Delivered by Serene Jones following Barbara Lunblad’s reading of Luke 1: 46-55, the Magnificat.
So here we are at the end of the ceremony, at the end of the day, at the end of your time at Union as students. And I, as president of this venerable institution, have been given the task—that great responsibility—of sending you forth with a charge. That is no small thing to do, particularly following a scripture reading from the best preacher we all know, Barbara Lundblad, and particularly to do it on the heels of nothing less than seven commissioning services that have charged over forty. We’ve also held two wonderful, large celebrations for our retiring faculty members.
It’s a bit redundant to give a charge, as well, because while you have been at Union—in all of your classes—you have heard, again and again—you’ve heard it in the Pit, you’ve heard it in the Refectory, you’ve heard it in dorm rooms, you’ve heard it in chapel, you’ve heard it on the telephone, you’ve seen it in your own writings: that you’re here because you’re called. You’re charged, to lives of service and vocation.
If you look around the country these next several weeks, you’re going to see people being charged in universities and colleges to go forth and lead lives that are grand and stellar, to change the world, to do all sorts of magnificent things.
But in none of those services will you hear the words read about your vocation coming out of the mouth of a pregnant, teenage girl who had been given a vocation: that her body was going to bring light into the world. What an odd thing. These are the words of charge that come to you.
I have a few things to say. They’re very short. But with Mary standing there before us:
First, I charge you to feel very, very proud of this degree that you have earned. You have now entered in to the ranks of a very elite group of people. This is a worldwide, prestigious institution, and to have degrees from here gives you a kind of authority and recognition that few in the world will ever have. I charge you to be proud of that, and to use it always for good and never, ever as a weapon. And I charge you, with the knowledge that comes with that degree, to go out there and not be ashamed that you know a lot. You’re going to be walking into communities where on the one hand, you may be embarrassed to talk about the fact that you have a divinity degree, that you know something about religion, and faith, and Christianity, and the work of the Spirit in the world today. Never be embarrassed to show how you can think about that. And on the other hand, you’re going to find yourselves in contexts where you’re going to be hearing all sorts of religious people talk about many things and you’re going to be embarrassed that you’re a religious person. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you know. You know lots of stuff.
I want to leave you with perhaps the most significant, well-known charge of all. It is a charge that comes to us out of the mouth of the prophet Micah, and Micah says three things to us. Micah tells us what we are called to do; we are called to act with justice. Act with justice. You are going into a world where you are not going to always find the welcome arms of acting with justice that you have found at Union. But, at this point in your education here, you really don’t need to be told about social just because it’s in your bones. So I charge you to trust what you know about it. It will come forth from you and give you strength.
Secondly, Micah charges us, and I charge you, to love mercy and kindness. It’s hard to love, and yet I do believe that love of the world will be what marks this generation’s contribution to this planet. Can you really love the world, be kind to yourselves and to others? Because if you don’t believe that you’re loveable, you can’t believe that all people are loveable.
Lastly, and this is the weirdest one of all: walk humbly with your God. It says walk. It’s a motion, it’s a journey, it’s a path. And you’re not walking it alone. You’re walking it humbly, which means you’re walking as those who are open, but you’re walking with God. God. There’s no word today in any language that makes the nations tremble, indeed, makes all of our foundations shake like that word God. God. And in this passage, we are told who that God is and this is the moment when it all becomes—need I say—counterintuitive. This God asks us to walk humbly with her because she is a humble God. You are asked to walk next to a God who comes in the world not to be a king or a queen, not to rule the world by standing on the top floors of Wall Street, or standing at the front edge of science and technology. You are called to serve and walk with the God who came to us in the form of a little baby, born of a woman, who walked very humbly amongst people, who loved all that he encountered, and for our sake, and in the context of loving us, gave up his life and returns to reign with us; the humble God of the world eternal.
Act justly, love kindness and mercy, and walk humbly with your God. We will miss you here. You’re leaving, we’re still here. We’re not going anywhere. You’re always welcome back here, but your task now is to leave, and to go forth and to let your light shine.