Sermon for CDSP Baccalaureate Service
20 May 2016 Acts 17: 24 -31
John 1:1-5, 9-14
I once heard John’s Gospel described as ‘a paean to the unlimited beauty, eternal creativity, and breathtaking presence of Christ in this world’.
I believe that indeed it is and therefore what a truly magnificent sending out scripture this surely is for those of you about to fully and finally take your leave of this wonderful institution, this place of your shaping and forming, this place which will variously have angered and frustrated you, challenged and enriched you, encouraged and enlightened you, taught and enabled you, fed you and blessed you . . .
I cannot begin to express just how incredibly humbled I am to be with you all in this moment of transition from student to servant, in this moment of richly deserved celebration, in this sacramental moment of thanksgiving for all in God’s creation that has been and is yet to be in all of our lives. Thank you for inviting me to share in this very precious occasion. It is very, very special to be back home again.
Two weeks ago I was in Fiji at a high level gathering of church leaders, political leaders and academics drawn from across the Pacific region. We were charged with developing an inter-faith communiqué for presentation at the upcoming G20 Summit meeting to be held in China later this year. The idea being that faith communities have a unique and important perspective and dare I suggest, an irrefutable responsibility to contribute into that globally influential essentially secular gathering of the leaders of the worlds leading nations. Or perhaps I should say, to that globally influential essentially secular gathering of the worlds leading economic players.
High on the Fiji agenda was the challenge of getting the G20 to take seriously the crucial Pacific wide issues of climate change, economic development, social justice and education – four of the distinctive aspirational goals, which now comprise the United Nations SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) or what is now the expanded version of the tragically under-realised MDG’s (Millennium Development Goals).
These newly minted SDG’s, as I am sure you all well know, are ultimately the noble goals seen as essential to achieving world peace with justice and the prospect of flourishing for all humanity. These are the goals, which were assented to late last year by 193 of the countries represented in the UN General Assembly. Present also at that Assembly were many of the world’s most prominent and well known faith leaders and certainly I commend to you the speech made by Pope Francis at that time. Following on from Pope Francis extraordinary public witness it has been heartening to see how many people of all faiths across the world are seeing movement toward the fulfillment of the SDG’s as a missional matter, as a matter of God’s justice.
‘Thus says the Lord, do what is right, for soon my salvation shall come, and my deliverance shall be revealed . . .’
The problem however in the case of the Fiji gathering is of course the monumental disconnect between the outwardly honorable nature of the SDG’s and the outwardly and inwardly dubious, utterly self serving nature of the G20!
One is to do with the care of God’s creation by responding tenderly and with abundant generosity of spirit to human need; the other is to do with abetting the disfigurement, the crass exploitation of God’s creation. One is incarnational and thus redemptive, the other is disembodied and thus life denying.
To my graduating class, your ministries are now set to be within the global village whether here in Berkeley, California or in Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand. Here in each one of the public squares into which you are now authorized to step, fully equipped, fully aware, fully certificated for the myriad challenges likely to be set before you, you will find the same juxtaposition of critical factors which inevitably impede the rightful progress from blessed creation to blessed redemption.
Key among these impediments is what George Bernard Shaw described as the greatest of evils and the worst of crimes imaginable and that is poverty . . . and by poverty I am adopting Amartya Sen’s definition of poverty as being the inability to lead a decent and dignified life or indeed what Robert McNamara so poignantly described as a condition of deprivation that falls below any rational definition of human decency. A decent and dignified life, a life of human decency, a life, which knows fulfilment of deep spiritual hunger, surely these things are the birth right if not the human right of all human beings?
And yet today’s tragic reality is that none of us need look far before we bear witness to the antithesis to dignity and decency – daily we are confronted with countless human lives battered, happiness stifled, creativity destroyed, freedoms eradicated, human dignity crushed, spirituality derided.
This then as most of you have already experienced, is your new occupational vineyard, the public square, the sphere within which you and I each, daily, have our call to serve the Christ we seek to emulate, the Christ we promise to follow.
How then are we to most effectively leverage ministries of light and life when so much is pressing in from the dark side, poverty, unjust wars, nuclear threats, rising oceans, human trafficking, corruption, racism, the stark raving lunacy of Donald Trump and so on and on it goes.
Well it is at this point that I want to return again to what I earlier mentioned as ‘the breathtaking presence of Christ in the world’ . . . for here in John’s Gospel is the solemn promise that what is going on when Jesus shows up on earth is somehow mysteriously part of what is and was always true about God. Thus before we meet Jesus in Galilee or in Bethlehem, we meet him ‘in the beginning . . . with God’. John is showing us that Jesus Christ is the embodied plan of God that existed from before his birth.
We also learn the basic plot of the gospel: creation no longer knows its Creator and is in darkness. But the Light has arrived in the world. The Light will make the Father known to the world, as the divine Word of God. All of this is matching and expanding what was revealed in the Old Testament, though now God has been ever more gracious.
John is reassuring us that nothing at all therefore can make a difference to the eternal truth about God. God’s welcome, God’s joy, God’s light – all of this is eternal, not fixed in time or space but eternally occurring, eternally seeking, eternally knowing and therefore there is theoretically no way that the darkness can ever, could ever, completely overwhelm or overthrow God’s people.
The challenge therefore before each one of us really is quite simple. We are to be courageous; we need not fear the dark. We are to endeavor in all we say and all we do to exemplify what we really mean when we confess to believing in Him in whom we live and move and have our being.
We are called inexorably to prophetic action and in this respect I want to say that I have every confidence in the graduating class that you will continue to be unafraid in your public witness, that you will continue to be unbowed in your pursuit of justice for the downcast and the marginalized, that you will continue to act always with compassion and kindness, that you will temper your outrage with critical analysis and strategic action, and crucially that you will continue to practice the art of patience with others and with yourself – after all you now have a whole lifetime of selfless, sacrificial ministry ahead of you . . . yes there is urgency but so too is there time, God’s time for you and for me to be continually blessed by knowing, by ever more deeply knowing, that because we believe, we too have become the children of God, entrusted, empowered, enlightened.
Let us then move on from this day with greater certainty, greater clarity and greater confidence in attending to the multiple tasks that lie ahead. Be always as I so lovingly remember you all to be – so incredibly grace filled and so wickedly good humoured.
In closing, may I just share a very short but I think a superb poem by Mary Oliver. Some of you may already know it. It is called The Song of the Builders,
On a summer morning
I sat down
On a hillside
To think about God
A worthy pastime
Near me, I saw
A single cricket;
It was moving the grains of the hillside
This way and that.
How great was its energy
How humble it’s effort.
Let us hope
It will always be like this
Each of us going on
In our inexplicable ways
Building God’s universe.
© Dr Jenny Te Paa Daniel
Proudest Alumni of CDSP!