John 4:20-24 New International Version (NIV)
20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
It is always a great honor and blessing for me to share a brief reflection with you on this first Monday morning Chapel of the new academic year. I’ve been asked to think with you about this place that we call Valparaiso University as a sacred space.
What about this word, “sacred?” What does it mean? I think about a place that is holy and dedicated to a divine purpose. That which is set apart from the cares and work of the world.
And, of course, I think about this Chapel, this inspiring, monumental space dedicated to Jesus’ triumph over death and the grave. A holy place. A place to gather and worship the divine. A place that transcends everyday reality and calls us closer to God.
I don’t know about you, but the very first time I set foot on this campus and walked into this space I knew two things: first, that I was in a sacred space; and second, that this was a place where I longed to be.
Think about the Chapel of the Resurrection and its place on the campus of Valparaiso University. It stands here as both a symbolic witness to the Christian character of this University, as well as its very heart and soul. If it is indeed both heart and soul, then this University campus, the people who come into this place and go out from it, the beliefs we hold and share, the teaching and learning with which we engage, the rituals we perform, the stories we share, the service we perform, the songs we sing, the money we raise, the insights and discoveries we make, the truth that we pursue, all these things in their own way, are a both a prayer to and worship of our Creator.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of John, chapter 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that a time is coming when those people who worship God will do so in Spirit and in truth, rather than in a specific place called a temple. Indeed, if all that we do in this University under the Cross is done to worship and glorify God through the pursuit of truth, then Valparaiso University and all who live, and learn, and work here have built and will continue to build throughout this campus a sacred place.
The vantage point of a university president has proven interesting and surprising. It is one of the few positions in a university where one can witness the full arc of its impact, from the prospective student and parents visiting campus for the first time; through reactions to campus convocation and the ritual of becoming a member of this special community; through the joys and sorrows of learning and maturing; through the bittersweet, exciting, joyous, anxious period of graduation; through the journeys of careers and marriages and children; through devotion to church and to family; through generosity and selfless service to others across a lifetime; through career achievements; through growing old; and through dying and the celebrations and remembrances of races run and lives well-lived.
One can see across decades and lifetimes how this University, at the nexus of Athens and Jerusalem, where gifts are revealed and callings are discovered. Where dreams are hatched and relationships forged. Where service and giving are generous and pervasive. Where all of these individual prayers and acts of worship accrue, embodied and enacted and reflected year after year, decade after decade. And the stories of all those who have passed from this world surround this place as a great cloud of witnesses, testifying to God’s work in this place.
This is sacred space. God is here! Let us worship and glorify him.