Good evening. I realise that there are three categories of people here.
First category are the new students who are eager to know what lies ahead of them. You are all charged up, all excited to be part of this great institution that you have joined. Second category is mixed lot of old students, who have been here and are at various stages of acceptance or cynicism of the reality that defines this institution. Then there is a third group who are part of this institution for a long time and have mixed feelings about what goes on here. I am hoping that my message has some meaning for all the three groups.
As many of you already know, I am from a corporate background. In corporates, recruitment of the right candidates is a challenging task and hence the recruitment advertisements are some of the most creative work of imagination and art that one can get hold of. Let me start with a story that defines the recruitment philosophy of corporates. The story is that an HR manager who is responsible for recruitment of new employees to the organisation was trying to multitask, talk on the phone and close yet another candidate and cross the road at the same time. She gets hit by an SUV and dies instantly. We will not get into the debate of whether she was a Christian or not. She reaches the pearly gates and St. Peter welcomes her. St Peter tells her that since she is from HR dept., she has special privilege and she has choice of where she wants to go. He says, “you can visit Hell and Heaven and make a decision yourselves”. Which one would you like to try out first? He asks her. She says, I have heard a lot about heaven, so am curious to know more about hell, so, let me first visit hell. St. Peter agrees and guides her to the escalator that goes down to hell. After a very long ride she reaches down and steps on a clean white sandy beach with very clear blue waters. She looks around and notices other people wearing casual clothes and enjoying themselves eating and drinking their favorite food while listening to their favorite music and generally having fun. She meets up with some of the other people from HR fraternity and has an entertaining evening with a lavish meal and drinks in a luxury Hotel, where they were supposed to be staying. She even meets up with Satan himself and finds him to be very sociable and entertaining. After a brief but enjoyable stay in hell, she bids farewell to the inmates there, and heads back the gates above. St. Peter then directs her to the escalator that leads up to heaven, and again after a very long escalator ride, she reaches heaven and finds the place much quieter than hell. People were sitting around chatting quietly, playing harps and flutes and singing. She finds it difficult to pass the time there and returns to St. Peter and admits that she would prefer to choose Hell over heaven. She says, “I would not have believed it myself, unless I saw it with my own eyes.” Now that I have seen it, I am clear in my choice”. Actually if I did not have a choice of testing them out and experiencing them , I would have chosen heaven for sure. However, I am sure that I want to go to hell”. St. Peter says, sure if that is your decision, I will go by that and dispatches her back to hell. To her horror, once she arrives there, she sees a very different reality. She landed in a desolate land, stinking, putrid, hot and arid. She found the friends who had earlier told her that they were living in a luxury Hotel wearing dirty torn cloths and scavenging for food. She frantically searched for Satan and finally found him. He welcomes her back. And she angrily asked him. “What happened between yesterday and today? What I saw yesterday was very different from what it is today.” Satan smiled and told her calmly, “Yesterday we were recruiting you, what you saw yesterday was our recruiting ad. Today you are part of us, you have the pleasure of seeing the reality today”
I would not like any of you to overanalyze this story in the context of SAIACS. Let me also make a disclaimer, I am in no way suggesting that SAIACS is equivalent to hell or heaven for that matter. What I would like to highlight is the fact that there could be serious differences between what you expected and what you get, when you join an organisation or an institution. You might have come here with different expectations. Some of them may be met, some of them may not be. And then there are rules and regulations, there are assignments and exams and presentations to do. There are strict time lines to be adhered to, additional activities to participate in, the commons food to deal with. And then there are things that might exceed your expectations, the richness of the library resources, the experience and the knowledge repertoire of the staff and the faculty, the opportunity to learn from each other, the stress on spiritual formation, the worship times, the social evenings, and the overall ambience of the campus itself, apart from the excellent climate that Bangalore offers. So there you are , you might end up with the great, the good, the bad and the ugly, depending on how you look at it, and among all of this, you night miss out on something very important.
