- In Strength and Faith
- On Firm Foundation
- Our Fatherâ€™s World
- Knowing How, Knowing Why
- With Love and Hope Surrounded
- To Sacred Truth
- Play On Your Harp
- Coming Through Home
- Yesterday, Today, and Forever
- The One Thing Needful
- In the Face of the West Wind
- To Sacred Truth
- Not So Wild a Dream
- From Redemption to Renaissance
- Salty Days and Starry Nights
- A Holy Restlessness
- The Cross and the Glory
- Remarks - Chapel Dedication
Text: Ephesians 2:19-22
Today we dedicate the Founders Court and rededicate Grose Hall, a building named after our first president, I.F. Grose. Grose Hall has been with us for a long time and it has had several names. After enduring many challenges over time, we noticed it was beginning to list a bit. Poor ventilation and inadequate insulation made it both an inefficient and unpleasant place in which to work, and its classrooms were not functional for today’s needs. Some suggested its condition was terminal. But our engineers said it is a solid structure, its foundation is strong and secure. Let it be restored and maintained, we said. The building’s firm foundation turns out to be the key to its continuing life and usefulness.
That firm foundation is not only the key to the life of a building; it’s also a key to life for the family of faith. On this Homecoming Sunday it’s worth reviewing and renewing the commitment of this college to its firm foundation, which is Jesus Christ. I want to do that by exploring the life of three households of faith: the community of Ephesus in the years of Paul’s ministry; the household of faith that settled and established this college; and finally, the household of faith in our own time and age.
Ephesus was a community of great wealth and influence; it was one of the great cities of the eastern Mediterranean along with Antioch and Alexandria. The Greek temple of Artemis was thriving. The priests of Artemis thought that the universe was in the hands of unseen cosmic forces and so one’s future was largely a matter of luck and fate. The learned people of the region followed the doctrines of Gnosticism. The Gnostics believed that God and creation, religion and life, were separate. The consequence of this teaching was extreme libertinism and self-indulgence on the one hand, and asceticism, that is, complete separation from the world, on the other.
Then along came the apostles and prophets of Christ, Paul and his fellow workers. They came to Ephesus and we are told that Paul stayed there longer than anywhere else. To the Gnostics they preached that God and creation were brought together, reconciled, in Christ. To the followers of Artemis they said that life is not a matter of luck or fate or unseen forces, but that God is in charge and cares for the whole of creation. What good news all of this was to the weary and uncertain people in Ephesus who were looking for something that made sense, which was born of love and compassion. So a new household was established in that community, a household that proclaimed this new message of reconciliation. They met in homes and public places to preach and teach and worship. Ephesus became one of the thriving Christian communities of the young church. We know that the cornerstone of this household was Christ, the one who loved and who came to reconcile the world to Himself, to make all things whole and new. And the response of this community at Ephesus was to share that love with others and establish new standards of life and discipline.
Time passed and some of the old challenges re-emerged along with some new ones. The pagan religion reasserted itself and many in the Christian households were tempted again by unbridled self-indulgence. The priests of Artemis became concerned about the decline of their influence so they persecuted Christians. Then the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians began squabbling among themselves as to their privilege and status. Indeed, the story reads like it could have been written today!
Paul heard about this and wrote a letter to the household of faith at Ephesus. In his letter, he reminds the Ephesians that they don’t have to feel like aliens or strangers because they are fellow citizens in the family of faith. Then he uses the analogy of a building and reminds them that they are built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and that Jesus is the cornerstone of this building with God’s spirit holding the pieces together.
Now, Paul wasn’t talking about a building like Grose Hall or even the place where the Ephesians worshipped. He was talking about the household of faith, the church of Ephesus. He said that the apostles and prophets had laid the foundation for the community and that Jesus continues to be the cornerstone and, because of that, they are one family -- a family of God. So now, he says, you can work together and build together because of God’s love and the presence of His Spirit. On this basis he called the community to righteousness and loving service again, asking them to be witnesses. No doubt the squabbles in that household of faith and the times of trial were not over and the household would need restoring and renewing from time to time, but the foundation of faith and unity -- that would last forever!
