- In Strength and Faith
- On Firm Foundation
- Our Fatherâ€™s World
- Knowing How, Knowing Why
- With Love and Hope Surrounded
- To Sacred Truth
- Play On Your Harp
- Coming Through Home
- Yesterday, Today, and Forever
- The One Thing Needful
- In the Face of the West Wind
- To Sacred Truth
- Not So Wild a Dream
- From Redemption to Renaissance
- Salty Days and Starry Nights
- A Holy Restlessness
- The Cross and the Glory
- Remarks - Chapel Dedication
Texts: Acts 4:23-33; John 10:11-18; Matthew 28:16-20
This homily was given at baccalaureate worship during spring commencement in 1982.
For four years you have been building memories here, memories of events and people that will remain with you for a lifetime. Your memories are all packaged differently; you each have your own friendship circle, some will recall a class to which the professor always carried more books than he would use; others recall a science teacher whose office was full of cartoons and whole classes were correspondently filled with both humor and rigor; and some will remember the night our men’s basketball team claimed its first championship in 51 years and no one wanted to go home; or the night our Lady Cobbers came from behind to win and finish a miracle season. Or you may remember your Cobber era as a time when some of your classmates skied across Greenland and Lapland, and some may recall waiting for the weekly campus newspaper to see whose empire would be tweaked that week.
Your memories reflect your diversity, and are held together by some common threads. One of them is the mission of the college, often repeated and indelibly imprinted on all of our minds. We are to influence the affairs of the world -- no modest task. And we mean to influence the world in behalf of the ideals of our Lord. This mission is not original, it’s the same one that the disciples of Christ received and that was read in the text for today from Saint Matthew. We, like them, are called to make disciples. Our familiar mission statement merely expresses that commitment in terms of our time and place. That’s well and good, but there’s more to a mission than stating it. There is also knowing how to do it and, even more important, knowing why to do it.
This brings to mind the story of the Asian wise men who had given their lives to contemplation. They were living in a cave, isolated from the main stream of humanity. As they were sitting in the opening of their cave one evening, a shiny jet plan flew over and one of the wise men was heard to say, “they have the know how, but do they have the know why?” We believe both are important, and I want to talk with you about knowing how to do our mission and knowing why we do it.
Knowing how to do our mission means, first of all, knowing how to do competent work. There are all sorts of needs in the world. We have recited them on several occasions: There is hunger with a billion people chronically undernourished; there are new health problems in our land; for example, in the age range of 15-24 the mortality rate is actually rising – due not to failure in technical medicine, but the problems of emotional and social disintegration. We live in an economy in which, to date, each new solution has created some new problem. The world cries out for influential people like you with talent and competence to address these and other needs.
Now, you won’t all be the same kind of disciples and that’s good because the needs of the world require varieties of service. In the early church the disciple Luke was a doctor and his writing reflected the language and the sensitivities of a physician. He could reach people whom others could not because of that special gift. Timothy was one of Paul’s co-workers and his talent was that of a troubleshooter. Peter was perceptive and decisive, a person of both great enthusiasm and great despair. But his great courage made him a bell weather of the church. Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers and they extended their influence and hospitality to their friends and neighbors and thus their home became the center of the church at Ephesus. Matthew was a tax collector, he understood the realities of finance and politics and could find his way around the marketplace.
These were people with a common mission but different “know hows” and different interests. And so are you -- some with a love for children, some with a talent for analysis, or communication or science, and some with a gift for making money. There is need for each of your gifts, for your competence, if the work of the kingdom is to go forward in every arena. Piety is a foundation for discipleship but unless we know how to do competent work, our piety goes unexpressed and our mission unfulfilled.
Knowing how to be disciples also involves knowing how to serve in new places. The disciples were commissioned to make other disciples in all of the world. And they did. By the second century the center of the church was not in Jerusalem but in places like Antioch, Ephesus and Rome. The disciples went out, both in terms of physical travel to Galatia, Corinth, and Rome, and in terms of psychic travel to the Gentiles, the Hellenists and the Romans.
You need to know how to serve in new places. Your coming to college involved serving in a new place -- a place of new people and new ideas, and you have thrived! Now some of you are going to serve in familiar places, in Minneapolis, Moorhead or Bismarck. Those are good places to serve but don’t restrict your options. Be ready to scatter to unknown places like Houston or New Haven, Chicago or Albuquerque, where you may not know people now but where there is a need for disciples. In the 1930’s an unusually large number of graduates from this college scattered out of necessity. The 1980’s may require more of that. But they discovered, as you will too, that the family of God gathers everywhere to share the same Word and the same bread. Through the miracle of space, electronics, and God’s Spirit, home and family will continue to be accessible.
Knowing how to be disciples also means knowing how to stick with our tasks. Passion and idealism are essential qualities for discipleship. Yet we know that the work of the world requires more than that. The novelist Frederick Buechner writes, “passion must be harnessed and put to work, and the power that first stirs the heart must become the power that also stirs the hands and feet, because it is the places your feet take you and the work you find for your hands that finally proclaims who you are and who Christ is.”
