Inauguration of Dr. Craft
- Dr. William J. Craft Inaugural Address
- John Ydstie '74: Seminar Introduction
- Dr. John Churchill: Seminar Presentation
- Dr. Susan O'Shaughnessy: Response to Dr. Churchill
- Dr. Earl Lewis '78: Seminar Presentation
- Dr. Linda Johnson: Response to Dr. Lewis
- Speaker Biographies
- Introduction of the Forum on Faith and Life
- Inaugural Chapel Sermon
- Dr. Jacqueline Bussie Biography
- Rev. Renee Splichal Larson Biography
Inaugural Chapel Sermon
The Rev. Renee Splichal Larson '04
Pastor, Heart River Lutheran Church
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-4, Psalm 23, Acts 4:1-4, John 16:16-24
Grace to you and peace from the crucified and risen One, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is indeed a privilege and great honor to be among you all this morning in worship, to pray for and support our president elect, Dr. William Craft, and to celebrate what God is doing here at Concordia and in the world. How appropriate that this inauguration weekend falls in the season of Easter – a season of new beginnings, of new life, of resurrection!
I really love the mission of Concordia College, and it’s not just because I’m an alumna. Rather, because Concordia’s mission truly is missional … almost (dare I say) Pentecostal (can I even say that from a Lutheran pulpit?) in the Spirit-filled passion of sending into every nook and cranny in the world lovers of peace and proclaimers of the good news.
So say it with me if you know it. Concordia’s mission: to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.
I think it is pretty safe to say that thoughtful and informed men and women ask questions, yes? How many of you have either heard or used the phrase: No question is a dumb question. There have been many times in my life I have not asked a question because I thought it was just too dumb; I should know the answer.
I wonder if the disciples in our Gospel reading today ever felt their questions were dumb questions when they didn’t quite understand what Jesus was trying to teach them, what he, ultimately, was trying to prepare them for in his death, resurrection and ascension.
I almost picture a classroom setting with the disciples in small groups gathered round. Jesus goes through the difficult theological and philosophical teaching of something that has never occurred in human history: the resurrection of the dead. Not like the raising of Lazarus the disciples witnessed, where Lazarus will die again, but rather, resurrection unto eternal life.
James turns to John, “Do you get what he’s talking about, brother?”
Not wanting to admit he doesn’t have a clue, John says, “Oh, yeah, yeah, I got it.”
“Andrew, this ‘a little while’ business … you get it, right?”
“Uhhhh … nope. Peter?”
“You ask him.”
“No you ask him …”
Then, like a good teacher who knows when his students are not understanding, Jesus lovingly and gently speaks to them of their inevitable pain and loss in the near future, and then comforts them with the promise and joy of his coming again. Yet, no matter how prepared the disciples were for Jesus’ brutal death, the pain and loss cut just as deep and the “a little while and you will see me” becomes downright foolish.
Many of us have lived long enough to understand that we reside in a world in which death and destruction seem to have more power than life. Where children die of hunger every day. Where HIV/AIDS wipes out whole communities. Where people seem to get away with genocide. Where the very name of God is used and abused to justify murder. Being thoughtful and informed men and women, we know such things. Then as convicted men and women, we admit our fault through our complacency and inaction.
And hopefully, as men and women, beloved and called by God, we ask the difficult questions, such as John Buchanan’s recent question from the editor’s desk of the Christian Century Magazine (April 18, 2012): “What does it mean to live in a world in which a resurrection happened?”
Concordia as a community knows well the sting of death, especially with the sudden death of beloved late president, Dr. Pamela Jolicoeur. Nothing could have adequately prepared us and her family for her death. Death has the capacity to paralyze us for a while, to cause great suffering, and to make us ponder how it is that our “pain will turn into joy” (John 16:20) as Jesus says.
As the wider community that is Concordia, we have grieved deeply and moved together by God’s grace, mercy, and promise of new life to this new day. We neither forget the past, nor move on today. We continue to give thanks for Pamela’s life, her gifts and contributions as president.
As part of the Communion of Saints, Pamela’s witness to faith in Christ still lives on. I had the opportunity to read one of her sermons she preached in chapel on April 6, 2009. In it she writes:
“What keeps hope alive? One answer is that we are part of something larger than just ourselves. We are part of a community that cares about each of its members. What gift is greater as we face down our fears than the gift of love – in our time and beyond our time. Let us give thanks for the gracious gift of God’s love for us and live in fearless confidence of that love.” – http://www.cord.edu/Studentlife/Spirituallife/homilies/Jolicoeur4_6_09.php
I ask again, in the midst of our world’s realities: “What does it mean to live in a world in which a resurrection happened?”
I’ll share with you a glimpse of what it means to me.
