TRINITY CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
May 18, 2013 Commencement
“Living Sacrifices for Christ” (based on Romans 11:36-12:1)
Justin D. Cooper
It is a real privilege for me to be back at Trinity, and I thank Dr. Timmermans for his gracious invitation. It’s exciting to see the new sights on campus, to meet friends and colleagues, and most of all, to be part of this commencement ceremony that I went through myself way back in 1972. We’re here today to celebrate your accomplishments and give thanks to God for his faithfulness. Class of 2013, congratulations to each and every one of you! You are precious and loved by God. In these next few moments, I invite you to join me in reflecting on your Trinity education in a way that I hope will challenge you to go deep with what you’ve learned and also give you a response to that inevitable question which may come up later today or tomorrow: “So what comes next after graduation?”
I would like to do that using three powerful symbols. First, what I will call the three-fold cord described in the doxology that climaxes in Romans 11 verse 36; second, the living sacrifice presented in chapter 12, verse 1, as our personal response; and third the three-fold vision framed in the familiar phrase that concludes the Lord’s Prayer. May God by his Spirit so indwell these words and symbols—a three-fold cord, a living sacrifice and a three-fold vision—that they may give you a lasting source of appreciation for and inspiration from your Trinity education, as you leave this campus and begin the next chapter of your lives.
The Depth of a Trinity Education
I hope you’ve enjoyed your time at Trinity as much as I did. Whether you’ve been here for a year or two, four years, or even five or six, you’re graduating from an excellent educational program. What an amazing opportunity to gain skills and competences, to develop expertise in a field, and most importantly, to grow as a whole person—body, mind and spirit. Along the way I trust you’ve also come to see and value that your education has been framed by a Biblical worldview and intertwined with the overarching story of the Bible that is so wonderfully summarized in Romans 11:36 (and, I might add, portrayed in the four beautiful stained glass windows on each side of this Ozinga Chapel).
In this verse, Paul waxes eloquent as he describes the majestic sweep of the Bible’s cosmic metanarrative—“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things; to Him be glory forever and ever.” In these phrases, Paul reminds his readers that this world belongs to God, fallen as it is right now, for He made it—it is from Him. And God so loved the world that He sent his only Son, Christ, to redeem it—through Him comes the power to break the curse of sin, restore us and reconcile all things to Himself. And finally, in this in-between time, as His people are called to witness to His redeeming work, history is moving to Him, toward that great Day when he will come again to make all things new.
I would like to characterize this grand story as the three-fold cord that is woven through and undergirds your education. From Him, through Him and to Him—this is the foundational reality that gives meaning and direction to our studies and our lives. And as Ecclesiastes reminds us, a three-fold cord is not easily broken; this three-fold cord, think of it as a red cord like that of Rahab, will never be broken. It runs through and binds together all of history. Let this symbol remind you of the strong foundation you have been given in your Trinity education.
Take Hold and Embrace It
Having received and been shaped by this powerful gift, I want to encourage you not to respond to it the way I did as a graduate student. I enjoyed my studies at Trinity, especially in my philosophy major with Dr. Calvin Seerveld. When I graduated and entered the University of Toronto for studies in political science, I wondered how my degree would stand up and soon found that I had been given an excellent preparation—my grades actually went up at the U of T! Not only that, I soon discovered that, given the worldview I had been exposed to, I was also able to discern and articulate foundational issues better than many of my graduate school peers.
For me, however, this was more of an intellectual exercise, a kind of academic strategy for besting secular thinkers. Though I became quite proficient, my intellectual work and Biblical worldview lacked a real personal conviction and commitment. I had a sense of walking with the Lord and He blessed me. But it was seven year later that the Lord by his Spirit led me to a deeper personal relationship with Christ. It was only then that I fully embraced what my education had given me. And this is why I want to say to you today, don’t make the mistake I did. Instead, take hold of the three-fold cord that you have been given in your Trinity education; embrace Him from Whom, through Whom and to Whom are all things.
Offer Yourself as a Living Sacrifice
This is why we need to move with Paul from the glorious doxology of Romans 11:36 to the punch line in chapter 12 verse 1, where he says, “Therefore, in view of God’s mercies I urge you to offer your bodies [yourselves] as living sacrifices…which is your spiritual act of worship.” This is the personal response that takes things to the deeper level of conviction and commitment. This is the reality that grafts you and your story to the larger story of God’s great work of redemption and restoration in Christ and gives you a vocation and direction and purpose in life. That is why being a living sacrifice is our second significant symbol today, for it is the way each servant of Christ takes hold of the three-fold cord.
