- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Paul J. Dovre
- Anna Rhode â€™09
- Arland Jacobson
- Larry Papenfuss
- Polly Kloster
- Roger Degerman
- Stephanie Ahlfeldt
- Susan Oâ€™Shaughnessy
- Kristi Rendahl
- Dr. Heidi Manning
- Roy Hammerling
- Pamela Jolicoeur
- Jan Pranger
- Nikoli Falenschek '11
- Bruce Vieweg
- Dr. Paul Dovre
- Whitney Myhra '11
- Bruce Houglum
- Dr. Lisa Sethre-Hofstad
- Dr. Paul Dovre, Interim President
- Nick Ellig
- Virginia Connell
- Per Anderson
- Vincent Reusch
- Larry Papenfuss
- Carl-Martin Nelson
- President William Craft
- Dr. Olin Storvick
- George Connell
- Robert Chabora
Dr. Pamela Jolicoeur, the late President of the College
April 6, 2009
Pamela M. Jolicoeur
Texts: Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10
I don’t know about you, but in the world I’ve been living in over the last few months, there’s been a bit more drama than usual.
I began writing this homily in early March based on the lessons for the 4th Sunday in Lent which, in Concordia’s pre-flood schedule, would have been two days before I delivered it. The themes in the readings, which are so very Lenten, spoke to me because at that time I found myself preoccupied with two dramatic distractions: one at the very macro end of the scale and one very much narrower in scope and personal.
On the national, and really global scale, there have been unprecedented jolts to the bedrock of our economy which have disrupted almost everyone’s sense of wellbeing and, for too many people, the stark reality of it. Just within higher education, no one currently in a position of leadership has ever faced such a complex and threatening set of circumstances. And the worst of it is that we don’t know how to predict where it’s going, when we will hit bottom, or how long it will take to recover.
This crisis comes at a time when this latest global technological revolution has brought new prosperity to much of the world and the sense of that, if we just put our minds to it, we could do anything. The contrast between that mood and our newfound collective sense of powerlessness could not be more stark.
At the other end of the spectrum, I was handed shortly before Christmas a crisis of a different order: the prospect that my best friend for over 30 years was dying.
We were chatting on the phone on the day of the December blizzard, Sunday the 14th. The gift of a blizzard, I’ve learned, is that almost no one can go anywhere. A Sabbath is, in effect, forced on you. So we had a long leisurely conversation catching up on our kids and our lives – the sort of stuff that friends share. Three days later she had a heart attack, then another, and when I arrived in California for Christmas break, she was hospitalized in the cardiac intensive care unit of our local hospital.
I visited her every day over Christmas break and then again a month later at her home for the last time. This was my first experience of accompanying someone on the journey to the edge of life. When you see someone who has been so vibrant barely able to do anything, helpless and failing, you realize the limits of human power. There was nothing she or we could do to save her.
Those two experiences of powerlessness shaped the disposition I brought to reading the texts for today. In the lesson from the Old Testament, the Israelites are desperately seeking salvation from the misery of their wandering in the wilderness. God has provided food, water, and a leader, Moses. But what do they do? They have forgotten about the salvation they experienced in the Exodus, and they whine and complain. They look for someone to blame. They are, as Paul says in the second reading for today “children of wrath, like everyone else.”
So God, in a moment of justifiable parental pique, sends them a worse plague –poisonous snakes. But, as parents often do, God accepts the Israelites’ apology; He relents and offers a cure for their snakebites. In a prefigurement of Good Friday, He tells Moses to fashion a poisonous snake out of bronze and to lift it up on a pole so that anyone who got bitten by one of those snakes could look at the serpent and live.
Not only could I identify with the Israelites as flesh and blood fallen people, I felt an even stronger connection to their situation. For most of us facing the global economic crisis or the imminent death of a loved one, we feel that we are wandering in the wilderness. We are in an unfamiliar place. Because we haven’t been there before, the path forward is not clear. We haven’t walked it, we haven’t mapped it.
Both of my preoccupations of the last few months have since been overshadowed by what we all experienced as a community over the last couple of weeks. I think we were all feeling a bit like the Israelites – tested by flood and then blizzard and not daring to wonder what might come next (until the National Weather Service took matters into their own hands and named it for us).
It was less that we felt completely powerless, perhaps, than overmatched by forces we could not predict, let alone control. The homeowners on the river know personally how much this was a wilderness place.
We built dikes, but then they weren’t high enough – so we had to go back and pile on more sandbags. And they would not have been enough if the river had risen just a couple more feet.
But what we experienced here in the Red River Valley, unlike the Israelites, is how wilderness moments can be moments in which community is strengthened and in which we recognize the power of gifts.
I think it is safe to say that most of the students who poured out of our colleges and fanned out through our neighborhoods had not had the experience of working so hard for so many hours and days and in such miserable conditions to help strangers (who were their neighbors). I think it is also safe to say that most of those same students had not had the experience of personally making that big of a difference – of having that much influence.
Students, I have heard and read so many tributes to work that you did. I offer here just one that comes, not from a grateful neighbor, but from a grateful Dad – a father who witnessed the flood through eyes of his Cobber children.
My point is not the kids, but rather the sense of community and responsibility that has been instilled in each of them by Concordia. In talking with each of them over the past two weeks there is no doubt in my mind that helping was ever a question. Like so many Concordia students, they did what was the right thing to do. Like so many parents, we were concerned for their safety, but knew they were being watched over.
Last Wednesday my son texted me while I was on my way to Lenten Services from work. He was taking a break and eating pizza with his fellow members of the Concordia Band. He was leaving in a few minutes to sandbag some more until about 11:30, then a bunch of his friends were going to go and fill sandbags during the nigh shift somewhere in the FM area. That night, our pastor spoke of “Hope and Hopelessness” and examples of each. I could not help but think not only of my family but the countless Concordia students helping to save the city. Hopelessness must be how some homeowners felt, but to see any army of students showing up to help, no conditions, would have to be one of the greatest examples of providing Hope that I can think of.
Our students, and most of us who are faculty, administrators, and staff at Concordia, who live in 21st century comfort, have little experience with hopelessness. We aren’t used to finding ourselves in situations where our personal circumstances are not of our own creation and are beyond our own ability to resolve.
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. No one appreciates that gift more than the people whose homes were saved.
But it is good in this holiest of weeks in the Christian calendar to come to grips with all of the ways in which we wander in the wilderness and with the ultimate source of hope – the life-giving gift we don’t deserve.
In the liturgy of Holy Week, we will like the Israelites in the wilderness, look up at the cross and hear the story of how we have been saved, by the unearned gift of Christ’s death on the cross – God’s ultimate expression of love.
By grace we have been saved. It is not of our own doing; it is the gift of God.
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.