- 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: Mark 3:19-21, 31-35, Luke 18:28-30, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
So we have all come home again, home to friends and experiences, home to our hearts. This Sunday morning we have come home to memories one more time, memories of daily chapel perhaps in Old Main, or in this field house, or in the Centrum depending on your era. Some stories that are told on this weekend are so outrageous that they may even be true. A month ago I heard a story about one of our alums, a veteran pilot from World War II, who, upon returning to college, joined the Air National Guard. On one of his weekend flights, he buzzed Brown Hall with his P-51. That was a noisy plane, especially at rooftop level. It made windows rattle and nerves shake. Word got around, and our Cobber ended up grounded. Of course, that was not the only kind of grounding in those days. There was also the grounding that occurred when some women students were caught exiting Fjelstad Hall out a window after hours by ladder and flashlight. And no doubt this Homecoming weekend you have shared again stories of the outrageousness of the Mondamins, the perfectionism of the Athenians, the elegance of the LDSers, and the frolics of the Chi Zetas and Chi Deltas. In most cases, these stories grow more grand and dramatic with age.
Homecoming is coming home time. The American novelist Thomas Wolfe’s most famous title was You Can’t Go Home Again. Maybe not. We do tend to sentimentalize the past, see it through rose-colored classes, not as it really was. Your Concordia home is, and was, probably not as great or as bad as you remember it. It wasn’t Nirvana in 1937 or 1957 or 1962, and it isn’t now either. You can’t go home again. Jesus discovered that long before Wolfe wrote it. Back home he came, our Mark text tells us, and his people cared about him but thought he had changed and then got into a little hassle with him when they tried to get him to come with them. Things had changed, Jesus had changed, and people were uncomfortable about it.
No, wonderful as this weekend of Homecoming has been, you can’t go home again – at least not to stay. But you can come through home again. Jesus did that and often. He didn’t forget home and family, and he took pains to care for them. In some contemporary gospels, Garrison Keillor has brought millions of Midwesterners through home again on his nostalgic journeys to Lake Wobegon, where the family values are as immutable as the family foibles. Sandwiched around Keillor are the words of St. Paul that wherever we are, we can be at home with God. As we look through the text of this day and the experience of Cobbers of every generation, we discover what coming through home is all about.
Six weeks ago the college sponsored a symposium on the Constitution. Among the speakers were several of our graduates. One of them told me about how in his student days at Concordia he had sat in Professor Harding Noblitt’s classes on constitutional law. He was fascinated by the ideas of freedom and the separation of powers. These ideas led him to graduate study, and he is now a nationally recognized constitutional scholar. As he came through this home last month, he recalled again the importance of ideas in his life. It is said that today we are a society more concerned with action than ideas. One of the best-selling books of the day is educator and literary critic E.D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, in which Hirsch documents the decline in our awareness of significant concepts, ideas and people. In a landmark study of higher education, Ernest Boyer reports that our colleges are driven by careerism and credentialing, not by the prerequisites of quality education that confront the significant, informing ideas of our culture. In Allan Bloom’s bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind, he indicts the family for the dreary intellectual landscape, and for this and other reasons, he says ours is a society without mooring points, without a shared sense of public worth. Whether you judge the positive evidence or the negative evidence of these observers, it is safe to conclude that ideas are important -- ideas about truth and justice, virtue and quality, excellence and beauty. We can’t come through this Concordia home without remembering that.
We have the examples of Paul and Jesus to further illumine our path. Paul spoke to the Romans about the renewal of their minds, and he wasn’t talking about religious indoctrination, you can be sure, not this veteran of Mars Hill, where he took on the best philosophical thinkers of the day; not this veteran of the Roman courts, where he took on the best lawyers of the day; and not this veteran of the early church debates, where he took on Apollos and even the big fisherman himself. And Jesus knew about the importance of ideas. That’s why, at an early age, he went to the temple to listen and learn from the rabbis. It is why he was apparently late for supper sometimes, so engaged was he in the development of his mind. We are a college, not any college, but a college of the church. This means that because Jesus and Paul, Luther and Melanchthon believed ideas were important, we do too. And as we come through home, may we renew again our personal and our corporate commitment to the renewing of our minds.
There is another experience, sometimes more difficult to unpack, which people have when they come through their Concordia home. That is the rediscovery of the place of restlessness in our lives -- restlessness about ideas, restlessness about the future, restlessness about relationships, and restlessness about right and wrong. A Cobber recently told me about his years on campus in the early 1960’s. There was a certain intellectual restlessness then, but also lively discussions between students and professors like Rodney Grubb and Harding Noblitt, who were emphasizing political realities; and Paul Sponheim and Reider Thomte, who were generating philosophical ideas. They described it as a friendly but serious engagement. Restlessness may be a natural and desired part of the college experience, a sign of spiritual and intellectual growth. When today’s students experience the religious fads of the day – universalism, sacramentalism, creationism – they might feel restless, but better here and now than somewhere else and later. It’s really part of the equipping of the saints.
Cobbers have and do experience other kinds of restlessness, too. Informed by a sense of injustice, they have been compelled to act. Inspired by a vision of how the world ought to be, they have set out to change it. And therein they stand in the tradition of our Lord. For Jesus engaged the sages and power brokers of his era in ways that provoked and challenged them. He didn’t mind making people restless about the kingdom, not the Pharisees or the Sadducees, not the rich ruler and not the woman at the well either, who lived in guilt and engaged in self-deceit. Jesus often made people restless about themselves, about their faith, about their lives. So as we come though home again, may we know and welcome the restlessness of mind and faith that occasionally comes our way, for we may be entertaining God’s spirit unaware.
