Text: Randy Lambert’s baccalaureate sermon

Text: Randy Lambert’s baccalaureate sermon

Randy Lambert ’76, who recently retired from a nearly 40-year career as head coach of the Maryville College men’s basketball team, delivered the baccalaureate sermon on May 4, 2019 to the Maryville College Class of 2019. Here is the full text of his sermon, titled “Success and Significance.”

Can I ask you to pray with me:

Dear Heavenly father, as we move into this new chapter of life, I ask that you be with each one of us. Even when we don’t always consistently choose you, you are always choosing us.  Lord, we ask that you provide us with an open heart so that we may demonstrate a consistency of love, faith, and obedience.  Help us place this commitment into every part of our life so that we can be significant knowing you are at our side.   Lord, we pray our way of life will demonstrate to others your perfect love.  Each one of us have been blessed by you with gifts to be used for others.  Remind us that the world doesn’t define us.  We are defined by our relationship with you.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Class of 2019/ Look at you!  I look out there at some of you and I am so proud of you and what you were able to accomplish in your four years here.  I look at some of you others and I think, we need to check your transcripts.  I know you have all worked hard to get to this day.  Congratulations to each one of you.

43 years ago, I was doing what you are doing today, experiencing my baccalaureate.  We were in Wilson Chapel.  It was a building that sat right about where this one does.  I was sitting in those rounded wooden, very uncomfortable, flip down seats.  I can’t tell you who the speaker was or what the sermon was about, but I do know one thing.  As I sat there and listened to my speaker I was not thinking; I am going to be doing that one day.”  

It seems like yesterday that we stood at the Covenant Rock as students and staff and pledged to uphold and dedicate ourselves to the community tenets of scholarship, respect and integrity.  A little known fact was my father donated the Covenant Rock to the college.  I will never forget the day back in 2001, when my dad called me and said he needed my help.  Hey Rand, I got a project for us.  Bill Seymour, who was the Dean of Students at that time, has asked me to find a big rock to be placed in the middle of campus.  I need your help.  So Dad and I sat out to find this big rock.  We went up to West Miller’s Cove in the mountains and we walked up and down Hesse Creek in search of the perfect rock.  We turned over and examined rock after rock.  After a full day, we came across the right one, got the tractor, hauled the rock back to the truck, and loaded it on the trailer.  As we pulled back on campus, I called Dr. Seymour and asked him to come outside and check out the rock we had found.  He took one look at it and said it was perfect.  He shook our hands, thanked us for our work and said he had to go.  I got back in dad’s truck and said to dad, “We spent all day walking up and down mountains, turning over rock after rock and all we get is a quick thank you.  Does he realize how hard it is to find a big rock with the words scholarship respect and integrity already on it.”

If you do remember that day as a freshman, you did pledge to uphold the three tenets throughout your Maryville College experience.  You may have wavered, but you didn’t break.  I am sure you maintained your pledge throughout your four years.  I also hope you will continue to honor these tenets throughout your life. 

Scholarship - I ask that you will commit to lifelong curiosity and learning.  Develop your mind, challenge yourself mentally, and continue to learn at a high level.

Respect - Honor your fellow man, embrace diversity, eliminate discrimination and bias in this world, follow the Golden Rule and treat others as you would want to be treated. 

Integrity - Never allow your moral compass to waiver.  There should never be a gap between what you say and what you do.  Choose the hard right over the easy wrong in all of your actions.

As you move on to the next phase of your life, I hope you will continue to honor these three tenets.    

Now most you are in your early to mid-twenties and I am in my early to mid-sixties, but we do have something in common.  We are both beginning a new chapter in our lives.  I am moving from a career toward retirement.  You are moving from retirement toward a career.  I am sure you are getting asked the same question I have been asked, “What are you going to do now?”  I remember one conversation I had with a retired coach at Johnson University, Doug Karnes.  He asked me what I was going to do with my life and I responded with I am going to play a lot more golf, going to travel and see some sights in this country and abroad that Laney and I have been wanting to see, and spend more quality time with my family. 

