Spring 2010 Baccalaureate Message

Spring 20010 Baccalaureate Message


i am one vs. WE ARE ONE

David Alexander

President, Northwest Nazarene University

Baccalaureate Sermon

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Welcome to the Idaho Center and the 2010 Northwest Nazarene University Service of Baccalaureate.  

I offer words of welcome to all gathered here:

  • Members of the NNU Board of Trustees
  • Honored guests
  • Members of the NNU Community
    • Our distinguished faculty, our staff and administration
  • And on this day, a special welcome to the Class of 2010
    • And to your family and friends

We gather this day on your behalf, to offer prayers of blessing and words of perspective, to stand as witnesses to your accomplishments, and to take the time to celebrate you, each and every one of you!

This afternoon we will gather for a time of Commencement, a ceremony of sending.  This morning we gather for a time of Baccalaureate, a worship service of blessing.  The NNU Baccalaureate is a service rich in institutional tradition.  At the conclusion of this service you will step forward and participate in the Baccalaureate Hooding Ceremonyas the hood is placed over your head, may it serve as a symbol and seal of our faith, hope and love in you and for you.

Over the course of the next few weeks, people will gather across these United States to participate in services and ceremonies much like these.  The speeches will reflect the rhetoric of the day and the priorities and principles of both speaker and institution.  In the case of NNU, each year, it is my privilege to extend an invitation to our commencement speaker; it is also my personal honor to present the Baccalaureate Message.  It is my intent for the baccalaureate message to be drawn annually from the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of John Chapter 17. John 17 is connected to Chapters 1316, chapters which record Jesus actions and comments in the days immediately prior to His death and resurrection.  In word and in deed Jesus is summarizing the lessons He taught His disciples across the three years they followed Him.  Then, in Chapter 17, He looks up and prays this intimate prayer to the Father on behalf of His disciples. Today, this passage provides a fitting source of blessing and perspective for NNU and you, our graduatesfor these words remain both timely and eternal.

Jesus prays this prayer because He is going away, and He wants His followers to be prepared to live life without His physical presence.  In these chapters Jesus alludes to how He intends for things to be once He is gone.  You see, Jesus has plans.  Big plans.  And though the disciples dont fully understand the weight of His prayer, in historys hindsight, He was not merely preparing them for a new way of behaving, but for a new age, a new Kingdom.  It is from that perspective, the perspective of Christs life and Kingdom purpose, that I want to offer you words of encouragement and hope this day.  

Yet before the good part, before the uplifting words of John 17, I must turn our attention to the troubling part.  A moment ago I mentioned that commencement speeches across the land will soon contain words of inspirationpromoting the good of the individual.  In many respects those are fitting words; graduates such as you have accomplished much and are to be commended, in fact celebrated.  Yet there is a more subtle implication in the rhetoric of certain quarters that reflects a particular spirit of the age in which we live.  From my perspective and from the perspective of the mission of NNU, it seems fitting to draw a line of demarcation between the rhetoric of an individualism falsely founded upon a worldview without God, and this passage of Scripture, which depicts a new reality, a Christ-filled relational reality, in which God is at work in the world and in us.

I want to examine this without God view of the world, for I have no doubt that as you leave NNU you will encounter it early and often.  Allow me to summarize the essence and implications of this manner of living, what I will callThe Heresy of Individualismand then turn our attention to Christ and His disciples, His call on their lives, and His call on your life and the world in which we live.

I hold in my hand my iPhone.  Have you ever thought about the product line which it represents:  iPod, iMac, iPhone, and if youre really good, for Christmas, iPad?  Have you ever stopped to wonder what the lower case i stands for?  I used to think it stood for information, as in I.T., Information Technology.  No.  Its the personal pronoun, I.  Its yours, set it up for you, for yourself, your way, your tunes, your preferences, your apps, its my iPhone.  Thats not a bad thing for American consumers.  But author/researcher/ professor/pastor Dale Kuehne thinks its a telling metaphor for the world in which we now livea world he has dubbed the iWorld.

Kuehne observes that for several decades we have been witnessing a rise of postmodern sensibility wherein the search for personal identity. . .[has] become the single most fundamental human task, [as] postmodern society seeks to remove as many obstacles and boundaries as possible for individuals on this quest. (Kuehne, p. 59)

Going on around us in the west is nothing less than the collapse of the Judeo-Christian worldview. . . and the emergence of a new but undeveloped worldview that might be called postmodern individualism. (Kuehne, p. 40)  Long established boundaries are dissolving in the belief that individual moral and relational choice will yield the greatest level of happiness and fulfillment for which we yearn. (Kuehne, p. 44)  We have personalized and privatized the words we memorized as children in the Declaration of Independence.  What do we deserve?life, liberty andthe pursuit of happiness.  Yet the iWorld is gradually elevating our personal sense of liberty and our desire to pursue happiness to hedonistic levels not known for centuries.