I suppose, hands down, people coming through their Concordia home recall the importance of community. Each one of you has a special story to tell about the importance of community in your Concordia years. In the early years of the college’s life, there were Friday night socials. There were great expressions of student support when repulsing the Hope College invaders, or warring with Dragons or Oles or Bison on the football field. There were somber expressions of community as in World War II, when over 30 Cobbers died in combat, or in the years of the great Depression, when students and faculty struggled to keep body and soul together, and there have been occasions of grief at the death of individuals in this community as recently as this fall. Yes, as we come through this Concordia home, we remember the importance of community. Its basis is love, not neighborliness or interdependence, but love. The reaching out that comes in time of victory and celebration as well as in sorrow and defeat, that is what we call love. Community is a wonderful, precious gift, and such memories more than any others, bring lumps to our throat and mist to our eye.
A few years ago Robert Bellah, a California sociologist, directed a massive study of community in America in his book, The Good Society. His findings were discouraging. What he found was a society in which individualism holds sway. Buoyed up by material well being, we tend to leave home, church, and community, and ground ourselves in whatever feels good to us. And the wreckage is all about us in hurting families, in failing institutions, and in a civility that is under siege. When we come through our Concordia home, we know there is a better way. When we revisit the texts of this day, we know it, too. Jesus told his biological family that home is where people serve the Lord. So when you left this Concordia home, it wasn’t to wander aimlessly and alone. It was to find a place with other people in service to God that became home. How often Jesus returned to that home to both serve and be served by those who shared the commission. That small band of Jesus’ friends -- that community -- merely changed the world. One of their number was the apostle Paul, and from his letters we know how much community meant to him. Indeed, that is why we have his lively pastoral correspondence, because he cared about community. So we take that experience with us, the experience of Jesus and Paul and Concordia, this hearts-together place, whose very name calls us to community.
For us, as for Jesus and Paul, community isn’t just a place of retreat; it is a place in which we receive a mandate -- a mandate to moral leadership. When you come through home at Concordia, you can’t escape it – the songs, the symbols, and the words and examples of our leaders and mentors. “Influence the affairs of the world” is the message. That mission statement of this college is a fixture in our minds. Cobbers of almost any era can recite it from memory, such is its power and grace. The people we honored as distinguished alumni on Friday night epitomize not just professional excellence or exemplary service, but a commitment to moral leadership, an investment of life and talent in things that matter to God and the world. And as you come through home, you bring along an awareness of the need for moral leadership in our world. A symptom of the times is revealed in a society where, according to Father Robert Drinan, 120,000 children die needlessly every day because of the diversion of funds from human welfare to human warfare. In his words, that “grim statistic reminds us … that statistics are just people with their tears wiped away.”
As we come through home, we recall again that moral leadership is a matter of mandate for us. The apostle Paul said that, home or away, the mandate is to serve God in gratitude for the redemption that has been wrought in our lives. Oh, it will take laws and legislation to carry out the mandate, but more than that, it means grace and the willingness to subordinate our interests to the needs of others. Go and make disciples, heal the sick, preach salvation to the lost, feed the hungry, carry the cross – that’s our mandate. And exercising moral leadership is partly a matter of judgment. Paul understood that when he told the Corinthians in our text that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. He knew he was saved by grace, and he returned to that font daily, but Paul and all of us also know that the grateful sinner becomes an energetic disciple – that’s just the way it is. Moral leadership is also a matter of blessing. Paul spoke about being of good courage in God’s service. He wrote his friends often about the satisfaction of his ministry. “Whether we win or whether we lose, we are the Lord’s. They don’t keep score in heaven” is how one writer put it. So it is as we come through home with friends and classmates whose lives have been characterized by service and commitment. They tend to carry a glow, a glow of joy, a glow of satisfaction. Yes, coming through home reminds us of the mandate to moral leadership in a world that is full of moral indecision, human injustice, and personal uncertainty.
Coming through home, our Concordia home, also reminds us of the place of hope in our lives. The annals of our history show that this has always been a hopeful place, and it’s hard to come home without realizing that afresh. Whether you think about the founders who borrowed money to start the college, the Depression era founders who borrowed money to build Fjelstad Hall, or the current leaders who will borrow money for still another residence hall, you’ve got to know that this is a place of hope. Look at the people, the sons and daughters of immigrants who came here, hardly knowing the language but intent on making a contribution to this new land. Or today, look at the great-grandchildren of those immigrants moving with resolution into a society that, in the eyes of some, is filled with demons and dragons, but to them it is a place to do God’s good work. What is the basis for such good courage, such hopefulness? Well, at this place, this home, it’s the gospel. So Paul could go on, even in this earthly tent, as he put it. He could do so because he walked in faith, not by sight, faith that God was with him and would be a gracious judge. And the disciples remained hopeful in spite of treachery, uncertainty, and martyrdom. That was so because they remembered – they remembered Jesus’ assurance that where the rich young ruler had failed, they would succeed.
So as we come through home again, let’s remember it all: the importance of ideas and restlessness, and friends and the moral leadership to which we have been called. But most of all, remember that our home is with God. That home is transcendent, and in it God has promised us manifold more in this time and in the age to come – eternal life. In that home, “we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” and we shall see God face to face. Then we shall truly be at home. Amen.