Summary: An Age when our "Yes" no longer means yes, and our "NO" no longer means no. When right is wrong and wrong is right!
Sermon Preached at Grace Community Church (EPC)
Sun City Grand, Surprise, AZ
Sunday, August 5, 2001
by the Reverend Cooper McWhirter
An Age of Nonsense: “The Failure of Isms”
Commencement is the one time each year when students get to hear a speaker say something profound. Yet, of the thousands of commencement addresses every year, few are ever remembered. How many of you can remember your own graduation day from high school, or college? Can you even remember who your commencement speaker was? Then again, at our age, we’re doing well just to remember what year we graduated!
Well, there’s at least one class of graduates who will not soon forget who spoke at their commencement. It was June 8, 1978 and it marked the 327th commencement ceremony at Harvard University. The speaker was the famed 1970 Nobel Prize winner for literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Here was a man who had endured years of imprisonment in the Soviet gulags and who lived to tell about it. In 1974, he was granted political asylum here in the United States. Soon, he became a celebrity of sorts and was highly touted as a speaker and lecturer. At least he was until that fateful day at Harvard.
In his speech titled “A World Split Apart,” he began his address by saying that Harvard’s motto is “Veritas” meaning truth. He said, “Many of you have already found out and others will eventually find out in the course of their lives that truth is elusive … especially when we deceive ourselves into believing that we are in pursuit of truth when in actuality we are not… truth is seldom sweet; it is almost invariably bitter.”
Instead of expressing gratitude for his newfound freedoms and the privilege of speaking before such a prestigious audience, Solzhenitsyn expressed his deep concern for the spiritual decline in the West and especially here in America. In his speech, he wondered why “the Western world has lost its courage.” He denounced Western leaders for foreign policy decisions conceived from a posture of “weakness” and “cowardice” based on the fallacy that “We cannot apply moral criteria to politics.” His audience began to squirm.
Instead of congratulating these Ivy Leaguers, he warned about “destructive and irresponsible freedom” and the “abyss of human decadence.” Solzhenitsyn deplored the “misuse of liberty for moral violence against our young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.”
The audience grew more uncomfortable. Some students started shouting and booing, but their insults failed to deter the speaker from making his points known. He identified America’s real problem as being one of “spiritual sickness.” And the root cause was our most prized possession – our “self-centeredness.” We suffer from the delusion, he said, that we are “the center of everything that exists.” We think we are not accountable to “any higher force …” “Is it true,” he asked, “that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him?” Founded by Puritans in 1636, Harvard once knew the answers to these questions.
And so I ask you this morning, “Are we the result of some biochemical accident?” We neither created ourselves nor did we presumably evolve from some prehistoric organism. Yet, we presume that wisdom originates with us. What arrogance!
Some of these same thoughts were expressed 3,000 years ago by someone who, according to Scripture, was the wisest man who ever lived [1 Kings 4.29-34]. Solomon diligently studied numerous sciences and disciplines. He was a philosopher, an astronomer, a botanist, a biologist, a breeder of fine horses. He was a man well versed in many subjects. He indulged himself in every kind of pleasure and he did so compulsively and in great excess. Towards the end of his life he composed this written sermon and he did so as a warning to us against excesses, which, in the final analysis, boils down to man’s “self-indulgence,” which is rooted in pride.
For the next several weeks, we’re going to examine our lives in light of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which, I believe, is one of the finest apologetics for the Christian faith. This series will be comprised of topical sermons based upon one of the most profound books ever written. Consider for a moment the author. Solomon was a mighty king who reigned during the Golden Age of Israel. In the modern vernacular, “he had it all together.” He had a keen intellect. He was powerful, influential and extremely wealthy. In addition to his kingly duties, he studied, he taught, he judged and he wrote. Kings and leaders from many foreign lands came to Jerusalem to learn from him [1 Kings 10.24]. Yet, in spite of his practical insight, Solomon failed to heed his own advice, and so in the autumn of his life, he examines his follies with humility and repentance.