Commencement Chapel was a time celebration as we prayed over the upcoming academic year, welcome back students, acknowledge award recipients, and support the installation of Dr. Beth Green as Provost & Chief Academic Officer.
Speaker: Dr. Beth Green
Chapel Date: Tuesday September 14, 2021
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Thank you Zoe. I pray that my words this morning will encourage you, and that they will bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
At my church, we end every Sunday morning service with these words from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. "Now to Him, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to God be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
I have always loved being sent out under this prayer of dedication, the promise that God is able to do more than I can imagine, has fired me up and encouraged me many times. More recently, as I've mumbled it, from my sofa, watching or doing church in my pajamas, I've drawn much comfort from it. I confess, I have been more conscious of overwhelm, and uncertainty of late. Generally, I love a good challenge and a research problem to solve. But the thing about research is that you can usually set some boundaries, devise questions that are finite. You remain in control. I don't know about your recent experience, but here at Tyndale University, we have had to reimagine every facet of how we do everything. That's why some of you are worshiping with us in the chapel. And some of you are home. And some of you will watch this service later, on demand. Now, my prayers are not so beautifully written as the one that Zoe read for us. It was written by Paul to the church in Ephesus. My prayers have been more along the lines of "How?" or "I can't right now, imagine what to do differently for students, faculty or staff. I don't exactly know what to ask you for God. But I do know that you love us. You love Tyndale, and that your power and your love are so vast that you have got this, you have really got this, even if it looks like nothing I would have imagined."
Are you wondering what imagination means here? Don't worry if you weren't. It's one of those words we don't use that often. But I want you to wonder about it with me today. Because I think imagination is a key to unlocking Paul's magnificent prayer. And I'm going to suggest that it might be a key for unlocking what it is that we do here at Tyndale University too. Christian teaching, Christian scholarship, Christian research and service, Christian education. We sometimes use the word imagination to mean making stuff up. Fiction, as in, you know, she has a vivid imagination, which implies that the imaginary is not real. How does that fit with what Paul is trying to pray for the Ephesians? Does Paul simply need to tell the church in Ephesus, everything will be okay, because God is better at making stuff up than you and me. I don't think that's it. The reason I don't think so, is because, in the prayer, it's like Paul is tripping up over himself to find words, to describe what the fullness of God's love and power is really like. He uses images of glorious riches. And he uses spatial properties, like deep, high, wide. This prayer is trying to tell us that God is more real, more certain, more loving, more powerful, somehow, than all we can taste, smell, see and touch in the world around us. George MacDonald wrote an essay called the imagination and its culture. George MacDonald was a Scottish author, poet and Christian minister. CS Lewis was very influenced by him.
MacDonald says that, to inquire into what God has made, is the main function of the imagination. He goes on to explain how, far from being a superficial or random quality, imagination is aroused and nourished by facts, things that are real. And then it goes on to seek to account for deeper meaning and fuller explanations. One of the main reasons we are here at Tyndale University, is to inquire together into the things that God has made. This is part of what it means to be rooted and established in love. To be filled with a love that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled to the measure of the fullness of God. If imagination doesn't mean fiction, or less real, then I also don't think that the phrase "surpassing knowledge" here, means that knowledge isn't important. So sorry, everyone, I am not canceling afternoon classes today, in favour of imagining impossible things like Alice in Wonderland. I think this prayer puts knowledge in its rightful place. This might be surprising to the first year students in our midst, but the end result of a Christian education, a Tyndale degree, isn't knowledge full stop. The goal is knowledge of the love of Christ, so that you will be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God, and be a blessing to the Church and the world. If it feels like you still haven't got a handle on how this prayer relates to writing papers, wrestling with a statistics module, or learning a biblical language. If you can't quite see how it's relevant to building community with that person who interrupts you all the time in your office, or plays music loudly in the residence. And if you are a faculty member, wondering how hybrid delivery models align with the imagination of God, I get it. Let's spend a little more time in the prayer.
This prayer unfolds in the center of a letter, which is crammed full of really practical strategies for living according to God's power that is at work in Christian community. I would recommend that you find time later today, just to read the letter through. There are three practical strategies that I think of as core practices, that I want to highlight from this letter to the Ephesians. And these three core practices lie behind Paul's prayer. The first core practice is to learn the rich history of God's promises. The second core practice is to say only what helps, and the third is to watch what God does and do it. Ephesians chapter two is very explicit in its command to learn the rich history of God's promises. If you want to be made alive in Jesus, if you want to belong, to be one in Christ, know your roots, know the biblical story and your place in it. I think the implication of Paul's prayer is it is that it is these rich promises that route you in God's love and establish you in love. Students, seek for God's rich promises as you study English, philosophy, languages, counselling, education, whatever your program is, seek it. Staff, seek it in your daily tasks and your service of one another. Faculty, incorporate the rich promises of God into your research, scholarship, your quest for new knowledge. Let us all seek the rich promises of God as we worship, and do life together.
"Say only what helps" is how Eugene Peterson paraphrases the teaching in Ephesians chapter four, which is all about how to live united as one body in Jesus, children of the light. I used to think this is the chapter about not swearing. But in Ephesians chapter four, Paul is addressing our maturity. How do we learn, and speak, the language of deep faith? Do we understand that it calls for just as much restraint, as it does actually speaking things? Where are we gentle and forgiving in our speech? And how are we telling our neighbours the truth? Togetherness with all the Saints is a theme in Paul's central prayer. Love isn't full. Knowledge isn't complete. Imagination is somehow impartial, if the children of light can't live together in unity, as one body through the Spirit of Christ. Finally, watch what God does, and do it. Through the letter, but especially in chapter five and six, Paul encourages us to be imitators of God in all our relationships. This is where the width, length, height and depth of the love of God are so needed. If it still feels like Paul can't adequately describe the indescribable, then just remember what it was, that God did, when he sent us His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans five, eight, "God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Paul points us to Jesus Christ in his prayer. Just because something is indescribable, beyond human words, and our imagination, does not mean it is not real. In the person of Jesus, God became flesh, the image of God in human likeness. Learning God's rich promises, saying only what helps, watching what God does, and doing it, requires Jesus. It is Jesus who dwells in the human heart by faith. It is Jesus, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.
I will finish by reading you a poem that describes what Jesus in us might look like. This poem is part of a project being run at McMaster Divinity School. They have been gathering together poetry written as a response to the letter to the Ephesians. And the one I'm going to read was written by Dr. Carolyn Weber. She currently teaches at Heritage College and Seminary. She was the first female Dean of St. Peter's College, Oxford, and I recommend her memoir to you, "Surprised by Oxford," my mum gave that book to me when I was doing my Doctorate. The title of her poem is "His power that is at work within us".
God's power works through all things in the lowering of the casket, and the rising of the sun. In the unimaginable birthing of a dying Earth, the autumn trees beauty beyond, describing a flame with memories, along fields gleamed bare, their counterparts burning with branches yearning, rooted deep within my being flare. The infant clutch of my forefinger rivals any mystery of the vastest cosmos. Daylight slips behind the white haired head, I guess in the hospital bed, and from the same immeasurable darkness now. Stars still sifting over moonlit waters, shifting to fill me to the measure of all the fullness of God. I cannot bear the weight of such glory and live bleeding through this crowd of daily distractions. I cannot open my eyes to such shining. Remembering is the most I can carry. And even then, I stumble. From my knees, I grasped for the hem, and somehow surpassingly understand in the grazing of such grace, this reaching, this touch is enough.
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