The iWorld represents the triumph of individualism. In the iWorld we claim freedom from all constraints and freedom to establish our own individual sovereignty:

  • Freedom from nature
  • Freedom from authority
  • Freedom from want

We give power to the individual for the individual is the center of all things.  Kuehne observes that there are only three taboos in this new society where individualism reigns:

  1. One may not criticize someone elses life choices or behavior.
  2. One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others.
  3. One may not engage in a relationship (sexual or otherwise) without the consent of the other.

According to Kuehne, the iWorld has become the moral operating system of the early twenty-first century in the West.  We now live in a society of extreme individualism.  Individual freedom has become the iWorlds non-negotiable.  Its core commitments are, first, to provide space for the maximum legal amount of individual freedom through the expansion of individual rights and, second, to make sure that such an expansion does not violate the rights of others. (Kuehne, p. 67) If one does violate the rights of another, a new code or policy will be enacted, along with the appropriate politically correct rhetoric to protect one more layer of individual rights. The iWorld embodies the Heresy of Individualism rampant in our day and age.

Now, if this sounds like the weighty stuff of your Intro. to Political Science class, it is.  Americans have wrestled with personal freedom for decades.  John Stuart Mills, On Liberty, asked how do we maximize individual freedom, and what are the fewest possible limits that must be imposed on individual freedom to protect it? (Kuehne, p. 71)  

But by disproportionately championing the ideal of individual choice in Europe, Canada and America we have elevated some things and diminished others.  We have changed what it means to be human; the iWorld fundamentally alter[s] our perception of human nature, the self, and the purpose of family, relationships and sexuality. (Kuehne, p. 74)  Immediacy and want have replaced delayed gratification and need.   The covenant phrase, as long as we both shall live has been replaced by the contractual phrase, as long as we both desire.  Relationships have lost their intimate core and often become hollow, self-serving commodities.  We take care of ourselves first and foremost; i am the one, i matter most. 

Across our culture, freedom of the individual has become our goal and guide; individualism overrides all other virtues and ignores the moral laws that originally defined them.  The iWorld and the Heresy of Individualism offer the opportunity to define truth subjectively.  Were free to believe whatever we wish to believe.  We can even craft our own designer religions; for example, do you believe in Sheilaism?  Yes, Sheilaism.  Sheila Larsen (not her real name) was a subject in Robert Bellahs book, Habits of the Heart.  The authors sought to understand how this present age was finding and defining meaning in their lives.  In their interview with Sheila, she described her self-crafted faith as Sheilaism.  Sheila says, I believe in God. I am not a religious fanatic.  I cant remember the last time I went to church.  My faith has carried me a long way.  Its Sheilaism.  Just my own little voice.  My own Sheilaism. (Bellah)

I stand before you today to issue words of caution, followed quickly by words of direction, encouragement and hope; this way of looking at our world, this notion that there is nothing more important than me, this heresy of individualism, will eventually implode upon itself from the weight of its own collective selfishness.  The ultimate answer to our need for meaning and purpose is not found in elevating the appetites of humankind.

As N.T. Wright observes in Surprised by Hope, there is evil afoot in the world and it is the result of the rebellious idolatry by which humans worship and honor elements of the natural world [including themselves] rather than the God who made them. (Wright, Surprised, 95)  We should take note of the fact that as the power and place of the individual has risen, the role of various communities has declined.  We are fast losing our commitments to one another.  Since a growing number of the citizenry care more for themselves than others, the government is taking on roles other groups and organizations once provided.  This centralization of power, providing basic services and protecting individual rights, is unwittingly promoting a country fixated on adolescent behavior and values.  A common moral center is being replaced by thousands upon thousands of Sheilaismscountless people now worship and offer sacrifices to self.

We need an alternative to this sea of selfishness and the mistaken notion that left to our own devices humankind can progress and save itself by making the self the center of all things.  If the iWorld is indeed a heresy, if the elevation of the individual to the position of ultimate prominence is not the answer to lifes meaning and purpose, then what does God intend for us?

