Read or listen to our sermons from Baccalaureate Sunday. Anna Stephens of Grimsley High School and Caleb Wilson of Western Guilford High School delivered “Senior Sermons,” and Pastor Alan Sherouse offered a charge to the Class of 2016.
Faith in Music | Anna Stephens
Good morning! Out of the two names in the bulletin this morning, I am sure you know which one I am. I have grown up in this church and have spent many wonderful hours in this sanctuary where we are today. I was taught in the preschool wing both in Sunday School and the Weekday School, where I began learning music as a toddler, and I also become an honorary staff member when mom started working here and the staff would humor me with their food orders in my pretend restaurant.I can remember being in worship each week and learning how to worship – when to pray, how to sit still, how to find songs in the hymnal and sing along with the congregation, and how to stay awake during the sermons. I don’t remember when it all changed and I finally “got it”, because it was a gradual transition for me. I have been embraced, supported and loved as a member of this congregation and church family.
One of my favorite things about this church is the evident love for music. One of my favorite Bible verses is Ephesians 5:19-20 —
“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and songs from the spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the father for everything, in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
This verse COMMANDS us to communicate with each other through Psalms, hymns and songs. This is not a suggestion. It further tells us to always give thanks for everything in the name of Jesus Christ.
I am very thankful for music and what it means in my life. I have spent countless hours in rehearsals and singing on the first Sundays of the month for as long as I can remember. When I mention choir rehearsal I can see some eyes rolling from my friends in the youth group, but looking back at all the time we spent together, being a member of the youth choir has been such a positive experience for me, even though sometimes I will not admit it. I think my fellow youth can agree that we have all had our fair moments of “do I have to go to practice tonight?”, but even then singing has become a haven for me.
When I was younger, I remember sitting in the very same place that all of you are today, and hearing the seniors speak about this life changing thing called “All-State” which is short for the NC All State Youth Choir, and encouraging their younger peers to pursue it when their time came in High School. At the time I was so confused until I realized that their All-State was different from the insurance company I had seen so many times on my TV. Fast forward a couple of years, and the summer after my freshman year of high school I attended the All-State Baptist Youth Choir summer camp. This year, will be my 4th and final year as a participant in All-State.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with“All-State,” here is what you need to know: for one week in mid-July every summer nearly 100 Baptist high school students from all over North Carolina come together on a college campus. We practice for roughly 6 hours a day and then go on tour, singing the songs we had so diligently been practicing, and sharing the gospel with the surrounding communities through all kinds of mission activities and projects and special concerts.
My love of music would not be possible without this church family, especially without the help of the Vancils. They ask a lot of us during practice, but it is only because they see in us the potential that we do not see in ourselves. The Vancils teach us the words and meaning to the songs, not just the music. They truly want us to know that when we sing we are worshiping God. They are teaching us each week the stories and lessons and scripture that will shape and mold us if we just let it. Music has made my faith so much stronger by always providing the words or melodies when I need them most. Music has a way of making an imprint on our hearts and I am thankful that my heart is full of the words, the chords, and love of a savior who gave his life for me and gave me the amazing gift of grace. As I go to college this fall at NC State University I will continue to sing and I will always remember First Baptist Church and All-State and the impact they both have made in my life.
I’m Blessed | Caleb Wilson
Throughout my time here at First Baptist Church I have had the privilege to serve all kinds of people in all kinds of places. The many trips around the country and world have had a great impact on my life, yet I have found that serving the local Greensboro population has helped me develop into the person I am today. A few years ago, looking at the summer youth calendar, I saw Steve had placed the word “ARISE” in big bold letters and had 7am listed as the time for the event. I thought to myself “Man, Steve has really done it this time, 7:00 in the morning during the summer? He must be joking!” The ARISE Steve referred to was the ARISE breakfast for the hungry populations of Greensboro held on Tuesday mornings at Grace United Methodist Church just up the road.
