Welcome to Convocation Chapel for the fall semester of 2013. My thanks to all who have made this event possible: faculty, staff and students. We are glad you are here, and we’re looking forward to a productive and meaningful school year.
It is a time of beginnings…
Wallace Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel was entitled Angle of Repose. At one point in the book, he places these words on the lips of the wheel-chair bound narrator, Lyman Ward, regarding the new beginnings of the fall:
That old September feeling, left over from school days, of summer passing, vacation nearly done, obligations gathering, books and football in the air… another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
Maybe that’s how you feel today: last year’s mistakes have been wiped clean by the summer.
It is, indeed, a time of new beginnings.
The word “convocation” is defined by Webster in the following way: “An assembly or meeting of the members of a college or university to observe a particular ceremony such as the opening of an academic year.” That is why we are here—to initiate a new opening, a fresh start, a beginning.
We try to do convocation right at Wayland. The faculty and administration are in what we call academic regalia. Pretty, isn’t it? And I get to wear jewelry—this medallion. It is about the only time men get to play “dress up”!
These garments and even the colors used on our robes and hoods symbolize the academic degrees we have earned which have prepared us for this educational calling. Well over 90% of the full-time professors who teach at Wayland have earned what is called a terminal degree: the highest academic certification they can obtain in their chosen field of study. The rest of our faculty have a master’s degree or its equivalent.
So why do we dress up in these robes for this occasion?
Partly, it is to acknowledge that this is a significant moment in the life of the university. We also wear regalia at graduation/commencement which is also, obviously, a time of great celebration for us. Regalia reminds all of us that this journey of higher education is significant and important and potentially truly life-changing.
But I believe there’s another reason we wear regalia. It is really not so that we can brag about our academic accomplishments. It isn’t that we believe that we look attractive or handsome in these robes. (The truth is, these things are hot and most of us will need some Gatorade after convocation is over!)
No, we wear this regalia because we want you to know that we have done the very best we can to get ready for this wonderful and important responsibility of teaching students. God’s call to teach has and continues to consume the lives and hearts and minds of every faculty member, every administrator seated behind me on this stage.
And while it took most of us some years of pretty hard work to be able to dress like this, I am confident that the primary focus of every teacher in this room is this: we hope and pray and believe that the academic experiences we have had enable us to teach you more effectively. Whether you realize it or not, students, you are our calling—our very life. You are the reason Wayland Baptist University exists. That is why we dress this way—it is an illustration of our commitment to you.
Wayland is a teaching university. That means that while we cherish and celebrate research and discovery efforts by both our faculty and our students, our primary institutional focus has been and will continue to be effective and compelling instruction within a classroom setting. We want you to learn and grow and expand both your life and your heart.
Convocation is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the fact that we are starting a new semester.
Have you ever thought about the fact that the Bible begins with a single verse that is both simple and yet incredibly profound? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” In Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message the verse reads: “First this: God created the heavens and earth—all you see, all you don’t see.”
There are some interesting things about this verse of beginnings I would like for you to think about.
The definite article “the” is not in the original Hebrew language. Literally, the verse should read “Beginning, God created…” That’s why Dr. Peterson states it: “First this: God created…”.
One implication of this phrase: there was never a time when God was not. He stands outside of linear history as we know it. Yet this creator God—who is over and in and also outside of history—has invaded history to offer Himself to us by way of a personal relationship: a relationship which begins the moment we place faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.
Another insight provided by this verse: God is ultimately the source of everything that is. Whatever processes God used to form the world into the life rich environment that it is today, he was the source—the beginning—the initiator—the creator. He hurled the world and the universe into existence by his unique and distinctive and sovereign authority and power.
The word used for “created” (bara in the Hebrew) is also significant. The Old Testament uses this word uniquely and solely to describe the activity of God. Only God creates. Only He has that kind of power, potential and possibility.
This is the idea Paul expresses in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Dr. Peterson in The Message expresses it this way: “…anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons!”
Making the universe and its worlds is something only God can do. Making any individual a new person—an entirely new creation because of that’s person’s faith in Jesus—is also something only God can do. The power of God is something Wayland affirms and embraces. Many of us believe that that power is the only real hope for our world.
Permit me to share an analogy—not perfect but perhaps helpful.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics is a general principle which states “In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state.” Ok, let’s put it another way. This is the statement made by Regina Bailey (who wrote one of the ‘Idiot’s Guide to…’ books on science and so explains things a bit more simply): “When energy is transferred, there will be less energy available at the end of the transfer process than at the beginning.” This is also referred to as entropy.
Here’s an example: an old windup watch runs on the stored power of a tightly wound mainspring. Energy is released until the spring has unwound and that energy has been expended. That’s entropy.
The only way to re-energize the watch is to wind the mainspring.
But notice this: such action can only happen when an outside force of energy invades the mechanics—the system—of the watch to wind the mainspring again. An outside source of power is needed if the watch is to work as it was designed.
The only way to solve entropy is to have a power outside the closed decaying system invade that system with a new source of energy so that change can be effected—in essence, so that the system can be recreated.
Sin brings spiritual and personal entropy into our lives. The only solution for the decay of sin comes from outside ourselves in the person and work and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ. When I trust in Christ, spiritually I become a new creation—changed by something and someone outside of my self—and it’s something only God can do.
So from a biblical perspective, the act of physical creation (of our universe, for example) is something only God can do. Likewise, lives decaying because of sin can only know new life i.e. spiritual recreation, if a transforming power comes from outside the inner “system” of our own existence. Recreation comes only through Christ. Only God can change our lives and hearts.
So both creation and recreation are actions God alone can accomplish.
Over the last school year, Wayland has focused and throughout this school year will continue to focus on the importance of civility—treating each other with respect and love. This year at Koinonia, we talked about connections—between one another and with God.
How can this happen in a world of entropy and decay? How can we—the imperfect and flawed and entropic human beings that we are—be what God really wants us to be?
It can only happen through an invasion…an invasion of our lives by the very person, love and power of Jesus Christ.
So I hope you learn a lot this year. I hope your mind expands and grows as you explore this wonderful world with all of its complexity, beauty and entropy.
But I also hope you heart is changed and transformed this school year. I hope you will be open to that which only God through Christ can do in your life and heart. It is called regeneration, and it simply means being recreated by the power of Christ. And this miracle of recreation begins with a heartfelt prayer of repentance and faith. It is, to put it simply, turning from your sin and trusting in Christ. If you don’t understand what that means or how that can happen, there’s a whole host of folks around me on this platform who would love to walk beside you in this part of the journey of your life. You see, the faith moments of your pilgrimage are the most important moments of all.
So this is my prayer for you—that today and this entire school year will be a time of new beginnings. My prayer is that these fall and spring semesters at WBU will become opportunities for change in your life—a time of new beginnings. I want you to be transformed—both by the growth of your knowledge and by the invasion of your heart by Jesus.
Creation is something only God can do. With all of my heart, I hope you learn that personally and existentially this year.
I hope this is truly a time of new beginnings…
I close with a passage from Jude:
“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen”
In a moment, I will ask you to stand for Wayland’s alma mater and for the benediction. After the benediction, please remain at your seats while the platform party and faculty exit the auditorium. Thanks for being here today, and for listening so well.