Dr. Dovre's Homecoming Remarks
Texts: Hebrews 11:1-3, 12:1-2; Psalm 37:1-9; Luke 6:20-31
Cobbers and friends of Cobbers, grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In these days and in the theme of our Homecoming, we have been cultivating, celebrating and cherishing many things. Today's texts and our worship theme call us to cultivate, celebrate and cherish the saints - both living and triumphant - saints who led and inspired and even entertained this campus, and saints like you and me, redeemed by Christ's love.
In this season of extended grieving, we celebrate and cherish the memory of our late president Pamela Jolicoeur whose gifts of leadership, engagement and faith were so right for this time and this college. Her sense of vocation and her claim for our heritage and mission were extraordinary. We miss this saint in light.
Likewise, we celebrate and cherish the inspiration of Concordia's greatest generation of World War II veterans whose stories are told with such concreteness in the essays brought together by emeritus professor James B. Hofrenning. Stories about 18 and 19 year olds in the midst of death and uncertainty but steadfast in loyalty to faith, family and country.
Likewise, we are inspired by the leaders of this college whose names we have heard often this weekend
- Names like Brown, Ylvisaker and Norbryn for the golden age Cobbers
- Names like Knutson, Nielsen, Running, Christiansen and Noblitt for the 50-year celebrants
- And names like Hiemarck, Paulson, Drache, Storvick and Glasrud for the for silver anniversary class
And we are entertained by the saints as well - I think of Prausnitz dressed in lederhosen and ascending from the pit of the theatre to do his lecture for English 211. And then there was the World War II aviator who buzzed the campus to impress his girlfriend - and I think he ended up grounded - by the Air Force and the girl. One more example close to my home. In her sophomore year, my bride Mardy, who would turn out to be a four-year member of the Concordia choir, was participating in a sectional rehearsal when Paul Christiansen asked her to hum a line - following which he said, "Bervig, you're standing in the need of prayer."
So many memories, so many saints. And why do we speak of them today - these redeemed of God? For entertainment? Well, a little bit. For nostalgia? Yes, and that's alright. But primarily we do so because we are serious about our discipleship. That's the point of the Word for today, the prayers of the day, the music of the day. In the words of the letter to the Hebrews, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight from the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us."
And what is that race all about? Let's consider the Gospel text for the day, the appointed text for All Saints Day. It is not a warm and fuzzy text, but it is the appointed text so perhaps we best pay attention.
The text begins with the beatitudes, moves on to the woes and ends with some counsel on human relations. The blessings are the place where it all begins.
- Whether you think of Christ's sacrifice which transformed you and me into saints
- Or the miracle of your birth
- The gift of spouse and family
- The gift of this college and our memories
- Of comfort in distress
- Of hope in moments of despair
- Or of the blessed assurance in the face of the unknown - you are blessed.
We don't give enough attention to blessing these days - either because we take it for granted or think that we deserve it. But we are blessed, blessed by the love of God, by the compassion of friends, by the steadfastness of families and by the lives of all the saints. In the reminiscences of Concordia's greatest generation of World War II veterans, there is the acknowledgement of the blessing of God and family, of buddies and strangers and yes, of Concordia, too.
In spite of our great wealth - we are often more about the scarcity of blessing rather than the abundance of blessing, abundance from the time of God's promise to Adam and Eve and Abraham and all the patriarchs that followed. But today, with the memory of the saints and their witness, we celebrate and claim again the blessings.
And as the writer of Hebrews wrote - on account of these blessings, we lay aside the things that get in the way and move on - we run with perseverance the race that is set before us. In the Gospel text, the first things we are called upon to lay aside are love for wealth and power and domination.