This breakfast was started by our own Rev. Kim Priddy and Rev. Jason Knight, and has continued to feed the hungry for many years now. On that first morning I got out of bed to help serve this breakfast I remember feeling slightly intimidated by everyone working “their” breakfast preparation routines in the way they’ve always done it, and the large crowds of people that resulted in an heated argument that day. Yet after going back many weeks that summer and during the following summers leading up to my senior year, I began to feel comfortable with both the people serving and the people being served every Tuesday morning. That comfort level and enjoyment I was experiencing at ARISE throughout the summers motivated me to attempt to continue to serve throughout the school year this past year. This theme of service to others is shown in this story from 1 Kings dealing with Elijah and a local widow…
1 Kings 17.8-16: The Lord told Elijah, “Go to the town of Zarephath in Sidon and live there. I’ve told a widow in that town to give you food.” When Elijah came near the town gate of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks for a fire. “Would you please bring me a cup of water?” he asked. As she left to get it, he asked, “Would you also please bring me a piece of bread?” The widow answered, “In the name of the living Lord your God, I swear that I don’t have any bread. All I have is a handful of flour and a little olive oil. I’m on my way home now with these few sticks to cook what I have for my son and me. After that, we will starve to death.” Elijah said, “Everything will be fine. Do what you said. Go home and fix something for you and your son. But first, please make a small piece of bread and bring it to me. The Lord God of Israel has promised that your jar of flour won’t run out and your bottle of oil won’t dry up before he sends rain for the crops.” The widow went home and did exactly what Elijah had told her. She and Elijah and her family had enough food for a long time. The Lord kept the promise that his prophet Elijah had made, and she did not run out of flour or oil.
Similar to this widow, I feel as if I receive the blessing from providing service to others at the ARISE breakfast. I realized that after leaving the breakfast every week, I was feeling significantly happier inside simply by being around these people and providing a small glimpse of compassion in the lives of those struggling to make it meal-to-meal, and though I was the one technically “serving” I was really the one receiving the true blessing.
That internal boost was not only something that I enjoyed experiencing, but was something that I found myself needing to make it week-to-week. While hearing that alarm go off at 5:30 every Tuesday morning does not fill me with joy, I know that by sacrificing this little bit of sleep and energy once a week, my day will be changed for the better. What I enjoy most about my time spent at Grace United Methodist during the week are the conversations with the people coming to eat breakfast. Often, we tend to cluster these people into a group and classify them as “homeless” or “hungry” and neglect their individuality, yet by simply listening to stories from people like Ms. Betty, Wesley, and Karen. I have learned many valuable lessons about humility and appreciation.
As the people walk through the tables filled with coffee, creamer, and all the fixings, sometimes I get asked “How are you doing today?” to which I usually reply “Good.” Yet when I ask them the same question in return, some of their replies catch me off guard. While many reply in a manner similar to me, someone always says “I’m blessed.” BLESSED? This coming from the mouth that just last week told us how they live out of their car or how they were still out looking for a job in the struggling economy. These people are here to eat because they are struggling to make it meal-to-meal, yet they can still honestly say that they are “blessed” to see another day that God has provided them.
Just a few weeks back a man told me something along the lines of “I’m blessed because of you all that volunteer your time and services, you never think that this situation could happen to you, but its relieving to know there are places like this to make it easier.” I don’t remember what I told this man, but I know it was nothing that could have truly conveyed the impact that his words had on me. While I originally came to ARISE to serve others and hopefully provide a small blessing to other people who needed it more than I did, I realized that I am the one being blessed by my experiences with these people every week.
This weekly blessing is something that I’ve realized has opened my eyes to the many blessings of my life that I often take for granted. In conversations with friends every day, I find myself focusing on the negatives of the day instead of the positives which greatly outnumber the others. I usually say that the day “was just another day in paradise” or “could’ve been worse”, when in reality I should be overjoyed that I have things such as a roof over my head, or food in the pantry, things that I take for granted but things others would sacrifice everything for. And as my “days in paradise” in Greensboro are gradually fading away, I have come to reminisce on the blessing that this Church has been to me. First Baptist is my second home and I know I will always feel comfortable within these walls. Yet its the people within these walls that I cherish the most. Like Gracen mentioned in her time with the children, my church friends are my best friends.
