Rt. Rev’d. Dr. Musonda Trevor Selwyn Mwamba; President of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) Zambia.: Sermon preached at the Investiture Ceremony of Dr Romelle Alexzyn Horton as the First Female President of Cuttington University, Suakoko, Bong County, Liberia, on Saturday, 12th November, 2022.
Bishop James, Reverend Fathers, Madam President, the Board of Trustees, Administration, Faculty, Students and Staff, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am honoured and humbled to be here. I beg your indulgence to share this story of a famous old priest who was being introduced to a congregation by the parish priest who waxed more eloquent by the second:
“We are about to hear from a man of such wisdom that even the most learned sit at his feet; of such kindness that even children flock to him for advice; with such a keen understanding of human problems that men and women bare to him their innermost secrets; a man of such…such…at this point, the old priest tugged at the sleeve of the parish priest, whispering, “ And don’t forget my humility”!
On this historic occasion it’s a blessing to preach at your investiture ceremony Dr. Romelle Alexzyn Horton as Cuttington University’s first female President in its 133 years of its founding.
Madam President, from today my claim to fame shall be my friend is the first female President of Cuttington University. And in years to come when a statue is erected of you. May I humbly suggest they should be an inscription: “The Bish Trevor Mwamba preached here!” – just a suggestion!
This distinguished University founded in 1889 as Cuttington College by the Episcopal Church of the United States is the oldest private, coeducational, four-year, degree-granting institution in sub-Saharan Africa.
16 years ago, as Bishop of Botswana, I met Dr. Horton, in Columbus, Ohio at the Episcopal Church’s 75th General Convention.
Like today it was historic for then the Bishop of Nevada Jefferts Schori was elected the first woman primate in the Anglican Communion.
16 years later am here, this is the magic of life, it’s full of wonder, it’s full of surprises.
Once in Sweden I was given as a gift one little piece of a jigsaw puzzle. This got me thinking about our lives, as a piece of a divine jigsaw puzzle, fitting into other pieces in our journey of life to ultimately create a divine living picture of God. And every meeting in life is for a reason a connection of life’s jigsaw puzzle.
The American Rabbi Lawrence Kushner had this insight about meetings, perhaps, when you entered a room and met someone and after a while you understood that unknown to either of you there was a reason you had met. You had changed the other or he or she had changed you. By some word or deed created by your presence. Each person is a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, essential, important, without you life is incomplete.
We are each in the many experiences of our lives trying to assemble the different pieces to our lives as we don’t have within ourselves all the pieces to our puzzle of life. We are always in the process of becoming.
We carry within ourselves some pieces to someone else’s life puzzle. So in the interactions of life we add something to their becoming or they add something to our becoming, changing, growing, towards God’s expectations of our lives.
Less than one month into his presidency in 1961, President Kennedy received an unexpected letter. It came from the Solomon Islands from a man named Biuku Gaza, who had rescued the future American President and his PT 109 crew in 1943. He wrote that it was his joy that Kennedy was now President of the United States of America.
He went on to say it was not in his strength that he and his friends were able to rescue Kennedy, but in the strength of God, they were able to help him.
President Kennedy responded saying how eternally grateful he was for the act of divine providence which brought him and his crew together to be rescued by Biuku Gaza and his friends.
So Gaza had a piece or pieces of a jigsaw puzzle which fitted in Kennedy’s life and which had consequences for his future. Without knowing it Gaza and his friends were messengers of God, with a part, a piece of jigsaw puzzle to rescue Kennedy.
Ordinary people, you and I, are often messengers of God who go about our daily lives unknown to ourselves. Yet if we had not said what we said, or did what we did; things would be different. We would not be the way we are now. We are messengers of God with tasks to do whose consequences touch several lifetimes.
We live in a sacred universe. Each of us is unique and special created by God to express and incarnate a different aspect of His or Her Divinity. We are endowed with particular gifts of God to enrich others. We are called for specific tasks and if we don’t do them no one can and the world becomes poorer and dimmer.
On this historic occasion I say to you all, you are special, you are beautiful, you are God’s children with so much to offer in making our nation and world a better place. So let’s rededicate ourselves to the ethos and mission of this university summoned up in the motto: Sancte et Sapiente, that is, With Holiness and Wisdom.
