Andrew Yuengert Pepperdine University
Andrew M. Yuengert
Pepperdine Baccalaureate, 13 December 2002
Congratulation, graduates. We are proud of you for completing this important work, we will miss you, and we look forward to your future.
But this evening I donít want to talk about your future, or about your past. I want to talk about your present, about now.
We celebrate graduations, weddings, births, and other big events because they represent such a break between the past and the future. The celebration is a pause, a time in between; you are not a student any more, but neither have you really begun your futures. We pause at times of change and reflect on past accomplishments, we appreciate those who have helped us, those who want to celebrate with us, and we look forward together to the future.
Events like this remind us that the past and the future are very different things; we leave something old behind, and begin something new. But we often forget that this is not just true at times of celebration; it is true at every moment of our lives. What we see slipping into the past is always radically different from what we see approaching from the future.
But neither the past nor the future is as important as the present. We tend to forget amid all of our remembering and planning that a single now matters more than an eternity of thens. I want to remind you about why this is, and then talk about what we should do about it.
Now is the only time over which God has given us any control. Our freedom as men as women, as sons of God, is not a freedom over the past, as if we could choose to have a different personal history. We have a bit more influence over the future, through planning and effort now. But even careful planning for the future must take place now, and we can't be sure that God will give us time in the future in which to realize our plans. Our time is now, for action or inaction. Scripture reminds us that "Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation." Jesus constantly urges his disciples not to take the future for granted, but to follow him now, to wait on him now, and not to count on being able to anticipate his coming, which will be as surprising as the coming of a thief in the night.
Now is the only time in which we come into contact with real things. Even someone who believes she was Cleopatra in a previous life is not Cleopatra now. Things that once were, and things that someday will be, may be real and actual to God, who sits outside of time, but thatís not how things are to us. The only reality that is present to us is what exists now. And because it exists now, it has been made our business now.
Our freedom as human beings is a freedom to act now. You are not yet free to stand up tomorrow during graduation and wave to your friends. You are free to do so now at Baccalaureate. You will only be free to stand up at graduation when graduation becomes your present reality.
I know this sounds obvious and philosophically too cute, but it is part of our human condition to forget obvious and important things. We all know people whose ability to act in the present is paralyzed by regret, resentment, or nostalgia about the past, and those whose eager anticipation or anxious dread of the future makes them neglect the one time they actually have some control over, now. They are just waiting around for something better (or worse), and their anticipation only makes them impatient with the present, the only time in which they can actually do anything.
Our readings tonight both talk about peace, and both of them speak of the present as a time for peace. The reading from Numbers contains a blessing which God gave the Hebrew priesthood to use in blessing the people. Note how God blesses in the present tense: "The Lord Bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace." God gives peace now. Likewise, James exhorts us to seek righteousness in peace now, not later.
We need peace now. If we had peace yesterday, but not now, we would be regretful, not peaceful. If we were promised it tomorrow, but did not have it today, weíd be impatient with our friends and our circumstances. Real peace can only be real now.
God always offers us what we need, and he offers us peace now. It is not something we have to wait for. We donít have to wait for graduation to be over, or to be settled in our first (or next job), or for some other event to occur.
Iím sorry the reading from James stopped where it did, because he goes on in chapter 4 to offer advice about how to pursue righteousness and peace now. Of course, his prime example is Christ, and he tells us to be like him, who found peace in doing the will of his heavenly father. James goes on to list a set of actions that we know are in the will of the Father:
1) v.7; pray. Even if the end of the world is at hand, find peace in prayer.
Talk to God. Thank God. Complain to God, even, but talk to him.
2) Love one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. And sin, not \ suffering, is the greatest enemy of peace.
3) Be hospitable to one another. Be generous, welcoming.
4) Put the gifts we have received from God at the service of others; after
all we received those gifts so that God might minister to others through
Most important is Jamesís advice that "whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
What does all this mean for us now?
First, I want you to think about how important the next 24-48 hours are. Do not overlook them in favor of the future Ė your job on Monday, your coming world tour, your return home. What should you do with all the nows that you will be given between now and the beginning of your post-college life? I have a couple of suggestions:
First, look around you. Who needs your hospitality? Your forgiveness, your good will? Whom should you ask for forgiveness? Times like this are important times for families and friends to say things that donít get said at other times. Donít be in a hurry for this time to end. There is something that you are supposed to be doing in these next few days, surrounded as you are by family and friends.
Second, donít stop praying. Or if you donít pray, start. The God who made time and put you in it is not ignoring you. He wants to hear from you, and he puts unimaginable spiritual resources at your disposal to help you. Put yourself and all you are at his disposal, and you will find the truth about yourself. Those who do not pray are like starving children sitting at a feast that they do not even notice is there. You have a calling in life, but a calling implies that someone is calling you. How can you discover your calling without listening to the caller?
I want to leave you with a final thought. Just as sin is the ultimate threat to peace, the ultimate path to peace is found through personal holiness. Pope John Paul II spoke last summer to a million young people in Toronto, and he left them with this thought: "Do not wait until you are older to set out on the path of holiness! Holiness is always youthful, just as eternal as the youthfulness of God." We canít become holy people in the future. We can only become holy now. The path of holiness is a path of peace, of a connection to the eternal God, who stands outside of the time into which he has placed us, and who invites us into an eternity of peace, an eternity that begins ... now.