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A MINISTER’S MESSAGE

by
The Rev. Dr. Ernest F. Tonsing
October 19, 1978

Transcribed by
Dr. Ernst F. Tonsing
Thousand Oaks, California
July 31, 2005

The following appeared in the newspaper, The Valley Falls Vindicator, on


October 19, 1978, on a page that listed the churches, ministers, times of services and the
activities of this northeastern Kansas community. In the center of the page is a 7 ½ by 5-
inch photograph of Pastor Tonsing standing at the altar of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church that
was celebrating its 120th anniversary that year. He had been appointed vice pastor by the
Central States Synod while the congregation interviewed ministerial candidates for their
church. His father, the Rev. Paul Gerhard Tonsing, was a supply pastor for the
congregation on alternate Sundays for several months in 1920, then supplied every
Sunday from 1921, continuing at least until 1927,1 and Ernest Tonsing, himself, was its
pastor in the 1930’s, as noted below. (I, too, have preached in its charming, old brick
building, thus, the third generation to do so.)

Pastor Ernest Tonsing’s sermons were usually typed on sheets of paper folded in
half, most sentences written in fragments as notes for oral delivery. For the newspaper
article, however, the sentences were written out in full, so one can observe his lucid,
rhetorical style. Minor typographical errors, mostly punctuation, are corrected in this
transcription. Otherwise, the text appears as written in the newspaper.

While the examples in the text are generalized, they arise out of Tonsing’s own
career and feelings. As a youth in high school, Tonsing had run track, so the images he
draws from the Epistles of St. Paul are elaborated out of his experiences in school
competitions. His reference to Jesse Owens, the victor in the 1936 Olympic Games,
possibly reflects Tonsing’s service as a chaplain in the United States Army in the 104th,
“Timberwolf,” infantry division fighting Nazi Germany in the “Battle of the Bulge”
during World War II. Tonsing, no doubt, appreciated the sweet irony of the African
American’s victory before the racist Adolph Hitler in the Berlin Games. In addition, his
references to the preparation of the Israelites in the desert may have been drawn from his
experiences in the United States Army, when his unit was being readied for the invasion
of north Africa by training in the Arizona desert. (Instead of Africa, however, his
division was shipped to France, landing shortly after D-Day.) Certainly, fresh on his
mind was his visit to the ancient Coliseum in Rome during his recent tour of Europe.
Pastor Tonsing synthesizes these experiences and narrates them in a way that all who
heard or read these words could relate to them.

1
The Church Council, A Short History of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Valley Falls, Kansas 1857-1927, to
June 12, 1927, Also an Account of Various Community Activities of Grasshopper Township.
The text of the sermon was preceded by the following, biographical note.

The Rev. Dr. Ernest F. Tonsing, vice pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran
Church, is a graduate of the University of Kansas and the Chicago
Lutheran Theological Seminary. St. Paul’s was his first pastorate
from 1934 through 1938. His father, the Rev. Paul Tonsing, was
pastor of St. Paul’s in the early 1920’s. Pastor Tonsing retired in 1975
after serving 30 years as pastor of First Lutheran church, Topeka. He
was an official delegate of the Central States Synod of the Lutheran
Church in America to its biennial conventions and a member of the
executive board and secretary of Central States Synod for 13 years.
He and his wife, Dorothy, who live in Topeka, returned last week
from a tour of Europe.

