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Presidential Address


2 Kings 6,17: “Lord, I pray, open his eyes, that he may see!” We will begin the 14th regular Synod meeting with this prayer. We ask the Lord to open every pastor’s and member’s, every teacher’s and student’s, every father’s and every mother’s eyes, that they may see.

It was the prophet Elisha who prayed at that time in that way for his servant. Syria’s king was on the war-path against Israel’s king but it was soon apparent that his secret plans were known to Israel’s king. He then concluded that there were traitors in his army and he therefore called his servants together and said to them: “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” Then one of his servants answered: “None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

Thereupon the king gave the order immediately that they should ride to where the prophet was, “so that I may send and fetch him.” The king soon received word that the prophet was in Dothan, and he sent horses and chariots and a large army there, which surrounded the city under cover of night’s darkness.

The next morning, when Elisha’s servant got up early, and then went out, he saw an army of both horses and chariots surrounding the city. In terror the boy now asks: “My lord! What are we to do?” Very quickly Elisha answers: “Don’t be afraid! Because they that are with us are more than they that are with them.” It is now that the prophet says: “Lord! Open his eyes so that he may see!” And what happens? “The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”

Was this something unique for Elisha and his servants that they who were with them were more than they who were against them, that the power which was surrounding them was far more powerful than the power which was against them? By no means. As long as the Almighty, faithful God reigns in heaven, this is the way it is going to be for every single child of man who lives and suffers, who contends and defends in the name of the Lord of hosts. Creatures mighty in power and legion in number have orders to preserve you, to keep watch over you in all your ways, you who fight in the army of God. These watchmen can lessen the heat of the flames of fire, close the mouth of the lion, make the serpent’s venom ineffective, send bread on ravens’ wings to them who dedicate their talents to work in the service of the living God.

Whether it is Elisha or Elijah, Luther or Lois, an unknown pastor or a prominent theologian, an unlearned father or a poor widow who do their work in the name of God and in obedience to the Word of God, the mountain is full of horses and chariots of fire round about them because God is the same yesterday, today and for ever; with him there is no changing or shadow of turning; he is not a respecter of persons.

O, why then are you afraid? Dear soul, why are you fearful, why so restless and full of anxiety? It must be because you do not see. When the devil attacks you and your misdeeds lie as an ocean before you, then you do not see him who can, yes, has paved the way for your feet through the sea and rendered the enemy powerless. Do not forsake him then, but pray that you may see the ocean of grace and your Lord of victory, Jesus Christ, with his legions, mighty in power.

But it is not only the individual sin-oppressed sinner who in his blindness often sees only the enemy’s hosts and his own helplessness and therefore cries: “What are we to do?” Our congregations, often small and struggling, are often tempted to despondency and dispiritedness. They see the godless world’s great hosts against them, the mixing of religions, fair and beautiful to behold, and with words that are sweet as honey of peace and quiet and promises of victory over the evil foe who tries to draw them to himself and into the all-devouring whirlpool of the times: indifference toward that which is written.

Host is joined to host under a common banner without asking about any other spirit than unionism’s unity of spirit; and the mind of the flesh is on great things which dazzle the eyes, which are thereby achieved. Scorn and mockery, abuse and severe judgments are hurled against them who want to defend “pure doctrine” and thereby disturb the sweet peace.

Along with this come other large and popular movements such as lodgery in all its ramifications down to the Boy Scouts, with which our congregations must struggle. To oppose something large and powerful appears just as vain to reason as wanting to stop the ebb and flow of the tide or to ask the storm to be silent. It is understandable enough, therefore, that the large majority of Lutheran congregations in our country, not to mention the Reformed, have ended their effective opposition, and that our congregations often sigh: “Alas, what are we to do? Can we continue to stand against such a superior force?”

Dear pastors and delegates, can we, dare we let the greeting and the mess-age with which Elisha comforted his servants, go out to our congregations from our meeting here, when we say: “They who are with us are more than they who are with them”? Yes, and again, yes, we can and we do dare, and it shall stand fast when heaven and earth pass away, as truly as we, as Elisha did, obediently run God’s errands.

The congregation, large or small, in city or in country, which carries on the Lord’s wars in Jesus’ name and with God’s weapons, and whose sun and hope is the despised Nazarene, is surrounded by God’s invincible army. The largest Boy Scout troop with the country’s chief executive as chief Scout Master, is nothing in glory and power compared to one of our small parochial schools with one of our Christian teachers, male or female, as the leader. For everyone who does not recognize this, we pray: “Lord, open his eyes so that he may see!”

But waging the Lord’s wars in Jesus’ name and with his weapons against sin and Satan’s kingdom does not consist only in this that a person confesses gross sins in deed, such as adultery, murder, theft and drunkenness, and that a person takes the field against Satan’s impudent, open attacks against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With the same weapons, just as tenaciously, a person might also fight against the cunning, secret attacks of the devil, such as unionism and syncretism — fellowship and cooperation between truth and lie, likewise synergism, both the more coarse kind which is fostered in Boy Scout and Campfire Girls’ troops, and the more subtle kind which has gained access among many people as a “good attitude” or “responsibility for acceptance of grace” or as a power given or instilled by God through which the unregenerate person is enabled to choose the good and reject the bad.

The congregation is obedient to God and has his promise of blessing and safe keeping which fears and warns against the stiletto of a little leaven just as much as the tomahawk of the more gross sins, and whose Alpha and Omega, in church and school, hut and house is the crucified and risen Son of God; whose motto is gegraptai — it is written — and whose hope is sola gratia — grace alone.

The congregation which courts people’s favor for the sake of temporal gain and outward growth courts and suppresses, if not more than one acknowledged truth and is disobedient to God’s will, be it only in one point, has no heavenly watch about itself. Whoever says: “No, our heavenly Father is really not that strict,” ought to remember that the sin of our first parents consisted in one act of disobedience toward God.

Dear assembled brothers in the ministry and delegates of the congregations, there is nothing more important for a congregation and a synod as well as for the individual person than uncompromising obedience in doctrine and life toward the revealed will of God.

Certainly it can lead to situations where the eye of reason sees only complete and total darkness, utter hopelessness, and a person says: “There is no future for us,” but that is where getting to see with the eye of faith comes in. If by the grace of God you get to see in that way, you will always see that “they that are with us are more than they who are with them,” and that “the mountains are full of horses and flaming chariots of fire round about.”

Amen in Jesus’ name!

Helge Mathias Tjernagel

Translated by J. Herbert Larson, 2004

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