More than 125 students graduated from New Orleans Seminary May 14, the day after more than 100 graduated from Leavell College. Both ceremonies were held at Leavell Chapel.
Seminary president Chuck Kelley congratulated the graduates on successfully finishing their field of study, while also reminding them that they didn't do it all on their own.
"Every single one of these students who will walk across this stage today ... has a story of God's grace, something that God did to get them here, something that God did to keep them here," Kelley said. "It is literally a cavalcade of grace."
But Kelley also reminded the graduates that, for them, the real task of ministry is just beginning.
"God called your name, and from the moment of that calling to this moment, you have been preparing and getting tools for your toolbox," he said. "You've studied everything from languages to music to education, all kinds of disciplines based on what God has called you to do. And now the time has come for you to finish preparation and get out there, completely immersed in ministry."
Kelley compared the challenge set before the graduates to his days playing linebacker for his high school's varsity football team. He was the second string linebacker, with a star defensive tackle-turned-linebacker starting ahead of him.
"And it was good, because I was the second team linebacker and I could enjoy the show without having to worry about the outcome," Kelley said, joking.
But as the game progressed, the starting linebacker made mistake after mistake. Soon the realization hit Kelley that, if the coach benched the starting linebacker, then Kelley would be thrust into the game.
"And finally those dreaded words came," he recalled. "'Kelley! Get in there!'"
Kelley said he was awestruck for that first play -- that is until he got plowed over by the ball carrier. But getting hit like that redoubled his focus and determination. He read the next play perfectly, charged and tackled the quarterback, knocked the ball loose, and recovered the fumble.
"As I was running off the field, suddenly I realized -- I was a football player," Kelley said.
He discovered a determination and confidence on the field as he faced adversity that he would never have found on the sidelines or on the practice field alone.
Kelley wondered if David might have had a similar experience fighting Goliath. When David was just a boy, he had been chosen and anointed by the prophet Samuel as the future king of Israel. Not long afterward, when David was still quite young, Israel was at war with the Philistines. David went to the battlefield to deliver some supplies and check on his brothers.
"David walks into the camp just as that Philistine giant stood there on the battlefield in his mighty armor and his mighty spear and challenged a duel to the death to determine the outcome of the war," Kelley said. "And as everyone stood in fear and intimidation, David heard something different. They heard Goliath's challenge, but what David heard was the voice of God saying, 'David! Get in there!'"
And as he took to the field of battle, armed with his sling and five stones, David went with the confidence that God had called him and would be with him as he fought the giant, Kelley said.
"It's something like that, dear graduates, that God has done in your life. He came to you and he called you," Kelley said.
Remembering that call is crucial to facing the surprising challenges that come along the way. In Kelley's words, "Life is not exactly like the textbooks." And when the unexpected happens, the graduates should consider David's story, Kelley said.
"He had not been able to fight giants one-on-one in his seminary curriculum," Kelley said. "He had not been trained in the ways of warriors.
"But what David had was that voice of God ringing in his ear, 'David! Get in there!' Because this is what we know: What He calls us to do, He will enable us to do," he said.
Kelley concluded his sermon by quoting John 15:16, an encouraging reminder from Jesus to His disciples: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name."
"So now it's time for you to hear that voice of God saying, 'Get in there!'" Kelley said. "It's your turn, and you will discover you are a player too. God bless you."
Frank Michael McCormack is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
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