Sewanee Commencement Sermon
My friends: regardless of our age or experiences, we are seeds who were germinated in this seminary. I like the idea of referring to seminarians, regardless of age, as seeds. I found out that the germination process, like seminary, is not exactly easy. To show you where I got this idea I went to that font of all knowledge: Google. And here’s what it says about seeds in the germination process:
Step One: Imbibition – kinda like getting drunk, WATER completely fills the seed. That’s how we are when we first get here – thirsty for theological knowledge.
Step Two: Activation – the WATER activates the enzymes that begin the seeds’ growth. That is to say, after Orientation and all that we begin to settle in and begin to realize just how much we DON’T know! So, it’s up to the professors to active us!
Step Three: Taking Root – the seed grows a root to access WATER underground. Similarly, we begin to take root here in the seminary; but it can’t happen right away…
Step Four: Growth – the seed grows SHOOTS that aim towards the sun. Or, for us: after sufficient thought and prayer and reading and research, we realize that we have changed. We realize that as Seniors we are not the same person we were as Juniors. We’ve grown in grace.
Step Five: Photomorphogenesis: [don’t try to say this word 3-times fast]: I call is BLOSSOMING. The seed grows LEAVES, representing maturity
Now I hope you can see why I think of seminarians as seeds.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought, of late, to how WE ARE ACTIVATED; that is to say, how our seminaries have prepared us for ministry. Just how were we germinated? First, there’s the obvious way: academically. We Anglicans pride ourselves on our academic preparation for ministry; so much so, I’m reliably informed, that in some parts of the Communion, one cannot be ordained a Bishop without a terminal degree – so much for my credibility – but I do have a “Ph.D.” from the School of Hard Knocks, so don’t count me out…
But seriously, Bishop Neil, Dean Turrell, Dr. Brosend, Dr. Crysdale, Mother Gatta, Dr. Holloway, Dr. King, Dr. MacSwain, Dr. Rebecca Wright, Dr. Kenneth Miller, Bishop Tengatenga – and all other worthies arrayed before us today – each in their own way, over the past 3-years, has been preparing us theologically to descend this partly fictional Mountain to return to the real world below, the world from whence we came, to make Christ and His Kingdom real to the world as it is…to live life as it is really lived…to let our light so shine before the world that they may not only seer OUR good works, but more importantly, see Jesus Who is the Light of the world! So, that’s the first and obvious method of germination.
The second and not so obvious way we’ve been germinated is by what happens outside the hallowed walls of the School of Theology whilst were here. What happens in the Woodlands on Friday evenings (perhaps I shouldn’t mention that – or just change the names to protect the guilty)…What happens in COTA…or the Woodlands and the Fowler Centre, our Fieldwork settings, and let’s not leave out the coffee conversations in the Student Lounge. I would argue that these locations are just as much a part of our formation for ordained life as the classrooms and the Pit! These locations have been community-building. When we depart from this place, these locations will be among our fondest memories. And, Lord Willing, as we grow in grace, we will remember those interpersonal experiences that helped make us the servants we are…
Now, please let me confess to you that, although I am unworthy, as I was intimately earlier, I do have some experience in ministry. I am a proud graduate of TWO Episcopal seminaries – which is a miracle in itself in that I am neither studious nor academic. I feel so unworthy that over the past 30- years, my poor professors have had to plead and plod and plot and poke me to graduation; for which I am deeply grateful. For people like me, an academic degree is just like God’s Grace: a gift indeed!
I’m reminded of my fellow cradle Episcopalian, President George W. Bush, who in his first College Commencement Address at his alma mater, Yale, famously said, “Congratulations to all of you A students in the audience; YOU will be the future CEOs, University Professors, Generals and Leaders of our nation. But, congratulations also go to my fellow C-students; for you can be the President of the United States! (I just love self-deprecating humor.)
Again, I am a proud graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary’s Class of 1990. (And before you grimace and disfigure your face, Virginia and Sewanee have a long and illustrious history of mutual cooperation.)…As a Bishop of the Church, I am often asked what did I learn at VTS? How did VTS prepare me for success in ministry? To which I cheerfully reply, “that’s easy: I learned way more by LIVING in the seminary community than in the lectures.
-Primarily by virtue of its location in the national capital area, VTS taught me invaluable lessons about how a “poor little Colored boy from Baltimore” survives – and even prospers - in the foreign culture, called the Episcopal Church.
I’m treating this homily as if it were an ordination sermon because you about to go into the word carrying Christ’s message. So, what I’m about to say is similar to a Charge.
My friends: I believe seminarians are seeds. I assume seminary comes from the same root word as semen. We seeds are planted here by many people who believe we are called, and the professors and staff do everything in their power to see to it that we don’t fall on “rocky ground or bad soil.”
So, now that you are presumably activated, rooted, grown, and even photomorphogenesis-ized! – I charge you first bloom where you’re planted. Be strong in the Lord. No matter the vicissitudes of life, KEEP THE FAITH. And, above all, preach Christ and Him crucified. “Go ye into all the world and PREACH the Gospel,” as Mark 14 says Jesus said.
Or, as Matthew 28 says Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world!”
God bless you!