I asked him how he had been spending his time and he replied, I have been mentoring three young men who don’t have a father figure in their lives. I have been working on two Habitat for Humanity houses, and this summer, I am going on a mission trip to build a church in Puerto Rico.  He made me feel about this big.  Wow, I thought to myself I had to come across as one selfish individual.

That one conversation made me do a lot of thinking about my new direction.  It was time to re-evaluate my position in life.  Time to restructure my life plan.  Don’t you see, you are transitioning into a new chapter of your life.  Up until now, you have been following your parent’s plan: graduate from high school, go to college, and graduate from college. Now your parents are hoping it is time for you to begin your plan.  In a way, just like me, your new direction will be the direction you choose.

My conversation with Coach Karnes made me take a good hard look at myself and the direction I was going.  Now don’t get me wrong, I too had tried to live my life the right way.  I too had respected the three Covenant Rock tenets, but I did draw a conclusion.  It was time for me to add two more important tenets of life, especially how it relates to my Christian faith.  These two tenets are commitment and significance.  

As a basketball coach for 39 years, it did not take me long to understand the most important quality of a successful team.  It is all about the team’s level of commitment.  We call it buy-in: the team’s willingness to buy-in to the process, to accept their roles, and to focus on a shared, ultimate goal.  We often refer to it as checking your ego at the door and being a great teammate. The guy on this year’s team who did this better than anyone was Trevor Gaines-Perry.  Trevor worked hard in the weight room and in the gym to develop his game.  He spent hours of his own time, basically every day of the year, trying to become a better player.  Because of his hard work and dedication, he was able to contribute to the team this season.  He made the most of his limited playing time and had some big moments for us this year.  Now, he was not the fastest guy in the world, so because of match-ups, his playing time was limited.  

Trevor accepted his role and even though he knew there would be games he would not play, he was our leader from the bench.  Kaleb Estes, Calvin Songster, and Dante Hoppa took care of the leadership on the floor and Trevor, along with Danterrius Bray, Emmanuelle Garcia, and Chris Watson, would lead from the bench.  They all were good teammates, but Trevor was the ultimate teammate.  He would cheer for the guys on the floor and he always had encouraging words to his teammates as they came off the floor or maybe even to Emier Bowman, who was always worried about the officiating.  He was the guy on the bench to start the Defensive chant. You know,” Defense, Defense, Defense.”  Anytime Trevor thought we needed a big stop or a strong defensive possession, he would start the cheer.  Now, Coach Placeres was responsible for making the substitutions.  In one of our games late in the season, Coach Placeres yells down the bench, “Trevor”.  Trevor jumps up, pulls his warm-up off, and runs toward the scorer’s table thinking he was going in.  Coach Placeres yells, “Whoa, Whoa, get back, I didn’t want you to go in, I wanted you to start the Defensive Chant.”  Trevor dejectedly trods back to his seat, sits down and starts, “Defense….” We can all learn from Trevor.  He was a great teammate and his level of commitment was all about putting the team before himself.  His buy-in was very evident and he had a lasting effect on our team and our direction. 

In anything you do, you must determine your level of commitment.  I tell our players all the time, you will get out of it what you put into it.  Your life is actually shaped by your commitments.  You will be faced with many commitments in the next few years.  You may commit to buy a car.  You may commit to buy a house.  You will commit to more college or a job.  You may commit to a serious relationship.  Just remember, your commitments will define your life.  The key is to make good ones.             I had committed to my job and to the mission of the college.  I had committed to my players and their development on and off the floor.  I tried to give as much time as I felt I could to my family.  I would occasionally read from a daily devotional and the Bible.  I attended church sporadically.  I did pray almost every day and I can assure you I would pray at least three times on game day.  I performed my 2 or 3 community service projects each year.  I justified my lack of practicing my faith to working seven days a week and often times during the season 80 plus hours a week.  I did not take the time to regularly practice my faith.  My heart was at the right place when it was convenient.  I had not totally bought in! 

As you move into this new chapter of your life, have you evaluated your faith and your commitment to God?  Are you demonstrating your commitment to Jesus Christ by purposeful practice?  Practicing your faith requires a daily commitment and a major investment of time.  You have to immerse yourself in your faith! 

