A Word to the 2020 Graduates

What are Your Credentials?

Philippians 3:4b-4:1

Welcome Graduates, family, friends, faculty, and staff to our 2020 Covenant Service. Normally, we have an Awards Ceremony on a different date than the Covenant Service but today we are combing the two. Covid-19 and healthy social distancing practices have caused us to reschedule all that and we are now meeting through Zoom. We are glad you are with us today.

Tonight, whether in person, in abstention, or virtually, you will become an official graduate of the Graduate School of Theology. Whether you actually walk across the stage tonight or only do so in spirit, you have fulfilled the requirements of your degree. Your degree signifies your credentials, your professional qualifications and competence.

Credentials are important. Today is the day when you are being credentialed by Abilene Christian University. When I go to the doctor’s office, I want to know her credentials. They are often hanging on the wall behind a glass frame. When I go to H&R Block for tax advice, I want to know their qualifications and achievements. I want to know their certifications.

The fulfillment of degree requirements for your GST degree, and certified by the university, is what qualifies you for the credentials you are receiving today. Well Done! Congratulations.

  1. Speaking of credentials, Philippians 3, our reading today, Paul lists his credentials.

Circumcised on the 8th Day

Member of the people of Israel,

Of the Tribe of Benjamin;

Hebrew born of Hebrews;

As to the Law, a Pharisee;

As to zeal, a persecutor of the church;

As to righteousness under the law, blameless.

  • Paul’s list of his credentials, for his peer group, for his community, these credentials were impressive.
  1. But for Paul, his criteria for credentials changed when he became a Christian. Paul no longer played by the rules of the credentialing game. Paul offers a different alternative. You see, Paul is on a journey, a journey that has become his consuming passion. He no longer relies upon credentials, documentation, or other identity markers. But now he presses on, forward, with all his credentials behind him, to press toward the high calling of his salvation.
    1. Paul, doesn’t become entangled or look back with any longing to the days of yesteryear. All that was to his credit, his credentials, he now considers rubbish. Therefore, he keeps his eyes glued forward toward his calling in Christ Jesus.
    2. If you were graduating as an accounting major, I might look at Paul’s list as a ledger with two columns: Credits and Debits or Assets and Liabilities. I might describe how there is an exchange in Paul’s life where the assets become liabilities or the credits become debits and vice versa.
    3. You are not accounting majors. For us the Exchange Formula theologically is found in concise texts like 2 Corinthians 5:21, 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Or later in 2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
    4. And said in Philippians 2 in an extended description, Jesus did not consider holding on to the form of God, but instead became formed in human likeness, so that for those who come to know Christ, God will transform our body of humiliation, that it may be formed to the body of his glory.
    5. And lest anyone of us think Paul was a special case and was receiving something like an honorary doctorate for his specialness; he says, “Brothers and Sisters join me in following my example.” And again in v. 15 that all of who are mature should take such a view.
    6. And what is that view? That new view where the exchange has taken place, where we are now transformed in his image?

To know Christ,

the power of his resurrection,

to be conformed to his death,

to share in the fellowship of his sufferings,

to attain the resurrection to come.

Communities live out their resurrection by living out the credentials of the cross. And Paul exchanged all his old credentials for the single credential of knowing Christ and the cross.

On this day, it is your day to be credentialed by this school. On this day, it is your day for recognition of your achievements. Well Done! I am proud of you. I speak for the whole faculty represented here today. We are all proud of you. I would not want you to miss this day. You were recruited by this institution and by the GST so that you could be here on this day and walk across a stage whether physically or in spirit. The GST is accredited to be a credentialing institution. Congratulations!

But if a police officer asks you to put your hands behind your head and pats you down, may he find only cross-shaped credentials. You exchanged what you earn today for a cross back when at your baptism. The cross is the universal symbol of shame, suffering, death, and redemption. Cross credentials then have implications about how you live and practice your faith. Congratulations! No matter what they hand you when you walk across the stage, or deliver to you in the mail, the cross is your only credential that counts. And what gives me the greatest joy on this day as I witness you crossing a stage, is that I know that you already know all this. Well done! The pain of the world and the love of God meet at the cross. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, the graduating class of 2020, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.” Amen.


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