NEST Newsletter: June 2016
Near East School of Theology, Lebanon
Charge to the Graduates, by Najla Kassab
Let me begin by congratulating you on your achievement, dear graduates. You worked hard, you have struggled, you have had good times and difficult times, but you have finally made it. So, congratulations on behalf of the faculty and the whole of the Near East School of Theology community.
The Commencement is the symbolic event after which you are ready to go out to the world. Many of our Christian worship services end with “And now go forth into the world…”, and these words seem appropriate for students graduating from a seminary. Many people will tell you, perhaps you will be telling yourselves as well, that this is the point when you go, or go back, to the “real” world.
What has been your home for the last several years was somehow not the real world, so you may think or be told; the Seminary was a protected environment, a shielded, artificial, ideal, cozy world which is divorced from the “real” world.
You may hear, or may experience, something similar in the move from the world of theology to the so-called “real world”. And there is, no doubt, some truth in this. It is the truth about the gap between ideas, theories, constructs, doctrines on the one hand, and real situations, real fullblooded men and women you will encounter and have to deal with on the other. There is a gap and a difference between thinking, acquiring knowledge, reflection (which is what you do here) and actual being which is what happens in the world.
But a theological seminary like ours is not an elementary school or even a family atmosphere where children are growing up and being nurtured. Here, in the Seminary, you are actually very well-prepared for the so-called “real” world. Living with and in the Bible, living in and learning about church history, reflecting on what Christians believe about the world, is all about the real world: the deformed, distorted, corrupt reality that surrounds us, into which all of us are born; it is all about sin and evil, and violence, yes, at times in the name of God. The world of the Bible is the real world of human depravity and perversity, of human cruelty to other humans and to nature. You are actually well-prepared for the “real” world, but that is not ultimately the important point.
The important thing is neither the world of ideas nor the so called “real” world, as people experience it; the decisive and ultimately important thing is the world as willed by God. You also learn about that here in the Seminary, in the church, in scripture, in theology, and certainly in examples and embodiments in history, but don’t expect God’s world to be waiting to meet you as you step out of seminary. It is what you have been called to witness to, to participate in bringing about, in inaugurating.
What matters ultimately is the world as willed by God; this is what Scripture calls the kingdom of God. It is the world as God undergirds it, pervades it, disposes it, and wants it. It is not the “real” world of the cynics and the “realists” nor the “other world” of dreamers and escapists, but God’s new world about which you have studied, for which you and the whole church pray, to which you are called to witness, and which you are called to manifest in your lives and actions – this is the world that matters, this is the world that you are called to go out to, and to serve – the world where God is and will be king – the kingdom of God.
The world you are going out of the seminary to live and work in is not the “real” world; it is a distorted, broken, corrupted version of the real world willed by God for all creation. The really real world is God’s world, a world transformed by God’s love in Christ and the Holy Spirit, the world that God created and continues to create by his Word and Spirit through us who abide in His Word and are filled with His Spirit. You have been in it since you were baptized. You are incorporated into it by faith; you commune with it in the Lord’s Supper. Continue to be in it and to carry it with you, proclaim it, enact it, live and die for it, wherever God calls you to serve. God’s world, the real world, is the redeemed world, where love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control reign, as the Apostle Paul reminds us.
So, go forth into the world and proclaim in word and deed and your whole life the kingdom of God – God’s “real” world.