The following is a transcript of the preceding video:
To be a professor emerita or emeritus, and we will recognize Dr. Ernie Pyle in the next graduation ceremony, is quite a distinction. And we appropriately have this symbol of that distinctiveness. You can’t capture, of course, decades of service and work in a citation which I only briefly summarized. You can’t capture it even with a beautiful frame and a beautifully written out citation with very fancy words and punctuation and grammar that have been proofread many times to make sure they are just right and just perfect. But nonetheless, we do that in life. We have citations and plaques and ribbons and awards. We work to show things that are distinctive. It’s a human characteristic.
You find it in Scripture. Israel. There are many important symbolic markers, graduates, of the people of God, of Israel.
Today on the platform when you look around at our faculty you see many symbolic markers of the schools they have attended or the discipline that they represent. The colors, the awards. I’m often asked, (gestures to a badge on his robe) someone will come up to me and say, “is this a merit badge that you’ve got?” It’s a little insignia that comes from the university that I attended and received my degree from in theology. It’s just a little distinctive of that university. And the style of the robe, the style of the hood. All of these are distinctive. They are physical objects that carry symbolic meaning. And that’s sort of the hook, the theme that I want to suggest to you. There are things that are very physical that carry with them a world of meaning and significance.
Coins in the ancient world, of course, particularly—well, not just particularly—Roman coins illustrate this point quite well. In a world that didn’t have telephones and telegraphs, and didn’t have newspapers and ways to communicate, when you think about it you have to realize that coins, coins were a way to carry messages, and even to propagandize for the empire. You see this. People are promoted, it’s sort of the political advertisement before there was the kind of political advertising that we have on radio and television. A coin. Not centrally minted, they could be minted by a general, for example, a general could mint a coin in his own camp grounds, and by minting that coin could put images on that coin. And words. Raised words, and raised images that not only would be payment for the soldiers, but would carry a message. And the intent was to, you know, never miss the opportunity to advertise. The intent was to propagandize for that political leader, or to tell the story of Rome and to extend Rome’s power.
The Denarius is a great example. This very basic Roman coin. Very well known for its verbage. “Caesar Augustus,” something like, roughly translated “holy king,” they avoided the word “rex,” but “Caesar.” Probably a derivative of the word elephant, because one of Julius Caesar’s ancestors apparently killed one of Hannibal’s elephants in the Punic Wars. That’s another story. But “Caesar Augustus Imperator.” General. “DV,” of the divine one, “Filius,” a son. A son of god, or son of the divine one. When Augustus used that he was saying, not only was he of course general and noble king, so to speak, noble leader, but son of the divine Julius. Julius Caesar. He was an adopted son, Augustus was an adopted son of Julius Caesar.
So these coins, they are icons. They are visible, tangible objects that carry a world of meaning. The passage that we read this morning is one of what was perhaps an early Christian hymn. Colossians 1:13, 14, but starting with verse 15. What may have been an early Christian hymn. And in the beginning of that hymn it says, referring to Christ, that He is the icon. He is the image. This tangible representation. He is the icon of God. And it goes on to say that he is the preeminent Son of God. Immediately these words, in Paul’s context, have a power and a force that challenges the claim of Caesar to be son of god, or savior, or lord, or the august and holy one. He is the preeminent one. He is the image, He is the icon of God.
I say that to you because again, our world is so full of ways of distinguishing people. It’s one way to distinguish someone and honor someone; it’s something else to use a label to divide and to separate. That happened in the ancient world, and it happens in our world. In our world today so much political cash is made by dividing people. By constantly pointing to ethnicity, or race, or gender or economic status or financial status.
One of the, though we exemplify it in a very flawed way, but one of the great points of American identity is that we are a people whose identity, whose leadership did not, and is not supposed to, depend upon blood lines and descent. The charming feature of Downton Abbey, which so many of us have enjoyed and loved, one of its charming features, of course, is this ancient—well, ancient to us—this older world of Great Britain of the landed gentry. Of estates, of dowager duchesses. All of this, of course, is a class system and a status system largely based upon bloodlines. Physical descent and thereby marriage and the passing on of money and land and political power.
In our country, that’s not the way we are. We’re a nation of laws, we’re a nation that refers to ourselves as, that all are under the same law and under the same constitution. But beyond our nation, the church, in the New Testament, the church is that one place where all of those divisions are supposed to be taken away. And the irony is, is that when we constantly perpetuate our division, when we make labels that divide, when we constantly want to stand up in front of each other and give, quote, what’s sometimes called, maybe you’ve heard this in one of your classes, “our social location.” Before I could give an address or a paper there was a time back a decade or two ago when, in professional societies, it was incumbent upon every speaker almost to stand up and say, in my case I’d have to stand up and say, “I’m a middle-aged white male heterosexual of middle income.” That would be giving my social location. So it was assumed that that somehow would define who I am. But not so. The work of God in Christ is to make the divided world one through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul can say, for example, at the end of Galatians 3, that all of you who have been baptized in Christ have clothed yourselves with the Messiah. There is no more Jew nor Gentile, bond slave or free, male or female. We are one in Christ. Or Paul can say, in Colossians chapter 3, “Don’t deceive one another.” Why? Because “you have laid aside the old identity of the old divisive creation, and you have put on the new creation, the new person.” He’s actually alluding to Adam and Eve. “You’ve put on the new creation, which is being transformed into the image, into the icon,” we are the icons, now, of God. “Into the icon of the one who created it.” A renewal in which, a transformed icon, in which there is no more Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, uneducated, barbarian, fool, Scythian, slave or free—all of those old divisive markers are being taken away in Christ, in a new creation. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, and we are the icons of God through Christ.
I challenge you, as you go forth from this place, with all the knowledge that you’ve gained, with its, we hope, attendant wisdom, with the information that you have, with the light that you have, with the background that you have, with the influence of your families and your churches, we exhort you to remember that you are an icon of the new creation. You are an icon, not of the way some folk want things to be, whereby we have division and power and hatred and enmity and violence; you are an icon of the Shalom of God. The Body of Christ. You are a visible, tangible, physical representative of all that God has begun to do in Christ.
In the name of Christ, go forth and live out the peace of God in our world through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.