Saturday, May 07, 2005

Sermon: LHS Ring Ceremony

7 May 2005 at Mt. Olive L.C., Metairie, LA

Text: Genesis 41: 39-43

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

For as long as history records, rings have been symbols of power. They are worn by those who have authority over others. In our text, taken from the Book of Genesis, we find the patriarch Joseph, about 4,000 years ago, being involved of a ring ceremony of his own. The ring symbolized his status, his authority, his position. It also symbolized his loyalty to the Pharaoh, and his devotion to the people over which he had authority.

There is a rich symbolism in the ring. Rings are circles – no beginning and no end. Thus there is the symbolism of God. Rings are often used at weddings – symbolizing the lifelong unity of married couple. Rings are worn by kings, knights, judges, bishops, soldiers, and graduates of schools. Rings symbolize membership in a brotherhood. Rings are traditionally made of precious metals, and inlaid with rare gems – but often today they are made of less-costly substances. The real value in the ring is in the authority it represents.

In The Lord of the Rings, the ring was a symbol of ultimate power – a power that corrupted sinful men. A power that manifested itself as evil. And so a Fellowship of the Ring was forged, which united warriors from different backgrounds, whose aim was to destroy the ring and rid the world of the destructive power it represents.

You are today being inducted into a similar Fellowship of the Ring. You will wear the ring of Lutheran High School – and you will be united forever into a brotherhood and sisterhood with all of those who came before you, and all of those who will come after you – people from many backgrounds and from all walks of life. Like Joseph, you are being entrusted with authority. No, you may not ride in a chariot and order frightened freshmen to bow the knee to you. No, you won’t be able to bark orders to underclassmen and cut off their heads if they don’t obey. But you are being entrusted with authority.

Today, you become the leaders of the school. You become the examples for the younger ones to follow. Today, you take your place in the history of Lutheran High School in the position of prominence among the student body. Next fall, you will become seniors, and will soon add your name to the ever-increasing list of those who will forever claim Lutheran High School as their Alma Mater, their “nourishing mother.” You are quickly moving from childhood to adulthood. You are being entrusted with this ring as a symbol of your responsibility, your ability to be trusted, your desire to serve your fellow students, and to be a man or woman – no longer a boy or girl.

Today, I’m wearing my own high school ring that was given to me 25 years ago. It’s still a powerful reminder of everything that my school did for me, to shape me into a man, to give me confidence, to challenge me to succeed, and most importantly, to teach me the Christian faith. I still wear my high school ring from time to time because it indeed represents a fellowship that unites me not only to my brothers from my student days, but also to my teachers – some of whom are no longer on this side of the grave. It is an awesome thing to wear this very same ring I wore as a high school student a quarter century ago. It is my prayer that you will put your class ring on in the year 2030 and have it mean the same to you.

For a ring is not only a symbol of power and prestige, it is more importantly a symbol of service, a reminder that authority is to be used for good, it is to be wielded with mercy, it is to be put to service for the benefit of your fellow students. When you wear your ring in public, you will reflect not only yourself, but also Lutheran High School, as well as your classmates. You will also reflect the underclassmen, as well as those who have graduated. Just as your behavior reflects upon your parents, how you carry yourself with this ring on your finger will reflect upon everyone else who likewise wear this ring, every other member of this fellowship. Use your authority wisely.

Perhaps it is for this reason that we bless these rings. It’s an ancient custom to have a pastor give a priestly blessing over rings before entrusting them to the wearer. I am not a wizard – I have no magical powers. But I am a Christian pastor – and I stand in an unbroken succession to Christ and the Apostles. Our Lord has placed me into a fellowship of sorts as well, and I have the authority to bless, sanctify, and set apart these rings for his use.

A blessed ring can’t magically make you score straight A’s on your exams, but your blessed ring can remind you that not only the ring, but the wearer of the ring, is set apart and holy. Let the hands who wear these rings wear them honorably – not for cheating, not for fighting, not for bringing destruction – but rather for honor and for duty. For you too have been blessed, sanctified, and set apart - by water combined with God’s Word – when you were baptized. You became a member of another fellowship – the fellowship of the forgiven sinner in the Holy Church. And this ring will remind you not only of your connection to Lutheran High, but your connection to Christ, the

Most High!

As far as we know, Jesus never wore a school ring. As a king, Jesus had symbols of his office – a throne (made of wood and shaped into a cross). He had a scepter (which was used to beat him). He had a purple robe (placed on him in mockery). The only ring scripture records our Lord ever wearing was a ring of thorns that was pressed upon his innocent head – his “sacred head now wounded” for all of us, bearing the ring of shame that was rightfully our own. Rings carry responsibility – and often indicate the need for us to sacrifice for those under our authority – just as our Lord gave himself for us.

In our text, Joseph was entrusted with his ring only after years of being treated unjustly. He served his masters well – no matter how poorly he was treated in return. He knew who his true master was, and his faith never wavered. He persevered, trusted in God’s plan, and eventually, by the grace of the Triune God, a ring was placed on his finger, and he was entrusted with authority. But even after his triumph, his authority did not exist to glorify himself – but rather to serve the people, to bring the Lord’s salvation to them.

And this, dear Christian friends, is the true meaning of authority. Not long before our Lord was crucified, the disciples got into a fight about who was the greatest. Jesus said: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them and those in authority are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”

Our Lord’s authority over us was best expressed when he took up his cross and laid down his life for us. He did not lord over us, gloat about his divinity, or treat us as inferior. Our Lord demonstrated his authority by becoming our slave. And by doing so, our Lord takes upon himself our own pride, our own selfishness, our own desire to wear gold rings and boss others around. In taking away our sins, our Lord has empowered us to take up our cross (even as we put on our rings) and follow him.

May this ring always be a reminder of the sacrifices made for you by your parents, your brothers and sisters, your classmates, your friends, your teachers, and most importantly, your Lord Jesus Christ. In this coming year, and forevermore, may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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