It inspires us, especially, Madam President, to live up to our best in life lest we fail and make our world poorer and dimmer.
Let’s invoke God’s grace to be our best in life inspired and encouraged by the insightful funky phrase describing Cuttington University: “Innovation lives here”.
Innovation is the word to embrace and enthuse us and the parable of the talents aptly teaches us the moral lesson and inspiration of being innovative.
Our Saviour Jesus Christ uses parables or stories to teach, shock, and make us think deeply. Often, we don’t think deeply about ourselves, about life, about God. We don’t cultivate critical reasoning or an intensity of perception.
So once upon a time a man going on a journey – some say he was going to Qatar for the World Cup, called his directors and entrusted to them his wealth.
To one he gave five shares, to another two, to another one, each according to their ability. Then off he went.
The director who had received five shares traded with them on the Stock Exchange and made five more shares.
The director who had received two shares did likewise and made two more shares. But the director who had received the one share put it in a book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney and hid it in his study.
Ages later the owner returned and settled accounts with them. The director who had received the five shares came forward, bringing five more shares, saying, ‘Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer (hereinafter referred to as CEO), you entrusted me with five shares; here, I have made five more shares.’
The Chairperson said, ‘Well done, good and faithful director. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over many subsidiaries. Enter into my happiness.’
The two-share director also came forward, saying, ‘Chairperson and CEO, you entrusted me with two shares; here, I have made two more shares.’
The Chairperson and CEO, said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful director. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over many subsidiaries. Enter into my happiness.’
The one share director came timidly forward, saying, ‘Chairperson and CEO, I knew you to be a tough entrepreneur, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. You are just like a government tax collector.
Well, after you vamoosed I read on the stock market and came across the five large stock exchange crashes in history!
I freaked out and kept having reoccurring nightmares of losing the one share, so I put it in a book and hid it in my study. Here, sir is your one share you gave me.
The Chairperson looked at him with that could kill kind of look! So, he said to the director:
‘You wicked and lazy director. You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my share with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.
So, take the share from him and give it to her who has the ten shares. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he or she will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he or she has will be taken away.
He tossed the worthless director into outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
To those with no teeth dentures made in China will be provided! Here ends the jazzed-up parable.
For years hearing this parable in church I disliked the ending. I felt that this one share director was badly treated. To me he was the smart and cautious one who played it safe ensuring the talent entrusted to him was not lost. Whilst the other directors where the reckless and irresponsible ones by gambling their talents in the marketplace.
Well, years later the moral of the parable of the talents finally clicked. I realised the parable is about Life and how God is the Creator and Source of everything.
How God is imagination and imagines things into being- like you and I.
The first chapter of the book of Jeremiah 1:5 has this profound insight God is quoted saying:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”. We all begin in God as thoughts.
I realised we are only stewards of God’s talents and gifts in us. In our talents used wisely God thrives passionately, creatively, and inspiringly, enriching our lives in the experiences and responsibilities that refine us.
I realised the parable reveals God’s grace which gives us all things gratuitously. So it’s never about what we have done or deserve, but God’s grace. Unearned. Unmerited.
I realised the parable reveals God – shockingly, perhaps, as a risk-taker; a gambler, who gambles self on each of us according to our abilities; hoping – poor God on most of us against hope! That we can increase and share his love in life.
I realised the two directors who were faithful discerned God was a risk-taker who believed in them by entrusting his talents to them to increase and share; knowing if they didn’t no one could and the world would be poorer and dimmer.
I realised then the one share director was condemned because he failed to live – he was afraid. He did not try! That’s the wickedness.
The inspiring Maya Angelou once said, “Nothing will work unless you do”.
He wasted his talent doing nothing. He failed to take a risk in adding value to his life and community by increasing and sharing what God had given him.
Life is a risk nothing is guaranteed but we must make an effort. Here is your life. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen but don’t be afraid. Do something. God holds our hands. Try.
Be assured if the one share director had tried, simply tried to risk his share on the Stock Exchange and lost it. The Chairperson and CEO would have commended him for trying.
saying to him:
“Well done, good and faithful director. You tried and failed miserably but you definitely tried and that’s what matters! You have been faithful by trying over a little; Enter into my happiness.” Remember it’s all about God’s grace.
