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Bringing light and life into a dark world

As God worked away at me, nudging me ever closer to pastoral ministry, He put a verse in my mind that I knew in part but had no idea where to find in the Bible. He had planted it in me through my eyes or ears — those great organs of faith — but my brain had not recorded it in full and my heart and mind were still processing. As I pondered leaving architectural school to study the Bible and possibly pastoral ministry, a mashed up version of this particular verse kept running through my head. Something about the Word, a light, feet, a lamp, my path. But I couldn’t put it all together. There was no internet or fancy Bible software to search, and I hadn’t learned to use a concordance yet. Somehow, I finally found the verse! Ps. 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I wrote it on my desk calendar pad so that I would see it every day.

Thanks to my wife, Gretchen, and others, I still encounter it every day. Hanging next to my desk is a banner depicting this verse, a gift from the banner committee at Trinity Lutheran Church in Herscher, Ill., where I served my vicarage. They asked Gretchen for my favorite verse and turned it into a beautiful reminder. At home I have a wooden plaque from Gretchen’s grandparents, an ordination gift that also bears this verse and an image of an ancient lamp. Every day I’m reminded of the light given in the Word.

“In the darkness of a sin-filled, sin-darkened world, we return time and again to the lamp of Scripture.”

Years ago I needed light for my path. I was struggling with vocation and various other things with which typical teens and 20-somethings wrestle. I also was trying to figure out what being a Lutheran Christian meant for my life, my relationships, my future. I was raised in a faithful Christian home. I’d been to Sunday school, VBS, confirmation and all of that. I was blessed to have secure answers in Christ to the ultimate questions of life, but my path was still somewhat dark. And I knew others whose paths were pitch black.

We all need light for our paths. Blind and stumbling about is what we are and what we do without the lamp that lights our way, without the Word — the Bible, and the Word made flesh — our Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

Think about your own path. Has it always been illuminated by the Word? Or was this light brought to you somewhere along the way? I was baptized as an infant and brought up in the church, and still I needed (and need) the illumining Word of God. Many don’t have such a blessed beginning. How about you? Perhaps you can remember when the light first shone in your darkness. Perhaps you can name the one through whom God worked to bring His light-bearing Word into your life. Or perhaps you know others to whom you’ve been able to bring the Word and the light that it gives. We all know people who still walk in darkness and are in desperate need of this light.

And that is what we are all about here at Concordia Seminary, where our motto is “Light from Above.” Every one of us here, whether faculty, staff, student or family member, needs the light of Christ to enlighten our darkness through the forgiveness of sins, to show us the way, to make plain for us the path on which we should go. And we find that light in the text of sacred Scripture, the inspired, inerrant Word of God graciously given through the prophets and apostles.

This Word that brings light and life is at the center of all that we do. Pastoral students work diligently to learn Hebrew and Greek so that they can read the Word in the languages through which our Lord has graciously given it to us. By these means they are able to see the lamp shining more brightly and clearly. In this way they can shed even greater light upon those who will be entrusted to their care. Deaconess Studies students and the students in the various alternate route programs also study the Word closely and carefully in order to shine its light into the lives of those whom they will be called to serve.

The study of the Word — the task of exegetical theology — is the bedrock and foundation upon which the rest of our studies build. Systematic theology helps us to consider carefully what we learn in the Word. Historical theology helps us see how the Word has been at work throughout the history of the Lord’s church. Practical theology inculcates in us the skills we need to bring the light of the Word into the lives of those to whom we are sent.

We know that we each need this light that comes from the Word, and so does the rest of the world. For this reason, Concordia Seminary is dedicated to the task of providing light-bearers who will go out into the cities, towns and countryside, who will stay in the United States or travel to other parts of the world, on whatever path the Lord directs. And these light-bearers will be equipped to read well this light-giving Word in order to live it, teach it and proclaim it, bringing its light to bear on others, no matter where their paths may be or what their paths may look like.

For this academic year, our newly called, installed and inaugurated president has chosen Ps. 119:105 as our theme verse, yet again reminding us and grounding us in the source of our light and our life, the source and norm of all of our preaching and teaching, the lamp and light that enlightens our paths as individuals and as a Seminary.

As I write, our Reformation celebration approaches. By the time you read this, Reformation will have come and gone again this year, but the great Reformation principle — sola Scriptura — Scripture alone — will remain true as ever. Through Isaiah the Lord tells us that the Word of the Lord endures forever. In the darkness of a sin-filled, sin-darkened world, we return time and again to the lamp of Scripture.

Years ago, as I stumbled on a dim path, I needed a lamp for my feet, a light for my path. The Lord provided it then, focusing my attention on this verse and drawing me more deeply into His Word. Ever since and even now He continues to provide light each time I encounter the Word, whether written, spoken, sung or preached. He does the same for you. And He desires to shine His light into all the world as you and I take this Word into the world, wherever we may be.

In choosing this verse this year, Seminary President Dr. Thomas J. Egger has given us the opportunity to spend the year reflecting on the importance of the Word and the life-giving light it brings. Light from above. Light for the world. Light for our lives. Light for our paths.

May our gracious Lord bless the work of this Seminary and the lives of each and every one of us as we remain steadfast in His Word — reading it, hearing it, studying it, proclaiming it and sharing it.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Dr. Philip Werth Penhallegon is professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

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