Let us look at someone who almost missed the whole point. Let us look at Jacob. Genesis Chapter 27 is a story that reads like a Bollywood movie script. Plotting, cheating, Fraud, anger, vow of vengeance, murder plot etc. All that is missing is some songs and running around the trees. Jacob is far from a perfect man. He gets the blessing of his father through a fraudulent action, in connivance with his mother, and as a result, has to run away from the presence of his brother who he cheated. But on the way to his uncle’s place a beautiful thing happens to Jacob. He has his first encounter with God. He is weary, he is tired, and he is afraid and unsure of his future. He finds a stone for his pillow and lies down to take rest. And then he dreams of an event that is come to be known as Jacob’s ladder, the stairway to heaven and the LORDs promises to him (Genesis 28:12-15). And when he wakes up, Jacob realises a simple truth that many of us might need to be reminded of. Genesis 28:16 (NKJV) Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Surely, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it. Jacob was obviously not referring to just the night before. The LORD was with him all through his life and he did not know it. He was trying to reach his life goals all by himself through fraudulent means. He was trying to make his life a success through his own efforts. He was trying to get blessings from the LORD through cheating. All this time, while the LORD was with him and the blessings of the LORD was always with him, just that he did not know it.
I don’t know the circumstances that brought you here. I don’t know how your story compares with Jacob’s life story that is depicted in Genesis Chapter 27. Have we been running around trying to achieve things by ourselves, by taking help from a little cheating, a little lying. Have we been on the run because of the sins that we have committed? When we finish our exams, and assignments and thesis and projects and cell group activities and all, it is still possible that we might have missed the presence of our God, the awesome God? That is a sobering thought.
We are not here by chance. We are here for a purpose. That brings us to the critical question. What really did we come here for? All of you might have your own answers to that question. And among them will of course be to get a degree from one of the best institutions in India. To learn theology. To improve your ministry skills, to be able to understand the teach the word better, to be able to lead and manage an organisation better etc etc. May I suggest one common objective this evening? May I invite you to have an encounter with God during your stay here? A fresh encounter with the creator? The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end? However long your stay is here, can we focus on just that one thing? After all, Theology is the study of God as revealed in the Bible isn’t it? Knowing God requires an encounter.
You know that an encounter requires the presence of two people. You may ask, can I really plan to have an encounter? Is it not in God’s hands to make the encounter happen? Sure, there are times when God will get hold of you by the scruff of your neck and ask you to meet him as it happened with Paul. But we are in a Seminary and we are here because we affirmed our faith in the Triune God. For us, the truth is God has declared his intent to be sought and found very clearly in many places. Moses advises the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:29 (NKJV) “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul”. Jeremiah 29:13 (NKJV) says “ And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Psalm 145:18 (NKJV) says “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.” Paul tells the Greeks in Acts 17:27 (NKJV) “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;’ So is it possible for us to plan to have an encounter with God. I believe it is.
So let us say that you seek the Lord and find Him and have an encounter with Him. I want to close with a more important question, how will others know that you have had an encounter with God? How do you respond to such an encounter?
Let us go over to the New Testament and look at someone who had a miraculous encounter with God. Yes, I am talking about Saul, who became Paul. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, a devout Jew, practicing all the law, zealous for the law to the extent that he went around persecuting, arresting and putting Christians in jail and endorsing their death sentence. This is till he had that blinding encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul himself narrates his conversion story to King Agrippa in Acts Chapter 26. It is interesting to see what happened after that conversion. After Paul heard the Divine Imperative through Christ’s words in Acts 26:14-18, he confesses to his reaction. Acts 26:19-23 (NKJV) “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come– that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” Paul’s reaction was of complete obedience to the Divine Imperative. “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision..” he says. “Having obtained help from God, I stand witnessing to small and great..” he says.
We can see this combination in many other lives. Encounter with God and Obedience to His call. Abraham did this (Acts 7:2 read with Genesis 12:1-4) Moses relents to the call after his encounter with God albeit after a very long argument. (Exodus Ch 3 &4). Gideon has an encounter with God and obeys after a lot of initial resistance (Judges 6: 11-27), Isaiah has an encounter with God and Volunteers to be sent (Isaiah 6:1-8)
So this evening, as we begin the new Academic year, may I invite all of us, old and new to have a fresh encounter with God. And may I challenge each one of us to be obedient to His calling once we have had the encounter?