My Charge to the 2012 Graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary

We live in a world which if it were reduced to a jar with a label on it, that label would probably include the word impossible.  We live at a time when almost everything around us is framed by impossibilities…

●  Peace among Israelis and Palestinians…impossible
●  An America where the threat of terrorism is a distant memory…impossible
●  A congress where Democrats and Republicans engage in healthy, respectful dialogue and work collaboratively across the aisle for the good of America…. impossible
●  A world marked by cultural stability where it is safe to walk the streets at night and crime is low…impossible
●  A society where a man and a woman in their twenties with their whole lives in front of them, stand at the altar of a church and pledge their entire lives to one another – to be faithful until death separates them – and actually do it… I’m afraid too many people would say, nah, …impossible

Most people live in a world of impossibilities… As Thoreau put it we live “lives of quiet desperation.”  Hope is low…expectations are lower… suspicion reigns…cynicism is on the throne…and truth itself is on the scaffold.

Yet, here you are, graduates, poised on this day to go out into this very world framed by such impossibilities.  I charge you, therefore, class of 2012, to remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is what transforms the impossible into the possible.  Indeed, it is the incarnation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ which totally reframes the world and all of human history.  It is these two great singularities – incarnation and resurrection – which reframe a world of despair and cynicism into the larger frame of hope and promise.  This old creation is broken and wounded, but you know that the New Creation is already breaking in!  You are its heralds and ambassadors. You are capable of thinking thoughts that the world cannot think.  You are capable of sacrificial acts which the world cannot fathom.  You are capable of dreaming dreams in a world that only knows ever-maddening nightmares.  You can think about possibilities.

The whole ministry of Jesus was framed by impossibilities…incarnation and resurrection…a virgin birth and an empty tomb.  Someone once said, Jesus came into the world through a door marked “no entrance,” a virgin womb.  He left through a door marked “no exit”, a tomb of death.  Two great impossibilities made possible in Jesus Christ. Nobody had ever walked through those doors before.   In Jesus Christ, the world’s greatest impossibilities are made into possibilities.

Graduates, you would have under-heard the gospel if you believed that the incarnation and the resurrection are mere isolated historical events.  They are historical events, but they serve to re-frame and re-order the whole of human history even today.

You can go out into this world and in Jesus Christ see the impossible made possible.  You can work for peace, because the prince of peace is the Risen and Ascended Lord.  You can re-engage in government and live free of bitterness and cynicism, because the government rests on his shoulders.  You can wage holy war against crime, because God’s love for the world is always greater than Satan’s hate of it.  You can boldly rescue men, women, and children from human trafficking, and the downward spiral of drug addiction because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all those who dwell therein.”  You can sit with husbands and wives who walk into your office and say “we have given up, our marriage has no hope.”  And you can say, without blinking, God still has the last word in your relationship.  You can preach the gospel to lost sinners and believe afresh in the power of God’s redemption because the cross is still the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.  I charge you to go forth as ambassadors of hope!  Do not get caught in the net of despair.  Do not get trapped in the web of cynicism.  Do not get swallowed up by all the impossibilities.  Instead, be in Christ, where all impossibilities can be reframed by the hope of Jesus Christ.

 

Charge to 2011 Graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary by Timothy C. Tennent

One of the great privileges which are mine as President of Asbury Theological Seminary is to give a final charge to our graduating seniors.   This is my 2011 charge to the graduates of the Seminary.

2 Cor. 4:8-10 (NIV)

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;   9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

When the Jesuits sent out their missionaries to the Far East in the 17th century the journey was so perilous that they gathered the entire group on the deck prior to leaving port and gave them a charge which included the ominous fact that 30% of them would die at sea before they even reached the mission field and that 20% more would die in the first year on the field due to disease.  So it charged them to look around and recognize that half of their number would be dead in a year.  They were then given a final opportunity to get off the ship.

I would like you to look around and know that if you really want to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and not just your own ambitions on the coat-tails of the church, then you must all die.  This is my charge to the 2011 graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary:  Go forth carrying around in your body the death of Jesus.  What does this mean?  It means that you have died to yourself.  It means that you have forsaken all worldly ambitions that you might be reborn to serve Jesus Christ in the world.  Paul profoundly understood that the death of Jesus is not merely an isolated event in human history, but is an event which draws the whole human race into it.  We cannot participate in his resurrection unless we have passed through the cross.

Every voice will cry out for you to measure your success by worldly standards.  What is the size of your church?  How much money do you get paid?  How nice is your parsonage?  What kind of pension plan do you have?  Are you popular?   Regard such questions as distracting arrows from the pit of hell.  If the cross of Jesus Christ teaches us anything, it is that God sometimes does his greatest work under a cloak of failure.

To carry around the death of Jesus means that your focus is not so much on being successful, as being faithful.  For some of you this may lead to charges with great responsibility over thousands of members.  For others, faithfulness means feeding a small flock and defending a relatively remote outpost of the kingdom.

But never forget that whatever act we faithfully do in God’s name the whole incarnation is present in seed form.  When Jesus touched the leper, it wasn’t a stepping stone to the cross.  The whole cross was always in seed form in everything Jesus did.  There are no stepping stones to the kingdom.  There is no denominational ladder to climb.  There is no career path stretching out in front of you.  What we have before us is the call which beckons us to the cross.  It is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th martyr who was hung for his faithfulness standing against the evils of the 3rd Reich, who wrote, “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”    The Apostle Paul writes 9 For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. (1Co 4:9 NIV) As graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary I send you forth to inhabit the kind of robust, muscular, Apostolic Christianity which is necessary to face the challenges of our day.   Go forth from this place with a vibrant confidence in the Word of God, the supremacy of Christ, and the ongoing power of the gospel!

Don’t confuse busyness with godliness.  Don’t confuse programmatic activity with authentic relationships.  Don’t confuse knowledge with holiness (knowledge puffeth up, love edifies); Don’t confuse title and position with faithfulness and calling.  Instead, make it your daily ambition to die to self and be daily reborn in Christ.  You are being called to defend some outpost of the New Creation in Adam’s world – don’t get distracted –keep your post, defend the gospel, proclaim Christ.  Amen.