Heres the good part.  Let us turn our attention to the Word of the Lord in the Gospel of John.  Listen as Jesus prays to the Father on our behalf:

As You sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.

And I give myself entirely to You so they also might be entirely yours.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me because of their testimony.

My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as You and I are One,

Fatherthat just as You are in Me and I am in You, so they will be in Us, and the world will believe You sent Me.

I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one

I in them and You in Me, all being perfected into one. 

Then the world will know that You sent Me and will understand that You love them as much as You love Me. 

We need to remember these words were prayed on the eve of the cross and hours before resurrection morn.  Jesus is not so much summing up His earthly ministry, as He is praying a prayer of preparation for His disciples and for what lies ahead.  This prayer is prayed over the backdrop of the washing of the feet, the promise of the Holy Spirit, the invitation to abide in the vine and the establishment of the new covenant symbolized by eating the bread and drinking the cup.  All of these things provide the context for this prayer and what will follow.  Jesus is about to do a brand new thing and His prayer underscores the fact that He intends for us to be a vital part of it.

This is Gods world.  He is its Creator.  Though it, and we, are scarred by sin, He desires our redemption and restoration and He has acted in His Son Jesus Christ to set that restoration in motion.  Furthermore, He has a place for us in His design of transformation.  In this prayer, we arent seeing a glimpse of our rescue from earth, rather we have verification that we are being redeemed to participate in the remaking of the earth.

The Jesus who would soon be crucified, the Jesus who would soon be resurrected, is praying for us, His disciples, to be a part of the new world the resurrection will usher in.  And contrary to the individualistic spirit of this age, our membership in this world, our citizenry in this Kingdom is only available to us in relationship.

The call to relationshiphear His words:

that they may be one as We are one

I in them and You in Me

Our part in His new kingdom can only be lived out in relationship with Him.  Jesus is diametrically opposed to the isolation of individualism.  His prayer is an invitation to relationship with Him and the Father.  

The iWorld invites people to take themselves out of relationship, to focus only on self.  Yet to do so is to deny the very nature of humankind.   I want you to leave here  understanding and living in the relational nature of Christianity.  We is a path to inclusive wholeness, whereas me is an unfulfilling exercise in solitary narcissism. (Kuehne, iWorld, 117)  Christianity is fundamentally about relationships.  The two great commandments, the great commission and the ten commandments, all focus upon our relationshipswith God and with each other.  If we sin, its relational.  If were restored, its relational.  The story of the Bible is the story of God creating us for relationship, our breaking off that relationship and God offering to redeem and restore our relationships.

The iWorld is a heresy because it calls us to abandon relationships and construct silos of self in which we filter everything in accordance with whats good for the me instead of the we.  Humans are made for relationship . . . we find our deepest fulfillment not when seeking self-fulfillment but when living and engaging in the full constellation of healthy human relationships.  (Kuehne, iWorld, 95)  Taken to a higher level, relationships are not a product of Gods creation, relationships are part of the very nature and essence of God.  God knows love because God lives in love within the Trinity. (Kuehne, iWorld, 117)  

God calls us into relationship and over time, something amazing happens, the relationship that Jesus had with the Father becomes ours, we come to know Him intimately.

Three dimensions of our relationship with God merit mention this daylove, community and service.  Our intimate relationship with God is an opportunity to know Him in love, to express love in community and to give love through service.  Let us consider these three dimensions of Gods relational matrix.

1.  The call to relationship is the call to loveHear His words:

You love them as much as You love Me.

The love Jesus and the Father enjoy within the Trinity, is the love into which we are invited.  God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  (I John 4: 16b)  God made humanity is His image; He created the world so that everyone can enjoy a relationship of love with Him and with one another. (Kuehne, iWorld, 131)  Note the order of things.  He invites us to know Him, to learn of Him and His love so that we may in turn share that love.  

At the risk of meddling after graduation, you will be faced with the subtle temptation, the tendency to work so hard to accomplish things, that you lose sight of the plan of Christto live in relational love.  Without being connected to the love God has for us, we cannot properly love others, we cannot be who we were created to be, and we become other than who we are meant to be.  Our life becomes the quest to fill the hole in our heart.  We often try to fill [the hole in our heart] by allowing our appetites to guide us. (Kuehne, iWorld, 135)  Our fallen wiring defaults to serve self.  We are prone to get before we give.  Consequently, Jesus prayer sounds as if its from an ideal place rather than the streets, homes and offices in which we live.  But I am here to tell youthe God who is love, invites you into His love, a transforming, relational love made possible by the power of His resurrection.  My dear friends, abide in Him.  Enjoy the intimate, self-giving relationship he offers you.  Live in love.