Without benefit of a time machine or even a looking glass, let’s move up nearly 2,000 years to the era when this region and this college were established. Today we will dedicate our Founders Court that was built to honor the memory of this college’s visionary founders. The verse at the base of the sculpture is our text for today and reads:
“So then you are no longer sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined and grows into the holy temple of the Lord.”
What has Paul and Ephesus to do with Concordia and its foundation? Let’s explore the parallels.
The founders of this region were something like the Christians in Ephesus. They were strangers in a foreign land. For these immigrants, the land was as foreign as were the laws, customs and language. They had come to this land with great expectations of freedom and prosperity, but they were often broken by the harsh realities of drought, pestilence and illness. One settler named O. A. Olson described his plight in these words: “Most of my neighbors have vanished for they could not live on dust. They inscribed a line on their wagons, ‘back to the flesh pots or bust.’” Mortality among the young was incredibly high due to colds, flu, pneumonia and dysentery. One pioneer wrote about a 26-mile trip to the nearest doctor, a trip which took two days and one that was often too late to do any good. There was monotony and hardship; no mail, no newspaper, no school, no neighbors and no church. These hardships fell heaviest on the women of whom one pioneer wrote, “ordinarily, men must work and women must weep, but on the prairie women must do both.” In spite of it all, most pioneers stayed and survived. They became full citizens -- naturalized, socialized and Americanized. They transformed this wilderness into a civilized and prosperous place.
There were prophets and apostles among them, too, prophets and apostles who had brought with them from their homelands the gospel, the Good News. It was the same gospel Paul brought to Ephesus. Of course, there were new surroundings and different times, but these apostles and prophets laid the foundation for communities of faith in the new land and they said that, whether Ephesus or North Dakota, Minnesota or Montana, “the cornerstone of the household is Jesus Christ.” No other foundation could withstand the trials of life on the prairies, or the new world temptations, or the old world longings -- only Christ. Citizenship in the household of faith came before citizenship in the new land and after it too. The love of a reconciling God was no abstraction to those who bore the scars of the frontier and lived with the uncertainties of life and health and earthly wealth. So they built churches and worshipped in their own language until they were challenged to use the words of the new country. They took seriously Paul’s admonition to lead moral lives and build communities that would be examples of faithfulness and service.
These prophets and apostles, building on the same foundation, established Concordia College. Their names were Ness and Hougen, Beck and Christianson, and many others. Among these prophets and apostles were businessmen and farmers, pastors and lawyers. Some wanted the school in Fargo, others in Crookston, and still others said no, let it be in Moorhead. But all were certain about the foundation and the cornerstone, which was Jesus Christ and the good news of reconciliation. So they came together, took up a collection, secured a bank note, and bought a building in Moorhead that they called a college -- a name that reflected more wish than reality. They prayed over what they had done and the struggles they would endure on behalf of it.
This early college was, in many respects, a place of contrast and differences. The first three buildings were of unrelated architectural styles. There were some who wanted Concordia to pursue a business curriculum, while others wanted a liberal arts course. But the foundation of the school is what gave it its unity. The foundation was not the work of an architect or of the apostles and the prophets, or of the faculty and the students. The foundation was built on Christ and the architect was God’ spirit. But, mind you, this foundation did not make the college safe from challenges and problems. There was the financial panic of 1893 when a local banker called in a note of the college’s. There was the opposition of another college of the church when Concordia sought to initiate college level offerings in 1907. And there was the competition for students from a large number of colleges in the region, not just NDAC and Moorhead Normal, but also Hope Academy and Fargo College in this community, Northwestern and Park Region colleges in Fergus Falls, Glenwood Academy, Tower City University, Dakota College at Lisbon, and Red River Valley University at Wahpeton. There was the challenge of strengthening the faculty, the library and laboratories to secure accreditation in the 1920’s and the financial threat of the Great Depression in the 1930’s -- a challenge that many of the colleges and academies of this region did not survive.
