Julius Caesar famously wrote to the Roman Senate in 46 B.C. in the wake of his stunning victory in the east: veni, vidi, vici—I came, I saw, I conquered. That famous phrase veni, vidi, vici has become almost the summarizing motto of the confident, unbridled triumphalism of the Roman era. If their motto was “I came, I saw, I conquered” what would be the 21st century counterpart? I think the 21st century counterpart would be, “I came, I saw, and I tweeted.” Think about it, Twitter only allows 140 characters—everything must be said in 140 letters or you can’t say it. What an apt metaphor for today! We live in a reductionistic world with little patience for serious reflection. The whole glorious gospel has been reduced to simplistic phrases, bumper stickers, a Twitter feed or a Facebook wall post.
We live in a “googlized” world which is inundated with information, but most of it trivial. We live in a day which resists serious, long-term, reflection. We live in a time when Coptic Christians are being beheaded and the next morning’s headline are still about the Kardashians. The trivialization of information, the reductionism of all things sacred, and the shockingly short attention span, all confront you as bearers of the sacred gospel in the 21st century. But, in any age, and whatever the challenges, the gospel is still good news!
I charge you, graduates of the 2015 class of Asbury Theological Seminary to go forth and inhabit a robust, muscular, deeply rooted apostolic gospel. Go forth with renewed confidence in the Word of God, the supremacy of Christ, the glorious witness of the church through the ages, and the ongoing power of the gospel! It will not be quick or easy—discipleship never is. It will take sacrifice and some long nights of holy lamenting. You must be prepared to occupy not the long enjoyed cultural center, but the more perilous prophetic margins. You must wake up to the new reality that to be a Christian is to be despised and hated, not lauded and revered. Jesus, by the way, did promise that to us (Matt. 10:22).
But, through it all, never forget that the true church of Jesus Christ is indestructible! Christ has promised to build His Church and it is being embraced by men and women from every tribe, tongue and language. The various organizational manifestations of the church may crumble, but the true church of Jesus Christ always reasserts itself. This challenge we face today cannot be met by a business-as-usual approach. This challenge cannot be met by a pastor-as-comfortable-career-option approach. This challenge cannot be met by a “climb the denominational ladder” strategy. Those days are over as we finally enter the sunset of Christendom, but we must not forsake our post.
If you lose your courage and start entertaining people and not faithfully preaching God’s Word, then, like Toyota, I will declare a “class of 2015” recall for Asbury putting out a defective product which could be dangerous to the health of the church! Instead, you are called to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world! Never forget that. We proclaim the gospel even though the world is topsy-turvy, calling evil good and good evil, but Wesley once said, “Vice does not lose its character by becoming fashionable.” If you maintain your missional footing, and stay Spirit-filled, and loving Christ first, then he will teach you how to love this world in a way that it has never been loved. We win the world not through an exercise of power, but through humility, patience and love. In the eschaton, when God’s people have been vindicated and we are reigning with Christ, and all things are under his feet, even then, our motto will not be veni, vedi, vici—I came, I saw, I conquered; but, through the gospel it has always been veni, vedi, amavi: I came, I saw, I loved. So, class of 2015, you may be reviled and misunderstood, but be prayerful and faithful and keep on loving! The night is far spent, the day is at hand when all things will be revealed and God will set all things right. In the meantime, God is at work in your lives and in the world, so let’s roll up our sleeves, go out into the world, and get on with the hard work of loving. Amen.