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I was honored to present the following meditation last month at the ceremony honoring Calvin University’s Class of 1973 on the 50th anniversary of their commencement. Given the challenging issues facing the church as well as Christian higher education these days, I think these reflections are relevant well beyond that gathering.
I’m sure I speak for all of us today when I say how grateful we are for Calvin University, for the education we received here, and for the Reformed vision that has shaped and guided Calvin from its beginnings.
There are all kinds of ways to capture that Reformed vision. I like the way Neal Plantinga put it back when we worked together at Calvin Seminary. “Reformed people,” Neal said, “are people who have a big view of creation, a big view of the fall, and big view of redemption.”
Which is why Reformed people like the book of Colossians, and particularly the verses I’m going to read now, Colossians 1:15-20.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Paul’s vision of the person and work of Christ is sweeping, all-inclusive, and indeed covers every square inch of human life and creation. Paul uses the word “all” seven times in these verses. All things (“panta”) have been created for Christ and in Christ. All things (“panta”) are reconciled through Christ. And in Christ all things (“panta”) hold together.
We live in a world today that resists seeing life and reality through this “all things” lens. We live in a polarized world where everything is somehow against something else—either/or.
I’ve heard the inaugural addresses of the last three Calvin presidents. It’s not surprising that they all have an “all things” perspective and see things whole. They have called us to embrace tensions, not to apologize for them; to claim the middle, not flee from it; or as President Wiebe Boer put it in his very recent inaugural address, to “embrace the genius of the and” and “reject the tyranny of the or,” a concept popularized lately by Jim Collins.
I would like to submit to you this morning that the best way for us as fifty-year alumni of Calvin, and for the university itself, to be agents of renewal in this cultural moment is to commit ourselves anew to this big Christ, to that big, capacious, spiritual center of “all things” that is the risen Christ.
A center that makes us “both-and” people; positive and hopeful, not fearful; bold, not timid; including, not excluding; grateful, not bitter; focused upon abundance, not scarcity; on the hunt for wonder and beauty, not settling for the trivial and the insignificant. People who are sold out on only one thing—the call of Christ to “love the Lord our God with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself.”
So many of our professors have embodied this big, positive vision so beautifully.
Each of us has our own favorites, I’m sure. I love the way Quentin Schultze, retired speech and communications professor, put it in his book, Communicating for Life, truly a Reformed theology of communication. “Christians,” Schultze says, “are co-creators of culture. When Christians communicate the way of Christ,” he says, “we co-create life-giving community, peaceful and justice-loving communities of shalom!” I love that!
Now, each of us has had fifty years to ground our life and leadership in this “all things” perspective, to set our focus, as Paul puts it in Philippians 4, upon “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable.”
To be sure, there also have been times in the last fifty years when each of us has gotten it wrong, and even lost our way, in this call to love God and our neighbor. I’m not interested this morning in thinking about how right or how wrong I’ve gotten it; I’m too old for that! But I love it that we can pause at this milestone in our lives and, looking not only back but forward, can remind ourselves of the main thing, our north star and the north star of this school—Jesus Christ, in whom all things hold together.
And let’s be clear, our lifelong vocation to be Christ’s agents of renewal in the world is not nearly over yet. Now, I know that all of us remember all these years past when we have looked in our alumni magazine at pictures of some other 50th reunion class and thought, with pity, “Ah yes, the few that are still living, on their final lap to Zaagman’s, or Dykstra’s, or Bates in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where I’m from—to whatever funeral home you’re bound.
Well, this may be good news or bad news to you, but you could be the next James Bosscher, that beloved engineering professor at Calvin, probably one of the best models of a “lifelong agent of renewal” in the history of this school. James lived to be 97! He just died last year. He lived an “all things,” both/and kind of life until the day he died.
We still have a lot to do, and collectively a lot of time left to do it. Let’s give it all we’ve got. Even if we have to take a nap once in a while.
Christ. Christ. It’s all for Christ, from Christ, through Christ, in Christ. All of it.
And then we prayed:
Oh Lord, thank you for Calvin University, for its professors and leaders and students. Thank you for using it to shape the hearts and minds and careers of thousands of alumni and to build communities of shalom throughout the world. In these difficult times, guide and protect Calvin and all such institutions of higher learning, we pray. May they lead boldly out of faith, not from fear. Use these schools, and use us as their alumni, to bear fruit, good fruit—for the upbuilding of the church, for the sake of the world, for the glory of God. Amen.