2005 Hope College Commencement Address
Posted May 8, 2005
"From Generation to Generation"
by the Rev. Paul H. Boersma
The Leonard and Marjorie Maas Endowed Senior Chaplain
Members of the Hope College Board of Trustees, President Bultman, Provost Boelkins, Faculty and Staff, Alumni, grandparents, parents (especially you mothers on this Mother’s Day), family members and friends, and most importantly, you the Hope College graduating class of 2005; thank you so much for allowing me to be involved in this very special day as your commencement speaker.
However, before I share a few thoughts with you, I feel it’s important that I first set the record straight on one thing. I’m sure many of you have heard by now that President George W. Bush is the commencement speaker at Calvin College this year. This is true. Calvin has confirmed it. The media has confirmed it. But, what the media does not know—and this is where I want to set the record straight—is that Calvin asked me first to be their commencement speaker. Yes, it’s true. It is true. It’s just our secret, though. But of course, I had to decline because I was committed already at Hope. And for me, when it’s a choice between Hope and Calvin, it’s a no-brainer, Hope always wins. Which means in this case, with all due respect to President Bush, Calvin College has my backup as their commencement speaker. Hope wins again! Of course! However, I do want to wish President Bush and Calvin College the very best on their commencement day because for me, there is no other place, no other college, no other university in the country that I’d rather be at today, than right here at Hope College with you. I mean that. I really do. I’ve watched you over the last four and five and sometimes six years. I’ve observed you guys out of my second story Keppel House window as you have faithfully gone to your classes in Lubbers Hall. I have watched you compete at the Civic Center and the Buys Athletic complex with passion and grace. I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with you as we have worshiped together the risen and living Christ in Dimnent Chapel. I’ve laughed with you at the Kletz. I’ve cried with you in my office. I’ve struggled with you over life’s complexities at JP’s or Good Earth. And now, I get one more moment with you--one final moment to share one final thing with you before you graduate. But before you do, I think it’s right and appropriate that we pray. Let us pray:
Lord, you know that our hearts are very tender right now to receive a word from you. Impart your truth to us that we would live in such a way that your kingdom would come and your will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
For the past 15 years during the first week of April, Melody (my wife) and I load up our family and make our way to Bradenton Beach, Florida, where we spend our spring vacation at Runaway Bay Resort. It is by far my favorite vacation. I love everything about it except one thing, and that’s the drive there and the drive back. It takes anywhere from 20 to 23 hours each way, depending on traffic, construction, and the number of bathroom breaks our family needs to take along the way. We choose to drive it straight through. It’s a brutal trip, a brutal, brutal trip, with the toughest driving hours being between 1:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. We call these hours the graveyard shift, which I’m usually assigned. And the only thing that gets me through these hours are a big old 72 oz. Mountain Dew Big Gulp and books on tape. I usually can listen to an entire book during this shift.
And this year between Nashville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia, I listened to Tom Brokaw’s book, “The Greatest Generation.” Brokaw, the anchor for NBC Nightly News from 1983 to 2004, makes a strong case for the WWII generation as being the greatest generation any society has ever produced. A pretty bold and lofty statement to make of any generation of people. However, his statement prodded me to start thinking deeply on this: “What does it take to make a generation great?” And even more specific and relevant to you, the Class of 2005—what would it take to make your generation, all 80 million plus of you, to be great? Your generation…raised on a world of MTV and AIDS, and a national debt of over five trillion dollars. Your generation…titled by analysts as the Millennial or Digital Generation. Your generation…which has been one of the most analyzed and targeted generations ever because of your buying power. Your generation…highly informed, mobile, and diverse.
So what would it take to have your generation be called great? I have an idea, in fact it’s not my idea but it’s Jesus’ idea. Listen to his words found in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Did you catch it? Did you hear some of the Kingdom criteria for greatness? Blessed are the poor in spirit, that is to say the humble among us. Blessed are the merciful or anyone who picks up a towel and basin instead of anger and violence. Blessed are the peacemakers—the ones who are willing to embrace someone with whom they disagree rather than to oppress the same one. Blessed are the pure in heart, who dole out grace and forgiveness as if it were free.
You get the point, that’s what it means to be great. Greatness is not defined by the number of commas in your salary. Greatness is not defined by the title next to your name or the number of people under you, or the number of awards you’ve received. Jesus defines greatness as when you do the commands of God and teach them to others. Jesus insists, and I dare say he insists quite loudly, that teaching follows doing. If you are going to teach others about the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is crucial that you show them the gospel of Jesus first.
I am told that a pastor of the famous Moido Full Gospel Church in South Korea—the world’s largest, with some 750,000 members—has an interesting rule for his congregation. The rule goes like this: “No witnessing to your neighbor until after three good deeds.” That’s it. I like that. Because in most cases, your actions will speak more loudly than your words, especially to the post-modern/post-Christian world in which you live and interact.
Author Brian McLaren, who has thought a lot about this, writes in his book, “A New Kind of Christian, “The challenge in modernity was to prove that we’re right and they’re wrong. But I think we have a different challenge in post-modernity. The question isn’t so much whether we’re right but whether we’re good. If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we’re right and others are wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think more people would believe we are right.
Now, that bears repeating, wouldn’t you say so?
If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we’re right and others are wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think more people would believe we were right.
If we Christians would do good, somehow I think more people would believe we are right.
Now I’m getting fired up.
If we Christians would do good, somehow I think more people would believe we are right.
And you know what? I know you, the Class of 2005, get this! You do get this—you must get this.
How else do you explain over $103,000 being raised for Dance Marathon this year for the DeVos Children’s Hospital?
How else do you explain hundreds of kids hanging around after The Gathering worship service to pray or to pray for people in need?
How else do you explain Hope College graduates setting aside careers and potentially large salaries to live and work among the poor?
Yeah, Brian McLaren had it right, “If we Christians would do good, somehow I think more people would believe we are right.
But, Jesus said it better. “You are the light of the world. So, let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.
Hope College Class of 2005, our world desperately needs a generation of people to live out the commands of God in such a way that it will impact the world for good. The question is, could it be your generation? Could your generation be the generation of people who cared enough to help solve the pandemic of AIDS and HIV in the nations of Africa where over half the population is infected? Could your generation be the generation that reaches across the world and opens its arms and hearts to over three million orphan girls in China? Could your generation be the generation that will come along side the 35 million Americans who will suffer from depression in their lifetime, a large number of whom will be teenagers? Could your generation be the generation that gives loaf and cup to eight million people who will die each year because they’re too poor to stay alive? Could your generation be the generation that some day others will look at and say without hesitation,
“That was a great generation”? Not because you made a lot of money, not because you produced more things, but because of the way you lived.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said this,
“Whoever does these and teaches others will be called GREAT—will be called GREAT—will be called GREAT--in the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, let it be done.