World Turned While You Were Here—Therefore”
29:4-5;5-7;9-11; Romans 12:1-2; 9-1
First, let me presume to speak an informal word
of thanks from the faculty to the parents, speaking
for a moment over the heads of the graduates.
Thank you for sharing
your sons with us for four years. We have enjoyed
the fruit of your labor, and we celebrate the accomplishments
of your sons.
You taught them to
speak their first words, and for four years we have
enjoyed their best creative writing, editing, and
speaking. You suffered through their first music
lessons, and we have been enriched by their recitals,
the glee club, and music ensembles. You taught them
to think for themselves and to argue fairly, and
we have been enlightened by our debates. You developed
in them a fascination with the world, and they have
been our colleagues in research. You played catch
and baskets with them, and we have cheered excellent
intercollegiate teams. On rare occasions they have
even been victorious over faculty intramural teams.
You endowed them with spirit, and we have watched
it soar. Your sons, and the talents you and they
share with us, are a major reason it is so pleasant
to be part of this college. Makes us “Proud
to be Wabash.”
You planted, and
watered, and tended; we watched for a while; and
God has given a wonderful increase. In that we all
The two biblical
texts for this morning seem appropriate because
each involves a transition. For the ancient Israelites,
it was a time of social transition facing the move
and exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Therefore,
Jeremiah says, "When you get out there, live
like this...." For Paul in Romans it was personal
transformation based on the freedom of the Christian
elaborated in the first part of his letter. "Therefore"
is the most important biblical word, the fulcrum
between the old and the new, accomplishment and
potential, past and future. Therefore...
The founders of
Wabash College believed a good college and a faithful
church are sister institutions, sharing the highest
aspirations — human flourishing, civic virtue
and justice, all to the glory of God. Never is that
more evident than when we enter this chapel to celebrate
the transition of graduation.
So, the most important
word today is the Scriptural "THEREFORE"
As liberally educated
men, you are skilled in reason and critical thinking
to know that "THEREFORE" requires antecedent
propositions. So, let me suggest a couple.
First, the world
has turned while you have been at Wabash. You entered
in 1999, at the end of the old, just in time to
celebrate the arrival of the new millennium. You
witnessed the awful events of 9/11 and the consequent
changes in our sense of security and freedom. You
flinched when the economy tanked revealing greed,
dishonesty, deceit, personal and social and disruption,
and uncertainty about the future. You wished godspeed
to a classmate yanked from the stately procession
toward graduation to go to war in Iraq. You experienced
the post-Cold War interlude end in terror with major
shifts in the world political and religious scene.
It is as though a razor-thin facade of decency was
peeled back to reveal the world as a meaner, uglier,
colder, and more challenging place. That’s
the world the Apostle Paul wrote about in Romans
in theological terms of wrath, sin, and death. That’s
your world—turned, twisted. THEREFORE
A second antecedent
proposition: you have changed since you have been
weekend a few years ago a colleague and I met parents
of a graduating senior in front of Sparks. When
they learned that I had taught their son, they beamed
with pride in their son and were effusive in their
praise for the college. They said that their son
had become a man at Wabash, thoughtful, competent,
confident, caring, a real gentleman. They gave me
a bottle of fine wine. As they were walking away,
my colleague, with a dry sense of humor, whispered,
"I didn't have the nerve to tell them that
sometimes happens to young men between 18-21 no
matter what we do." But, he was joking; we
knew better. In four years he could have become
something very different — a terrorist, or
a thief, or just an egotistical bore. A wag once
said, "Take a lad who steals coal from the
railroad yard and educate him, and he will steal
railroads." But, we at Wabash don't believe
that for a moment. Liberal arts education changes
you because it leads to the skills of freedom and
virtue. Scientiae et Virtuti is the motto on our
college seal and on the front of your program.
Loren Pope profiled
Wabash in his book Colleges that Change Lives. We
know that he had gained wisdom with age because
he concluded the chapter on Wabash with these words,
"Long before the end of my visit to Wabash,
I was wishing I'd gone here instead of to its coed
rival, DePauw." [Some of you will have to forgive
us; that’s an inside joke.] Nevertheless,
his is a serious thesis — that excellent liberal
arts colleges "raise trajectories, strengthen
skills, double talents, develop value systems, and
impact confidence." Scientiae et Virtuti. That's
the reason the Wabash faculty placed this statement
as the Preamble to its curriculum, "We, the
Faculty of Wabash College, believe in a liberal
arts education. We believe that it leads people
to freedom, helps them choose worthy goals and shows
them the way to an enduring life of the mind."
We trust you have changed for the better since you
have been at Wabash. THEREFORE....
“THEREFORE”. SO, TWO EXHORTATIONS.
