(A sermon based on 1 John 5:1-6 for the Sixth Sunday of Easter and for Graduate Recognition Sunday)
Graduation marks a significant transition in a person’s life. Usually, a graduate has spent the past thirteen or so years in a highly structured environment, living under the guidance of teachers and administrators during those 180 days per year that you spend in school (that’s a total of 2,340 days, by the way) and living under the guidance of parents and other adult family members during the rest of your waking hours. As you’ve gotten older you have taken on more independence and now, as you prepare to graduate from high school, you will move toward even greater independence, the extent of which will be determined by your individual circumstances and choices and by your family’s particular situation.
You are getting ready to move into the next phase of your life, one toward which you have been aiming and one for which your parents and teachers and church youth leaders hope and pray they have prepared you well—you are about to be turned loose in the world and you are about to be turned loose on the world. What I want you to know is that, as you go out in the world, you can conquer the world.
Now, you have heard and you will hear voices other than mine tell you that, but many of them will frankly mean something different than what I mean. You will hear many voices tell you that you need to do well in the world and the key to conquering the world is to do well better than anyone else. Now, I—we—certainly want you to do well; we want you to find your calling in life and to live it out, we want you to make a living and to support yourself and your family, and we want you to contribute something of value to your community through your work.
Yes, we want you to do well.
But we also want you to do good.
I want you to hear clearly from me that, because you are a Christian, you have the privilege and the responsibility, if you will take your Christian faith seriously, to conquer the world in the way that God wants you to conquer the world; to put it more accurately, you have the privilege and the responsibility to participate in the way that God has already conquered and the world and continues to conquer it.
So how do you do good in life? How do you conquer the world in the way that God wants you to conquer it? It all comes down to two little but really very big words: faith and love.
“This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (vv. 4b-5). It is important to believe that Jesus existed and lived and walked and talked; that is a first step. But really to believe that Jesus is the Son of God means to stake your life on that fact; it means to trust in him as the Son of God, as the Messiah, and as the Savior. It means to trust your life to him and to depend completely on him.
And it means to share in his kind of life, to have him to empower you—to live through you and in you—so that you share in what he has done and is doing. When you trust in Jesus you share in how he has already conquered the world, and he did so through his death and resurrection. When you trust in Jesus you keep on sharing in how he is still conquering the world, and he is doing that through the practice of Christian love by his followers.
The world will tell you that you get ahead by being your own person and by depending on no one but yourself—but the gospel tells us that we conquer the world by trusting in Jesus.
So you will do good in life and you will conquer the world as you have faith. But you will also do good in life and you will conquer the world as you show love.
If we love God we will keep his commandments, John says, and the epitome and summary of God’s commandments is that we love God and that we love other people, our brothers and sisters. So as my last word to you today I want to challenge you, as you go out into the world, to show love. Love means putting your devotion to and service to God in front of, behind, over, and below everything else. Love means giving of yourselves for the sake of those in need. Love means sacrificing yourself for someone whether they deserve it or not. Love means forgiving someone that everyone says does not deserve forgiveness.
You see, then, that you really can conquer the world. You can conquer it because Jesus Christ, through his crucifixion and resurrection, has already conquered it. You can conquer it because Jesus Christ, who through his grace and your faith lives in you, is still conquering the world through you. You can conquer it because in the end it is the way of Jesus Christ—the way of faith that trusts in God and the way of love that puts God first, everyone else second, and yourself last—is the way that will in the end be shown to be right.
So conquer the world! Do well! Do good! Trust! And love!