There is a story about students in ancient Greece. Formal education then was for the very wealthy or very determined. A wise old professor was approached by a group of nobly-bred parents. They said: “Our sons and daughters have completed their studies and must return to their homes to live in a matter fitting for their station. Tomorrow, we will hold a great banquet in their honor. See that they are dressed in their finest garments.”
The teacher smiled and answered, “They will be dressed appropriately.”
The next day the banquet hall was filled with royalty and nobility dressed in dazzling jewels and costly linens. A startled cry arose when the students entered with their teacher. The young men and women were dressed in simple sackcloth robes; each carried a mortarboard – the marks of common workers.
The teacher explained, “Your sons and daughter are dressed as masons, for their destiny is to build – build cities and build lives – perhaps even build an empire. But all will build on the solid foundation of knowledge.”
Our education systems prepare young people for leadership in our businesses, communities, and the world. Completion of their education marks a time for celebration and a pause to view what’s next on the horizon. This is a time to remember the foundation upon which they will build. Not only does society recognize their public education, the church honors their Biblical education and faith formation.
As young people grow up in the church, Sunday school and Children’s church offer children the opportunity to learn the stories of the Bible. In VBS, kids learn songs about Jesus and their faith. Youth group may offer time for fellowship. The church is an environment ripe with opportunity to cultivate young leaders. Our elders and deacons model the faith for us. Teachers and youth leaders foster creative thinking in children and youth. Young people are safe from bullying in the church. It is a safe place for anyone to discover who he is and how faith factors into her actions and decisions.
The early church needed to call up a new leader after Judas had gone to his own place, as Scripture says. The Disciples set one criteria for their new leader: the new apostle must have been with them from the time of Jesus’ baptism to the time he was taken up to Heaven. He had to have studied with Jesus over the past 3 years just as the Disciples had. The new apostle needed to be able to give an accurate first-hand account of Jesus’ life and teachings.
There were two possible candidates: Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas also known as Justus. The Disciples prayed and discerned their new fellow leader. God had raised up Matthias to be the new apostle. The Disciples and Matthias will lead the church to fulfill its mission. This story has defined for us that an apostle is one who has seen and heard Jesus, witnessed the resurrection, and now is a witness to others.
The Apostles witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from their doorsteps. Witnesses through the ages have passed on the seed of faith to the ends of the world. A witness to Christ’s resurrection shared it with us; it fell upon our ears and took root in our hearts. In the same way, we have passed it on to this graduating group of young people.
We can celebrate what Joe, Christopher, and Mallory and Ashlyn have accomplished. We can also celebrate our contribution in raising up young leaders who have witnessed Christ in their lives and will now be witnesses to others of God’s transforming love and grace.