Spring 2011 Baccalaureate Message

The Kingdom of GodPower, Authority & Love

David Alexander

President, Northwest Nazarene University

Baccalaureate Sermon

Saturday, May 7, 2011

 

Members of the NNU Board of Trustees

Honored guests

Members of the NNU Community

Our distinguished faculty and university staff

And on this day, your special day, members of the Class of 2011

Your family and friends

Welcome to the Idaho Center and the 2011 Northwest Nazarene University Service of Baccalaureate. 

 

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

 

This morning we gather for a time of Baccalaureate, a service of worship and blessing.  The NNU Baccalaureate is 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.

 

Education Power

Then, this afternoon we will gather for a time of Commencement, a ceremony of sending.   You will step forward and receive a university diploma.  It is indeed a symbol of knowledge and a symbol of power.  If you examine it, it appears rather benign, suitable for framingyet it is a powerful thing, this knowledge you have gained and this degree bestowed upon you.

 

Take note, knowledge begets power.  Or, as Sir Francis Bacon observed, knowledge is power.  You are leaving here, degree in hand, with a measure of power you did not have when you began your course of study.  The knowledge you have acquired makes you more powerful.  Pause for a moment, look around, thats right, you and your classmates leave here more knowledgeable and more powerful than when you came.  (Now, ask them to spell epistemology and use it in a sentence.)  Indeed, the act of education is empowering.

 

This morning I want to explore what you will do with this knowledge you have acquired and the power it gives you.  You have gained knowledge, but for what:  access, mastery, opportunity, authority, promotion, expertise?  What has your education equipped you to achieve?   What means, what ends will you now pursue?  What is your plan for the use of your newly acquired knowledge and power:  to achieve success, to gain job security, to acquire possessions, to gain more influence, to fulfill your life goals and aspirations, to champion a cause?

 

Right now, it would be appropriate for me to focus on how you should use your newly acquired knowledge and the power it brings to pursue the good life and serve the greater good.  Instead, I want to consider power itselfto step back and look at the broader scope of power in our world, how powers exercised, its nature, use and abuse, its source and its relationship to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ; then, well return to you, the celebration of your achievements and the potential found in the power that resides in you this day and in your future.

 

Several weeks ago, knowing that I wanted to explore the idea of power and its implications in this message, I invited several of my faculty colleagues together to discuss the applications, essence, use and abuse of power.  I am most grateful to Doctors Gismondi, Leclerc, Peterson, and Shaw for their insights and perspective in matters of power. 

 

World Power

Lately there have been incredible displays of power in our world.  Consider for a moment the energy created by a swath of deadly tornados that recently swept across the southeastern United States.  Or remember the power released by shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean that literally moved the earth and unleashed a wave of power of devastating force.  Then in the tsunamis aftermath consider how mans attempt to harness nuclear power, to use energy to create energy, went awry. 

 

Yet power is not only displayed in the forces of nature, and our attempts to harness it, power is present in all dimensions of life.  Power is being exercised daily in social settings, economies, educational systems and political arenas.  In recent weeks weve seen power surrendered and power taken in the Egyptian government.  Then, like a powerful chain reaction, in Libya, Syria and other Arab countries, those without power and voice are now seeking power and position where before they had none.  In each instance, people who perceive themselves to be without power, are wrestling away power from those who have misused or abused their power.

 

In light of all this, my political science colleagues rightly reminded me of Max Webers truism, every state is founded upon violence.  Therefore, whoever wins these revolutions will then exercise a certain level of coercive power, or the threat of the use of power to maintain a degree of social stability.  This isnt all bad, across the ages, societies have allowed the legitimate use of power by those deemed to be in authority.   In the best of times, those with authority have maintained their legitimacy by using their power for the well-being of others.

 

Unfortunately, humankind often falls short in the proper exercise and use of power.  Rather than leaders legitimately exercising their power and authority for the common good, we find people rising up to bully others, to manipulate and behave more like insecure cowards rather than legitimate leaders.

 

This misuse of power occurs not only on the national stage but on the personal level as well.  It seems that the power that we were intended to use legitimately has been misused; power has gotten out of handlust has replaced love, fear has eclipsed peace, and greed has made the acquisition of things a form of idolatry.  Rather than humans exercising control over power, the lust for power now controls humans.   Empires and individuals within this world have ceded their authority to use the powers, and the powers have taken over as manifestations of evilthese powers are beyond our control.  (See Aphrodite, Mars and Mammon as symbols of power.)