First, the Apostle
Paul. "Do not be conformed to this world, but
be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so
that you may discern what is the will of God —
what is good and acceptable and perfect." Or,
in the words of another translation, "Don't
let the world around you squeeze you into its own
mold." Jeremiah warns God’s people against
those prophets and dreamers who have ready-made
answers, perverted visions of the future, little
boxes to live in, and ultimately despair.
Our world seems
to abound in such prophets, politicians, sect leaders,
pundits, and commentators. Even some forms of education
bind persons in a role, an occupation, a stereotyped
future, with bonds as tight as any prison. People
prepared to step into ready-made prisons, whether
of sect, or occupation, or corporation, are much
in demand and highly praised and paid. You were
not educated to become cogs in corrupt machines
of other people’s imaginings or grist for
their mills. Your parents and your Wabash teachers
realize that we have been preparing you to live
as free men in a world we cannot imagine and that
some of us will not live to see. If you have found
in this college liberation, new vistas, virtue,
and hope, cherish that because it goes against much
of what we experience of this world.
is not without agony and risk. It is not easy, but
it is worth it! As sophomores you read W.E.B. Dubois'
"On the Coming of John" published just
one hundred years ago this year. John returned home
from college full of dreams to be a teacher. His
family and community took him from the train station
to a welcome-home celebration. Pushed behind the
pulpit, he shared his dreams, but could not make
himself understood in the “unknown tongue”
learned in college. Then a elderly deacon spoke
with a “rude and awful eloquence” but
John “never knew clearly what the old man
said.” The gap was great between John’s
dreams and challenges for the future and the reality
of his lived world. An awful chasm! John walked
out into the night. When his little sister joined
him, John wept on her shoulder. “John,”
she said, ‘does it make everyone — unhappy
when they study and learn lots of things?”
He paused and smiled, “I am afraid it does,”
he said. “And, John, are you glad you studied?”
“Yes,” came the answer, slowly but positively.
That dialectic of
education is strong in the silent anxiety of parents
as we watch our children mature. Will they be like
us? Oh God, I hope so! Let them continue to speak
our language, cherish our values, be at home with
us. Will they be different, better than we are?
Oh God, I hope so! Let them soar as free men. Give
them the whole world as a gift, before they feel
it as a burden. Don't let them be trapped by our
faults and failures. Save them from the dark side
of the world.
From the other side,
I remember the point of maturity, which came too
late, when I accepted the fact that I am the son
of my father and mother, with all the particularities
of accent, faith, and location that implied. But
the liberation came when I found that meant they
were pushing me onto their shoulders to see new
vistas, and, with the help of the church and college,
to dream dreams and see visions they could never
Therefore, do not
be conformed to this world as it is, but be transformed
by the renewing of your minds to discern for yourselves
what is good, acceptable and perfect, which, Paul
says, is the "worship worthy of thinking beings."
Dare we say, “worship worthy of Wabash men?”
The second exhortation
is simply, "Therefore, save civilization!"
That isn’t exactly sacred scripture; it comes
from President Ford’s comments to you at your
Freshmen Chapel. “Save civilization!”
[Our guests will have to excuse his extravagant
language. I fear it is an occupational hazard of
a Wabash president. He always thinks that he is
speaking to Little Giants.]
But President Ford
has it right. The goal of liberal arts education
is not just personal freedom and transformation.
It prepares people to lead, to make a difference,
to make the world a better place, to save civilization.
Fred Craddock, one
of my teachers, said that as a young man he yearned
for the opportunity to make one heroic gesture of
giving his life to Christ. But as an older man he
realized that there was no one dramatic gesture
for him. Rather, his life was given in bits and
pieces, most often as a teacher when a student stopped
him in the hall and asked, "Professor, do you
have a minute." You have seen examples of such
calls here, some mentioned in The Bachelor: "Mr.
Medsker, will you lead this student organization?"
"Mr. Espino, You have a serious illness; will
your response be an inspiration to others?"
"Mr. Bopp, will you be able to lead your team
to excellence and good works from the sideline."
“Mr. Shepard, will you lead the MXI and its
Each of you seniors
can put your own name in there, and remember how
you responded to similar calls. In such acts of
service and virtue, hereafter, you live up to your
calling as Wabash men to save civilization bit by
So, some biblical
exhortations (a little less extravagant than President
Ford’s, but to the same end).
From Jeremiah: Therefore,
seek the welfare of the city where you live.
From Paul: Therefore,
love one another. Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one
another. Don't be haughty, but associate with the
lowly. Repay no one evil for evil. Live peaceably
And a final exhortation
from Wabash College: Therefore, “judge thoughtfully,
act effectively, and live humanely in a difficult
In doing so, you
will fulfill the college’s hopes for you and
God’s plans for you — plans for your
welfare and not for evil, to give you a future with
Please God, let it
be so for these young men!
Williams is Professor of Religion Emeritus at Wabash.