The parable of the talents with its diverse lessons presents us with the power of imagination in changing things that’s innovation.
George Bernard Shaw the Irish playwright once said, ‘There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?’
The condemned director asked why? I shall not bother things are as they are. There is nothing I can do. Whilst the other two directors dreamed of things that never were and asked why not? There is something we can do, a difference we can make. This is the ‘I can do attitude’ and blessed are those who have it.
Innovation is the heart of the parable of the talents. It starts with the man leaving and entrusting his wealth to the servants. His decision unleashes the dynamics of innovation. Nothing great comes about without innovation.
On this historic occasion God is playing innovator at the University. It’s so exciting because President Horton you are in God’ innovative dream for this University.
The French poet Charles Peguy’s inspiring poem ‘God’s Dream’, draws us into innovativeness:
“I myself will dream a dream within you
good dreams come from me, you know.
My dreams seem impossible,
not too practical,
not for the cautious man or woman
a little risky sometimes…
…from those who share my dreams
I ask a little patience, a little humour;
some small courage,
and a listening heart –
I will do the rest.
Then they will risk
and wonder at their daring.
Run, and marvel at their speed,
build, and stand in awe at the beauty of their building….
So, come now, be content.
It is my dream you dream,
my house you build,
my caring you witness,
my love you share,
and this is the heart of the matter.”
This is the heart of the matter Dr Romelle Horton as Cuttington University’s first female President where ‘innovation lives’ with holiness and wisdom. Dream of things that are not at this great University and ask why not?
Why not? You are blessed with intelligence, capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status and responsibilities. That is your privilege, and your cross.
As a steward of God’s dream in the Office bestowed on you dare; to educate and empower inspired leaders Liberia and the world need now. In your wise words, “…leaders with the requisite intellectual curiosity, moral character, critical thinking, civic mindedness, entrepreneurial courage, and global perspective to meet the demands of 21st century realities…and make a positive difference in the lives of others”.
This is the dream and role of Cuttington and any great university to educate people who are holistic in their perception of life and can be of service to the nation and globally, inspired by risk- taking and innovation that transforms and inspires and improves lives and communities.
Another dream and role for Cuttington and African universities is to honour, preserve, and pass on to future generations their great heritage of Africaness, recalling the words of Marcus Garvey who wrote:
“A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”.
It’s incumbent on African academics to be bold truth tellers whose research pursuits of truth debunks prevalent myths which label some countries as third world or developing simply because some fellow high on cocaine thought so.
The reality is that some so-called developed countries underbellies are third world and vice-versa.
To capture this, I recall the remarks Senator Robert F Kennedy made at the University of Kansas in March 1968, when he was campaigning for the presidency.
He saw a growing division between Americans. He saw children in Mississippi starving, their bodies so crippled from hunger and their minds …destroyed for their whole life that they had no future. Yet the United States then had a gross national product of $800 billion dollars. But no policy in place to get food so that the starving could live. He saw Indians living on their reservations, with no jobs, and unemployment rate of 80 percent, with so little hope for the future. For the young people, boys and girls in their teens the greatest cause of death amongst them was suicide. He saw African Americans in ghettos listening to ever greater promises of equality and of justice, in decaying schools and filthy rooms without heat …warding off the rats.
Senator Kennedy sought to end the disgrace of the America he saw. Where is the third world or developing countries when poverty is amidst the so-called developed countries?
May universities like Cuttington be the vanguard of education drawing us into the truth about our ourselves, about our countries, about our world, and debunking myths premised on prejudices.
True education is that which engenders a positive contribution to our nations and world to make it better than we found it thus transforming the future.
On this historic occasion let’s look at our own lives and ask ourselves the question do I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?’
What is our contribution in life? When we enter someone’s life, consider all our actions and ask ourself the question do I reflect God’s love, light and beauty in the particular situation, or to this person or persons or place?
When we die will our life have resulted in more loving in this world or more hurting? More comfort in this world or more pain? More joy in this world or more sadness? More light in this world or more darkness? More beauty in this world or more ugliness? What will be our contribution to this world of ours?
Let Cuttington University Flight CU 1889, captained by Dr Horton rise to meteoric heights to realise God’s dream of a nation and world of love, peace, justice, and prosperity for all peoples.
Scorpions go out there and let Liberia and the world feel your sting.