It was 40 years ago this coming
August that my father drove me here to this campus from our home in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.
He helped me carry my suitcases up to the second floor of Albright Court, slipped me a $20 bill
(which was more money then than it is now), and drove home without me.
It was a momentous day for me.
When I came here in 1965 I had a Pennsylvania Dutch accent so thick people
sometimes had to ask me to repeat myself in order to understand what I was
saying. My dutchified English was the butt of more than a few jokes.
"Outen the light," I would say, or "Plug out the radio,"
and my friends from Philadelphia
would look at me strangely.
"The potatoes are all," I would say in the dining hall, and after
a pause someone would ask, "The potatoes are all what?"
And let me advise you not to try to tell a female classmate that she is
looking particularly pretty by saying to her, "You look good in the face
Here at Albright, I was plunged into a world of new ideas, new experiences
and new possibilities. I pray your time here at Albright has been even half
as exciting and stretching and challenging as mine was 40 years ago.
It was here at Albright that I became a man. I remember the exact instant it
The spring semester of my sophomore year I began to get restless. I felt
unfulfilled by the rut I'd fallen into of studying hard all week and partying
hard on weekends. I went to the chaplain's office and asked if there was somewhere
in the community I might volunteer where I could make some kind of difference
in the real world.
The chaplain's secretary arranged for me to volunteer Thursday mornings when
I had no classes at a Head Start program in an old Baptist church in the
section of Reading
considered in those days to be the disadvantaged inner-city.
From the first day I walked into that Head Start classroom, a five-year-old
boy named Tye attached himself to me. He was hungry for attention. He became
my Thursday morning shadow. He followed me everywhere. He insisted I play
with him and pay attention to him.
Mid-semester I missed a couple of Thursday mornings at the Head Start program
because of spring break. The Thursday morning after spring break when I
walked into the Baptist
Church, Tye stood up
and pointed and shouted at the top of his lungs, "The man's here! The
I looked around to see who he was talking about. There was no one else there.
Suddenly I realized Tye was pointing at me. Tye thought I was a man. I was
shocked. I still thought of myself as a boy.
Tye helped me realize it was time for me to begin putting away childish
things and to begin to act like the adult he thought I was. In many ways, it
was the moment I grew up.
I am honored that the Albright trustees and administration have invited me
back to share in this baccalaureate service, especially this baccalaureate
service for the Class of 2005, graduating from Albright these 40 years after
I became a student here.
I have one warning for you. Forty years go by like a snap of your fingers. So
pay attention. Don't miss a moment of your own life. Forty years go by like a
Be sure to learn everything you can as soon as you can from your
grandparents, your parents, your aunts and uncles. Ask them everything you
can think to ask and listen closely to their answers. They will not be here
Savor your joys. Feel your disappointments and sadnesses as deeply as you can
because they are part of life, too, and in their own way are blessings. Don't
be afraid to live. Let nothing or no one steal your joy.
Forty years go by like a snap.
So, Class of 2005, here is the question of the morning: What does the Lord
require of you? Distinguished and Beloved Albright College Class of 2005,
what does the Lord require of you?
No matter how much you and I might want to think of ourselves as individuals
to say I am my own woman, I am my own man, not a part of the crowd, not a
demographic like it or not, we are influenced and shaped by the culture of
which we are part. The way we understand our world and our deepest
assumptions about life can be greatly influenced by culturally shared
experiences and events at critical ages and stages of our lives. Generations
can have defining moments.
A defining moment for my parents' generation was Tuesday, October 29, 1929,
the day the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. My parents
lived their lives in anticipation of the possibility it would happen again.
It was a defining moment for their generation.
My older brother Nevin, 19 years older than I am, tells me one of his
generation's defining moments was May 8, 1945, VE Day, Victory in Europe Day,
when Nazi Germany surrendered and everyone, it seemed, was proud to be an
Defining moments for my generation included November 22, 1963 the day
President John F. Kennedy was shot, and April 4, 1968, the day Martin Luther
King Jr. died. We were inspired by our heroes and shaken by their deaths.
Surely for you, Class of 2005, one of your defining moments must be September
11, 2001. It is a day none of us will ever forget, but especially you. Many
of you were beginning your freshman year here at Albright when the Twin Towers
fell and the Pentagon was wounded. You will never forget. You will live, to
some degree or another, the rest of your lives in the shadow of 9-11. We all
will, but for you this will be especially true. How can 9-11 not influence
your world view and your deepest assumptions about life?
So, Beloved Class of 2005, what does the Lord require of you?
In one sense, the Lord requires of you what the Lord requires of us all.
The prophet Micah said it this way: "What does the Lord require of you,
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your
God." (Micah 6:8)
The Lord requires us to do justice. Justice means fairness, treating each
other rightly, protecting each one's basic human freedoms and rights,
insuring equal opportunity for all regardless of anything, and correcting for
past injustices. The Lord requires us to do justice.
The Lord requires us to walk humbly with our God
to know the limits of our
own knowledge, to spiritually acknowledge our fallibility, our imperfections,
our limitations, our proclivity toward selfishness,
greed, and sin. To walk humbly with our God.
And the Lord requires us to love kindness. Loving kindness is what I want to
say a word about to you this morning, because I wonder if it isn't harder to
love kindness in the shadow of 9-11?
The Hebrew word is hesed. To love hesed. The word hesed
appears frequently in Hebrew scriptures, about 250 times. There is no English
word that adequately captures the meaning of hesed.