We know that Concordia did survive -- but why? First, because there were those disciples and prophets, men like Lars Christianson, J. A. Aasgaard, J. N. Brown and Pa Anderson, a veritable honor roll of saints. They told the story of reconciliation, each according to their gift and calling, and then insisted that this college would and could survive provided it remained on firm foundation. Many believed them and found ways to meet the challenges. They formed a great household knit together by God’s spirit. Some of them would say that Concordia was a “college of destiny.”
Indeed, the Concordia that we experience today was not the result of the magic of architects and engineers, nor the labor of those lay and ordained apostles and prophets, nor the result of the scholarship of teachers and students. Fundamentally, the key to understanding this place that unites itself around the Latin motto, Soli Deo Gloria, is knowing that the foundation was constructed by God’s own spirit.
This history is interesting, of course, but what has it to do with us, with Concordia on the eve of the 1980’s? Like the Ephesians and the founders of this college, we face challenges today. Some of them have a familiar ring. We are a generation given to self-indulgence. Patricia Harris, Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, said that “never before in this country has the pursuit of privacy and personal fulfillment seemed so overwhelming and so much at odds with the needs of the nation.” The Ephesians called it the work of pagan and Greek gods and goddesses, today’s experts call it narcissism -- a preoccupation with the self that is so strong that it shuts out the needs of others on the one hand and the exhortations of a supreme being on the other. We live in a culture in which the prevailing measure of things is “does it work, will it pay, and what’s in it for me?” There are challenges of another sort too -- declining enrollments and increasing costs due to expensive energy resources and spiraling inflation.
Like the Ephesians and the Concordia household of the past, we need prophets and apostles -- living, courageous and engaged. Indeed, each generation needs people with a vision of the gospel that frees people from the bondage of self on the one hand, and the escape of other worldliness on the other. We need apostles and prophets who see all of life and learning held together under the lordship of the one who is the cornerstone, the Christ. We need, just as did the Concordia household of the 1890’s, the 1920’s, and the 1930’s, a family of prophets and apostles concerned for this place. Some days I ask myself about the future: Will we be a household of living, active members? Most agree that Concordia continues to build on a firm foundation and that Christ is the cornerstone. But I note that the financial support of alumni includes less that 20 percent of our graduates and financial support from the church is an ever-declining part of our resources. We need all of these prophets and apostles, their witness and their gifts. If the college loses these apostles and prophets from membership in the household, will others take their place, possibly with different visions and aspirations? Indeed, the landscape of American education is strewn with the wreckage of what were once colleges built on the cornerstone of the gospel.
Concordia could count on the apostles and prophets of the 1930’s, the 1960’s, and the 1970’s, but how about the 1980’s? The answer to that question is being forged today by alumni, our Concordia household, and the church. Will they care enough to be apostles and prophets, to claim the college with prayers and students and dollars, yes, dollars too? Or will the college be forced by lack of support to move and dance to other voices that have built their foundation on a different cornerstone?
We have a firm foundation. With the work of the apostles and prophets knit together by God’s spirit, powerful things continue to occur. Students are still captured by that spirit here -- they give of themselves for the sake of others; they give glory to God with lyre and trumpet and joyful voice; they explore the issues of society and our planet in anticipation of serving those needs and being part of the miracle of reconciliation; and they are becoming apostles and prophets in keeping with our mission.
Everyday, people come in contact with the college through the work of other apostles and prophets and then add a new dimension to their lives by joining this household. Theologian Alvin Rogness said, “God didn’t wind up the universe like a clock and retire to heaven. He is still with us.” Yes there is plenty of evidence of that. Indeed, the building of this household of faith goes on -- from God to us, through us to others.
We believe that God was present at Ephesus and we believe God was present in 1891 when three pastors gathered in a parsonage in Fargo to pick a name for a college that they were about to carve out of a cornfield. We believe that God was present when a local druggist saved the college from financial ruin and when a wily president bought the land for Old Main by himself when the college’s directors were too timid to do so. We believe that God was present in the 1930’s when faculty and staff took cuts in pay and then volunteered for even more pay cuts in order that Concordia would survive. Yes, we believe that God is present when one student gains new insight into the mysteries of the universe, when another sorts through the issues of belief and vocation, and in faculty members who passionately search for truth and faith.
That belief is our firm foundation, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Amen