But note what is at stake—we join God’s great mission on His terms, by offering ourselves—body, mind and spirit—in repentance, commitment and service, by yielding ourselves to the direction and leading of His Word and Spirit. This means letting go of our control and thereby gaining Christ and his power and love. It means moving beyond the “from, through and to Him” of Romans 11:36 to being “in Him,” surrendered and connected to Him in the core of our being, so that we receive all the treasures of Christ, through which we are empowered to live our lives and pursue our vocations with the love, insight, humility, forgiveness and other fruits that only the Spirit of Christ can instill.
Prayer as Central
However, being a living sacrifice is not a one-time event of submission or conversion but rather an ongoing lifestyle, a life of service lived in relationship to God. And central to this way of life is the practice of prayer. In fact, my church’s catechism calls prayer “the most important part of the thankfulness” in the life of the believer. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 116) Through the daily rhythm of prayer we open ourselves to the heavenly realms where Christ is seated at the right of the Father. When we take the time to stop, look (upward) and not only speak but listen, we acknowledge that we belong to Christ and need to hear from Him and seek His blessing and direction. As we become focused and centered in Christ, also through regular worship and periodic fasting I might add, our inner being is connected to the deeper redemptive purpose God has built into life, and we are transformed and our minds renewed. We come to view our lives and our situation in their true and full perspective, fully releasing God’s gifts in us. This is the posture of a living sacrifice seeking to live out of the truth of the three-fold cord.
And this reality is nowhere clearer than in the prayer the Lord Himself taught his disciples and us to pray. It concludes with this powerful doxology and confession: “For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever. Amen” We’ve said it so many times, and yet, if we stop and reflect, we realize that this doxology echoes the truth of the three-fold cord. Christ’s reconciling work is ushering in the Kingdom of his new creation, and He has chosen to bring it through the witness of his people, empowered by his redeeming work and Spirit. And wherever there is movement toward God’s created fullness and flourishing, He receives the glory and honour. This three-fold vision—the kingdom, the power and the glory—is our third significant symbol, and its sincere confession brings to life the reality of the three-fold cord and three-fold vision in the heart and mind and life of everyone one seeking to be a living sacrifice in service of Jesus Christ.
Solid Preparation for Life
As you embrace your Trinity education and the worldview, commitment and vision on which it is based, you have a solid and unshakable preparation for your life, your future vocation and whatever may come your way after you graduate today. There is an amazing power and presence of God’s Spirit that is released through a living and intentional alignment of worldview, commitment and vision that renews your heart and mind and connects you to our God and His plan and purposes. This is where Kingdom dreams and redemptive visions are born; this is the source of courage and strength for living. As you go out from here, draw on this resource of good news and build on your academic training and worldview with critical thinking and reimagining that give fresh insights. Let the passion of your faith and conviction rise and impact those around you. And share the hope and wisdom that only the inspiration of a prayerful vision can give. As you walk with the Lord in this way, He will give you discernment; He will open doors and use you mightily in His service.
Some of you already have firm plans—for a job, for future study, for marriage, for some kind of service. Others may be uncertain or even somewhat apprehensive about what lies ahead. After all, we are living in somewhat unpredictable and turbulent times, economically as well as politically and morally. But whatever your personal situation, know that you are well equipped with the education you have received and all that it represents. And more importantly, know that as you walk with Him and seek His direction, God loves you and has a calling and purpose for your life, as part of His larger mission of redemption. He will empower, equip and give you courage for all He calls you to do and face. That has certainly been my story, all the way to becoming president of Redeemer and now in my current position. My Trinity education has served me well; but I was able to step out only because each time my God equipped me for the task to which He called me.
And this is also His promise to all of you, whether you are called to serve him in your family, church and community, in the marketplace or public square, in the poorer neighborhoods and back alleys of our cities, or somewhere else across the world. In the Spirit’s power, you will be coworkers with Christ to bring his love, hope, mercy, and justice in the situations you face. You will do great things for the Lord that will serve as signposts of his coming Kingdom.
Class of 2013, congratulations! This is your moment! You have finished the course and are ready to receive your degree and embark on a new part of your life’s journey. Go with confidence, as living sacrifices, holding onto the three-fold cord and prayerfully embracing the three-fold vision embedded in your education, ready to tell all who ask: “I’m going to live a life of redemptive service for Christ wherever He leads.” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things; His is the kingdom, the power and the glory; and in Him are all the treasures for a life of grace and truth. To Him be glory now and forevermore. Amen