Transitions: My Final Seminary Sermon

Hey friends! The semester is winding down at seminary. Today was my last day of Advanced Preaching class. My assignment was to preach without notes; all in all - it was a positive experience. I'm going to share the sermon for today's post in its manuscript form. The intended audience was my classmates who are all preparing for ministry, but I think a lot of the content has universal application. It isn't ever quite as enjoyable to read sermons as it can be to hear them and interact with them in the flesh. Thanks for journeying through this final semester of graduate school along with me; I'm excited to see where the next chapters of our lives might lead!

Sermon Text: Ephesians 1:15-19

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.
And for this reason, I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
I pray the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened,
you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.

As we have all learned through our various ministry experiences, people in times of transition need encouragement. Throughout our time in seminary we’ve learned many ways to minister to people in transition. And now, the roles have been reversed, and we are a people in transition. Some of us are about to graduate, others are about to head off to internship, and still others are preparing for adventures yet unknown.

The Letter to the Ephesians is written for a people in transition and so it is a helpful text for us to engage at this moment in our journey. It is created for a people who have committed their lives to something, but they don’t necessarily know what that life is supposed to look like and feel like. Paul’s words specifically address how to live in a community of faith as a follower of Christ. It is thought that perhaps this letter wasn’t just for the church in Ephesus, and instead, maybe it was used to guide a variety of early churches who were unsure what church was supposed to be like.

Like the original audience of this letter, we’ve also committed our lives to something and we don’t know for certain what that life is supposed to be like. We are transitioning into a life of ministry with careful steps and eager anticipation, and if you’re anything like me, sometimes it feels like a little extra guidance and encouragement would be helpful. I long for some kind of transitional recipe that when followed would get me exactly where I’m supposed to be after graduation, safe and at peace.

This desire of mine is particularly ironic because, in general, I despise recipes. For as long as I can remember, I have refused to just follow the recipe instructions placed in front of me, word for word. I feel like I’m both cheating and being cheated when I use recipes; I want space to be creative; I don’t want to copy what's already been done. Sadly, this inability to follow a set recipe has led to many almost-delicious meals. Meals that had great potential if only I’d realized that sometimes it’s actually a gift to follow a pathway God has already paved.

I’m comforted by the reality that we are not the first people to go through a time of transition. Many of us have already journeyed through major life transitions. Paul’s words in today’s reading provide one recipe that can guide us through this period of our lives, getting us from who we are now - to who God is leading us to become.

He tells the Ephesians in today’s reading that he prays for them: he prays that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation. He asks that God will give them hope, and he prays that his listeners will know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. Each of Paul’s prayers provides another delicious ingredient of encouragement for us to savor as we travel through the transitions ahead.

He begins by praying to God that the Ephesians be blessed with A spirit of wisdom and revelation: Certainly we have experienced the Spirit’s wisdom blowing through our lives in seminary classrooms, among brilliant peers and professors, in books and essays we’ve had to read through at least 3 times before they even begin to make sense. The kind of wisdom that we long for in times of transition is more than the knowledge found in books. A spirit of wisdom and revelation is an awareness that God is the connecting force between everyone and everything that is happening around us. My friend Youngsik is filled with this kind of wisdom. He was a pastor in Korea before coming with his family to study in the United States 4 years ago. He sees God’s activity and presence in everything. The other day I was describing my own worries about the months ahead. Without hesitation, he said, “Unexpected joys will be waiting for you. Listen for God’s voice.” The spirit of wisdom we long for in times of transition, is the knowledge that God transitions with us and we can trust that presence.

Paul continues with a prayer that the Ephesians will have the Hope they are called to have. As people of faith, we are truly called to have hope, which can be particularly tricky when we are feeling somewhat hopeless. I am thankful that God doesn’t base our ability to engage in productive ministry merely on our moment-to-moment feelings, or I would certainly be out of the running. Instead, God’s ability to nourish our hungering souls with hope in the gospel is stronger than any other force at work around us. We can have faith and trust in this kind of hope.

Paul’s prayer ends by asking God that his listeners will know the Immeasurable greatness of God’s power: We have witnessed this power in ways beyond description during our seminary years. I think of the places I have most-witnessed this power: the Language lab, the library, the chapel, Our Redeemer in Marion, IL, and in the refectory. Every environment we enter into is a new encounter with God's greatness. Transitions are about moving from one understanding of God’s immeasurably great power to another. Transitions are about the Holy Spirit expanding our understanding of who God is.

I pray that together we are able to remember God’s nearness as the various ingredients of our transitions get added to the mixing bowl that is life. Even as each our circumstances are unique, God’s universal presence is the same. Christ is here, and Christ is & will be there: wherever there might be. May a spirit of wisdom, hope, and the knowledge of God’s immeasurable greatness equip and empower us every step of the way.


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