The story of the Syrian General Naaman who went to the Israelite prophet Elisha for healing from leprosy might not be a traditional choice for a commencement address, said Julius J. Kim, special advisor to and former president of The Gospel Coalition.
But Kim told graduates at Beeson Divinity School’s commencement on April 28 that he felt like it was just the right message. Naaman tried to use his resources to buy healing, but they couldn’t solve the problem.
Kim said as graduates launch into new areas of service for Christ, his Gospel and his Church, they will encounter people who also think they can combat their felt needs with their own strength.
“Class of 2023, one of the most important tasks as one serving the Lord is to help people recognize that ultimately their biggest problem is actually spiritual,” Kim said, preaching from 2 Kings 5:1-14. “They can try to cover it up with their status, their reputation, their success, their resumes, their degrees from august institutions. But in the end, outside of Jesus and his gospel, we are all spiritual lepers wasting away from the inside out.”
Kim told graduates as they go out into the world to serve, they will find that whether they are in Birmingham or Beijing, Alabama or Albania, people will try to find answers to their deepest questions and longings, disease and frustration, with things that cannot satisfy.
He charged them to live in the reality that since the gospel of grace has washed you and made you clean, humbly point others to this Jesus in your words and in your deeds.
Before Kim’s challenge, 24 students received the degrees Master of Arts in Theological Studies, Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry. Seven MDiv graduates also received a certificate of Anglican studies, and one received a certificate of Wesleyan studies.
After the sermon, Gary Fenton, senior advancement officer for Beeson, offered a prayer of consecration for the graduates.
“We ask that You set them apart with wisdom so that they may speak boldly and know when to remain silent and know when to engage and when to disengage and when to simply wait upon You,” Fenton prayed. “May You guide them as they preach the wonderful message of grace, always to remember that they are also recipients of grace.”
During the service, Samford President Beck A. Taylor also congratulated graduates and commissioned them to serve.
“We send you into the world as Christ’s hands and feet ready to serve a world that needs to hear and believe the good news of Jesus Christ,” Taylor said.
Beeson Dean Douglas A. Sweeney presided over the service and explained the Beeson tradition of faculty offering a blessing or prayer of consecration for each graduating student.
“The word ‘consecrate’ means to set apart as sacred or holy,” Sweeney said. “In this holy moment, we commit these students to the work of the Lord and of his Church and to the work of God throughout the world.”