June 19, 1972
Esteemed Members and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Fellow Redeemed in Christ: Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” writes the Psalmist. We, too, can echo his words as we gather for the 55th annual convention of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod. It is truly “good and pleasant” for us to meet together here to strengthen, comfort, and encourage one another. Pastors and laymen enjoy renewing old acquaintances, discussing their mutual joys and sorrows, and above all, planning to carry out the wonderful work of spreading the Gospel. The fellowship which we enjoy in our Evangelical Lutheran Synod is and ought to be a cherished possession. We can see all around us the agony and heartbreak suffered by those who see their fellowship broken. May the Lord preserve us from the intrusion of error and anything else that might destroy that relationship which can only be produced by the power of the Holy Spirit. The hymnwriter has expressed it very well in the words of the hymn:
Blest he the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
We share our mutual woes
Our mutual burdens bear,
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain,
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
The theme of this convention is set forth in these words of the angel of the Lord to the Prophet Zechariah: “NOT BY MIGHT, NOR BY POWER, BUT BY MY SPIRIT, SAITH THE LORD OF HOSTS.” Zech. 4,6. Our devotional speakers will treat fully and inspirationally of the wonderful works of the blessed Spirit of our God. But permit me also to draw some applications from our convention theme.
It is very evident that the existence of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod is due to the power of the Spirit and not to that of man. When that small band of pastors and laymen met at Lime Creek in 1918 for the reorganization of our Synod there was nothing, humanly speaking, that would have given them any hope of establishing a new church body and winning souls for Christ. A speaker at that convention, the Rev. Bjug Harstad, described the situation as follows: “We are, as it were, clustering around the old building site which is storm swept and waste. A destructive hurricane has swept away the dear old mansion, even taking with it most of them that dwelt there. Discouraged, looking around, we discover only the bare ground with wreckage and dangerous crossroads.” There was then no might of millions of followers, no might of money or wealth, no might of large institutions. There was also no power. No power of prestige, no power of the pocketbook, no power of prestigious personalities. What was there then? There was the Spirit of God! “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts.” The preacher mentioned above realized that power and went on to proclaim, “Yet let us not be too much alarmed nor discouraged. Worse things have repeatedly happened to the church before this, without its being destroyed. Let us remember and follow those words of Jeremiah the prophet: “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Jer. 6,16.
Therefore without human might and without human power the Spirit went to work. The Spirit worked through the preaching of those humble servants of the Lord. The Word of God which they proclaimed was His vehicle. Hearts were won for the Gospel. Lives were changed. Mission work was carried on. Education in the Word of Life was brought about in the establishment of schools. The Spirit worked quietly. The leaven began to spread throughout the dough. The tiny mustard seed developed into a flourishing tree. The feathers grew back on the chicken. Oh, let us today give praise and thanks to the Holy Spirit of God for the wonderful way in which He has blessed the preaching of the Word and preserved and guided our Evangelical Lutheran Synod throughout the fifty-four years of our existence.
As we look back and see how the Spirit has blessed us in the past we ought to be given new courage and zeal for the future. We have a tremendous challenge facing us in this darkened and sin-cursed world, the challenge of holding high the lamp of the Gospel to give saving light to souls lost in darkness. We live in a time when the philosophy of despair, brought on by the forces of atheism, existentialism, and evolutionism, is rapidly gaining ground. The philosophy of despair, as a view of life, comes out strongly in the writings of. philosophers and play writers today. One man who is widely read and has a great influence over the young is Jean-Paul Sartre. This is what he has to say about life: “Man can count on no one but himself; he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets for himself, with no other destiny than the one that he forges for himself on this earth.” He has also written a play which brings out this thought of hopelessness very clearly. The play is entitled, “No Exit.” He pictures three people in a room. There is no door to the room and no windows. There is no way of escape. All three of the people hate each other. They are trapped. Finally they discover they are really in hell. We see thus how this influential writer and philosopher pictures life. And many young people are taking on this view. What difference does it make therefore how one lives? Life is meaningless. There is no hope. Man is caught in a terrible trap.