On Jan. 12, 2010, I was with my husband, Ben, and his cousin Jonathan in Haiti. The earth began to move as it sometimes does, and the top floors of the concrete building we were in collapsed onto us. Jon and I lived; Ben died. I have been back to Haiti twice since the earthquake. It is both joyful and terrifying for me to travel to Haiti. My last trip there was four months ago for the second anniversary of the earthquake.
On one of the days of the trip, I went to the heart of Port-au-Prince and walked the streets filled with people, tents, and still, half-crumbled buildings. Members of my family and I were walking to see the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Cathedral, both of which collapsed in the earthquake and killed those who were inside. My spirit was very heavy and filled with grief, as I wondered about God’s presence in the whole mess.
As I was walking, a young Haitian man began to walk alongside of me. He kept walking with me until we entered into the courtyard of the ruins of the Episcopal Church. We stopped and he turned toward me and said two things. First, he said compassionately, “You know that we will be together again with all of those who have died, right?” Shocked, I looked at him and wanted to say, “My husband died here.” But, I could not speak.
Then, he threw open his arms wide and said joyfully and confidently, “Isn’t it wonderful that we will all be together again in the resurrection, in eternal life!” He then took my hand and kissed it, then took my mother’s hand and kissed hers, turned and walked away.
As I watched him walk away, I stood in shock, that a perfect stranger would come up to me in a foreign land and speak the good news to me in my own language. Walking into the collapsed ruins of the houses of worship, that became the tomb for so many two years prior, the last thing I expected was a proclamation of life in the midst of death from a stranger. Do I understand the resurrection? No. But I have great hope in it.
“What does it mean to live in a world in which a resurrection happened?”
This question is not to minimize death or any given situation, but to hope and believe that God indeed does work in all things for good. It is standing at the foot of the cross, straining to gaze into the empty tomb, hearing the Word of God in our ears and hearts, “See, I am making all things new!”
We know that even as witnesses to Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples never fully understand what God is doing in and through Jesus for them and for the world. This is such a contrast to the demeanor of the disciples in the book of Acts.
Drowning in grief following Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples shut themselves behind locked doors. Paralyzed by fear, Jesus’ followers remained behind those locked doors until the promised Advocate – the Paraclete – Comforter, Teacher, the presence of the crucified and risen Christ was sent into the world and into the very breath of the Sent Ones – the apostles.
The same Spirit that you have focused on in your worship life here at Concordia this past year. What a gift to explore and ponder within community and worship life the Spirit’s movement of creating, changing, speaking, preparing, longing, unsettling, moving, beginning.
The same Spirit that has acted as midwife the new beginning for Concordia birthed from all that has led up to this day. President elect, Dr. William Craft, how grateful to God we are that you have accepted the call to serve as Concordia’s next president. How grateful we are for the gifts God has given you to care for and lead this institution and community. How grateful we are for the continued outpouring of the Holy Spirit to guide and teach you, and provide for you a great cloud of witnesses for support and prayer.
We rejoice in this the joy of this weekend because it reminds us that God is making all things new. The Spirit is always teaching us what it means to live in a world in which the resurrection of the Son of God happened.
For our learning does not end when we leave the hallowed halls of our schools and universities. And that is part of the reason I love Concordia’s mission. Because neither does it stop with graduation. Rather, it looks ever forward as it sends out thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life to influence the affairs of the world.
Men and women shaped by the prophetic call of Isaiah 61, a text that has deeply shaped you, Dr. Craft:
to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
… to comfort all who mourn;
(and to) repair the ruined cities,
Men and women who seriously ponder what the resurrection and promise of new life has to say in situations when a tsunami wipes away hundreds of thousands of people in a single wave; when over 300,000 people are killed in a matter of seconds in an earthquake; when lives are lost each day from preventable causes; when a beloved president dies unexpectedly.
Men and women who, in the face of all uncertainty, live in the promises of the One who has died and has been raised, who says to us: “You have pain now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
Men and women whose everyday work “would always be holy work, work worth living and dying for,” as John Buchanan answers his own question in his article.
Students, professors, staff, alumni, visitors – all of you – the work to which you are called is holy work.
Easter is not just a single event in history, but is the fluid and flowing work of God … and we are now carried in its stream. We are a part of God’s Easter work, holy work, and Christ’s resurrection continues in and through us (influenced by a sermon by Peder Stenslie '85, April 2012; www.heartriverlutheran.org).
Dr. Craft, your call to serve as president of Concordia College is holy work. And we are here to celebrate with great joy this inauguration, Easter weekend, with you and give thanks to God for God’s work in the world in and through Concordia College.
What does it mean to live in a world in which a resurrection happened? That the world is our classroom, the Spirit our teacher, Christ our Savior. How exciting it is to always get to be a learner!
May God’s missional preparation and Spirit-filled sending always be at work in this place and throughout the world. And may the Spirit of God keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.