Opening Homily for the 158th Academic Year

President Bergman delivered this homily at opening convocation in Christ Chapel on September 3, 2019.
Posted on September 3rd, 2019 by

Micah 6:8 (NRSV)

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

This morning, we gather as a community to mark the beginning of the 158th Academic Year at Gustavus Adolphus College. We’re all dressed up and ready to go! The residence halls are filled, the classrooms are set, the syllabi are done, the new Nobel is open, including the STEAMery, and the new tennis bubble is up. We are eager. We are enthusiastic. We are optimistic. We are moving forward together, and it is exciting to anticipate all the adventures that lie ahead of us during this academic year. Yes, indeed, today we begin. And it is good.

When I was about nine years old, the movie The Sound of Music was released. Some of you, like me, may remember seeing that movie in a theater in your home town. It was one of my favorites. Back in those days, my family rarely, if ever, saw a movie more than once. We did, however, buy the sound track on a record album. My younger sister and I played it over and over, singing along, and I am quite sure I could still sing those songs today. Here’s the start of one song you probably all know, whether or not you originally saw The Sound of Music in 1965…

Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi.

So, as we begin a new academic year at Gustavus, what is our A-B-C? As we move forward together this year, what is our Do-Re-Mi?

Today’s lesson from Micah Chapter 6, Verse 8, gives us a perfect place to begin. Listen again what the prophet Micah says to the people of Israel:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

This spells out pretty clearly how God wants us to live…no, actually, Micah tells us how God requires us to live. Three simple directives:

  • Do justice.
  • Love kindness.
  • Walk humbly with your God.

Let’s unpack them one at a time, then let’s think about how they fit together.

Do justice.

President Rebecca M. Bergman

Being a person who values action, this really resonates with me. God is not suggesting that we think about justice, or wish for justice, or talk among ourselves about how we want justice. This is a clear call to action. We cannot just talk the talk. We must walk the walk. We must do justice. We must act justly. Simply put, this means doing what is right. It means, on a personal level, that we are honest and fair in our relationships with people. It means holding a standard of equity among people that is never compromised, even when it might be inconvenient or difficult.

On a social level, doing justice means looking out for those who are most vulnerable in our community. It means caring for the widow and the orphan, the hungry and the homeless, the sick and the downtrodden. It means looking for and addressing the systemic reasons for injustices in our society. It means bringing hope to those who are in despair. God’s justice is about serving the common good, making sure that all people are treated with dignity, have sufficient food, clean water, and a safe place to lay their head to sleep. 

Love Kindness  

Micah tells us that God requires us to love kindness. In our interactions with others, compassion and mercy must fill our hearts and inspire us to acts of kindness, especially when we see people who are suffering, needy or in distress. This is the kind of unconditional love that God offers to us and that we, in turn, are commanded to offer to those around us. We comfort others, because God comforts us.

Picture a world of constant kindness, a world where there is an endless supply of kindness for those who need it most, a world where help is readily available for those who are suffering or carrying heavy burdens. Could that be possible in our world today? Could that be possible here at Gustavus? The truth is that we all need kindness and mercy. If we are required to love kindness, then we must freely give these gifts to others in spite of their faults, mistakes, shortcomings, idiosyncrasies, and aggravations. We must offer forgiveness, not blame; patience, not frustration; love, not indifference; empathy, not apathy; kindness, not cruelty.

We all know that small acts of kindness can make a big difference. Mother Teresa, who embodied the concept of kindness, said this about helping others, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

Desmond Tutu spoke about the multiplicative power of acts of kindness. He said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Walk humbly with your God.

While “do justice” and “love kindness” are inherently about relationships among people, this third directive is about a person’s relationship with God. We are asked by God to pursue our lives with humility, to be modest and unassuming. An inner sense of humility means refraining from exalting ourselves and guarding against becoming full of pride. A humble person is a servant leader. A humble person remembers that they are merely human, and inherently imperfect.  To be humble means to “lower oneself,” and to realize that none of us are all-knowing. To walk humbly with God means that we need God’s help every day as we walk through our daily lives.

So, in this powerful little verse from Micah, we have found our A-B-Cs or our Do-Re-Mis for the Gustavus community in this our 158th academic year. When we seek to be an extraordinary community at this extraordinary liberal arts college, we begin with doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.  When we come together and listen to one another, we can begin to develop solutions to the great challenges of our time. And we can imagine the goodness that will flow from this community into the world. I am confident that we can find better ways to address injustices that impact our neighbors in St. Peter and around the world.

As we begin this new academic year, may we, as individuals and as a community, be inspired to action. May we move forward together to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. May we bring our very best selves to this work each day, striving faithfully to fulfill our mission, live out our core values, and attain the vision we have set before us. May we aspire to excellence in all our endeavors, shower each other with kindness, and serve our neighbors near and far so that all may flourish. 

For this place and for these people, we give you thanks, O God.

Amen.

 

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