We would like to set forth one more example of this view of life. Another man by the name of Thomas Bernhard wrote a play that opened recently in Hamburg, Germany. It was called “A Birthday Party for Boris.” Everyone in the play is a cripple. Boris doesn’t have any legs, his wife doesn’t have any legs, and. thirteen other people in the play are helpless cripples without legs. Throughout the play they are greedily devouring the birthday cake and all the time discussing ways of committing suicide and helping each other die. In all the commotion Boris dies while beating a drum and the rest hardly notice that he is dead. The play brings out that death is his best birthday present. At the end of the play Boris’ wife is alone with the corpse of her dead husband. She breaks into hysterical sobbing laughter as the curtain falls.
What a terrible and tragic view of life such writers are portraying. And yet, what did the audience do at the end of the play? They rose to their feet and gave an 18 minute ovation. Evidently it corresponded with the way they felt about life also.
Dear friends, no wonder we have so much drug addiction, so much immorality, so many dropouts from society; so much indifference amongst so many in the world. Surely the influence of this kind of philosophy leads men to despair and to conclude that the only way out is death. And let us not think that we are far removed from such influences. Our young people are exposed to such writers all the time and men and women in all walks of life cannot escape coming into contact with the thought patterns of the world we live in.
Our challenge therefore as messengers of the Gospel and bearers of the truth should be very clear. We are to proclaim far and wide from pulpit and workbench, to assembled congregations and to the people next door, that there is hope in this world, that man is not caught in a trap that man is not a helpless victim of blind fate, and that his life is not a meaningless tragedy. We are to testify that there is a loving personal heavenly Father who watches over us and causes all things to work for our good. We are to lead people to confess with David, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Life does not end in a room with no exit, but that our lives are going to go on through all eternity in a blissful and happy existence with God in heaven as our Saviour has promised, “In my Father’s house are many mansions, I go to prepare a place for you.” And how do we know that this is true? How do we have the assurance that we shall be eligible for such an existence, seeing that we are frail children of dust who sin much every day and deserve nothing but punishment? Oh, the answer lies in the person of our wonderful Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. His incarnation, His perfect life, his death and resurrection give us the blessed assurance that His Word is THE TRUTH and that His atonement on Calvary has washed and cleansed us from sin. We are now the children of God and heirs of His wondrous salvation.
Jesus, in Thy cross are centered
All the marvels of Thy grace;
Thou, my Saviour, once hast entered
Though Thy blood the holy place:
Thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption,
From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption;
The way is now free to the Father’s high throne,
Where I may approach Him, in Thy name alone.
The challenge to us and to all those who possess the truth of the Gospel is very clear. We must share it with others before it is too late. We are involved in a race which is a matter of life and death. In the year 427 B.C. an army from Athens had put down a revolt on the island of Lesbos. Sometime afterwards the people of Athens voted to severely punish the rebel islanders. So they sent a ship full of soldiers to the island with orders to kill all the rebel men and to sell the women and children as slaves. The next day, however, the people of Athens were sorry they had sentenced the islanders to such terrible punishment. So they quickly sent a second ship with orders to pardon the rebels. But, the first ship had a full day’s head start. The sailors on the second ship knew that they were in a race with death. Day and night they rowed, straining every muscle at the oars. Fortunately they caught up with the first ship and so saved the islanders from destruction.
Each day life and death races are going on all around us. Many people do not believe in the Saviour. Others have never heard of His love and goodness. Each day these people are getting closer to the time of their death. When they die it will be too late.
But we have the wonderful message of pardon through our Lord Jesus Christ. We therefore must strain every muscle to bring that message of salvation to them.
The Holy Spirit of God has helped us in the past to preserve the Word in its truth and purity. But have we been as zealous about sharing the Good News with others as we should have been? The power is there. There is no weakness on the part of the Spirit. But have we hindered the Spirit by being too reticent, too shy, too timid, too bashful to share our faith with others? Thank God there is a revival of interest in Evangelism in our country and also in our Synod. Let each congregation, each pastor, each member take more seriously the Lord’s command, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me.” Acts 1,8. As soldiers need training before going into battle, so we need more adequate training and leadership in preparing ourselves to be witnesses for Jesus. We would encourage therefore the systematic study of methods and techniques of sharing our faith with others. Oh, how the Holy Spirit could work through us if we would give Him the opportunity. Let the years ahead bring a real revival of interest in personal soul-winning and enthusiasm for the spreading of the glorious Gospel.
May this convention be, therefore, an inspiration to each one of us, helping us to realize the tremendous challenge that is ours as instruments of the Spirit in this dark world. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matt. 5,16. In Jesus Name. Amen.
Rev. George M. Orvick