President Bultman, Colleagues, Families, Friends and, more importantly, Members of the Class of 2002:
Before I go on, I want to acknowledge the fact that a young man who suffered a serious injury several weeks ago has been able to join us, and we're just thankful to God that Nick Grinzinger can be back with us to celebrate this event. Nick, we're happy you're back.
Last fall, one of my students walked into class wearing a T-shirt that said, "Life is a temporary assignment." On the back of that T-shirt, were the words, "The rest is eternal."
From the time I was invited to speak to you, my prayer has been that God would use this brief time to give each of you a few challenges that you can take with you as you complete the rest of your "temporary assignment,"--your life after Hope College.
I'm going to begin with a quote from Fredrick Buechner's Listening to Your Life, and apply it to May 5, 2002, your graduation day.
"Today-It is a moment of light surrounded on all sides by darkness and oblivion. In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another just like it or will ever be one like it again. It is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious it is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all." (p. 234)
Although Buechner's words can apply to any day, it's my intention to reflect with you, and all those who came with you here today to celebrate why this day is so special to your lives.
First, Let's Consider Your Yesterdays
Your presence here today is not an accident. All of you have traveled interesting, complex and, in some instances, difficult paths to make it here today. Perhaps the best way to view the difficulties most of us encounter in life is to see them as God's way of polishing us like a rough stone, held in His hands. He grinds off some of our rough corners and edges, polishing us with experiences, challenges, choices, and changes.
Each of you graduates represents the culmination of thousands of hours of work, tears and prayer-some of your own, but probably more from those who came here to share this event with you today. We must also not forget those who are not here today. I am certain that most of you in the class of 2002, as is true in our family, have grandparents and friends who are no longer with us today and would be so proud to see you where you are today.
Please take a moment with me and pause and reflect on all those folks who would like to be here today but can't be, but are part of the reason why you're here.
And, to you who are the parents of these graduates, we thank you for sending your daughters and sons to us. We realize that the adolescents you dropped off here a few years ago are returning back to you as very different people. We sincerely hope the time they spent with us not only increased their knowledge but also helped them to "develop discerning hearts." Thank you for entrusting to me and my colleagues over there your daughters and sons.
When I asked several of you who are seniors to share some of your thoughts and ideas with me as I began to work on this presentation, you were so quick to remind me what made your experience at Hope so special were those countless experiences and people who have comprised your life. These people and experiences have become a permanent part of who you are today, and have done as much, perhaps even more, than a course, or a lab experience or field experience that you'd enrolled in for credit. Some of those that came to my mind include: many late-hour conversations, long-distance Krispy Creme donut runs, chapel, dance marathons and programs, mission trips, athletic contests, the Pull, off-campus semesters, concerts, recitals, the Gathering, theatrical performances, art exhibits, Frisbee Golf, intramural tournaments, Fantasia, Nykerk, and countless other events have made up your experience at Hope College. These will become part of the subject of your conversations when you return for alumni events. And some of them will be shared with your children and grandchildren as they begin to learn more about who you are.
Something else that makes this day special is it's really the last time you, the members of the class of 2002, are all ever going to be together again. Yes, there are going to be class reunions, and some of you will be able to return. But this is probably the last time that you as a group are ever going to be together again. So as your colleagues and classmates walk across this stage in a little while, look at them and remember all the different people you've gotten to know-that you've gotten to laugh with, cry with, talk with, and remember how special they have become in helping you become the person you are.
Another reason why today is so special is because six hundred and seven of you are graduating. Today marks the last time, the end of your college experience at Hope College. To those of us who have had the opportunity to know you, serve as your advisors, teach, do research and learn with you, watch you perform or play, today officially marks the end of that time. As one member of this faculty, I have the unique privilege of saying good-bye. I hope you know how much you will be missed. Four short years ago, my colleagues and I didn't even know you and you didn't know us. Your being here has impacted us, and we are, and will continue to be, enriched because of the time you spent with us. Not only is this an ending for you: it's an ending for us. Hope College will not be the same without you. We want to thank you for choosing to come to Hope College and becoming a part of our lives.
One other distinction you have as the class of 2002 is that you were seniors when the tragedy of September 11 rocked our nation and our world. During your senior year, the meaning of 911 has been transformed and now serves as a symbol of fear and uncertainty for many people throughout this world. Since 9-11, people of faith and those to whom God was not very important have had a renewed interest in, and a commitment to, the motto of our country, "In God We Trust."
I have in my hand a dollar bill, and it says on the back, "In God We Trust."
As you know, those 4 words are printed on every piece of our country's currency. Although I learned that the words have only been on the currency since 1956, it was during the time of uncertainty and chaos associated with the Civil War that people suggested that all of us needed those words to be printed on our minds and hearts during times of uncertainty and conflict. They wanted everyone to know that in times of chaos, God is trustworthy.
Thanks to a column I read recently in the Grand Rapids Press, I can share with you a twist on these familiar words, a thought that you can take with you as you leave today. Every time you use, or look at, a coin or bill, not only can you remember that God is trustworthy--In God We Trust--but you should also consider something else-something that sounds a bit incredible--In You, God Trusts. I wonder if you, as I do, find that thought somewhat overwhelming.