A MINISTER’S MESSAGE
LOOK TO JESUS

By ERNEST F. TONSING, Pastor


St. Paul’s Lutheran Church

A sleek, bronzed runner sped around the track, trailed by companions who
differed only in size or style of running, or position on the track.
The crowd sat, enthralled, for they had a state in the outcome. Hearts beat faster
as their favorites progressed. Then, as the runners neared the finish line, they came to
their feet cheering.
The fleetest had won! Others had competed with honor. Another in the long
history of human competition ended with the laurel crown of victory for him who was
declared winner.
St. Paul’s frequent figures of speech about athletics lead us to believe he was a
sports enthusiast. He writes as one who knows and has seen what he describes.
In the 12th chapter of Hebrews, he says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by
so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so
closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…”
(Hebrews 12:1-2a)
In this way Paul records his admiration for those who compete for perishable
wreaths, and finds remarkable encouragement for those who would compete for the
imperishable.
We want to talk about the influence spectators have on a runner, the power of
divine incentive, and the training value of discipline.
Spectators do influence those who run.
The role of spectator is well known for its power. A home team always has the
advantage because the crowd is on their side. Freddie Patek mildly scolded the Royals
home crowd because they did not “talk it up” enough. Some spectators try to swing a
game their way by booing the other players, by intemperate words and actions, by noise-
making and bottle throwing. It is a strong contended who cannot be affected by this. The
adrenaline flows when the crowd is on his side, it slows when the crowd is silent.
Paul tells how to take advantage of this in the spiritual race. There are “clouds of
witnesses” who surround us with encouragement and love. “Look at them!” he says.
“Do they not thrill you by their presence! Are they not an inspiration when you begin to
weaken, or doubt?”
He was speaking of the great spiritual heroes, named in Hebrews 11, of Abraham,
Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, and the prophets! Their very presence should
make us put aside anything that hinders us, like the “sin which clings so closely.”
Such thinking has made good competitors into extraordinary ones! Jesse Owens,
the runner in the Berlin Olympics, was superior to Nazi hostility when he remembered
the sacrifices his mother had made for him and his education. A baseball player recently
turned in one of this best performances because a dying boy was counting on him.
There is an old saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Common, ordinary Christians have performed uncommon feats of courage and
dedication, because of the unseen encouragement of a beloved pastor, Sunday school
teacher, parent or friend.
Paul would remind us, that when the “weight and sin which clings so closely”
begin to get us down, we can draw on the faith of thousands of witnesses to help us “run
with perseverance the race that is set before us!”
The greater incentive than a crowd is the vision of our Lord: “Looking unto
Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter [sic] of our faith.”
A marathon runner said after the grueling 26-mile course: “As one after another
fell behind, I scarcely noticed them, for all I had in mind was the finish line, which wold
tell me I had lived up to all my coach had taught me.”
What should make the Christian run, with perseverance, the race set before him?
Should it be a desire to be good so we will go to heaven when we die? Or the approval of
fellow-Christians, who will remember us as an outstanding church member and citizen?
These are not good incentives. There is only one that counts. It is to please, and follow,
Jesus Christ. We are to look “unto Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter [sic] of our faith, who
for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated
at the right hand of the throne of God.”
The New English Bible words it: “our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith
depends from start to finish.” All of Jesus’ ministry was given to gathering disciples who
would do this. This is the meaning of the words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life;
no man cometh to the Father but by me.” Until they say no one, save Jesus only, they
could not be his disciples.
“Eyes fixed on Jesus” has brought new life to the dark corners of many a life.
Christians believed Jesus was beside them in the Coliseum. They sang hymns as
beasts tore at them, or flames engulfed them.
Sever months ago, the church year calendar spoke of St. Augustine, teacher and
bishop of the 4th Century A.D. His mother, before his conversion, had prayed for years
that her bright, winsome son, would become a Christian. Augustine resisted her, for he
felt life held other goals. In his “Confessions” he tells how, in despair and
disappointment over his life, he cried out in prayer. He heard a voice saying, over and
over, “Take up and read.” The book nearby was a Bible. He read these words: “Let us
conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in
debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus
Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:13, 14).
From that moment he never again looked elsewhere for fulfillment, than to the Lord
Jesus.
Wm. Booth founded the Salvation Army. For many years he and his family led
thousands out of despair to serve God. He was asked the secret of his fruitful life. “I will
tell you the secret,” he replied. “God has had all there is of me. There have been men
with greater brains than I, men with greater opportunity, but I made up my mind that God
should have all of Wm. Booth there was!”
“Looking to Jesus,” the most powerful incentive the Christian life has!
The 12th Chapter of Hebrews then turns to the subject of discipline. Frequently,
people wonder why they have had to suffer persecution, or misunderstanding, or
disciplining, when they are confessing Christians. Sometimes the “cloud of witnesses”
seems far away, the vision of Jesus dimmed by tears of disappointment or suffering.
How does Paul answer those who have misgiving?
He reminds us there is One who has “endured from sinners such hostility against
himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (vs. 3) Then he says that
discipline is not all bad, that we are being helped by it, as an earthly father straightens out
his child. “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it
yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (vs. 11)
Returning to the athletic scene, athletes say they often get bored with exercise. It
is always exhausting, sometimes painful, often without point. Yet, without the boredom
of exercise, no athletes, no abundant health, no races won. So, athletes and other citizens
run when they don’t want to, and jog when their hearts are not in it. As physical well-
being finally floods the body and mind of the athlete, so spiritual discipline “yields the
peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
History has many times waited for people of discipline before great events could
take place. Why did the Israelites not enter the Promised Land immediately as they fled
out of Egypt? God held them back, a nation of whimpering, unstable slaves, until the
rugged life of the desert should make them a hardened, willing nation of followers of the
One True God. Then, and only then, did they enter the Promised Land.
Are we a people in need of some “shaping up” so that we may be ready for times
that call for disciplined, dedicated living? Permissiveness has not made us into a people
God wants to entrust with his victories of faith. Nor has the great indifference people
show to God, or our tendency to look other than to God for happiness, made us into a
great people.
We could easily be discouraged or frightened, did we not feel the great “cloud of
witnesses” cheering us on, bidding us to “run with perseverance the race set before us,
looking unto Jesus” who “endured…so you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”
Paul is saying to us in every day, when we are under stress, the race getting hard,
and long, when hostility and disappointment threaten to turn us aside from the course…
“Take heart! There is a great company of beloved friends all about to inspire us.
There is the presence of Jesus to supply direction and courage. There is the discipline of
the Lord to hearten you! Look to Jesus! Look to Jesus! With him you are always
winners!”
The race is over. The runner is winding down. The crowd has dispersed. He has
run with greater than human strength because he has been aware of unseen but powerful
encouragement, he has kept his whole being focused on Him who guides the faithful, he
has reaped the reward of discipline from without and within.
He is able to exult in the spirit of Paul who wrote in another place: “I have fought
the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up
for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will awarded to
me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (I
Timothy 4:8)