Guard the Treasure – 2 Timothy 1:8-14
(The following is an edited version of Dr. Shiell’s commencement address to the 2016 graduating class of Northern Seminary)
Fifty years ago this past January, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King moved into North Lawndale to begin “The Chicago Plan,” a movement that called upon churches and seminaries like Northern to organize nonviolently to bring about fair housing for everyone. Today, some 50 years later, Northern Seminary through its partnership with Lawndale Community Church and the extension center in North Lawndale, a partnership with CCDA, remains as a guardian the heritage that has been entrusted to us.
If the violence on the West Side and South Side was not enough, the deadly shootings at a nightclub in Orlando have reminded us that there is still evil in this world. Death still has an icy grip on many of us. Our hearts grieve and mourn with the Orlando community, LGBTQ persons, and humanity in general.
We not only need another Chicago plan, we need a Christ-honoring, nonviolent vision to once again mobilize the church for the sake of the city. Our part in that Chicago plan is still incomplete. Our work as a church and a seminary still remain unfulfilled. We still have work that Jeremiah called us to do—to seek the peace of the city to which God has called us into exile.
This is why on Saturday, we graduated another 43 ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether they go to Houston or Humboldt Park; Elgin or Eglin Air Force Base; Philadelphia or Pasadena, they are called to seek the peace of these communities. To combat the violence and evil of our day in the name of Jesus, we need a vision that sees every person as a treasure that has been entrusted to us. We are called in the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 1:10-14 to “guard the treasure that has been entrusted to them.”
The church, our communities, and our cities are treasures that we as ministers of the gospel have been entrusted with. To borrow from the imagery in 2 Timothy, they are like sheep being carefully watched by a shepherd. Whether those sheep are in a small group Bible study, a neighborhood in Chicago, or a nightclub in Orlando, we have a responsibility to care for all the sheep in God’s pasture. We care for the found and the lost, the 99 and the one wandering astray, our friends and our enemies. We see them as Paul describes them as a treasure that has been entrusted to us.
Paul gives us three roles as Pastors that are desperately needed in communities of all sizes. Just as Paul was appointed as a “herald, an apostle, and a teacher,” so these graduates of Northern are commissioned to the same.
Herald the good news of repentance of salvation for the forgiveness of sins. Just as the runners in the ancient marathon ran with a message of victory, preach the good news of repentance of salvation for the forgiveness of sins that is available in Jesus Christ to all persons. From now on, we need pastors who will preach not just a word that people want to hear, or that the church needs to hear, but one that the pastor needs to hear.
Even before Dr. King moved to Lawndale, another Baptist pastor was guarding the treasure that had been entrusted to him. On December 4, 1956, the small town of Clinton, Tennessee, made history. They became the first integrated public high school in the south. Led by the Rev. Paul Turner, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Clinton, 12 students walked into Clinton high school because of the public and private support of integration. This was not an easy process. Rev. Turner faced beatings; the school was bombed two years later by white supremacists. But Anderson County, Clinton, and many others were determined that Rev. Turner and these families were going to be honored, and their work would not be defeated.
Our students and graduates are the new generation of Paul Turners. They do not come to Northern to figure out “what” to do. They are often living Christ’s call where they are now. They come to Northern for better equip-ment. They are on the front lines of ministry in some of the most difficult places. They are chaplains and pastors, music ministers and missionaries, persons who are committed to the work of guarding that which has been entrusted to them. Whether it be students who need an education or churches that need formation, or cities that need transformation, we are the guardians of that trust.
“We need pastors who will preach not just a word that people want to hear…but one that the pastor needs to hear.”
Secondly, our graduates are commissioned to be apostles. They are now missionary, entrepreneurial pastors. They treat our communities like a new missionary in your culture. They learn the language and exegete your neighborhood the way they interpret a passage of scripture. They are trained to spend as much time hanging out with the lost people at the swimming pool as they spend discipling the found sheep inside the small group Bible study.
Thirdly, we appoint our graduates to be teachers. We explain why this matters. We give our congregations an announcement and a foundation centered around Jesus. Our students stand in the tragic gap with people in the center of their lives, listening to the deep wounds. With the care and attention that only a teacher can do, they step into this space, training and inviting people to change.
We train them so that they can constantly hand this work to someone else. One of my hopes and goals for Northern is that these trained persons turn to train someone else. We can stand and deliver an introduction to the New Testament, confess our faith, and equip others to do the same.
One of the people fulfilling the dreams of Dr. King and living out a new generation of Paul Turners is the Rev. James Brooks. James is Pastor of Harmony Community Church and on the staff of the Lawndale Community Health Center. A graduate of Northern Seminary, he began his calling to serve Christ at Grace Lutheran Church. Interestingly, their church was looking for a youth minister, and someone placed a call on his life. They told him “You would make a good youth pastor.”
I asked James what made the difference for him at Northern, and he said that there were instructors who cared for him. In the final months at seminary, his mom passed away. Dr. Karen Walker Freeburg came to be with him during his grief.
This past year, they completed the work of raising resources to install a new roof on the church. James said to his church, “Life as we know it is now over, but let the new life begin.” Life as we know it is over for these graduates and for communities across the world. Through the power of Christ, we are the guardians of a treasure. Now, let the new life begin through us.