- 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
Texts: John 8:31-36, II Timothy 1:3-14
College songs and hymns are familiar to us. Yesterday we sang our fight song, remembering the familiar words back through the years: “Stand up and cheer, stand up and cheer for old Concordia.” That song has served us well, win or lose. College hymns are another matter. There are thousands of them. Almost every college has one. But usually they are paraded out on rare occasions and sung with restraint and close attention to the script. Concordia’s hymn is different. For one thing, we sing it often -- at years’ beginning, at year’s end, and several times in between. An alumni or C-400 meeting is never complete until it has been sung. We sing it often both because it is sing-able and because it says something. “On firm foundation,” what strength those words convey. “With love and hope surrounded” expresses the spirit of the place. “In strength and faith forever” is a statement of purpose and direction. If you have been a frequent Homecoming participant, you have heard in recent years sermons on each of those themes.
There is another phrase that begs our attention, “To sacred truth, Concordia, may thou e’er faithful be.” Now there is a package -- for you, for me, for us -- and it is that package that I want to unpack with you this morning. Literally hundreds of colleges say that they are committed to the search for truth. But not many are presumptuous enough to quest after sacred truth. I am going to suggest that there are two kinds of truth, secular and sacred. Colleges can sometimes confuse them. But it is our call, as a college of the church, to pursue both kinds of truth and, indeed, to shape one with the other.
Secular truth is the truth we seek and know about the world. Let me recall some important secular truths. The earth is round and water consists of two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. Those are secular truths that are important to us. So too is the statement that every minute of every day $1.3 million is spent for military purposes while, in that same minute, 30 children in poor countries die, mostly from starvation and malnutrition. In those countries there are few resources to stimulate increased food production or better health care. Such truths are important to us. We need to know them, and we seek to know other secular truths like what causes inflation; or how to lower the federal deficit; how to grow tremendous amounts of food artificially to feed the people in poor countries; and how to ease the social and political evolution of developing nations in ways that will secure both justice and peace.
The search for secular truth is part of the agenda of this college. There is a theological root for that going all the way back to God’s injunction in Genesis that we should subdue the earth and have dominion over it. Mind you, that was not a call to exploitation but to stewardship. We Lutherans are a First Article church. We affirm the joy and beauty of the earth. Like our spiritual ancestor Martin Luther, we affirm the world and consider the discovery of truth about it, secular truth, to be a calling in and of itself. In the Agenda for Concordia’s Academic Life completed earlier this year, the Faculty Senate affirmed that we are called to exercise stewardship of our intellectual potentialities, to be excellent inquirers in order that we and our students may be contributing members of society, what Luther identified as “able, learned, wise, honorable and well-educated citizens.”
If Concordia is to be about the business of influencing the affairs of the world, of preparing well-educated citizens, then we had better be good at secular truth. You cannot feed hungry people with sympathy, nor can sick people be made well with good intentions. The young cannot learn without teachers to lead them, and the shackles of nuclear and political servitude will not be lifted without wise peacemakers. Yes, we must be wise about this world we would influence, so we need to acquire secular truth. Such truth may give us a sense of liberty, it can free us from superstitions, and it enables us to set goals and provides the tools to achieve them.
Secular truth is on this college’s agenda. That is why we attract first-rate faculty with experience in the search for such truth and we assist and support them in leading others in that quest. We have put in place buildings and necessary instruments and equipment and books in order that we may carry out that agenda with quality – yes, with excellence. And we are always amending and revising curricula in order to do this task still better. That is the tradition of this college from the early days when Rasmus Bogstad roamed the countryside in search of contributions with which to build Old Main to the days of Luther Jacobson and Gene Paulson who sought 400 souls to build a library.
If that is the case for secular truth, what about the other side of it – what about sacred truth? In the Gospel today Jesus was engaged in dialog with some people who were worldly wise; they surely knew their secular truth. Jesus said to them, “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” A few years later, Paul was to tell Timothy, “Guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit.” The truth they were talking about is that God became human in order to reconcile us to himself. He comes to free us all from bondage, “from death, sin and the power of the devil,” as our confession reads. It is, wrote Alvin Rogness, a truth which frees us from guilt, from the dominion of sin, and finally from death itself. Now there is truth for you. Summed up in three words – God loves you. And that truth we call sacred.
This truth is not about newer curricula, or higher test scores, or faster computers, or larger missiles, or even healthier bodies or better government. No, this truth has the power to make us free. And it is not pie in the sky by and by, it is here and now truth. You see it in the eyes of a mother and father as they watch their child’s first moments of life. You experience it when a college family is comforted in a time of tragedy. You hear it when the Word is preached in faithfulness. You taste it in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine -- His body and blood. You praise it when you watch a thousand students gathering resources to build a school in Tanzania. You acknowledge it when the search for meaning takes precedence over the search for cash.
Sacred truth is what that “durable dozen,” our founders, had in mind when they gathered in April of 1891 to establish this college. It is what I.F. Grose responded to when he agreed to become the first principal. Indeed, recalling this history, Herman Monson and Borghild Torvik knew what they were doing when they chose lyrics for our hymn.
