Sermon on the Occasion of the Granting of Doctoral Degrees, University of Eastern Finland, 10 June 2022
Gospel: John 14:23-29 (NRSV)
Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
Esteemed academicians, sisters and brothers in Christ,
When the Academy processes into the cathedral, it does not enter the guest room as a conqueror, but returns to its own original home. Many of Europe’s oldest universities originated from cathedral schools, which a thousand years ago began to be established in the diocesan capitals to promote the highest civilization and train the best forces to serve society and the church.
I hope that today we could see this granting of doctoral degrees of the University of Eastern Finland as a great feast of thanks. Is it not the case that amid everyday pressures, we are good at worrying about unfinished business? Are we not exacting in seeing what we are missing? Today there are many reasons for rejoicing and giving thanks for what we have right now.
After two years of distancing regulations, we can be together. We can celebrate new and honorary doctoral degree holders. In this service of worship, we thank God, the source of all goodness and wisdom, for the university and the gift of science. “Be grateful, sing a hymn of thanksgiving,” urges the Bible verse just read. At the same time, we pray that we will learn to use the gift of science rightly: to promote peace, justice, and the integrity of creation. In the Bishops’ statement on science, we recall that in addition to knowledge, we also need wisdom to learn to use knowledge correctly and responsibly: “Science and technology must serve the survival of life, not its destruction”.
Today, it is good to remember with gratitude the preconditions that had to have first developed over the centuries that humanistic and scientific research could have have arisen at all. Interaction between different languages and cultures is needed; research does not develop in ethnic bell jars that are prejudiced against other peoples. Challenging paradigms, schools, and doctrines is needed; the ability to argue does not develop in ideological deadlocks that seek to “cancel” and blackmail people whose political or religious beliefs differ from mine. Common rules of the game of thought, language, argumentation, and proof are also needed for successful discussion and growth in truth to succeed. Finally, there is a need for a metaphysical worldview in which creation is believed to be rational, established, and regular rather than random chaos — otherwise it makes no sense to empirically study it.
Let us be humble: these preconditions for science were not invented at our beloved University of Eastern Finland. They were constructed in the Middle Ages in universities like Bologna, Paris or Oxford. Still, we have permission to be grateful: today at the University of Eastern Finland we get to join this long stream, celebrate the gift of science and develop it further.
At least one necessary precondition for the practice of civilization and science has not yet been mentioned. That is peace.
Many of you may have seen a picture taken in May of professor of sociology Fedir Shandor giving a lecture to his students via cell phone. A remote lecture, a picture of time familiar from the time of Corona! What is exceptional in this image is that this professor from the Ukrainian University of Uzhhorod is giving a lecture in a trench, wearing a composite helmet, an army field uniform, an assault rifle next to him: that is, he is lecturing during a break from battle somewhere on the Ukrainian front.
That picture tragically reminds us that in addition to many sufferings, war also shatters the gift of science. At the same time, a picture of a Ukrainian professor giving a remote lecture in a trench speaks of the power of the thirst for knowledge. The thirst for knowledge and the hunger for truth are such powerful forces that the one who wages war against them is doomed. He always loses.
Science also needs peace to progress. I would like to draw your attention today to one word of Jesus in the gospel for the day, where he promises, “Peace I leave with you. I give you my peace, not the kind that the world gives.”
I was used to thinking that peace can be understood in one way: there is either peace or its opposite, war. But Jesus is not talking about war and peace here. He seems to be talking about two different kinds of peace: ”I will give you my own peace, not the kind that the world gives.”
What does Jesus mean by this peace which the world gives?
Jesus no doubt had in mind the tragic history of his own people. According to the Old Testament, the Israelites, after being liberated from slavery in Egypt, conquered the land of Canaan by war, and were equally forcibly deported: first to Assyria and later to Babylon. During the time of Jesus, Jerusalem was harshly occupied by Rome during a period that Seneca first called the pax Romana, the Roman peace.
The term is hypocritical. A better term would be pax Imperium, imperialist peace. It was about a peace achieved with a knife at the throat, which was not achieved through diplomacy and negotiation, but through violence and threats. In such peace, the stronger party puts a knife to the weaker party’s throat and says, ”We can live very comfortably in peace and reconciliation if you just do as I do — or pay me enough.” This kind of knife-throat peace has been practiced by countless empires from ancient Rome to Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Putin’s Russia. The same method of creating submission is also evident in more mundane relationships.
There also exists a softer peace than political peace: a peace through trade relations. In it, indeed, the belligerent parties form an alliance financially, so that neither is worth attacking. No doubt Jesus felt this too. The method was applied after the Second World War to ensure peace between France and Germany.
It too has worked. Peace has long been enjoyed in Europe. Perhaps that is why many imagined that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian leadership could be tempted to work for peace, human rights and the rule of law through a peace-based approach to trade relations. The experience of this spring has removed the masks: even the softer method of peace in trade relations will not be able to ensure lasting peace in the world. A peace based on the optimization of self-interest, a strange balance between fear and selfishness, is always shaky.
Can we Finns live outside this cold way of thinking of spheres of influence? Stalin gives one response. During the Winter War, when J.K. Paasikivi tried to explain to Stalin that Finland wanted to remain outside of the power struggle between the Great Powers, Stalin replied, “I understand,” and then continued: “But you will not be allowed to do so.”
What then does Jesus mean by the peace which he gives?
One key to this is the vision of the prophet Micah, just read, that Jesus knew: “He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3, NRSV).
In the Kingdom of God, peace will be realized because justice will be realized. The more fairly others are treated, the better the root causes of wars and armaments will melt away. This may seem like a distant dream. But should we not imagine it right now, when peace is shaken and the forces of evil seem to be gaining power?
Dear listeners! Christ has come into the world not to bring analysis, but to give peace. Not to build walls, but to bring people together. Christ has come into the world not to condemn the fallen, but to bring about reconciliation between people and God. Does not the one who lives in harmony with God want to live in harmony with other people and with all of creation?
The vision of the prophet Micah takes peace all the way to its fulfillment. He writes, ”Then everyone may sit under their own vine and fig tree without fear.” Doesn’t this mean for modern Finland that Christ wants to give us a future where everyone can sit freely with a glass of wine, enjoy the company of friends, laugh at the mischief of school, argue about the problems of the multiverse hypothesis, be fascinated by the beauty of creation and live at home in the universe?
Dear guests! Peace is a gift, but also a task. Its construction begins with ourselves. Could we not receive a foretaste of this vision of peace already in this graduation ceremony? The Promotions Committee has provided wise rules for dress for this day and tonight. It is appropriate to follow them. And it is appropriate to supplement them with the instructions for dressing of the Apostle Paul, which read as follows:
”As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Colossians 3:12-16, NRSV).