A Talk on Honor - Keynote Address at Vanguard University by Christine Nolf
On Thursday November 13, Mika Executive Director and Co-Founder, Christine Nolf, gave the keynote address at Vanguard University’s induction of students to the Lambda Alpha and Alpha Kappa Delta Honor Societies for the Anthropology and Sociology Departments. Youth Action Team graduate, Aileen Romero accompanied her. Mika volunteer, Araceli Bravo, was among the honorees. Below are Christine’s remarks:
My favorite band right now is a group called the Show Ponies. There is a song on their new album that I find myself singing at the top of my lungs a lot lately. It’s called-“Everything I Have Was Given to Me.” And there is this one part that slows down to this catchy tempo and it goes- “every thing I have received I did not deserve, it was given to me, I did not earn it.” And then it speeds up and in a really loud voice the singer belts, “EVERYTHING I HAVE WAS GIVEN TO ME”!
This song came to mind as I was thinking about tonight and your induction to an honor society. According to Webster’s dictionary, honor is “respect that is given to someone who is admired.” It is the “recognition of a good quality or character as judged by other people.”
Honor is something that is given. We can not honor ourselves. It is given to us. Tonight we honor you. We give you honor. We recognize your hard work, your intelligence, and your faithfulness to pay your dues.
Tonight you are honored. Tomorrow you will wake up, having been given honor. So what do you do with it?
I go to meetings at a ministry in Mississippi where the founder, Dr. John Perkins, is 82 years old. He has started many ministries, inspired others, written books, mentored hundreds of young people, and is an international speaker about community and the Word of God. He has been honored many, many times for his life and work. In the board room where we hold our meetings, the walls are covered with plagues and pictures and recognitions representing honors he has received.
One thing we can do with honor is display it. We can keep it. We can make it part of our identity. “Hello, I’m Christine, member of the honor society.” It is tempting to hold on to honor and wear it like a badge. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel important and reminds me that people recognize me and my work and character or whatever they have recognized.
Jesus mentioned people who hang on to honor like this in Matt. 23:5-7:
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their scripture boxes wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
That is one thing we could do with honor- display it for others to see.
But there is something else we can do with honor.
In the same passage I just read, Jesus throws in one of his classic, “But you” phrases. “They love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. BUT YOU are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven…The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus shows us what to do with honor. We are to turn it back to God and to give it away to others in service. If honor is something we are given, then once we have it, we can give it away.
You are emerging sociologists and anthropologists. You have studied people and cultures. You know what people are looking for. As humans, we want to be recognized and acknowledged. People need dignity and honor like they need water and air.
Currently, in sweeping terms, we are a society that isolates and forgets our elderly. God the Father commands us to honor our fathers and mothers. As a society, we lock up our children in prisons. Jesus taught his followers to let the children come to him. He gave them a place of honor as examples of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of God. In our society we abandon our mentally ill to the streets. Jesus stopped and honored the tormented with dignity and healing and purpose. In our society we honor fame, wealth, power and the people that have those things. Scripture teaches us that ALL praise and honor, power, and glory is ascribed to Jesus Christ our Lord who sits on the throne of heaven forever and ever.
So what will you do with the honor you have received? Will you grasp it and keep it and use it to justify yourself? Or will you give it away to a world desperate for recognition and honor? Will you give the honor back to God, the only one worthy of honor and praise?
Dr. Perkins, the man I was telling you about with all the plaques and honors, has all those memories hanging in the ministry office. But if you go to his home, you will find young people gathered around the kitchen table at 6am studying the Word of God. If you follow him around you will end up at the state prison where he has mentored inmates about fatherhood and economics and plans with them how they will serve God and care for their families when they get out. If you walk the streets of his neighborhood with him, which I have done, you will meet teenage girls that Dr. Perkins honors when he introduces by sharing their dreams for college. If you hear Dr. Perkins teach, you will hear him honor his mother in his talk. You will hear him weep in prayers of gratitude as he speaks to the Lord. Dr. Perkins is a man of honor- not because of all the honors he has received (and deservedly so) but because he gives that honor away to Christ, to his family, the community, and the world.
Tonight I join with others in this room to honor you. I honor your hard work. I honor your commitment to study. I honor your desire to make a difference in the world. I honor who you are- a precious child of God created for good works. I bless you in the name of Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now give it away. Honor Christ with your life by honoring the forgotten, the prisoners, the vulnerable, and the marginalized. Honor God with a life of praise, giving glory to him and not taking it for yourself.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
(I Timothy 1:17)