Trinity Christian College Convocation Address, 2009
Steven R. Timmermans
First Year Students, you’ve been given required readings as part of the FYF program. I’d like to begin with one of the readings this morning, a reading that provides a description of Sam Van Eman’s life growing up in church: “I grew up in a church tradition that preached the imminent doom of the world and the corresponding hasty necessity for (soul only) evangelism. My work was to preach the Gospel swiftly, and to secure as many converts for Heaven as possible. Heaven was our home, of course, and it would come when God said it would. Soon, we knew. We all knew the visible world would go up in smoke momentarily, so our work was simply to gather the harvest and wait.”
Now, here comes a turn—an important conjunction, for Van Eman tells us of a new way of thinking—quite different from the tradition in which he grew up: “But there is a re-drawing of Heaven going on. In this movement, “Left Behind” isn’t a reference to the non-believers who missed the trumpet call. Rather, it refers to the Christians. [You and me] Believers are here for good because this—the terra firma you and I are standing on—is the future location of the New Heavens and New Earth. Christ will reign right here, not in a cloud- and cherubim-filled outer world. This re-drawing has substantial implications for how we live our daily lives, and particularly for how we view the role and importance of our work. If heaven is every earthly thing made new, then suddenly these items matter because we understand them as originally intended. They were called ‘good’ for a reason, and no amount of human sin can make them forever un-good, work included.”
These words—this re-drawing—have substantial implications for us, as we begin the Jubilee year of Trinity Christian College.
So, this morning, I’d like to first review with you what a Jubilee year is, second, evaluate our educational task in light of the words I’ve quoted and in the context of our 50th year, and third, make some suggestions as to what we should be seeking this year and for the next 50 years.
First, what is a Jubilee year? Practically speaking for us, it is a 50 year anniversary, for on October 1, 1959, the first classes were held at Trinity. Just a few weeks into this semester, we will have been educating students for 50 years. We’ll have a party. The party will start downtown on Navy Pier on Friday evening, October 2, will move back to campus all day on Saturday, October 3, and conclude with worship Sunday afternoon, October 4. Be part of it. Keep that weekend free on your calendar.
Parties are easy, but the biblical notion of the Jubilee is more complicated. Listen as I read from Leviticus 25.
8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
(Skipping to verse 35) If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens. 36Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you.
(skipping to verse 39) If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. 40They shall remain with you as hired or bound labourers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. 41Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property.
A Jubilee year is a year of freedom and release. It’s as if God says: “Okay you knuckleheads, so interested in buying and selling, charging interest and making profits, of accumulating and owning…I’m clearing the decks…it’s time to refocus….we’re going back to goodness. I’m going to refocus humanity on what’s important to me--not the trinkets and human entrapments you find so compelling, but on true goodness and care for one another. ”
What might this mean? While the Jubilee concept was designed for God’s chosen people of the Old Testament, it shows that God is concerned for the good of all and particularly with those who are indebted and enslaved.
Do you think that we should take this passage off the shelf once every 50 years, dust it off, and remind ourselves that God is concerned for the good of all and, following his lead, that we, His people, do good toward those with less every 50 years? Of course not. In the ministry of Jesus, in his death and resurrection, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, God shows us that this is not a once- or twice-in-a-life time event, but a way of living. Listen to the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament jubilee as found in Acts 2:
44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds* to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home* and ate their food with glad and generous* hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Instead of jubilee once every 50 years, it is to be our every day pattern: Jubilee living.
In the Van Eman article I just quoted from and all entering first year student have read, we’re reminded that “If heaven is every earthly thing made new, then suddenly these items matter because we understand them as originally intended [in creation.]”
Do you notice, once again, this theme of goodness? In my paraphrase of the Jubilee year, I suggested that with the Old Testament concept of Jubilee, God was insisting, so to speak, on goodness. And here, Van Eman is bringing us back to the predecessor of jubilee, the good Creation, and, at the same time, Van Eman is pointing us to the coming goodness: the New Heavens and New Earth. So, in God’s thoroughly good creation, in the Old Testament concept of Jubilee goodness, in the Acts 2 story of good living, and in the eventual and ultimate good of the New Heavens and New Earth, the theme is the same: God’s goodness.
In our seeking God’s goodness, we may call it Jubilee Living or kingdom living. Either way, the task or mission of Trinity Christian College is to steer our vision toward God’s goodness—as set forth in Creation, as emphasized in Jubilee, as described in Acts 2, and as promised in the Kingdom yet to come. We need to see in this Jubilee year—as in every year—that this is God’s good world, established in creation—a world to which we’re called, a world for which we are responsible, a world that desperately needs the goodness of God’s peace and justice.
If I had to choose a song that institutes this theme, I’d choose this old song:
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father’s world; I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—his hand the wonders wrought.
