Rockbridge Seminary Commencement
June 4, 2016
Benjamin G. Davis
The traditional statement at commencement exercises is that “graduation is an ending and a beginning.” It is both, of course, but this places the primary emphasis on the graduates, not on those who made it possible for them to graduate. I’d like to do that here.
I love graduations. I get to attend a lot of them as a graduate or as a member of the podium party. Whenever possible, my wife, Janet, goes with me.
We were on our way to a graduation a couple of years ago when we had to stop for gas. Janet seemed to recognize someone at the station, so I asked if she knew him. She said yes, it was her high school boyfriend. I chuckled a bit and asked, “I wonder what would have happened if you had married him.” She patted my hand and said, “Then he’d be going to graduation and you’d be pumping gas.”
It’s true. I – we – didn’t get here on our own – others made it possible. Jesus knew that for Himself – He knew that He couldn’t do His mission alone. The first thing He did when He began His ministry was to surround Himself with disciples – to train them, of course, but also to support Him when He needed help.
More than once the Bible reports that people picked up rocks to stone Jesus but that He “escaped from their midst.” Having a half-a-dozen burly ex-fishermen as a part of His inner circle couldn’t have hurt this process.
When Jesus sent His disciples out on their first mission assignments, He sent them out in pairs so each one would have someone to encourage him when he was having a bad day and to bring him back down to Earth when everything was going miraculously.
And when He told His followers about the hardships that He and they would face and most of them left, He turned to His inner circle and, with pathos in His voice, asked, “Will you leave me, too?” They stayed.
As Jesus didn’t serve alone, we didn’t get here alone, and so we say thank you.
When it comes to thanking those who helped you to get to graduation, people often come up with a list. A list can look like a ranking of people, and that image doesn’t fit my experience of Rockbridge. The picture I see for getting to our graduation is that of a tent – a circular tent with poles evenly spaced around the circumference holding everything up. God is the protective covering over it all and we are at the center of the circle.
If we work our way around the tent, the first pole I encountered was Linda Graber. Linda helped me understand what Rockbridge was all about and walked me through the admissions process smoothly. Thank you, Linda.
The second pole in my tent is Daryl and Sam and Gary for the vision to see and the energy to develop a new college. Believe me, I know what that takes – a lot more than they anticipated at the outset, I’ll bet. Thank you.
A third pole in the tent consists of the contributors to the seminary, those whose financial support helped keep our tuition manageable, and the Board members who helped provide overall guidance. Thank you.
A next pole for me was the ethos of the seminary: there is One Way (capitalized) but no one way (lower case) to think or speak or serve. That freedom only served to deepen my faith. Thank you.
Another pole was the structure of the program which combined both theory and practice – theology and ministry – in all of the courses and the projects. We learned so we could do. Thank you.
I guess Rick Warren was a pole as well for articulating a vision of how church could be built to better serve and teach and save. Thanks, Rick.
From time-to-time a staff member of the seminary proved to be a pole, answering a question or solving a problem so my journey would be unhindered. Thank you.
The faculty members were either one combined pole or a series of individual poles who consistently responded quickly and displayed a supportive attitude. Questions were answered immediately, and there was no week-long wait for the return of our papers, and the returned papers were filled with helpful and insightful comments. I spell that
I N S I G H T F U L, but I could have spelled it I N C I T E F U L for the questions and challenges they raised. Thank you.
Some of us had multiple mentors during our program, people who helped connect us with ongoing ministry; I had one, and Dave Stancil was an ideal partner to serve as a guide and friend and co-learner. Thank you, Dave.
My classmates and fellow graduates were a major tent pole for me, offering affirmation or support or correction as was needed. I tried to post my responses early in the week because I learned that by doing this I got more frequent and thought-full reactions and that I had more time to think through what they said, and so I learned more. Thank you.
For the penultimate pole, I need to be like the apostle Paul who, in his walk around Athens, the seat of learning in the world at that time, discovered the altar to “the unknown god.” I need to thank those who were and always will remain unknown to us who made this possible, and so thank you.
Oh, and lest I forget, there is Janet, my wife. Now poles can be used to support and to prod and to whack over the head. Janet did all three, and I am thankful to her for at least the first two.
But so what? Inputs are nice and process is fine, but unless there is output that is of value, it all means nothing. Well, I am a different person as a result of my time at Rockbridge Seminary. A note I sent to Sam along with my Capstone materials tried to capture this:
This program kicked up a lot of dust for me. I have systematically revisited all areas of my spiritual life, and the discoveries have been good – – mostly – there still remain some areas that need to be addressed. One thing my studies did was to identify in one place the times that God reached out and touched my life. I have been aware of these touches, of course, and have even spoken about them, but I had never put them together in one place to be able to see the pattern. Now, rather than a collection of discrete touches, I see a pattern, a continuous series of involvements wherein God either directly opened or closed a door or confirmed something that I had done, and this pattern has brought me to the place I am today. So thanks to the three of you – Daryl, Sam, and Gary – for providing a mechanism that allowed this to happen.
My prayer is that I will be able to pass on to others what was given to me by Rockbridge Seminary and that I will do it with the same servant mindset that has been shown here.
(To listen to the graduation ceremony click on this link.)