Sometimes hesed is translated "kindness." Sometimes it is
translated 'loving kindness." Sometimes it is translated "mercy."
Sometimes it is translated "blessing." Sometimes it is translated
"love." It might be translated "grace."
Hesed means caring for others not because they deserve to be cared
for, but because they need care. It means forgiving those who have hurt us.
It means reconciling with those from whom we have been alienated. It means
healing the wounds between us and others. It means risking vulnerability
toward those who might reject us. It means treating others the way God treats
When I read the prophet Micah I am always amazed that, while he says the Lord
requires us to do justice, he says the Lord requires us to love
It is apparently not enough that we choose to act kindly and
mercifully. The Lord expects us to love kindness and mercy, to love
forgiveness, to love being a blessing to others, to love
being reconciled, to love healing the wounds between us. Not just to do
it but to love it.
I worry that, as a nation and a people, we have found loving hesed more
difficult since 9-11. We seem more ready to assume the worst about others,
more fearful of the strangers among us, more wary of people who are
different, more willing to put them in jail just in case. Our new golden rule
seems to be not "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,"
but "Do unto others before they get a chance to do unto you."
I blog. I am a blogger. I think I am not the oldest blogger in the
blogosphere. I hope not. But I know for sure I am not the youngest. One of
the reasons I blog is to be in communication with people who are different
from me in some ways people who think differently theologically and
politically, people who are younger than myself.
One of the people whose blog I read is a young person named John <http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/>. He is under 30. He is
intelligent. He obviously has a great sense of humor. He is a person of
sincere and deep faith. His blogs are often thoughtful and insightful.
Recently he has been writing about Islam. "Since 9/11," he writes,
"Americans and others in the West have used a lot of couched language to
hide what we really think: that Islam is not a Religion of Peace but a
religion of war and that Islamic culture is fundamentally sick and barbaric....There
have been enough planes crashing into skyscrapers (to the delight of Arabs
literally dancing in the streets) and wild, senseless riots to make the
Religion of Peace label seem ludicrous."
(See here <http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/2005/05/koran-flushing-riots-tipping-point.html>.)
John quotes others on the internet who write about
the "bizarre mental disorder of the West which prevents it from
understanding the threat of Islam and dealing with it appropriately." He
adds: "Notice that I didn't say the 'threat of Islamic extremism' or the
'threat of Islamofascism.' I said and meant the threat of Islam. Let's stop
pretending that we're not in a clash of civilizations. It's a struggle that
will end in one of two ways: 1) the virus of democracy successfully infects
the Middle East and drastically softens its sociopathic hatred of everything
non-Muslim; 2) vast areas of the Middle East are irradiated and left lifeless
after the United States responds to terrorist nuclear attacks on its
homeland." (See here <http://locustsandhoney.blogspot.com/2005/05/hanson-nails-it.html>.)
Reading John's blog over time, I have come to respect and even to feel
affection for John, but I fear that 9-11 has so shaped his understanding of
the world that he has come to see a whole culture of the world's people as
foreign and hostile...to see millions of people as alien and other. I worry
that this will be more or less true for an entire generation, including the
Class of 2005.
My experience as a pastor has taught me this: When trouble comes to any one
of us, we can react either by pulling away from others and isolating
ourselves going it alone or we can respond by letting others embrace us
and by embracing them.
The first response leads toward anger and bitterness. We can even come to
love being angry and bitter. I have known those who have nursed their hurts
until they have come to love being angry, resentful and bitter, and their
very souls were poisoned by it.
The second response leads toward hesed. I have known those who
have even come to love being kind, merciful, forgiving and reconciling to love
it! I have known those who have been deeply hurt by life and instead of
becoming bitter, they have used their own experience of being hurt to become
so understanding of the hurts of others, that they have come to love
being kind and merciful toward those whom we would least think deserve
kindness to love it!
This is also true when trouble comes to our nation and to our globe. When
trouble comes, we can either isolate ourselves and
become resentful and bitter, or we can choose hesed.
Is it possible? Can we turn the other check? Can we go the second mile? Can
we love our enemies? Can we love those who do not love us? Or was Jesus just
blowing smoke? (Matthew 5: 38-48)
Micah asks an even harder question: Can we love to love our enemies?
Can we love hesed?
You, Class of 2005, will answer this question for us. This may be the
question for your generation. Can we love a world that we are not sure loves
us? Can we love hesed? You will show us.
There is a story I first read in a book of sermons more than 30 years ago. For
some reason it has lodged itself in my mind. It happened following the Korean
War. A reporter went to Korea
to write about what it was like there in the aftermath of the war. He came
across an American nun, a nurse, who was treating wounded Korean soldiers
Toward the end of the war, the Korean army had few supplies or medicines
left. The soldiers' wounds had not been treated, and the wounds had become
infected and gangrenous and ugly.
As the reporter watched the nun cutting away gangrenous flesh from a Korean soldiers
leg, he held a handkerchief over his face and muttered under his breath,
"I couldn't do that for all the money in the world."
The nun heard him. She paused in
her work for a second and said to him, "Neither could I."
May this nun who loved hesed kindness and mercy more than anything
the world could offer her live in you and in me. And may she especially live
in you, Beloved Class of 2005. May she especially live in you, for today we
begin to entrust the world to your care. Please be kind.