Whitworth University 2010 Commencement Address
May 16, 2010
Hanging On and Moving On
(based on the New Testament reading: Luke 9:28-36)
I chose the transfiguration story as our text for today's address because it made me think of you. I have 10 reasons why I think this is a great story for today, which means I have 10 points, which means they'd better be short.
The No. 10 reason why I thought about you: the part about the three disciples being really sleepy.
No. 9: The disciples climbed a mountain. So did you. Climbing a mountain is a good metaphor for going through college, especially Whitworth. It was hard work, but it was worth it. You got new views of the world. Like the disciples, you encountered great historical figures. Some of them shaped your disciplines. Some of them shaped the way every person in this arena thinks. Climbing the Whitworth mountain has left you tired, but it's a good tired. I hope you'd do it again.
No. 8: When the disciples started up the mountain they were clear-headed. Before long, they found themselves in a fog. Sound familiar? Many of you had it all figured out when you arrived at Whitworth, but things got cloudy. You thought you knew more as a freshman than you think you know now. Of course you did. Being wrong as a freshman is redundant. But things need to get cloudy for us to be clear about what we don't know. Clouds are part of the learning process.
No. 7: The disciples understood their experience on the mountain better after they got off the mountain. In Peter's second epistle, he refers to the transfiguration with a seasoned perspective he simply could not have had in the in the intensity of the mountain moment. I don't know if hindsight is 20/20, but time has a way of maturing our perspective. Right now, there is a part of us that loves Whitworth so much we feel reluctant to leave, but there is another part of us that knows we will understand our time here together only after we leave.
No. 6: The fog on the mountain didn't appear until Peter started talking. If the shoe fits, wear it.
No. 5: When the cloud did appear, Peter, James and John were scared. But it was in the cloud that they heard God's voice. I have been so inspired watching some of you listen for God's voice when you were afraid, when everything seemed cloudy and dark. People promised you God would make everything clear. But you knew better. You knew that clouds require faith. You joined the Israelites in the wilderness, where God led them with a cloud. Like the disciples, you were afraid, but you heard God's voice. And so must we all. When fear shows up, it is a warning signal. Don't ignore it. Don't waste it. Repeatedly, Jesus tells the disciples – and he tells us – not to be afraid. But God uses our fears, and it is never God's intention for us to stay in our fears. So if the clouds begin to scare you, hear the voice the disciples heard: "This is my son, listen to him." When Peter listened to Jesus, he walked on water; when he listened to his fears, he began to sink. It is when you listen to Jesus that your fears lift, you see through the fog, and you step forward in faith.
No. 4: Peter's first response to his mountaintop experience was to give advice. Not only did he give advice, he gave it to the Lord. "Lord, this is a good situation. Here's what I think we should do." Really? Well let's give Peter a cookie for high self-esteem, but about the time Peter starts making suggestions, God the Father interrupts and says, "This is my son; you listen to him!" College graduates are famous for giving advice. You like advice? Well, I have some advice for you. First, don't give advice to the Lord. Second, don't give advice at all. Just enter into the lives of the people who need you. Let them extract your expertise. You are so smart and so caring. They will love having you join them as problem-solvers, and that will carry a very different tone than having you arrive on the scene with one more voice telling them what they need to do. Peter was an eager guy. We love that. His mistakes were aggressive mistakes. A lot of you are really eager. We love that, too. Just make sure you're as eager to listen as you are to give advice. It's easier to hear our crucified and risen savior when we're not talking. And he's smarter than we are. And he was here first.
No. 3: When the cloud lifted from the disciples, only Jesus remained. In your educational experience, you have seen visions and wonders, you have learned more than you could have imagined. You have been given views that few people on this planet could ever dream of enjoying, but ultimately Elijah and Moses and Brahms and Mozart and Keats and Hughes and Chekov and Williams and Freud and Newton and Caravaggio and Toynbee and Parsons and everyone else will fade…and you will see Christ alone – "his heights of love, his depths of peace, when fears are stilled and strivings cease."
No. 2: The disciples want to hang on to the experience. Peter is well-intentioned in suggesting they build monuments to freeze that moment in time. Some of you wouldn't mind doing the same thing. It would be nice to stay in this community. It's hard to leave, isn't it? Maybe your eyes have been squirting a little bit this week. Mine have. We want to hang on, and we need to hang on.
No. 1: The disciples had to come down from the mountain. They moved on. A part of us wants to hang on and a part of us wants to move on. This is the 24th consecutive mid-May I have stood on a stage and handed out diplomas. I love this. I'm going to miss it, even though sometimes it's messed up my personal life. This might be a good time for me to apologize to my children for the three graduations of theirs I missed because I was standing right here; and it might be a good time to apologize to Bonnie for all the Whitworth graduations on her May 18 birthday she didn't miss. But, this is what I do. My family understands. Our kids have turned out fine. Bonnie has turned out fine (really fine!). They all know that this is where I belong. But this year is different. Like you, I'm moving on. And that's good. I could not be more excited about Whitworth's future. Our new president is a great human being with abilities that just dazzle me. But it's a little hard to move on. Whitworth changed my life, as it did for many of you. And we need to hang on to that. We need to move on, but we also need to hang on.
So here are my final words of advice, which are okay for me to give, because I'm not a new college graduate. They are words from the bottom of the mountain. Luke 9:37: The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met them. 38A man in the crowd called out, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child."
When you leave Whitworth, you will be leaving a small, loving community and you will be met by a large crowd. There will be voices crying out, "I beg you to look..." Look at my son, look at my daughter, look my struggling neighborhood, look at my dying brothers and sisters, look at my crumbling world, look at me. When these voices ring out, do we need to have another voice ringing in our ears? I'm sure the disciples did. When the man cried out to Jesus, "Teacher, I beg you, look at my son, for he is my only child," how could the disciples not hear God's voice on the mountain? "This is my precious son; listen to him."
For those of us who are graduating today, hanging on and moving on means hearing two voices – the voice from the mountain and the voice from the crowd. We hang on to the wisdom and relationships of the mountain. We move on to the cries and the desperation of the crowd. The voice on the mountain says listen to my son. The voice in the crowd says look at my son.
So it's time to graduate. When you wake up tomorrow morning, and every morning after that, please listen for the cries that beg you to look. And when you hear them, listen again. I hope you will hear the voice from the mountain, the voice that says listen to my son, the voice you have heard from us, the voice urging you to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity. God bless you. Amen.