our own lives, in response to God’s missional activity in our world.  In this, we saw holistic stewardship as the deeper and necessary response to the kingdom of God.

Ronald Vallet says this: “Stewardship is nothing less than a complete lifestyle, a total accountability and responsibility before God.  Stewardship is what we do after we say we believe, that is, after we give our love, loyalty, and trust to God, from whom each and every aspect of our lives comes as a gift.”

When we think about moments of celebration, moments like today where we celebrate the work God has done in our lives over the past few years whether it took us 2 or 10 years to get this moment. Here too there is a call for us to respond.  We are called to be stewards of this celebration.

Take the event of a wedding.  Even though we may spend hours preparing for it, or invest a lot of time and energy into it… we know there has to be more.  The real celebration at the wedding is not only the commitment made on that day, but the commitment lived out in a life together.  The union of two becoming one requires a response of stewardship, it requires living out this new reality.  It requires marriage.

In pursuing my Master of Arts in Christian Leadership, I spent time studying Walter Brueggeman’s work.  In his book “The Psalms and the Life of Faith” he examines the way Israel expressed themselves through hymns and songs during different seasons of faith.  When it came to moments of celebration, he stated that these “songs reflected the community embracing the context of newness in which they lived”, that these “hymns were not regressive but anticipatory.”  What Brueggeman was saying was that the Israelites became stewards of celebration.  How as they experienced the presence and faithfulness of God they responded in praise and in this they lived out their testimony.

Think about this in terms of our call in the Gospel.  That as we respond to the redemptive work of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we celebrate this loving act into a life of discipleship, mission and worship.  THAT IS, we steward this celebration by pursuing the holistic, redemptive, and restorative mission of God for his kingdom, by the power of the Spirit, in both our lives and the world.

Today we are celebrating how God has deeply formed and transformed us through our educational journey.  How he has worked through so many to grow and equip us for his mission.  We thank those who have helped lead us to this moment.  We thank the Sioux Falls faculty, our mentors, our friends and family, for the vital roles you each played in leading, guiding and supporting us in this process.

And now we look ahead to stewarding this.  As we step into new seasons of ministry or continue faithfully in the call God already has us in, would we continue to live out what we’ve learned and experienced during our time at Sioux Falls Seminary.

Would we see transformative, integrative learning as a guiding principle and life long process that we both follow and encourage others in as they seek to know God more fully.  Leading others to the truth and encouraging them to grow and mature for the purpose of being conformed to the image of Christ.

Would we strive for unity under the headship of Christ as we practice living in an increasingly diverse and divided culture. Focusing on our common calling in Christ.

Would we continue to look to those who go before us.  To live a mentored life as we continue to grow in our own discipleship journey.

Would we ourselves seek to emulate the same God-glorifying mentoring and teaching we received, with those who will come under our care.  Committing to continue with deep study, integral communication of truth and grace-based discipling.

So let’s continue on in the great commission, with a heart set on stewarding this celebration, as we seek to make disciples in the name of Christ by the power of the Spirit.

As the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 13: 20-21, “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

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