Well, it is a good message that our hymn contains, this sacred truth idea. But I must hasten to demure in my preaching. For you recall in the Gospel text, Jesus ran into some problems in Galilee and Jerusalem with His sacred truth. The folks in that land knew well their secular truth, and as long as Jesus healed the sick among them, fed the hungry, and held out political possibilities, they followed along. But when He spoke of sacred truth, about the bread of life as contrasted to the bread of wheat, then they were not so sure. This talk of truth and freedom they did not understand. We are descendants of Abraham, they said, and we are already free. The bondage of sin and the sacred truth of freedom was, to them, strange talk indeed. They couldn’t see past their understanding of freedom, the food, the healing and the political possibilities. Without knowing it, they were running the risk of gaining the world and losing their souls.
It is not an unfamiliar experience to 20th century types either, is it? Which of us does not structure life around the secular truths of the Galileans? Our unspoken motto is better health, better food and better jobs for better living. In election year surveys, without any reference to which party can perform best, we discover that economic issues are central, and humanitarian issues are peripheral for our electorate. The current education and reform movement in this nation that was heralded by the landmark study, “A Nation at Risk,” is primarily motivated by a concern for secular truth – for finding it and transmitting it more effectively.
Surveys of college students show that they are putting their emphasis on “survival skills,” and institutions of higher education respond to such impulses by developing increasingly specialized, technically oriented curricula. These developments led Georgetown University President Timothy Healy to say that we are far too preoccupied with what works rather than with what matters. The noted scholar James Billington blames our universities for failing to transmit values to students. This, he said, is especially serious because historically, universities have had the task of imparting tradition to the leaders of tomorrow.
Colleges of the church have not been immune to such tendencies, for they are, after all, human institutions reflecting society. Many colleges, once citadels of the quest for sacred truth, have sold out to the demands of secular survival. Their commitment to sacred truth is limited to the ministry of a campus chaplain, a religion requirement, and the presence of some church body representatives on the governing board. But from there on the secular takes charge. Faculty are selected exclusively on the basis of such criteria and students too. The selection of trustees is governed by secular influence. And the discussion of sacred truth is tuned to the expectations of a secular society – what will work and what will sell!
In the midst of all this stands our hymn, “To sacred truth, Concordia, may thou e’er faithful be” Jesus’ words, “continue in my Word, and you shall know the truth,” Paul’s words, “guard the truth that has been entrusted to you.” Those words, that truth, is of salvation and reconciliation, of judgment and forgiveness, of consul and amendment. It is different than the secular truth of better health for better living, of security from cradle to grave, and of being all that we can be. It defies the secular truth that we get what we pay for, that we are masters of our own destiny, and what we feel is all that matters. Jesus points to the truth that matters most, and it is a lamp to guide us, a light for our path. He clears out the brambles, even in the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus takes us to mountaintops, and places of health and joy, where life is full of meaning. He invites us to community with the saints, fellow travelers upon whom He bestows his presence. To such truths you and I – and this college – are called to be faithful in two ways.
First, by proclaiming God’s Word -- His sacred truth. It is a font of knowledge and grace for our journey. They say that one of the things most attractive to new Christians is the Bible because it is a source of dependable truth. Most of us take it for granted, but Jesus calls us to continue in His Word and Paul told Timothy to guard that truth. So this college is called to proclaim that truth and continue in it. The impact of that truth upon the college is simply incredible. It has been a source of comfort in times of hardship, a source of courage in times of challenge, and a source of direction in times of opportunity. Continue in the Word, Concordia. Let it be central to the work of planners, the leadership of faculty, the study of students and the prayers of all. This Word, this sacred truth, is what distinguishes us as a college of the church. We depend on it. Without it we would be just another college, good at secular truth but not distinguished by a cross. Let us always proclaim that sacred truth and place it at the center of our lives and our college.
Second, let us relate the sacred truth to the secular truth. Jesus did that. He ministered to people in context – the farmers and carpenters, the politicians and teachers. His parables and dialogs brought sacred truth to bear on secular life around Him. And again, that is our Lutheran tradition. When Luther spoke of two kingdoms – the secular and the sacred -- it was with the understanding that the sacred was to shape and guide the secular. That is what Concordia needs to be about. In Concordia’s blueprint for the 1980’s, that commitment was stated in these words, “we have a peculiar obligation as inquirers in a Christian community to pursue the implications of our Christian commitment for our disciplines and to pursue the implications of our disciplines for our Christian commitment.” We mean to influence the affairs of the world in God’s name. This world we would influence needs business people sensitive to ethical concerns; medical people who are tuned to all our health needs; scientists who are concerned about the use and discovery of knowledge; counselors who are expert in dealing with the fundamental questions of life; teachers who can address the “why” questions as well as the “how;” and politically informed people who can bring the insights of their faith to bear on the public agenda for, as Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield once said, more than a moral majority, this nation needs a redemptive minority.
It is our business to be informed about the world, so we pursue secular truth. It is an honorable and necessary Christian vocation. But we have been entrusted with God’s sacred truth. It is a truth that sets us free. It is that truth on which this college was established and on which our lives are built: “To sacred truth may we e’er faithful be.”