We all have a penchant to dump and run, that is, to deliver our judgment or critique of our community and then go on our way, neither fully understanding the issues nor taking responsibility for our view or the community in which they are proclaimed. I suppose disciples have always had that problem. There is some evidence in Paul’s epistle that some were weary from time to time from always attempting to do well. Perhaps I can restate the obvious with examples. Nuclear arsenals of the super powers constitute a scandal. The logic of escalation is suicidal from almost any point of view. Many in this community feel strongly about such issues. Now we need to stick to it. There will not be a nuclear turndown without people who know how to deal with the issues of détente, geopolitics, and the alternatives to nuclear weapons. We have the passion, now we need people of competence who will study the issues, deal with the realities, and make peace in this world. Family building is another example. We all sense that families are under intense pressure and that they need to do more to care for themselves. Nearly all of us have opportunities to stick with that issue in our own families and communities, to express love and build relationships in a society of competing and diverse elements.
Knowing how to be a disciple is knowing how to stick with it! It is also knowing how to hope. The epistle text for today is full of hope. The disciples in Jerusalem were filled with hope, and they were bold in their discipleship. Knowing how to hope is no simple matter. Paul wrote some of his letters because his followers were discouraged, and so are we at times. We just run out of gas. Kenneth Boulding is an economist and an observer of the world scene. He is basically an optimist, but he recently expressed concern that many modern day disciples tend to be more “motivated by the hatred of evil” than by “the love of good.” We tend to be much clearer about what we do not like than what we do like. Boulding pointed out that while “the hatred of evil produces steam … it becomes pathological unless it is moderated and guided by the love of good and by a vision of a feasible alternative to evil.” He concluded that “the world may be more threatened by the hatred of evil than by evil itself.”
Now, hope is already written into your lives. Your commitment to projects that will be of help to others, your diligence in developing your talent, all bear witness to hope. Always remember how to hope. Your first job may be slow in coming and it may be a long ways from the one you really want. But whether it begins this summer, or next fall, or next year, there is a place for you. The world has need for your discipleship, for your hopefulness, so let that light burn. Sow hope where there is despair. Be part of the solution and not the problem, you have the talent and hope for that.
Knowing how to be a disciple is also knowing how to be part of the family. In Jerusalem the disciples and followers formed a community in which all was held in common. That model wasn’t present in every Christian community but what was present was a spiritual bonding. The early Christians were interdependent and they shared the Word and Sacraments. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way, “God has willed that we should seek and find his living word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.” We live in a world waiting to be confronted and reconciled, which won’t be accomplished by people who are themselves starving. If the Beatitudes have something to do with education and business and social service, then we want to be nurtured in the spirit of the blessed. If justice and righteousness are to be sought, then we might hone our definitions at the Lord’s table. In a recent essay on this subject, Martin Marty, the noted Lutheran scholar, spoke about our need for spiritual renewal both as individuals and as a society. He said that it all begins with intercessory prayer. So know how to be part of the family of God. Wherever you dwell, enter that family and lend it your talent for leadership. Recognizing that you do not live by bread alone, enter that family with your hurt, anger, and hunger so that you may be fed.
Knowing how without knowing why is a trap. Today education is taking some well-deserved knocks for its preoccupation with knowing how. A leading educator once accused our universities of turning out trained barbarians, people who know how but don’t know why. Knowing why has always been a problem; it was for the young ruler wondering what to do with his riches, it was for the Pharisee who asked Jesus what the most important commandment was, it was for Pilate in trying to justify crucifixion of the innocent, and it was for Thomas seeking evidence for his faith.
Teachers and friends can tell you some things about why the natural order functions as it does, why the earth rotates as it does, why societies disintegrate, but we cannot tell you why to be a disciple. That must come from within you. The experience of the disciples gives us some clue to the why of their discipleship. In Jerusalem they gathered to celebrate what Christ had done for them. Like the shepherd of the gospel text, Christ had given His life for the ones He loved, for their freedom. So theirs was a celebration victory. Gratitude for that victory was one of the why’s of their discipleship.
The other “why” for the disciples was that God’s Spirit was with them. In his farewell to the disciples Jesus promised that the Spirit would be with them always and wherever they went. Hans Kung, a Catholic theologian, put it this way, “The Spirit of Jesus Christ is able to convey to us a fundamental orientation, a new conscience, new attitudes to life, new motivations … new actions for the humanization of human persons in societies and a new horizon … that permits us to live our present earthly lives.” The disciples of our text had that experience. And so do disciples of today. Filled with the fruits of God’s Spirit they are building schools in Tanzania, providing wells in Central America, teaching young people in large cities and small towns, creating new capital resources, and everywhere dealing with the things that make for peace.
The dependability of God was another of the “reasons why” for the disciples. In the Gospel of John there is the story of the hireling, the shepherd who disappears when night comes and danger approaches. There are lots of shepherds out there who promise quick fixes of respectability, power, and popularity but who won’t be around when the difficult days arrive. We need a shepherd who will feed us, who will fend off the wolves, who will stay the night watch, who will hold out the darkness, who will go with us through the valley of the shadow and to the mountaintop. God is dependable. God was with Paul in prison, Martha at the cross, Mary Magdalene at the gossip circle and Stephen at the hands of the Pharisees. God is dependable -- you can count on Him when you win and when you lose, when you succeed and when you fail. God is dependable!
Influencing the affairs of the world is no simple call. You need to know how and the degree you receive today will be a public statement that you do. And the gospel we celebrate this morning tells us about knowing why. And so go forth in God’s grace, knowing how and knowing why. Amen