Early in high school, I struggled to feel comfortable with my current friends at school and I felt lost looking for my right fit. Yet, in this time I realized that my perfect fit was right here all along. My church friends have become some of the best influences on my life, and without them I have no clue where I would be today. Whenever I need someone to talk to, or people to watch the Panthers playoff games with me because my anxiety shoots through the roof, or even a simple hug, the church friends are the first ones I go to. These people have become my family, and these are the ones I am most worried about leaving when I go to school (sorry mom and dad). I know that God has put me in the right place at the right time, and I know that He won’t let a little separation weaken the bond that I feel with these friends.
With all the support and love that I feel from all of you here at First Baptist I can truly say that “I’m blessed” no matter how rough life may get. Similar to the blessing I have received by sharing a meal Tuesday Mornings at Grace United Methodist Church, we have all been blessed by Jesus and invited to share a meal together this morning.
As we do this, I challenge everybody to remember that as Jesus served his disciples that night, we are called to serve others in our community and around the world. I can almost guarantee you that, while the lives of those you serve will be helped by your kind deeds, you will be the ones who receive the true blessing simply by listening to the stories of those present. Our broken world needs more Grace and peace, and I know that helping others—loving and serving as Jesus taught us—can provide us all with a glimpse of God’s kingdom…“on earth, as it is in heaven.”
And Dear God, let it be so. Amen.
A Place at the Table | Alan Sherouse
I’m going to talk to our graduates for a moment, with the rest of you listening in. It fits that in this service we gather at the table for communion. Some of you have been coming to this table for years of your life, and watching others come even longer than that. What better image of God’s love for you and of what our church wants to be for you than a table?
Many of you are in the graduation party circuit right now. Ever notice how at a party, people end up around the table? And usually not the formal table, but the kitchen table – the casual spot where you’re comfortable, fully yourself. The tables of this church are meant to be like that for you: Wednesday night tables with friends, small wooden tables in the children’s wing, tables where you’ve sorted food on a mission trip, tables where you’ve tutored children, tables where you’ve encountered difference and walked away with a fuller picture of the love and life of God.
We hope that’s what First Baptist Church will remain for you: a table. You’ll gather around many tables in the years ahead – to study, to work, with friends and family – but we want you to remember this one.
When I think of friends of mine who struggled through their immediate post high school years – especially those who struggled with their faith in God in the midst of their own growth and change – I think a big part of their struggle was that they didn’t have a table like this where they were still welcome. When the prodigal son is so far from home, that’s what he longs for: his father’s table. That’s why when someone leaves our church we’ve had the habit of saying, “know that you are always welcome at this table.”
And we say it to you now. We expect you to grow and to change. We need you to gain a bigger view of the world and to return to us with much to teach us. We can’t wait to know your big visions for your life and for this world. You will become more than we could ever imagine – growing into things that can only exist in the dreams of God. But as you do please know this: Nothing you come to discover about the world, about yourself, about God – no experience, no mistake, no achievement, no ambition – nothing will ever separate you from this table, from the love of God experienced here, and from the love of this church extended to you here.
My friend Charlie lost his father a few years back. He and his mother and brothers – Frances, Langdon, and James – began sifting through his father’s things, deciding what to keep and what to give away. They went through closets and storage sheds, before traveling down to the family hunting lodge in Alabama where his dad had spent many weekends. As they went through old equipment and moved the dusty belongings around, Charlie noticed his father’s old table – the worn, wooden table where he’d sat many nights before. And he noticed something he hadn’t seen before. In a small corner on the underside of the table, there was writing carved into the wood. Charlie looked and saw four names etched there: Frances, Langdon, James, Charles. Charlie’s name and the names of his three brothers were carved into the table. And my friend tells me that it was as if, even after his father was gone, he was still telling Charlie there was a place for him there.
You might have come to this table so many times that you never noticed it, but if you crouch and look closely, you’ll see writing. You have to strain to see. But there they are. Your names. Etched by the love of God. Ingrained further by your church family. Reminders that you always have a place here.
In just a few moments we come again to the table. Eat this bread. Drink this cup. And look for your name.