There might have been an easier text for today - maybe I should have looked - but I am playing the text I was dealt. And this one is not easy for the blessings are followed by the woes
- Woe to you who are rich in resources and talent
- Woe to you who are full of material things
- Woe to you who are laughing in the face of want and evil
- Woe to you who are praised for your status and piety
- Luke was not speaking figuratively as Matthew did, but very concretely
- This text is about justice - about what some call God's preference for the poor
This text was directed to disciples. They had been blessed and they knew it - blessed by the teachings and miracles and company of Jesus. And, on account of the blessings, they were eager to serve. And here comes all this hard stuff!
Where are we in the picture?
- We who are counted among the wealthiest 5% of the Earth's population
- We who live in a land where the wealthiest 20% receive nearly half the income while the bottom 20% receive 3.4% of the income
- We who chase after status and influence
- We who think we are affluent because God has singled us out or because we have earned it
- We who watch and listen as 30,000 children die today due to hunger, disease and other consequences of poverty
- We who live in a world where the world's wealthiest 500 people have the same income as the world's poorest 416 million
- We who live in what is referred to as a thriving local economy in Fargo-Moorhead and yet 1 in 11 of us seek food from emergency food shelves
- We who quibble over dollars and cents for the relief of the sick and poor while preserving our affluence and our tax cuts
These woes bite down hard on us. But there is an option for the blessed in our time as there was for the disciples in their time. Hear the words of a disciple of our own time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote:
"If we want to understand God's goodness in God's gifts, then we must think of them as a responsibility we bear for our brothers and sisters. Let none say: God has blessed us with money and possessions and then live as if they and their God were alone in the world. For the time will come when they realize that they have been worshipping the idols of their good fortune and selfishness. Possessions are not God's blessing and goodness, but the opportunities of service which God entrusts to us."
There is hope in the 21st century as there was for disciples in the 1st century. Lest you think Jesus lacked patience or concern for the affluent and powerful or shunned them - recall the stories of the rich young ruler, or Zacchaeus, Pilate and Herod and recall the time he spent with the priests, scribes and Pharisees. Indeed some, like Zacchaeus and Joseph of Arimithea, had the course of their lives changed because of Jesus and that miracle continues today.
As our first-year students began their journey in late August, they spent the first day giving service to others in Fargo-Moorhead. Meaning is what they are looking for in increasing numbers and not just in intellectual terms, but in real life, applied work for others. In a new scholarly study by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, the authors report that people who regularly listen to texts like today's about blessing and responsibility, are "more apt to work community projects, belong to the voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes - including secular ones." And, reports Daniel Burke of Religion News Service, "the link between faith and responsibility is causal - people who hadn't heard the word of blessing and the call to serve neighbor became more engaged once they did hear that message." Well we're hearing it and by God's grace, we're doing it, too. Thanks be to God.
The third message in the text has to do with what I call human relations. The instruction to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to bless those who curse us, to give away our goods when asked - all of that does seem to go against the grain.
We are living in very testy times
- Our public square is toxic with partisanship - and this will surely result in more woes for all of us
- Our economy was brought down largely by people who lack moral sense
- We are increasingly suspicious, and discriminatory toward, "the other"
- And economic and social retaliation is accepted practice in many quarters
But as someone has said, "The end result of the law of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth would be a society in which everyone is blind and toothless."
Is the golden rule of the closing verse of our text really feasible? Well maybe! We see it when a Republican governor and a Democratic mayor in New Jersey collaborate on school reform. We see it when an imam, a rabbi, a priest and a pastor discuss their common ground in the faith of Abraham. And there is hope in the processes of democracy in places like Brazil, Tanzania and Kosovo.
And if our political leaders can begin to build on common ground rather than narrow partisan advantage, then there will be hope for our nation.
We're to keep that flame alive and the Gospel which fuels it. Yes, we are people of influence called to change the world for the sake of Christ. That's the heart of our mission as a college and as followers of Christ. All the saints call us to do so as does the Word which inspired them, and with them we shall sing now and in eternity.
"And then there breaks a yet more glorious day: the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the king of glory passes on his way. Alleluia! Alleluia!"