 

So devastating is this reality in our fallen world it prompted the Apostle Paul to write, Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  (Ephesians 6: 12)

 

From the laws of nature, to world governments, to family systems, we are too often reminded of the fact that in equations of power might makes right.  The exertion of force is our primal exercise of power. The strength of a dictators army substitutes for the legitimacy of a cause.  The cowardly acts of a terrorist cell utilize power to create fear.  Truly, bullies lurk in boardrooms, bedrooms, classrooms and war rooms. 

 

Consider this, the supreme exercise of power in the hands of humankind is the capacity to kill.  Our most powerful deterrent, our most powerful act, is the taking of a life.  Please hear me well when I make this point.  When someone takes a life, our ultimate act of justice, our supreme exercise of power, is to take the life of the life- taker.  Thus, the cheers of this week, for justice rightly served, dont restore the lives of those taken on 9/11.  Despite taking the life of the life-taker, a fathers chair remains empty, a mothers laughter is but a memory.  The ultimate exercise of power on this earth results in death; a death deserved, but death nonetheless.  This is the zenith of power in a dark world.

 

God Power

Yet I do not want you to despair, for earth and the powers that lurk about are ultimately not in control, and therefore need not be feared.  Two weeks ago today, we paused, between Good Friday and Easterbetween the cross and the resurrectionwe paused and we waited for the ruling power to emerge.  From Easter morning forward, there is now good news each and every morning. 

 

Let us consider the origin and proper place of all power.  First, we must remember that Jesus made all powers.  For in Him all things in heaven and on earth were made, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers (Colossians 1: 16).  Jesus took the misused, fallen powers of the world, and all their sinful effects to the cross.  The cross is Gods no to evil and the power of death. (Here, I am indebted to N.T. Wright for his perspective on the powerssee N.T. Wright, Following Jesus).

 

Secondly, Jesus has stripped the powers and authorities of their control and replaced himself as the center and source of power.  The cross and Easters resurrection set power aright.  Death is not the ultimate exercise of power where God is concerned.  Hear N.T. Wrights brilliant quote, The cross was not the defeat of Christ at the hands of the powers; it was the defeat of the powers at the hands of Christ. (Wright, Following Jesus, p. 19)

 

You see, Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. (John 13: 3)  On a cosmic stage Jesus fulfilled the mission of His Father.  Paul outlines it this way:

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

For since as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

He has abolished all rule and all authority and all power.

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

The last enemy that will be abolished is death.  (I Corinthians 15: 21, 22, 24, 25, 26)

 

Jesus is the victor over sin and death.  He holds the keys to death and hell.  There is no power over which He is not greater, for He is the author of power, the ultimate authority.  Thirdly, all these fallen, warped, bent powers have been reconciled to Christ.  The good creation is being brought back into harmony with the wise creator. (Wright, Following Jesus, p. 97)  A cosmic tipping point has occurredthe empire of earth has given way to the Kingdom of God.

 

God Mission

Here we are, on this day of your commencement, and it is fitting that we look not only look at you, but at things bigger than you and see where you, where we all fit.  As the scripture reading indicated, Jesus knew that all authority had been given to Him; He anticipated completing the work His Father gave Him to do on earth, thereby bringing glory to His Father.

 

His work was thisthat the earthly empire would be defeated by the resurrected Christ, who would then establish the Kingdom of God.  In the life-giving, self-emptying acts of Jesus we see the dance of powers on display.  Life conquers death.  Love overcomes hate.  The selfish are defeated by the selfless.  The true center and source of power is at work in the world.  In Jesus, the locus of Gods power, we see the inauguration of a new way of living, the establishment of a new covenant, the Easter climax of Gods plan for creation.

 

This is no small thing.  It requires a heavenly logic we earthly residents are reluctant to grasp and accept.  The Apostle Paul outlines the Easter power paradigm this way:

I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of His power for us who believe in Him.  This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at Gods right hand in the heavenly realms.  Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else in this world or in the world to come.  Ephesians 1: 18-21

 

So let me ask you, let me ask us all, a power paradigm question.  What power paradigm are you choosing to live in?

Are you going to worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting His powerful, healing, transformative love into the world?  Or are you going to worship the world as it is, boosting your corruptible humanness by gaining power or pleasure from the forces within the world . . . contributing thereby to your own dehumanization and the further corruption of the world itself?  (Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 185)

 

A remarkable series of events and statements occur near the end of Christs time on earth.  He is crucified and dies.  He rises from the dead.  He then declares that all authority has been given to Him in heaven and earth, and then instead of saying, because of my power and authority I will accomplish this   He instead issues this command:

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Teach them to observe all that I commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always.  

