Spring 2011 Baccalaureate Message
President, Northwest Nazarene University
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Members of the NNU Board of Trustees
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. 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. 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. (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. I am most grateful to Doctors Gismondi, Leclerc, Peterson, and Shaw for their insights and perspective in matters of 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. Rather than humans exercising control over power, the lust for power now controls humans. 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. 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.
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. 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. Jesus took the misused, fallen powers of the world, and all their sinful effects to the cross. Following Jesus).
Secondly, Jesus has stripped the powers and authorities of their control and replaced himself as the center and source of power. Death is not the ultimate exercise of power where God is concerned. Following Jesus 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) 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. 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. 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. 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)He is crucified and dies. He rises from the dead. 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. Following Jesus Power for a purpose, to set the world aright, and in so doing establish the Kingdom of God.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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:
Feed the hungry
Care for the sick
Whatever you do, may it be immersed in the love of God. 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.
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.
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.