This is our Father’s world: O let us not forget that though the wrong is great and strong, God is the ruler yet. He trusts us with his world, to keep it clean and fair—all earth and trees, all skies and seas, all creatures everywhere.
This is my Father’s world: he shines in all that’s fair; in rustling grass I hear him pass—he speaks to me everywhere. This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King, let heaven ring! God reigns: let earth be glad.
But, I’d add a verse, since the three verses don’t convey our responsibilities of caring for the public good, particularly those with less, as prompted by the Jubilee descriptions:
This is our Father’s world; he cares for those with less;
Thus in our work and all our play, our caring he will bless.
What might this mean for our educational program?
As we join together—students, staff, faculty—to start our 50th year of learning, we must be certain of the task: seeking God’s kingdom—his goodness. So students, if you’re at Trinity to become an accountant, a politician, or a scientist, we must begin by convincing you to begin from the perspective of God as Creator of this world—created good by the author of all good. And, we’ll ask you to understand that the world is now tainted by sin and it is a world that has witnessed the death and resurrection of God Son and it is a world where the Holy Spirit is present. And it is a world awaiting final consummation. In other words, we want you to understand, to grab hold of the goodness of God—as seen in His Creation, as we’re reminded in Jubilee instructions, as described in Acts 2, and as promised in the coming restoration.
First year students. How many times have you been asked “what are you going to college for?” Ten times? A hundred times? And the questions keep coming: “What’s your major?” “What are you going to study at Trinity?” “What will you do when you finish school?”
Try this for an answer: “I hope to see how I’m to participate in God’s world as a _______” And I hope through our efforts that you will gather the necessary knowledge, skills, and values that will equip you for your journey of jubilee living, participating in God’s good world.
Moreover, if our educational vision begins with the good creation, includes Jubilee living as described in Levitcus and Acts, and points us toward utlimate restoration, that vision must be oriented toward the public good. Being an accountant requires accounting for the public good, not corporate greed as was the case with Enron. Being a politician demands governing for the good of all, not just for special interests or because of an earlier campaign donation. Being a scientist involves wrestling with how worthwhile outcomes will be available to all, not just a privileged few.
So, when you answer “I hope to see how I’m to participate in God’s world as a _______” I trust that you’ll add one more phrase: “ I hope to see how I’m to participate in God’s world as a _______ SO THAT through my jubilee living, in some small but meaningful way, God’s will and kingdom will ‘come’ here on earth as it is in heaven.”
Based on these ideas, let me challenge you students, you faculty and staff, and even this institution to a life of Jubilee living.
As I begin this challenge, let me reference our short-hand mission statement: Trinity Christian College is a community of Christian scholarship committed to shaping lives and transforming culture. I’ve said before that I’m uncomfortable with where this ends up: we don’t do the transforming—the Holy Spirit does. Moreover, the goal is a bit grandiose. Let me suggest alternatively that jubilee living simply but powerfully requires a cultural presence, a two-word phrase used by Tim Keller at Redeemer Church in New York. We need to be active, engaged, in the thick of things. We need to be here in the suburbs and downtown as well. We need to be in Trinity classrooms and also in internship sites. We need to tune our dials to Christian radio, but we need to know what’s on the rest of the airways as well.
And when we’re in the thick of things, we pray that the Holy Spirit will use our efforts for the good, in transformational ways.
Students, I’ve already stated what our goal is for you: learning how to participate in God’s world as a ______so that through your jubilee living, in some small but meaningful way, God’s will and kingdom will “come” here on earth as it is in heaven.
Next faculty and staff. We need to weave Jubilee living throughout our lectures, with our encounters at the financial aid office, by means of our service learning placements, in our science or nursing labs, and via a hundred other possibilities. Not that we aren’t doing this: Let me share with you two stories where we demonstrate jubilee living on and beyond this campus.
The first example happened just two months ago. A church denomination—the Christian Reformed Church in North America—had its annual meeting here at Trinity. There were probably 300 guests or more on campus, and the norovirus struck. That’s the kind of thing you hear about infecting cruise ships—where a quarter or third of the passengers share a gastro intestinal bug that’s highly contagious. Well, it happened here. But what happened next tells the good of the story.
Trinity food service folks were incredible, scrubbing down the kitchen, changing serving approaches, and taking extra care in all food handling. Trinity physical plant folks were great, making sure there were cleaning packets available for all, and cleaning whatever and wherever the need presented. Trinity heath center folks were superb, going door-to-door in the residence halls, checking in on the sick and bringing them what they needed. The story of doing good goes on and on. Then, as the meeting concluded, this is what one news report stated:
Trinity staff were lauded with a standing ovation by delegates at the closing service. “I can’t say enough about their response to the situation they found themselves in,” said Dee Recker, the CRC’s director of synodical services. “It was phenomenal; they did an unbelievable job.”