 

Jesus, the author of power, is empowering us, His disciples.  Jesus changes the very paradigm of existence and invites us, commands us, to live in and be a creative, redemptive part of that paradigm.  You see, too often we talk about coming to Jesus as merely being saved from evil powers, yet that is an incomplete perspective on what Hes doing in us and in the whole of creation.  We arent rescued from the earth, we have been redeemed to participate in the remaking of the earth.

 

God, in Jesus Christ, is granting us power, giving us authority for a legitimate cause, His cause.  Gods cause is to become our calling.  The power which raised the crucified Jesus from the dead, this same power is what God now wants to exercise through His people. . . The victory of Jesus over the evil in the world. . . is a victory waiting to be implemented through His followers. (Wright, Following Jesus, p. 104)

 

Jesus expects us to be a part of the same work He did on His Fathers behalf.  Thats why He prayed, that they will be one just as you and I are one. . . that the world will believe you sent me.  We are to live in such a way that we become part of the answer to the prayer of Jesus, that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

 

You and I have been given authority and granted power by God.  Power for a purpose, to set the world aright, and in so doing establish the Kingdom of God.  Why else would He instruct us to pray, Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven? 

 

God Love

So what is the nature of the power we have been given?  How have the powers of earth and evil been overpowered by the Author of power?   Consider this comparison:

You know that the kings of the nations dominate them, and their great ones exercise a tyrannous rule over them.  Thats how it is in the world.  But that isnt how it must be with you.  Whoever would be great among you, let that person be your servant; and whoever would be your leader, let that person minister to your needs; even as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.  Mark 10: 42-45

 

Christ came and exercised a different caliber and kind of power. The powers that led to death have been conquered by a power rooted in love.  The power that rules over all other powers is the power of love.  Gods love.  The love that the Father shares with His Son, is the same love He has for you and for me.  This love, this powerful love, is ours to experience.  We are being given the privilege of living in the presence of Jesus and His love.  Over time, we are learning to live in the same intimate, loving reality that Jesus shared with His Father.  Thats why He prayed to the Father, I will keep on revealing You so that your love for Me may be in them and I in them. John 17: 25. 

 

Right now you may be thinking, do you mean to tell me, I rounded up my family so we could come hear that the most powerful thing at my disposal is not my education, its love, and its not even a love I can generate, its a love coming from God?

 

Thats exactly what Im saying.  To live in and express the love of God is the ultimate expression of power.  This is a hard mystery to grasp and harder still to accept.  Raise your hand if youre like Peter in the garden, when earthly powers threaten, you look for the nearest weapon.  On more than one occasion youve wanted cut off an ear.  In a certain sense, thats a natural response.  Yet its a fallen response.  We have lived under the empires rule for so long, the power of love seems doomed to fail.  We have much to unlearn and much to learn.

 

Let me ask you once again, which power paradigm will you choose to live in?  The empires of earth or the Kingdom of God?

 

You, and your educational achievements, which we celebrate this day, have a place in Gods plan.  God intends to unite His loving power with your knowledge, understanding and wisdom so that just like Jesus you can do the work God has called you to do.   The vocational expression of your major has a purpose.  If you choose the way of love, you will be called upon to reveal God through acts of love expressed in the large and small accomplishments, disciplines and duty of your vocation. 

 

We have worked and shaped and guided you in such a way that I hope you are all poised and positioned to leave here as agents of God and His love.  Well-equipped by NNU, leave and live in such a way, that whatever you do, in word or in deed, you do in the love of God.

 

So take the NNU lessons, step forward, knowledge in hand, into all walks of life:

            Love justice

            Show mercy

            Dispel ignorance

            Feed the hungry

            Display righteousness

            Make peace

            Govern wisely

            Care for the sick

            Offer forgiveness

 

Whatever you do, may it be immersed in the love of God.  And if you ever lose contact with the essence of Gods love in you and through you, remember the great hymn of the church, that I sing over you everyday:

            Did anybody tell you I love you today?

Did anybody tell you I love you today?

            Did anybody tell you I love you today?

Put me on your list, let me be the first, I love you today.

 

            God loves you, and I love you and thats how it should be.

            God loves you, and I love you and thats how it should be.

            God loves you, and I love you and thats how it should be.

            Put me on your list, let me be the first, I love you today.

 

Go from here and share His love.  Go from here and be His love.

 

Recommended Reading

Hendrik Berkhof. Christ and the Powers. Herald Press: Scotsdale, PA, 1962.

N.T. Wright.   Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1994.

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