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Carry the Gospel amid tragedy, grads urged

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Although commencements at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary are joyous events, both for the new graduates and faculty and administration who helped them along the way, the Dec. 15 ceremony for NOBTS and its Leavell College took on a solemn yet resolved tone in light of the previous day's tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

New Orleans Seminary President Chuck Kelley, greeting a class of 91 graduate, 64 undergraduate and 30 doctoral students, said, "What a wonderful, glorious day it is. But not everywhere.

"Our nation is reeling in shock from another tragic, senseless shooting and the loss of so many innocent lives," he said, referencing the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Tragedy and uncertainty also stretch overseas, Kelley said. People face the realities of war, and financial struggles abound, in "a world with problems that seem to be beyond solving, a world with so many reasons to be worried and have fear," Kelley said.

It's in that kind of world, he said, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is most powerful.

"What a wonderful, glorious day it is to be in that kind of world with this kind of Gospel," Kelley said. "To know that we have, through Jesus Christ our Lord, something that cannot be had in so many corners of our nation and so many corners of the world: reason to believe the best is yet to come; reason to know with certainty in the heart that there are solutions. And more than that, there are transforming changes that can take place in any human life."

Kelley said it was because the graduates had personally experienced that transformation through Jesus that they have committed themselves to spreading the Gospel around the world and in the midst of tragedy.

" know it is not enough to be personally happy in a lost and broken world. It is not enough to experience contentment when there are so many discontent," Kelley said, adding, "They know it is not enough to have that themselves. They know it is such great news that it must be passed on to other people. ...


"It is precisely because we live in a world where on the same day there is this much joy and this much sadness and sorrow that we have the greatest job in the whole world," Kelley said.

It was that message of peace, Kelley said, that helped steady the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow amid a string of personal tragedies.

Kelley told how Longfellow, who lived from 1807 to 1882, lost his first wife to illness. Years later he remarried, and he and his wife had six children. After sustaining burns from a fire in their home, Longfellow's second wife, Fanny Appleton, died in 1861.

Not long after, the Civil War broke out and Longfellow's oldest son went to fight in the war and was seriously wounded, Kelley said.

"As he was going day after day to care for his son, he'd pass other soldiers who were wounded," Kelley said. "His heart was filled with such rage and such anger. In a world like this, where in the world is good news? Where in the world is God?"

Those same emotions and questions are timely today, following natural disasters, wars and tragedies like the one in Newtown, Kelley said. And it was in that context that, on Dec. 25, 1863, Longfellow wrote the poem "Christmas Bells," which Kelley read aloud.

The final two stanzas read:

And in despair I bowed my head

"There is no peace on earth," I said;

"For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on the earth, good-will to men."


"Graduates, this is what you must carry forth from this place," Kelley said. "As you leave, you will go to places big and small. Do not follow your preference. Follow God's call … in the power of this Gospel that's been changing lives through the ages, that started so long ago on a shepherd's hillside with angels singing, in a forgotten part of the world, to unimportant men there was indeed the possibility now of peace on earth."

Kelley concluded with this challenge to graduates: "Go in the knowledge that, because Jesus was born, because He died on the cross, because He rose from the grave in the power of life over death, we have already triumphed. We're just waiting for the victory parade."

Frank Michael McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook ( ) and in your email (

Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press


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