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Commencement Address

by Rev. Dr. Jane Williams Retired Professor of Clinical Counseling and Chair of MACC Program

Jane Williams.jpgTo you, the class of 2018, to your family and friends, your faculty and mentors, to President Grigsby, Provost Kosso, Dean Crouch, to Trustees, and to all of you gathered here in celebration of this day and this moment . . . what a sacred and blessed day this is for us all!

I look out at you today and see eager, excited, proud students about to take your degrees and change the world.  It is time, the right time as the passage from Ecclesiastes says.  There is a time for assigned readings, exams, CIRs, sitting in classes, writing papers — but that isn’t this time, this moment.  This time is for reflecting on who you are and who you have become before you exit through that door to your parties and celebrations and eventually to the work you are called to do.

What have you learned at MTS?  You have learned knowledge:  facts, data, understandings of the basics of your degree and field.  You have learned skills: listening, preaching, diagnosing, researching, discernment — the multitude of things that your chosen career requires of you.  

Mostly, though, I hope you have learned about being — knowing who you are, and who you aren’t … growing into the person that God created you to be.  The time of a Moravian Seminary degree or certificate is to enable students not only to become highly competent and skilled pastors, counselors, chaplains, spiritual directors, and masters level academicians.  But more, MTS is a community within which we learn to reflect on who we are and how we live as individuals within our communities.  You might have noticed that I used we not you.  Here we all grow . . . students, faculty, and staff.

We learn here to tell our stories and to listen to ourselves as we do so in order to tell our stories with deeper and deeper awareness of where God has been at work in us, helping us make sense of our past and present life experiences.  We learn here to pay attention to what arises in us as we sit with others in their pain or their confusion or their joy so that we can better understand and help them.  We learn to hear scriptures and theology and history in context and discern how they connect with our lives so we can live the message and share what we learn with others.  We learn how to love the people and communities within which we work, knowing that we need not always have answers, or agree with ideas in order to love and serve others.  We learn to hold what we know lightly, understanding that sometimes ideas, beliefs, concerns change.  We learn to go towards what gives us life, what energizes us, what fills us with excitement b— for that is often where God is calling us — and working on us.  We learn humility, recognizing and celebrating what we do well, and working on areas that need improving.  We learn to ask for and use help without hesitation.

The Romans passage that was read says, “Strength is for service, not status.  Each of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’”
Do you feel your strength?  Are you ready to go into the world?  (Yes?)   Well, it is a world that truly needs you.  It needs the Being, Knowledge, and the Skills that you have developed in your time here.  And I promise you — you are enough to do what God is calling you to do.

The world you are entering appears to have forgotten how to strive for the common good, how to seek justice for all — especially the ones Jesus called “the least of these” — the most vulnerable among us.

The world you are entering is not one that will applaud you for the ministry or counseling or spiritual direction or chaplaincy that you offer — instead, this is a world that seems to give respect to the highest net worth, the loudest boasts, the broadest presence on social media.  The vocations you are about to enter are unlikely to bring you accalim, but they are the vocations that have the greatest likelihood of healing deep hurts, shaping meaningful lives, and offering reconciliation and hope.  The work that you do has the potential to change the world because of who you have become and the knowledge and skills you carry with you.  You are enough.

Jesus taught and modeled this as a teacher raised in a poor occupied country.  Jesus offered a new vision of God’s kingdom — a beloved community in which divisions would cease and all persons were called to live in loving, sharing, healing relationships.  But Jesus did more than envision and proclaim this — he offered hope that all those he taught, healed, or touched could do the same as he did.  He challenged them to go and do likewise.  And in your lives, God calls you to this hope that you may stay true to who you are and what you know of how we are to live, heal, preach, teach, serve, and love.

Love . . .  not in a sentimental sense, but loving in actions and daily choices, seeking good for all, justice for all, shalom/wholeness for all.  And that is a risky endeavor!

So the blessing that was read in the paraphrased Romans passage to day is truly important.  Listen again to what it says:

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your lives, filled the the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

What in the world does green hope, the God of green hope, mean?  Green . . .  as in new or youthfully naive?  Green as in leafy or lush or luxuriant?  Green as in unsophisticated?  All of the above, I suspect.  The God of green hope offers the kind of hope that I trust you have at this time:  filled with excitement and energy and anticipation about what awaits you.

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy . . .  Joy as in delight . . . as in wonder . . . as in the ability to see the world as full of possibility and containing enough challenge to make it interesting and worth working on.

Fill you up with peace . . . Peace . . . as in harmony, inner stillness, serenity that cannot be shaken by outside events.  May you have within you an inner stillness that roots you in what you know to be true even if others in the world shun you or shout against you or shove you aside.  Peace be upon you and within you.

May the God of green hop fill you with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirity . . .Life-giving energy . . . Thank God it is not only our energy that keeps us going in the world, it is the energy of the Spirit — the life force gifted to us by the Divine — God’s energy infuses us with life, with drive, with strength to stay the course in difficult times.


So that we may brim over with hope!

Hope — an intangible that some people dismiss as elusive, obscure, tenuous — and therefore less important than the realities of what we can see and touch.  But talk about important — there is no life without hope.  Hopelessness — living without hope — has been identified by research study after research study as the primary predictor of suicide.  Without hope, life is not worth living.  Hope looks to a bright future, hope is optimistic, hope anticipates a promise of good things to come.  May you brim over (overflow) with hope!

So let me offer you this blessing:

May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your lives, filled the the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

And may you see in your work a sacredness that brings satisfaction as it offers hope and renewal to those with whom you work — and may your work, indeed, change the world.