Let me briefly consider with you a few important tasks with which God has entrusted us.
First of all, God trusts you to take care of His creation. Frankly, we humans have made quite a mess of this world. With the tons of waste being carted to landfills or dumped in our lakes and rivers, our world needs some serious care. Just this week, national media sources have again alerted us to the toxic nature of the air we breath, even as we sit here today. The "malling" of America (as in shopping malls) is another example of an atrocity which feeds our consumerism. I am very certain that God wants us to rediscover our role as stewards of His creation and learn to live in a respectful relationship with our world. God trusts you to work as agents of renewal for His creation.
God also trusts you to work for peace and harmony in the world. I doubt it's going to be necessary to convince you of this need. As we sit here today, we know that throughout this community, state, country and world, strife and conflict are rampant. We simply cannot continue to scream at, hit, hurt and kill one another. Today's paper highlights a special article on something called "relationship aggression." Next Christmas as we hear or sing "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie," will we recall the images of tanks, guns and soldiers surrounding the chapel that supposedly marks the birthplace of the Prince of Peace? Better guns and smarter bombs will never bring peace. God trusts in you to give your time, energy and intellect to work toward peace, justice and reconciliation.
God trusts you to transform culture. Our media seems to be telling girls and women that their worth is primarily defined by the size and shape of their bodies. The same media suggests that the value of men should primarily be defined by their athletic abilities, sexual conquests or bank accounts. In the event that we can resist these influences, we find ourselves inundated by messages telling us that our happiness is contingent on the number, or value, of our possessions. Our culture needs transforming. Have you ever gone to a movie and been appalled by the content of the previews (or perhaps the movie itself) and noticed at the same time the large number of children in the audience? Have you ever noticed some of the titles being checked out by teen-agers in the video stores? Are you objective enough to notice the sexual content of many prime time TV shows? God trusts you to represent His voice to a culture that's lost its moral moorings.
God trusts you to cultivate a compassionate heart, to learn the difference between sympathy and empathy. He expects you to keep growing in your heart for the poor, the disabled and all the marginalized of society. I Peter 4:10 says: "Each one should use whatever gifts he has received to serve others." Author and pastor Bill Hybels, in his book, Making Life Work, describes his thoughts after his first trip to Nairobi where he encountered extreme poverty for the first time, at age 16. He says, "I had a decision to make. Would I keep my eyes open, or would I close them? Would I let what I had seen fill my vision or would I quickly look away? Would I intentionally arrange my life in order to keep the needs of suffering people in the center stage of my awareness? Or would I allow a self-centered agenda to push the poor to the side stage of my mind where they could no longer make me feel guilty, or sad or responsible, where they could no longer 'bother' me? Whether or not we keep our eyes open determines whether or not we will grow in our compassion." Watching the news about the starving people in Afghanistan and feeling sorry for them is not enough. You will always have to have in your life, on an almost daily basis, enough truly needy people that you can keep your own needs and wants in perspective. I am acutely aware of our tendency to judge others, to point out how and in what ways they fall short of the expectations we and others have for them. Please realize that when we are critical or judgmental of others, we lose our capacity to empathize with, and have compassion for, them. God trusts you to develop a heart of compassion.
Finally, and most importantly, we know from the Great Commission found in Matthew 28 that God has entrusted you with the task of faithfully and accurately representing the person and message of Jesus Christ in the world. I still find it incredible that God left this important job up to us. Another New Testament author said it this way, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." God is counting on you, His image bearers, to do this. In fact, if you take this last command seriously, the previous four tasks fall into line.
Class of 2002, please remember as you leave Hope College that God needs and trusts you. "In you, God trusts." He created you with the ability and potential to:
-to take care of the earth
-to work for peace and justice
-to transform culture
-to live compassionate lives
-to be faithful representatives of the person and work of Jesus Christ to a world that is so broken and desperate for good news.
Some of you might say this is unrealistic and perhaps feel that God is expecting too much from you. I might remind you that He has heard that excuse before (remember Moses?) and that is why He promised to help you do this. On your own, it's not possible to do what he trusts you to do. I Peter 4: 11b says: "If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides." If you can simply remember to make "Space for God," asking for, and expecting, His help and grace, every single day for the rest of your lives, and encounter him daily in His word, he will enable you to do so much more than you ever thought was possible. "If God is calling you to do something, He will enable you to do it!" You can do everything through Him who gives you the strength.
Very soon, each of you will walk across this stage and receive a diploma, a symbol of your educational experience and accomplishments at Hope College. You realize, of course, that there's no way one piece of paper, no matter how elegantly worded or creatively engraved, can begin to adequately represent where you have been, who you are, what you are capable of, or how much you mean to God. This world not only needs the knowledge, gifts and many talents you have; it also desperately needs individuals who will work to restore some semblance of hope and trust. With God's help, and the constant awareness of "In You, God Trusts" the Six Hundred and Seven of you can do great things for God.
Our wish for you is that you will leave this place to make the kinds of differences God expects and trusts you to make. We wish you God's richest blessings as you take up this huge challenge, with His help.