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Graham points to the cross in ‘old-fashioned Southern Baptist’


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (BP)–Billy Graham brought a simple message of Christian faith and hope to the intellectuals at Harvard University Sept. 26-27.
Graham spoke before capacity crowds at Memorial Church in the midst of Harvard yard and at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. While in the Boston area, he met privately with religious leaders from Iraq, who invited him to visit their war-ravaged nation.
Graham, 80, was honored by the university with a proclamation as “a preacher of the gospel, a Christian evangelist, and a voice for conscience and commitment,” and with enthusiastic standing ovations as he entered and departed the Kennedy School gathering.
It was Graham’s third visit to Harvard and his first since 1982. The visit initially had been scheduled last spring, but illness from Parkinson’s disease forced the evangelist to cancel. Demonstrating his trademark humor, Graham said Parkinson’s “doesn’t kill people. It just makes them wish they were dead.”
In the lucid and easygoing style that has been his trademark in recent years, Graham spoke Sunday morning at Memorial Church from Galatians 6:14 about the importance of the cross to an audience of some 1,200 students, faculty and friends, including some who camped out overnight with their sleeping bags to be assured of a seat.
He later told the pastor of Memorial Church that he had just preached “an old-fashioned Southern Baptist sermon.” He noted that the cross, the method of Jesus Christ’s execution, is seen by many people today as nothing more than an ornament or a piece of “costume jewelry.” He added that many people wear a cross without an understanding of its true meaning.
Graham then reflected on his travels to the former Soviet Union and the once-thriving churches that still had a cross on top because the communists did not understand its message and thus did not remove it. He told of a boy who lived near a church and, when once he had lost his way, asked someone to “take me to the cross. I can find my way home from there.”
This century’s best-known evangelist said the Apostle Paul, a scholar who attended “the Harvard of his day,” might have found reason for pride in his advanced education, in his Roman citizenship or in his religion, but he chose instead to “glory in the cross” of Jesus Christ. Graham called the repentant criminal who sought forgiveness from Jesus while both hung on crosses “the greatest example of faith in the Bible.”
Students today who seek hope for their lives “will never really find an answer until they find it in God,” Graham said, noting that the cross of Christ shows people today the depth of sin, the love of God and the only way to find salvation. He defined sin as “breaking the moral law of God. … We’re all guilty. I’m guilty.” Graham urged those present to pray silently about developing or enhancing a personal faith, but he did not ask the audience to come to the altar for spiritual counsel, as he does in stadium crusades.
During the 30-minute sermon, Graham mentioned his various illnesses and said that when asked to identify the greatest surprise of his distinguished life he responded by saying it is life’s “brevity.” He also commented briefly on the role of Christian faith in the sexual fulfillment married couples experience, explaining that he enjoys such intimacy with his wife, Ruth, who has been hospitalized lately with a broken hip.
An avid golfer, Graham spoke on the final day of the Ryder Cup tournament in nearby Brookline, Mass., just hours before the Americans won the championship, which prompted him to reminisce about playing on the same Brookline course, “I remember I nearly lost my religion there.”
Graham addressed an equally supportive capacity crowd Monday night at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he reminisced about his friendship with the late John F. Kennedy Jr., told the story of how he found Christian faith as a boy in North Carolina and took questions from the audience.
Graham said several years ago Kennedy asked to speak with him about spiritual matters. He also reported that Kennedy and his wife, Carolyn, both of whom died this summer in an airplane crash off Martha’s Vineyard, postponed their honeymoon for three days so they could visit with Graham. Kennedy and the evangelist never managed to arrange time for a lengthy discussion about Christ because of their schedules. Graham told the hushed audience that the missed opportunity has “been one of the great regrets of my life because I loved that young man and I loved his family.”
Addressing the topic, “Is God relevant for the 21st century?” Graham said, “I am sure we would be overwhelmed if we could see what the world will be like in 10 or 20 years.” After describing a prestigious industry conference he spoke to last year in California, where he learned about upcoming technological marvels, the evangelist returned to the Bible for his inspiration.
Recounting that King David introduced a new technology that revolutionized Israel of his day, the use of iron, Graham likened the significance of that ancient technological development to the introduction of the microchip a few years ago.
Leaving his prepared remarks for a moment, Graham said that when he committed his life to Christ during a tent revival in North Carolina, he found “new joy and peace and certainty of heaven.” The next morning after his conversion, “it seemed like the whole world was different. … I was a new person.” He asked those present to find the same peace for their lives through Jesus Christ. “Christ can come into your life and you can be a different person,” he stated.
While visiting Harvard, Graham told of meeting privately on Saturday with three religious leaders from Iraq. The delegation included representatives from the ancient Chaldean Church of Babylon, which traces its roots to the Apostle Thomas, as well as leaders of Iraq’s Shia and Sunni Islamic communities.
Graham said the leaders had invited him to visit Iraq, and he later said he would like to accept the invitation, but it is “very difficult to take long trips” because of his ongoing medical condition. The Iraqis presented Graham with a leather-bound copy of the Koran in both Arabic and English, which he read during private moments in the Boston area.
Graham noted while addressing the Kennedy School audience, “I’ve always been surprised by the warmth and the friendship and the open-mindedness” afforded him by the students and faculty of Harvard University.

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  • Dan Nicholas