God Looks Into the Depths. Commencement Sermon 2014.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
May 28, 2014
God looks into the depths.
Omari, your class verse is one of the easiest verses in the Bible to find.
But it isn’t one of the easiest to comprehend. It’s deep. Deep enough to make you feel your smallness.
In the beginning, it says. When time began. We weren’t there, but God was. He was there before that, too. He is from everlasting to everlasting.
In the beginning, God. Who doesn’t feel small before God? Only foolish people. He has all power, wisdom, knowledge. He doesn’t need anything from us. He gives us life, breath, and everything.
- He did what no one else can do. He made what did not exist come into being. He made something out of nothing.
The heavens. He made the hosts of angels in all their different kinds, each one mightier and wiser than us.
And the earth. And He made everything that is visible, everything we can sense and measure.
The Sun and the moon.
The stars, comets, distant galaxies.
The oceans with their billions of fish and sea creatures and microscopic animals. Whales, starfish, seashells, reefs. The birds of the air: crows and seagulls, eagles and sparrows, cranes, storks, flamingoes. The land. Millions of species of plants and trees. The beasts of the field. Insects, creeping things, cattle. Snow and mist, ice and hail, frost and fog, storms and breezes, mountains and canyons.
And people. 6 billion of them now, all of them from one man, all of them breathing, feeling, thinking, living, dying.
God knows everything about all these things and He knows things we have never imagined.
All of this should make us feel small, like a drop in the ocean.
If tonight we were at Harvard instead of St. Peter Lutheran Church and School, we might forget that sense of being a small drop in a huge ocean. The person they get to speak at Harvard’s commencement is someone important, and Harvard graduates are going to go on to be the leaders of the world.
But it would be an illusion if we stopped feeling small because we were at Harvard. Even the commencement speaker and Harvard graduates are less than impressive to the God who created the heavens and the earth. They are mist that is here for a little while and then vanishes, like all of us. The Lord knows the number of their days, and all of them are written in His book before one of them comes to be.
But if the future leaders of the world are less than nothing in the eyes of God, what are we at this commencement?
We are small. The world would go on without us.
You’re not supposed to say stuff like this at a commencement address, I think.
But then again, you’re not usually supposed to sing “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” at a commencement either, are you?
But I think it’s oddly appropriate. The man who wrote that hymn also once preached a sermon where he said that God does not look at the people who are great and high in this world. He looks into the depths, into the lowest places. And in the same sermon he said that we constantly step out of God’s sight because we don’t want Him to see us in the depths.
And it’s true. We don’t want to see ourselves for what we are, much less let God see us for what we are.
Because we are small. We have nothing to offer Him because He already has everything. He gives us everything.
And if that were not enough already, we are still lower. Because even the great ones in the world are not only small and weak in the sight of God but also offensive to Him.
What are we? Not only people who have nothing to bring Him that could earn His admiration and love, but people who constantly bring their sin before Him and provoke His wrath. That’s as true as the great ones as of the small. Whatever we accomplish or don’t accomplish in this world, we have not loved and honored God as God.
That is the depth of woe that we find ourselves in at this commencement and every day of our lives.
But God looks into these depths. He looks in compassion and love on those He sees there. Yes, God even honors and praises those He sees in the depths, which He does not do for the wise and mighty and proud in the world.
The great God who created the earth and the heavens in the beginning sent His Son into the depths of shame, weakness, guilt, and woe to rescue those who were in the depths.
That is the reason this commencement matters and it is why you, Omari, tonight have the praise and honor of the Most High, the creator of what is visible and invisible. It is the reason why St. Peter school’s work is not in vain, even if it is very small and lightly-esteemed among men.
You and your graduation, this school, even this commencement address are highly esteemed by God.
Because of Jesus. Because the Son of God, for whom and by whom all things were made, descended into the depths of sin and shame and death to ransom those who were there. That is the wisdom of God, a secret not understood by the wise, learned, and powerful. It is hidden wisdom that is made public by the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Word.
It is secret wisdom that has been made known to you, Omari, and it is because of this wisdom that this little school and this little graduation has the favor of the Most High God. Because of Jesus Christ crucified for us.
Whether you will be rich and famous or noteworthy in the world’s eyes, Omari, I don’t know. I only know that most people when they are young want to be famous or rich, and most people don’t become those things.
God knows. He planned this evening and arranged it, as He has everything else—your birth, your parents, where you went to school. He knows what you will be, but He hasn’t told us what He has ordained for you specifically.
But I know that tonight He is pleased with you, and also with your teachers, and with me. We haven’t done anything that made us worthy of His good pleasure, any of us. But He freely gave His Son to go down into the depths to win for us His favor.
And now for Christ’s sake the God who created heaven and earth declares that He is pleased with you, Omari. He not only wants you to call Him, “God,” “Almighty,” and “Lord,” but “my Father.” He is pleased with you because He purified you with His Son’s blood from all your sin and made you a son together with Jesus.
No matter how deep your sins are or ever become, they are have not gone deeper than Jesus did to rescue you and honor you in His Father’s house forever.
That is the treasure, the pearl of great price, that the Lord of heaven and earth gave you at this school.
Never let it be taken away from you. Even if you are in the lowest depths and your sins are so far above your head you can’t see light anymore, never let this be taken away from you, that God descended into the depths of hell and woe and rescued you.
Let everything else go, lose everything else, but not this. Because God looks on the ones in the depths. He sees His Son there who descended into the depths to rescue them. And He honors those who are in Christ Jesus in the depths by raising them to sit in the seat of honor at His right hand. He honors us by calling us sons of God, and one day He will make that honor known to the whole creation.
And though it tarry through the night
And till the morning waken
My heart will never doubt His might
Nor count itself forsaken.
O Israel, trust in God your Lord
Born of the Spirit and the Word,
Now wait for His appearing.
Though great our sins, yet greater still
Is God’s abundant favor.
His hand of mercy never will
Abandon us, nor waver.
Our shepherd good and true is He
Who will at last His Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.