Commentary: A Baccalaureate message

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School graduate Alena Craig is driven down First Street by her mother, Seawan Gehlbach. (May 16, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Based on John 14:11-14 “Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see — these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.”

So here you are, graduating from high school—with your friends, families, and the whole town happy for you and looking forward to seeing what you will do with your lives! And for us parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, it seems like just minutes ago, you were babies.

Well, I want to tell you about another baby born long ago, and what He did with His life. He was homeschooled by his mom and dad, learning to read by studying the Torah (the first books of the Bible) with the rabbi down the road. Galilee, where he grew up, was a global gathering place with camel trains coming and going throughout the Roman empire. Jesus learned and spoke at least three languages: Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek.

When he was 30 years old, he moved to a town by the Sea of Galilee, a place like Cordova, and called his first disciples, fishermen. Peter, Andrew, James and John had just come back from a night of fishing and were mending their nets. Jesus saw them and said, “Follow me.” And they dropped everything; left their boats and nets. They heard Jesus’ message about God’s love and knew that their calling was to carry that message forward.

For three years, they lived and learned with him. His life set a pattern for them and for everyone to follow. Jesus always reached out to the poor and needy. His helping, healing and forgiveness showed everyone what was possible in their own lives. After Jesus’ mission on earth was completed, the disciples, with the help of the Holy Spirit, traveled the world healing, comforting and passing on Jesus’ message of love that has changed and is still changing the world!

So, what is your calling? What will you do with your life? Each of you has been given a special gift by God to give the world. You’ve found some of your gifts already. Maybe you’re good at dancing, sports, music, mechanics, fishing, computers, science, writing, robotics, home economics, mathematics, languages or a combination of these. All of you have helped others with community service. You’ve found some of your gifts, and you now have a chance to find more.

Dream big, think big! Each of you is a child of God and His spirit is in you and with you and will be with you your whole life. Did you hear Jesus’ promise in our gospel reading?   “Believe me,” He said. And by listening to His message and filling your hearts with love, you can do “even greater things” than He did! And He said that our prayers always count and are always remembered. And miracles still happen today!

One of my favorite stories is one that was written up in National Fisherman awhile back.  The Rev. Diane Tickell, our beloved priest at St. George’s in the late ’70s and ’80s had three sons. Two of them were out fishing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They aren’t sure what happened. One night the cook was on watch and he fell asleep. Maybe one of the outriggers got tangled in a stray net. Anyway, the boat sank in the middle of the night.  The cook was lost. But the other crew, including Diane’s two sons, were floating in a raft for over a week, without a radio or means of telling anyone where they were. But there was a German freighter with a crew known for their navigation prowess. Somehow the freighter got off course. The captain came up in the morning and saw what had happened and started to chew out the crew on duty. But then he looked and saw the raft! And so, Diane’s two sons and the rest of the crew got a free ride to Japan! What a great example of the amazing power of prayer and the great things that can happen, even when we might not know exactly what we are praying for! Keep praying. Never give up hope! And know that you can do “even greater things” with God’s help!

Tonight, we are gathered; your friends, your family, and all of Cordova to surround you with our love and with God’s love. We want to let you know that we will always be there for you. We’re very proud of you and will be praying for you. Remember to always help others, be kind, be compassionate, and give us a call to let us know how you’re doing! We love you!


The Rev. Belle Mickelson is pastor for St. George’s Episcopal Church.