Opening Homily for the 157th Academic Year

President Bergman delivered this homily at opening convocation in Christ Chapel on September 4, 2018.
Posted on September 4th, 2018 by

Psalm 33:1-5  (from The Inclusive Bible (TIB) translation)

Sing out your joy to God, you who love justice-
praise is fitting for loyal hearts.
Praise God with the harp,
and play music with a ten-stringed lyre!
Sing God a new song,
play with all your skill, and with shouts of joy!
For the word of God is true
and everything God does can be trusted.
God loves justice and right
and fills the earth with love.

On this day, as we begin the 157th Academic Year at Gustavus Adolphus College, I am struck by the opening of Psalm 33, which you just heard. The psalmist tells us, “Sing out your joy to God.” “Sing joyfully!” “Rejoice!” “Shout for joy!” Is that you today? Did you walk into this chapel overflowing with joy? Did you sing out that opening hymn of praise with unbridled exuberance? I hope so, because this is indeed a day to celebrate.  We are here together as a community, and together we begin a new academic year, full of anticipation, optimism, eagerness, and, yes, a measure of pure joy.

Let’s go back and unpack these five beautiful verses from Psalm 33. The first three verses are a call, or a command, to praise God.  Here they are again:

1 Sing out your joy to God, you who love justice-

praise is fitting for loyal hearts.

2 Praise God with the harp,

and play music with a ten-stringed lyre!

3 Sing God a new song,

play with all your skill, and with shouts of joy!

After telling us to sing out our joy to God, the psalmist tells us who should praise God – “all you who love justice.” Other translations refer to the morally upright or the righteous. In other words, we are looking for all those who are fair, just, honorable, and will do what is right in the sight of God.

And how are we to offer praise? Use instruments! Offer praise with the harp and the ten-string lyre, and, if you want a little more pomp and circumstance, you might consider the pipe organ. Thank you to our instrumentalists, who will be part of our celebrations throughout the year. Finally, we are told what we are to sing to God – we should sing a new song, play with skill, and with shouts of joy. When we approach our worship (and perhaps also our work) as ever-new, we experience it with a freshness that is life-giving. Bring your skills, your talents, your artistry, and your very best selves and shout with joy! In doing so, we become aware of God in our midst and our hearts are stirred.

In verses four and five, and in subsequent verses, the psalmist explains the reasons why we are called to praise God, why God is worthy of our praise. 

4 For the word of God is true

and everything God does can be trusted.

5 God loves justice and right

and fills the earth with love.

In these two short verses, five of God’s qualities are revealed to us:

  •           Truth
  •           Trustworthiness
  •           Justice
  •           Rightness
  •           Love

We praise God because God’s word is true; because God can be trusted; because God loves justice, fairness, and equity; because God also loves rightness or righteousness; because God’s love is faithful, steadfast, and extends across the entire earth.

And so, how does all this apply today? We might ask, how are we doing in reflecting these qualities of God in our daily lives? And, how is Gustavus doing as an institution? This is a powerful list of character traits, and therefore worthy of thoughtful consideration at both the individual and community level. 

Most certainly, as an academic institution, we value truth-seeking and new knowledge. We search for truth for the betterment of society and all humankind. We pursue a variety of scholarly questions, and we teach our students the importance of asking, “What is truth?“ and “What is true?” As individuals, the commitment to seek the truth, to value the truth, and to be truthful in our interactions is at the core of our personal integrity. Truth is foundational to a healthy community and the pursuit of excellence.

President Rebecca M. Bergman

Trustworthiness is a close cousin to truth. Are we trustworthy as an institution? Our students put their trust in us to fulfill our mission and to provide for them an education that will prepare them for meaningful and productive lives beyond Gustavus. We put our trust in our students to uphold their part of our joint work.  We must earn each other’s trust every day. This week, we all begin the process of building trust with 700 new incoming students who are joining our community. Remember that trust is relational – it develops between people and must always be treated with great care. Trustworthy institutions are made up of trustworthy individuals. Like truth, trust is foundational to a healthy community and the pursuit of excellence.

And then there is justice and righteousness. Justice, of course, is one of our five core values. What does it mean for Gustavus to be a just institution? How do we collectively demonstrate and practice justice, fairness, and equity? And, at the individual level, how do we engage in everyday justice? I believe a commitment to justice invites us into action, and this takes intentionality by each one of us. Let’s intensify our efforts to value diversity, promote equity, and practice inclusion.  Our incoming class has the highest percentage of students from historically underrepresented groups in the history of Gustavus. They, and all our students, will appreciate and benefit from our everyday support, guidance, encouragement, and care in the coming weeks. That is everyday justice.

Righteousness, or uprightness, is closely related to and dependent on justice. Right living, that is, living with integrity, high moral character, honesty, decency, and goodness will compel us to pursue justice. At the same time, authentically and faithfully pursuing justice requires right living. Practice right living, for yourself and for the sake of others. It will make our community stronger and more vibrant.

And finally, there is love. May love be in an around all that we do – love of place, love of mission, love of teaching and learning, love of the people of this community. May love fill our hearts to overflowing each and every day of the coming year.  

You will, in just a few minutes, have another chance to sing out with joy. In fact, you are free to take joy with you for the rest of the day. And, remember that tomorrow is a new day with a new song. Find delight in the people around you, in your work, in the beauty of nature, in the smallest of kindnesses. 

My fellow Gusties, as we commence a new academic year, may we, as individuals and as a tightly bound community, find reasons to shout with joy every day. May we strive faithfully for righteousness in our daily living. May we be inspired to be our best selves in all we do, called to work with uncommon zeal toward the common good. May we aspire to excellence in our many endeavors and relentlessly pursue justice and fairness for all. 

May God grant us grace, peace, and an overabundance of joy this day and always.

Amen.

 

Comments are closed.