Jon Larson, co-president of the senior class of Wartburg Seminary, 2010, gave a commencement response which included these words, ever more poignant, because he was in Haiti in January, surviving the earthquake in which his cousin, dear friend, and classmate, Ben, died.
Jon spoke of beginning a new journey, "a journey where we are equipped, guided and guarded by the Holy Spirit, but more than that, where we are now a part of each other. As we leave this place with our hearts full of all kinds of emotions, we also leave here with love for one another in our hearts. We are forever yoked together for strength in sharing the burdens and the accomplishments to come in the future. Even though we are not side by side, we can feel the love as we hold each other up in prayer, as we are a listening ear, and--if we are lucky--as we still feel the impression of a hug.
"We are bonded together and guided today by love. Love is oh so risky! We know this all too well. We are surrounded by individuals and communities who have risked much: those present in this room, those in our lives, and those absent. Love is indeed risky because in fully giving of ourselves in love we risk changing through the love of the other. Risking in love can be pain-full and can also be joy-filled, and it is everything in between. That is exactly what we are called to do: risk everything in love. We risk because we believe and proclaim that God has first loved us, giving us all we need, and Christ is our ultimate example of love.
"So we ask: "Will we risk? Will we love the people we are called to serve with all our being?" YES..we will, with the help of God." Brothers, and sisters, that is how we walk into the world."
Malcolm Ridgeway has been a friend of mine since the days when our families were neighbors in Detroit years ago. For the past eleven years he has been in prison and we have written many, many letters to one another: Living Epistles one might call them. Malcolm reminds me of the Apostle Paul because he carries on a ministry among the men as pastor, preacher, teacher, social worker, counselor and friend. A recent letter began:
"I pray that God's grace continues to abound in and through you. You hear God's call, 'Here I am Lord, send me.' We are fellow laborers in God's vineyard. I pray that God sends more laborers because the harvest is ripe."
In these years he has been moved around from Detroit, to a prison in rural Michigan, then to Muskegan, and now back to Detroit. He says, "I am once again in Detroit. I am overjoyed. If I have to be incarcerated, I'd much rather be here, close to family. I hate that they had to make that long drive to see me. I dearly miss the men I left in Muskegan. I developed some friendships that will last me a lifetime. It's like that every time I leave a prison. I'm like Joselph. Everywhere I go God's favor rests upn me and I meet people with whom I connect and in no time at all it's like we've known each other all our lives. But it was time to move on. Guys here leave and go home everyday, so there will be a lot of opportunities to put something on their minds as they head for the streets again. I give thanks to God for the people God has placed in my life. God is an awesome God."
Recently, after I had shared with Malcolm some of my own journeys away from Wartburg, he said, "I pray that God continues to open doors for you." To hear those words from a man in prison was amazing!
We are called, called together, to love, to risk, and to move on. Sometimes we have a say in where we are called. Sometimes we do not. Sometimes doors are open. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are locked. Sometimes we face life. Sometimes we face death. But God leads on the journey, on the risk of love.
To assist you in your journey of faith, I invite you to click on to "Grace and Peace to You: A Yearlong Devotional Journey Through the Epistles"