2.  The call to relationship is the call to communityHear His words:

just as You are in Me and I am in You, so they will be in Us, and the world will believe You sent Me.

Love exists in relationship.  It can exist no other way.  Said differently, we have the opportunity to learn and live in the love of God in the communities of which we are a part.  You dont have to leave what youre doing to join communityconsider these concentric circles of relationship:

  • Your intergenerational family of birth 
  • Your marriage
  • Your extended family
  • Your friendships
  • Your neighborhood
  • Your faith community
  • Your community
  • Our global community

Each of these is a forum for love.  Christ was praying for His community of disciples, those of us, then and now, who have chosen to answer His call, follow me.  Now notice this, if Jesus prayed, make them one, it was because they, and we, were not yet one.  If we are to be the church, the body Christ intended, we need to learn what binds us together.  We are to be onein Him and in community with each other.  As N.T. Wright reminds us in Simply Christian, the church is the collection of people who belong to one another because they belong to God. (Wright, Simply, 210)  The church is the community in which the people of God gather to live in Him and His love.  The church exists to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set examples for one another to follow, challenges to take up and urgent tasks to perform. (Wright, Simply, 211)

The church is the loving community of Christ, not a relational club, with strict membership rules to keep out those who have yet to find the love we enjoy.  Instead, Christ prayed that our love for one another would prove to the world the reality of Christ and His love for the world.  This is the only way the inhabitants of the iWorld, will know of Him.  In effect, his intent for the church is for it to usher in the new covenant He established at Easter.  When God saves people in this life, by working through His Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed. . . to be a sign and fore taste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. (Wright, Simply, 200)  As you leave here, guard against the spirit of individualism, instead take care to place yourself in loving communities of Jesus Christ.  Learn to draw upon the strength found in intimate relationship with God and His fellow disciples.

3.  The call to relationship is the call to serviceHear His word: 

As You sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world.

Jesus prayer looks beyond His disciples, both the eleven in that room and all of us gathered in this room.  Jesus is also praying for the world.  And just as the loving Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus is sending His disciples into the world.  With their feet still wet from Christs foot-washing, they must have remembered His self-prophetic words, greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  The relational call of Christ is the call to serve lovingly. 

If you want to help inaugurate Gods kingdom, you must follow in the way of the cross, . . . if you want to benefit from Jesus saving death, you must become part of His kingdom project. (Wright, Simply, 205)  Disciples simply must learn do to more than merely enjoy Gods love, they must learn that Gods love is not self-seeking, it is self-emptying.  Gods love is not selfish, it is self-less.  The way of Jesus is the path of service.  Across the arch of your life, you will have countless opportunities to set aside self-interest and lovingly serve another, seeking only their good.  In doing this, people will know that you are His disciples.  

Remember, Jesus taught us to pray, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Then he went out and made it possible.   Wright so eloquently says, in Jesus death and resurrection we indeed find, Gods kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. (Wright, Surprised by Joy, 204)

So, here you areat the threshold of commencement.  In a few short hours you will step off this stage, a graduate, and He is waiting to see what you will do.  Frankly, we are too.  We are eager to see what you will do and also what you will be.  Will you leave here and subtly slip into the stream of individualism that rampantly runs through this age?  Or will you connect to Jesus, seek Him in loving relationship, find support and fulfillment in community and extend yourself to the world in loving service?

What choices will you make?   What lens will you use?  What pronoun will you choose?

Do you choose I?  I am one, and one alone, I choose whats best for me. 

Or do you choose we?  I am His, and His alone, He and I equal we.

I pray that together, in Him, we will change the world.

May God bless Northwest Nazarene University.  May God bless each and everyone of you.




Recommended Reading and References:

Bellah, Robert.  Habits of the Heart.  Berkley: University of California Press, 1985.

Cherlin, Andrew J.  The Marriage-Go-Round:  The Sate of Marriage and the Family in America Today.  New York: Random House, 2009.

Kuehne, Dale S.  Sex and the iWorld:  Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009.

Kullberg, Kelly Monroe. Finding God Beyond Harvard:  The Quest for Veritas.  Downers Grove:  Intervarsity Press, 2006.

Rahe, Paul A.  Soft Despotism, Democracys Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2009.

Wright, N.T.  Simply Christian:  Why Christianity Makes Sense.  New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

_____________.  Surprised by Hope:  Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  New York: HarperCollins, 2008.