A second story is found in the form of a letter I received from Ray Banks, executive director of Restoration Ministries, a multi-faceted, holistic urban ministry nearby in Harvey:
I want to take the time to thank you, your staff and all the wonderful students from Trinity who spend countless hours serving here at Restoration Ministries Inc. It’s because of friends like you we can continue to serve the community. Over the past 12 years we have been blessed to have the Trinity family share their time, talents and treasures with us. Through Trinity’s community partners program we have been able to have students and staff help us in many of our 28 programs that we offer the community.
They have helped us in many different ways:
- Summer Day Camp
- Spring Break Camp
- Grant Writing
- Technical Support
- Resume Writing Seminars
- After School Tutoring Program
- Resale Stores
- Basketball and baseball teams did service projects.
- Nursing students did health seminars and health screenings.
- Mentoring Program
- Social work students did service hours.
- Vacation Bible School
- College President and staff teach classes in our recovery programs.
- Two former students are part of our staff.
We are proud to be partners with the Trinity family. We couldn’t do it without you
Thanks for your steadfast support.
Ray C. Banks
Let this story and this letter be encouragements to all of us—to spur us on to even greater jubilee living on this campus and as we extend our learning off campus.
But now, let’s step well beyond campus into society and do a needs assessment. Which state recently impeached a governor? Which state recently decided to appropriate only half of the money needed for the state grant program for college students—some of whom sit among us here? Yet which state recently appropriated $33 billion for capital projects, some of which is pork like the construction of a national railroad hall of fame, three water park upgrades for an Illinois city, even a new roof for an American Legion Post, and as reported by the Chicago Tribune this week, a new $40 million campus for Chicago State University that they didn’t even ask for!
If you answered “the state of Illinois,” you were right. Are we seeing government for the common good? Forgetting to fund the future in terms of many students sitting here, but handing out pork left and right? What would the God of the good creation, of jubilee living desire?
Students: Our student government system, student association, is strong, yet we need you to become involved. If you learn know how to participate in government while in college, you will be better prepared to participate in government after graduation.
Faculty and staff, the call goes to you as well. Who among you is willing now to stand up, circulate a petition, and file as a candidate on the village board, the county board or the state legislature? Who among us will step forward as jubilee leaders in government?
Let’s press our Jubilee living well beyond the edges of campus—all the way to municipal offices, to legislative assemblies, to the league of nations.
And finally, one last area to consider. When I drive longer distances, I have much time to dream. The kids have their earphones and head phones; my wife has her Sudoku, and I have time to think. One frequent focus of my dreaming is our tag line: Momentum for Life. If we changed our tag line, what could it be? And how would it reflect jubilee living?
Another frequent focus of my dreaming is our short-hand mission statement. How could we better reflect our mission in one sentence? How about: Trinity Christian College seeks to shape lives towards jubilee living—lives committed to the renewal of God’s good creation.
Enough of my dreaming. It’s time to begin a new year. But if these dreams encourage you toward new challenges of jubilee living, know that there will be plenty of opportunities in the year ahead. We’re just beginning the first year in a new five year strategic plan. We’re preparing for a visit next fall from the Higher Learning Commission for reaccreditation. I’ve already mentioned student government; in addition, the Involvement Fair is later this afternoon. We’re celebrating a jubilee year—a year in which our Wednesday and Friday chapels will continue the dreaming of what jubilee living could be for you, me and for this institution.
Let’s stop there. We’ve looked at the recurring theme of goodness in God’s good creation, in the Leviticus notion of a Jubilee Year, in an Acts 2 life style, and in the ultimate restoration of the new heavens and new earth. We’ve looked at our educational task in the context of jubilee living, recognizing that we each need to learn how to participate in God’s world as whatever we’re called to do so that God’s will and kingdom will be accomplished on earth as it is heaven. And finally, I’ve offered some challenges to all of you—and to the institution of Trinity Christian College—as we use this jubilee year to recommit to jubilee living.
So what’s our next step? Let’s voice our commitment by singing This Is My Father’s World, including a new fourth verse that I partially introduced earlier.
This is our Father’s world; he cares for those with less;
Thus in our work and all our play, our caring he will bless.
This is our Father’s world, from creation to return.
To do the good in the world that’s His, our task is now to learn.
Van Eman, S. (2008). Melinda Mae Missiology, Catapult Magazine, 7(10). Retrieved from http://www.catapultmagazine.com/ideas-have-legs/feature/melinda-mae-missiology
Stafford, T. (2009). How Tim Keller found Manhattan. Christianity Today, 53(6). 20-26
Postma, D. (2009). Synod in sickness and in health. The Banner, 144(7), p. 42.
Lourgos, A.L. (2009, August 31). Chicago State gets $40 million surprise. The Chicago Tribune. pp. 1. 8.
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