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Honorary Degree Recipients
Week of 31 May 2002 · Vol. V, No. 34

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Rev. Michael E. Haynes bids grads, "Come down from the mountain"

By David J. Craig

When the spirits of Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain where Jesus had led three of his apostles, Peter, his closest disciple, was so awestruck that he wanted to build dwellings atop the mountain so the holy figures and the apostles could remain there forever. But Jesus, knowing he had further sacrifices to make for mankind, led Peter, James, and John back down the mountain, explaining that he was entrusting them with spreading God's word after his death.

  In his Baccalaureate sermon, Roxbury minister Michael E. Haynes told graduates that their college education prepares them to serve mankind, just as witnessing Jesus' transfiguration on a mountaintop prepared the apostles Peter, James, and John to spread God's word. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

This story from the Gospel of Matthew is pivotal, said the Rev. Michael E. Haynes in his Baccalaureate sermon at Marsh Chapel on Commencement day, because it shows that spiritual revelation and knowledge are useless unless they inspire service to other people. Jesus brought his disciples to the top of the mountain not so they would "feel religiously superior," but "to give them a glimpse of the suffering and death which awaited him in Jerusalem," said Haynes, of the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, Mass. Fishermen by trade, they were "ordinary men being prepared for an extraordinary mission."

And so it is for college graduates, who for four years enjoy "a time of preparation," he told a congregation of BU students and families on May 19 in Marsh Chapel. "For those who are privileged to attain a higher education, that attainment must do more than give you a reason to feel elite, superior, or to develop a holier-than-thou attitude. It must mean more than a passport to material acquisitions, financial security, and personal comfort. It should provide one with a new awareness of the world, an appreciation for the diverse peoples of our societies, and a sensitivity for the serious problems confronting other nations and peoples.

"We must all come down from the mountains of our transfigurations and return to the valley of life," he continued, preaching with a slow, deliberate rhythm, at times raising his voice dramatically.

In a sermon heavy with political overtones, Haynes, 75, told graduates to be concerned about "job layoffs, the rising crisis of affordable housing right here in Boston, dangerous governmental budget cuts, and increasing problems with health care and disease" as well as "Christians killing Christians in Northern Ireland," an Israeli-Palestinian crisis made worse by "stubborn and ambitious men playing politics," and "underdeveloped nations being exploited and plundered from within and without, especially in Africa." Later in the morning, Haynes was presented with a doctor of humane letters, honoris causa, at the All-University Commencement exercises.

A Roxbury native, Haynes earned a reputation as a tireless youth advocate counseling troubled teenage boys at Boston-area community centers beginning in the 1950s. He formed youth groups that encouraged teenagers to stay in school and lured them off the streets with activities like sports, music, and arts and crafts. A former Democratic state representative and parole board member, he has served as senior minister of the 850-member Twelfth Baptist Church since 1964.

It was at the Twelfth Baptist Church in the early 1950s that Haynes met Martin Luther King, Jr., (GRS'55, Hon.'59), who became a close friend and an inspiration to Haynes spiritually and in his social activism. King was a member of the church when working toward his doctorate at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and periodically delivered sermons.

"Martin Luther King, Jr., climbed up his mountain while here," Haynes told the congregation. "And if Martin had stayed up on his mountain, America would be less American for all of us. He saw and sensed the terrible pain and hopelessness down in the valleys of life. He laid down his life so I could have a better life here and now."

Similarly, Jesus "died for me that I might have life," Haynes said. "I must live for him. I must love him. And if I love him, I must love my neighbor. And if I love him, I must learn to love my enemy. I've been to the mountaintop. But for now, I've got to live and work in the valley, in Jesus' name. How about you?"


31 May 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations