Commencement Address - Reclaiming Our Identity

Reclaiming Our Identity Commencement Address

Saturday, May 22, 2004 ~ North Park Theological Seminary ~ Chicago, IL

Presented by Rev. Dr. Michael L. Pfleger, Pastor, Faith Community of St. Sabina

Reclaiming Our Identity

Commencement Address

Presented by Rev. Dr. Michael L. Pfleger, Pastor, Faith Community of St. Sabina
Saturday, May 22, 2004 ~ North Park Theological Seminary ~ Chicago, IL

On the side of the mountain Jesus told us “Whatever you do to least of your brothers and sisters you do unto me”. At the Last Supper, after the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup, Jesus got up and washed their feet and said, “If you wish to follow me, you must do what I do, for the Son of man has not come to be served, but to serve.”

And in the great commission Jesus sent His followers to the ends of the earth to preach the gospel and establish His kingdom.

And yet, when we look at this institution that we call the Church in the world today, it seems as though we have lost our identity and have come to reflect more today the priest and the Levite of the gospel, who seemingly pre-occupied with themselves and their agenda, crossed over and ignored the injured and hurting along the Jericho road, rather than reflecting the good Samaritan who went to the injured man, picked him up and cared for him.

My brothers and sisters, as we gather here this morning to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of academia and the graduation of those who shall receive diplomas this morning, it is imperative that we also face the difficult reality that the Church, which was established by Jesus to be His witness and His presence in the world, has become an absentee landlord of the garden that God has entrusted to us to work and to rule.

And thus we have allowed the weeds of the enemy to take root and grow wild!

We must face the reality that there seems to be a disconnect between what we say we believe and what we do - between what we study in the Word and how we make the Word flesh.

If our degrees, if our very faith is to be more than a diploma or a church membership or a position, we must be willing to reclaim our identity in Christ and become again the bright light and the seasoned salt which Christ has called us to be. We must reclaim our position to possess the land and be His voice crying in the wilderness both in season and out of season. For it is absolutely essential that we, at least, provide the world and its inhabitants God’s divine option.

This is vital, not only for our own creditability in the world and our own accountability before God, but also because along life’s highway today, there are an increasing number of brothers and sisters lying striped, beaten, robbed, and left to die, who feel even the Church has passed them by!

Whether it is our children, who 50 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, still find themselves in a society that chooses to spend more money on prison cells than public classrooms, thereby robbing them of the educational foundation they need to succeed and stripping them of the ability to compete on an equal playing field –

Or, a government, who in its pride and arrogance, has chosen to become a bully of the world - who needs no one and calls themselves liberating Iraq while bothers and sisters throughout this nation are shackled by poverty, injustice, lack of health care, unemployment, and homelessness.

A government who continues to think they can build peace through the barrel of the gun and the dropping of a bomb – and who are now forced, because of public exposure, to deal with the abuse in Iraqi prisons but still won't face the abuse in America’s prisons, while a Church sits silent.

Yes, we must reclaim our identity, because along life’s highway are brothers and sisters drowning in a pool of “isms”: sexism, materialism, secularism and, of course, America’s greatest addiction - racism.

And 46 years after Dr. King’s great speech, delivered in the shadow of Lincoln, still the most segregated hour of our week is Sunday Morning at 11:00 a.m., while we are in our churches at the altar of the Lord.

Yes, we must reclaim our identity because although we have more Christian churches, tapes, books, workshops and seminars than ever in history, we have seemingly become one of America’s Fortune 500 companies fitting into society, rather than choosing to shape it and mold it to fit in Christ.

And thus risk being the Christian church that Dr. King wrote about in his letter from the Birmingham jail, in 1963, when he said, “We will have to repent in this generation not only for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

We must reclaim our identity, because we are in danger of becoming the ineffective thermometers who articulate the climate and conditions of the world rather than the effective thermostats that change it and transform it.

Yes, we must become once again the voices crying in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” And become again the Good Samaritans who go to the side of the road and revive and restore the countless brothers and sisters who lie there dying – no matter the cost or the sacrifice.

The bible tells us the Samaritan, not only bandaged his wounds and anointed them with oil, but put him on his donkey, took him to an inn and told the inn keeper, “Do whatever you have to do to take care of him, to make him well again, that he may return to the highway of life and stand again on his own feet and the human dignity to which God created him.”

The Samaritan said, “And I will take care of his cost.”

See, that’s what true servanthood is all about – that’s what gospel servanthood is all about – that’s what discipleship is all about. It’s about caring and sacrificing and serving, without asking, “What am I going to get out of it?” or “How will I get paid back?”. But it’s a willingness to pay the cost because I understand I have been saved by grace, but saved for service. And discipleship will cost.

Charles Spurgeon said, “A church which does not exist to do good in the heart of the city has no reason to justify its existence and a church that doesn’t exist to fight evil, take the side of the poor, denounce injustice and hold up righteousness is a church that has no right to be.”

We must not allow ourselves to close our eyes or deafen our ears to the cries of pain all around us, nor must we allow ourselves to become like Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of responsibility for it.

Brothers and Sisters, a bachelor’s degree that does not make us better equipped to serve, and a master’s degree that doesn’t make us better ministers to God’s people, and a doctorate degree that doesn’t make us more determined to fight for right, are not worth the paper they are printed on.

But if this celebration becomes, in fact, the launching pad of the new John the Baptist who prepare a way the for Lord’s return and causes us to become the voices who expose evil fearlessly, declare truth unashamedly, wage a war on the enemy and cause a revolution in the land for righteousness –

If this celebration becomes a reminder to us that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, and He has anointed us to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, free the oppressed and to proclaim a year of favor for the Lord –

Yes, if this graduation ceremony becomes not just the awarding of degrees and the distribution of diplomas, but in fact the ordination of drum majors of justice, instruments of peace and Good Samaritans – then, not only will those in this room rejoice with you today, but all heaven rejoices.

And the words we pray over and over in our churches - “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” - become a little more real and a little more credible to the world.

Finally, as we leave here to live our faith, let me close with the words of a simple woman who was of little stature but of great significance - Mother Teresa:

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway. When you do good, they will accuse you of egoism and ulterior motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you will make false friends and real enemies. Be successful anyway. The good that you do will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Sincerity and openness make you vulnerable. Be sincere and open anyway. What you build up over years of work can be destroyed. Build anyway. Your help is really needed, but people may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world your best, and it will knock your teeth out. Give the world your best anyway.

© 2004 Faith Community of Saint Sabina.1210 West 78th Place ~ Chicago, Illinois 60620 ~ 773-483-4300. All Rights Reserved.