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Baccalaureate

Susquehanna University
Baccalaureate Speech
by The Rev. Mark Wm. Radecke
May 11, 2008

Like the pilgrims assembled in Jerusalem for the great festival about which we heard in the second reading, we gather from all points of the compass. It is a day when joy abounds. We are here to celebrate. And by a serendipitous convergence of the university's academic calendar with the church's liturgical calendar, commencement ceremonies in Susquehanna University's 150th year fall on the Festival of Pentecost.

I wonder sometimes what the proverbial people from Mars would think if they dropped in on a worship service such as this Pentecost baccalaureate.

What would they make of a scene in which faculty are attired in garb that makes them look like what one colleague calls "butterflies in mourning"?

What would they make of the obvious elation on the faces of those festooned in maroon, the equally obvious pride on the faces of those offering their acclaim and the blissfully obvious relief on the faces of those who have written their last tuition check?

And what would they make of seven different people speaking seven different languages simultaneously?

Would they not reach the same conclusion as those who observed the gathered disciples that Pentecost so many years ago: "They are filled with new wine"? And how would I persuade them otherwise? By saying, "No, these are not drunk as you suppose, for they are not from Bucknell?"

(My wife and I live on campus, at the very intersection where not a few of you bid each other loud farewells shortly after the bars close downtown. A commitment to truth-telling would prevent me from using that argument!)

But I do hope that those hypothetical Martians would be able to detect that we have come under the influence of another kind of spirit, one common to both Pentecost and Baccalaureate: and that is God's holy and animating Spirit.

There is, of course, a wide variety of spirits afoot, abroad and at work in this world.

We talk at times about school spirit, team spirit, the spirit of the Class of 2008.

In this election year, we hear a lot about party spirit.

Those who could not be in attendance today tell us that they will be with us in spirit.

We speak of sour spirits, evil spirits, high spirits, the spirit of the law, the spirit of 1776.

At this Pentecost Baccalaureate, we come under the influence of the Spirit of the living God. Of this Spirit, many things could be said. For today, let's take our cue from the words of the prophet Joel, whom the apostle Peter quoted that Pentecost day in Jerusalem:

"In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my servants, both men and women, in those days
I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."

This is heady stuff, and remarkably egalitarian: God's Spirit will be poured out upon all flesh. Male and female, young and old, slave and free, valedictorians and 2.0s: all are encompassed by the outpouring of God's Spirit. To what end? To the end that they become prophets, visionaries and dreamers.

That's the Spirit! That's the spirit we hope and pray will animate you as you stand at the threshold of full membership in the community of educated adults. That's the spirit this tired and dispirited world needs you to have, now and in the future.

Prophets, visionaries and dreamers are people who vividly imagine a world different from and better than the world as it is. Their points of view often run counter to the opinions that are dominant in their culture. As James E. Brenneman, President of Goshen College, put it, "Prophets, visionaries and dreamers evoke an alternative awareness, a new way of looking at reality."

They denounce injustice. They envision new and better ways of thinking, being and doing. They dream dreams of the world as it could be – of the world as God intends it to be. Just so, they often evoke opposition; their notions meet resistance.

If your life – if your choices as a citizen, a consumer, an employee – are animated primarily by the spirit of your chosen profession or station in life, of your race or class or clan, you will simply adopt the point of view preferred and privileged by that group. Your vision of the future will look remarkably like the persistence of the past. If, instead, you are motivated by the Spirit who comes to us from God's promised future, then your vision of the future will look remarkably different. You will see visions and you will dream dreams of the world as it can be, of the world as God intends it. And those dreams and visions will guide your choices and direct your deeds.

Make no mistake: many spirits will seek to bring you under their influence in the years to come. Among them will be spirits that invite you to take certain moral shortcuts, to value profit more than people, to pull your world in close around you and ignore the little, the least, the lost and the last of the world.

Above the cacophonous voices of these callous and indifferent spirits, the Spirit of God calls you to find your heart's own good in your efforts to make the world a better place. Never doubt that you have what it takes to do precisely that. The Susquehanna University faculty boasts a combined total of several centuries of experience and more than a millennium of post-secondary education, and they voted unanimously to graduate you. That action, and the diploma to which it bears witness, is a public declaration that people with considerable authority and integrity recognize your record of accomplishment, and have every reason to believe that you have what it takes to achieve, to lead and to serve in ways that will improve this world we share with countless other people and species; this fragile earth, our island home, which we steward for generations yet unborn.

Many of you have already made a promise to do that. You've signed the graduation pledge and you wear the green ribbon today, a sign of your commitment to, in the words of the pledge, "explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job you consider and to do your best to improve these aspects of any organizations for which you work." Your human spirit is tuned to the frequency of the Holy Spirit. Stay tuned to that frequency and you are well on your way to becoming a prophet, a visionary and a dreamer.

Of course, the last time I looked, Craig's List and Monster.com didn't have a lot of listings for prophets, visionaries and dreamers. So what are you going to do, once you leave this place? That's the question everyone asks you, isn't it? For many of you, answering that question is as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat.

Some of you are quite clear about next steps. Some of you have jobs lined up; others have acceptances at graduate and professional schools, and still others have committed their energies to a year or more of volunteer service with the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, CaptiveFree and Teach for America. Others have not yet discerned the precise shape of the future to which the Spirit is calling you.

Don't worry too much if you leave this place unsure precisely where the Spirit is calling you to go; what the Spirit is calling you to be or do. Discovering your calling is a process which some – perhaps many – of you have not yet completed. So be patient with yourself. Israel had to wander forty years in the wilderness before arriving at the Promised Land. Your parents hope it won't take you that long (they have plans for that room!), but neither do they expect you to have an epiphany by the time the Provost calls your name around three o'clock this afternoon.

Sharon Daloz Parks researches and writes about young adults and the deep questions of meaning, purpose, faith and vocation. Parks writes, "I have observed, among some of the most talented, many who simply have been lured into elite careers before anyone has invited them to consider the deeper questions of purpose and vocation."

I think that it is difficult to graduate from a place like Susquehanna University without having encountered those deeper questions. On the outside chance, however, that you have reached this juncture without having considered them, let me urge you to do so now, better late then never. What do you want your life to mean? How are you going to make a difference? How will you invest what the poet Mary Oliver called "your one wild and precious life"?

Have you listened deeply to your life, to your passions, your hopes, your dreams and visions, those things that touch you, move you, break your heart and then make it sing? Can you imagine yourself being satisfied investing the only life you get in something less than that?

If all you are interested in is making a killing, I pity you.
If you are interested in making a living, I respect you.
And if you are interested in making a life, I salute you.

Prophets, visionaries and dreamers, one and all, educated, motivated and under the influence of the Spirit of the living God. As you see visions and as you dream dreams of the world as it can be, the world as God intends it, may that same Spirit embolden you to pursue those dreams and visions, and make them the reality we all share.

God bless you, and congratulations.

(1) Ruth Russo, Locked Like Rafters, Baccalaureate Address 2000, Whitman College.

(2) Sharon Daloz Parks, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000).

(3) Mary Oliver, The Summer Day from New and Selected Poems, 1992 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).




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