The Apostle Paul made a dramatic turn in his life - from persecuting Christians to persuading people to become believers.  I am sure he had times where he was tempted to go back to his old ways, but Paul made it very clear in Romans that he was walking a new road to righteousness. We can learn a lot from Paul.  If there are days you think you have it rough, look at the life of Paul.  He endured beatings, ship wrecks, jail sentences, earthquakes, hunger, thirst, and homelessness.  His commitment to his faith was clearly evident and unwavering.  In his new life, he practiced his faith with purpose and a commitment second to none.  He eventually gave his life to his commitment as a missionary and follower of Christ. 

In writing his letter to the Romans, Paul wants the faithful to commit fully to God.  In Romans, Chapter 6: verse 13, Paul writes: “Give yourselves completely to God - every part of you -for you have been brought back to life, and you want to be tools in the hands of God, used for his good purposes.”  By giving yourself completely to God, you are all-in.  In Christ, every part of you can be an instrument for service. 

Not all of us are called to lead a church, a mission, or even a Sunday School class, but we all have our own mission field that surrounds us daily.  You may not be a leader or want to lead, but hopefully your actions will be those that people will want to follow.  It may be performing a small act of kindness, providing a helping hand to someone in need, or acknowledging a good deed by a simple “Thank You”, but it is being a good servant in your daily walk.  The key is to commit and purposefully practice your faith every day. Give yourself completely to God to be used for his purposes.

As Paul states in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  When you offer yourself to God, a change will take place, if your heart is committed.  Once your commitment is there, you have the understanding that God is with you in this and will provide a way for you.  If you turn your heart over to the Lord, he will help you be the person he has called you to be.  Don’t sit on the fence.  Make the ultimate commitment and turn your life over to the Lord.    

Hopefully, while you make the ultimate commitment, you will unite with others in worship and fellowship. We all need relationships in our lives.  It has been said, we only learn who we are in relationships or in community.  That’s what I love about basketball.  It’s a team sport.  You need 10 players who have bought - in to the process.  They have made a commitment together.  By playing together, they learn about each other, but they also learn about themselves. There are just some things you will not learn on your own.  You can only learn forgiveness in relationships.  You can only practice loyalty in a relationship.  You can’t learn to give of yourself or of kindness without others.  You can’t learn graciousness without others in your life.  You can’t learn unselfishness without others.  The message here is your ability to share with others.  It holds you accountable to yourself and to your Lord. 

I hope you will commit to worship with others, just as you would demonstrate your commitment to your faith by serving with others.  In God’s kingdom, we are his workmanship and his tools.  It is our obligation to determine how we have been shaped and gifted for his service.  We must use our God given gifts to serve others in his name.  Throughout the book of Romans, Paul reminds us “We have different gifts according to the grace given us…” We must use our gifts to the best of our ability.  It is up to each of us to share our time, talents and treasures.  Anytime I think of a very giving man, a true servant of the Lord, I think of Don Story.  Let me tell you about Don.  He’s the most famous man you probably never heard of, but if you were lucky enough to have him come into your life, you would remember him.  He is a quiet man by nature, but a godly man with a genuine heart.  

Don Story was born and raised in Walland.  You know the mountain top right over the holler from here.  He graduated from Maryville College in 1967 and played football for 4 years.  He was my Spanish teacher and JV basketball coach at Maryville High School.  As a member of the football staff, he was part of 5 state championships.  He went on to inspire and motivate students and athletes for 37 years of service with the school system.  Don and his wife, Carol, have made numerous gifts to Maryville College, the Maryville School System, his church, Walland Methodist Church, and countless non-profit organizations. 

Throughout their lives, Don and Carol have shared their treasures with many who are deserving and less fortunate.  Because of Don’s talent to teach and lead, he mentored numerous young men and women.  But the most impressive thing about this man is: as he grows older, he still gives his time wherever it is needed.  It could be at his church, at a nursing home, on a mission trip, or countless other events.  After having such an impact on so many people in so many ways, Don Story continues to serve.  My old coach is my hero and a true servant of the Lord.  One reason that I am proud to say I am a graduate of Maryville College is the number of alumni, like Don Story, who give their time, talents, and treasures for the good of others.         

