There are many besides these students we could honor today for their hard work, their suffering, their endurance, their character. But today we are not afraid to honor the particular kind of excellence displayed in the National Honor Society and those recognized by the National Merit Corporation. Consider the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:
…though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
…who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…
False humility and insincere self-deprecation are not virtues, nor are they fruits of the Spirit. To acknowledge the achievements of those in the NHS is of the Lord. Humility is a gift; it is a worldview. It does not deny the things that have been accomplished. What humility does is to begin with knowing Christ has been integral in all of our accomplishments. Humility begins with knowing the power of Christ and His resurrection… Not what I have done, but sacramental living.
In 1995 I attended Samford University and majored in religion and philosophy. I had believed for some time that God needed me. I did well in my classes, and I had great rapport with my professors. They encouraged me to seek graduate work at Duke University and become a part of the divinity school. A few days before Christmas 2000, I received a letter of acceptance to Duke University’s divinity school. Oh, the accomplishment I felt with that letter.
I went to Duke with the attitude that I was going to know more than anyone else. I wanted to have the rich tradition at Duke and flaunt its prestige to everyone else. I will never forget the first day that I watched my family leave and then walked by myself to my dorm. I longed for that degree at the end of my name. I longed for Duke to define me and my prestige.
I loved my classes and the fight for all of them. In the first month it was about me and my accomplishments. Three weeks in I was doing very well in my classes, and I loved the competition with my classmates. We sat around and pontificated our positions. Oddly enough, I had grown so lonely. Somehow in the mess of looking at the text and being around great minds, I wasn’t sure of the Good News. Did God really need me? In the days that followed, I found myself an emotional wreck and unsure of my own identity. Every day was a fight. And somewhere in the middle of it all, it hit me. I needed God. Somewhere between Chapel Drive (the heart of Duke’s campus) and the signature stone displayed on it’s walls. In all the places I could attend and by many that I knew as the last place to find God… God found me. I became acutely aware of my need of Him. Paul’s words say it best, I had suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
I tasted humility and God’s one-way love for me no matter what. I am a Duke Graduate. It is one of greatest educational institutions. Some of the top minds have gathered under its roof. It’s prestige is a part of who I am. Cameron Indoor is an incredible place. I was a part of the Cameron Crazies. It is still the first home my wife and I knew as a married couple. My first year there, we won the National Championship in men’s basketball. Krzyzewski? We saw him all the time.
Duke University has shaped me in ways I could not ever fully articulate. But there in the midst of Blue Devil country, I counted it all loss, but for the knowledge and the power of Christ…His resurrection. I am not ashamed of Duke, but Duke is not for me the place where I puffed up my own knowledge; it is the place where I came to know grace for the first time. The place where I was lost and then found.
To these here who have done incredible academic work, well done. It is what God has done in and through you. Don’t be puffed up. Likewise, don’t deprecate yourselves or diminish what you have accomplished. Don’t feel guilty for standing here in front. Don’t be ashamed. Hear me, Well Done! Revel in the celebration and recognition.
To those not receiving recognition, don’t lose heart. Be glad for them.
Finally, to everyone, count it as all loss for the sake of knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection, a righteousness that DEPENDS on faith. KNOW THIS, education is about exploring and discovering how we were once lost, but have been found. It is a life that focuses not on what I have done, but on living sacramentally.
To this end, it is a fresh returning to our truest purpose: “That we may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings becoming like him in his death.”
Prayer: Thank you for these who have done well academically. For their character, their leadership, their integrity. Westminster has strong academics. Lead us as we foster independent learners and thinkers. Thank you for your blessing on this place. Keep us from becoming puffed up. May our identity be first and foremost in you.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.