It’s not about how many material possessions we accumulate or how important we are in the world’s eyes.  It is about recognizing the opportunities we have each day to add value to the lives around us and to make a difference in the world.  We need to treat each person we meet as someone special, because they are.  Your true identity will come from who you are on the inside and what God has done to make you who you are.  Try not to get so caught up in the doing that you forget about the being.

In the book of James, Chapter 2, verse 14, James says, “What good is it, brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith, but don’t show it by your actions.”  

In his letter, James continues to point out that our works shine a light on our faith, leading us to impact the world around us and possibly leading others to a relationship with Christ.  Grace is free, but our behavior demonstrates the true conditions of our hearts.  It is by grace, not works, that you are saved.  However, your works may shed significant light on whether you ever had the moment of life-changing salvation that Christ offers.  You may not reach every one of your personal goals in life-in fact you probably won’t-but you can fulfill your purpose.  When you love God, you are doing what he made you for; and when you love others, you are expressing his attitude toward them.  I encourage you to look first to your family and friends and how you can serve them.  When your heart is satisfied with serving them, consider expanding your scope and use your time, talents and treasures to serve others.

Our scripture lesson that Claudia read today is from Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 13 through 16.  In these verses, Jesus is preaching from his Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon is generally considered to contain the central tenets of Christian discipleship that Jesus shared with his followers near the Sea of Galilee.  Jesus tells his disciples that “You are the Salt of the Earth.”  During ancient times, salt was a valuable commodity because it was used for flavoring the food and it was indispensable in preserving them.  If salt loses its taste, it is discarded.  Like disciples, Jesus is asking us to flavor the world with our love and to preserve that which is valuable in life.  Jesus also told the disciples that “You are the light of the world,” and they should let their light shine before men, so they will see the good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. 

I hope and pray you will be the salt and the light.  We all must remember we are God’s creation and we were designed by him.  He doesn’t define you by what you do, how you earn a living, how well you perform or impress others, or what kind of accolades you receive.  He defines you by the value he assigns you as His child and he shapes you by the spirit working within you.  Let your light shine like a beacon so that others can feel the love of Jesus Christ within you.

So, do we want success or significance.  Success lies in what we do.  Significance lies in what we are.   How do you evaluate success?  Is it the car you drive, the clothes you wear, or the type of phone you have?  Will it be the home you live in or the job you have?  When it comes to your children, will it be the school they attend or the number of trophies they acquire?  Most people believe their level of success is determined by their collection of material things and their socioeconomic status.  How do you evaluate significance? 

 I believe significance is evaluated by your heart and your spirit.  I believe it is determined by your actions and your good deeds.  I believe your ability to serve and to reflect God’s light on others will decide your relevance and your true level of success.  Bring God into your life.  Commit to worship and service.  You will reach a personal level of success in a significant way.  Remember that God’s rewards are not only earthly, they are eternal.

So, Class of 2019, the next time you are in the mountains, turn over a few rocks.  And if you are lucky enough to find one with the following five words on it, hopefully you will remember your Baccalaureate.                                                                                                 

Scholarship - Be a life-long learner.

Respect - Honor the good in everyone you meet.

Integrity - Hold true to your moral compass.

Commitment - Through all of life’s peaks and the valleys, seek Christ first.

Significance - Be the salt and the light.

May God bless you and be in your heart for ever and ever!

I would like to acknowledge the use of the books and people listed below in the preparation of this address:

  • Raymond Burnett, Pastor, Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, Maryville, TN.
  • Don Story, Retired Coach and Administrator, Walland, TN.
  • Life Application Study Bible, NIV, Tyndale House, 1997.
  • Victory 365, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Revell ,2016.
  • God’s Game Plan: The Athlete’s Bible, HCSB, 2009.
  • The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge, Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker, Tyndale House Publishers, 2011.
  • In His Grip, Jim Sheard and Wally Armstrong, Word Publishing, Inc., 1997.

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”