16 March 2017

Homily for Lent 2 Evening Prayer

"Creation--First Article"
Apostles' Creed, First Article
(third in a catechetical series)

We Christians are all about Jesus, right? After all, when we call ourselves “Christians,” we do bear the name of Christ. And every Sunday school child knows that the answer to every question is “Jesus.” There’s a lot of truth there. But sometimes how we speak about Christ and His redemption can also give the impression that this world really does not matter much. After all, we’re all about getting our souls off this earth and into an immaterial heaven where we walk on clouds, right? Isn’t that what salvation is all about?

But what perception does that create? Someone once said that the difference between atheists and Christians is that atheists are concerned about this world, but Christians are only concerned with the world to come. This may be a common perception in the general public, perhaps even among Christians as well. Atheists may have a myopic view that this life is all there is; Christians may have a myopic view that the spiritual, or immaterial, life is all there is. When this is the case, we end up diminishing Jesus’ redemption for us, and we deprive ourselves of the richness of that redemption.

So tonight, let's explore the very foundation of our faith and life, a foundation that shapes the whole story of Christ and His redeeming work. That foundation is the First Article of the Creed: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Or, as Luther said, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures.” Two things stand out in this First Article foundation. First, God made everything in the distant past and now it all simply unfolds. But that does not exhaust God’s creative work. Second, it also means that God is active in our world today, active in my life today. God gave me life and continues to give me life every day.

Let’s ponder the first point. God—the maker of heaven and earth—has created everything that exists. He did this ex nihilo, “out of nothing.” God created because He chose to create. He created as an act of love. From eternity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lived in mutual love with each other. At some point they made the mutual decision to share that love. So they created a universe. And God makes room in His life for that creation and all of its creatures—a beautiful world of sun and moon, planets and stars, mountains and oceans, hummingbirds and whales. This is the foundation of everything we believe, teach, and confess. Without creation, we would not be here talking and hearing about Jesus; there would be no sin; there would be no redemption; there would be no us.

What does it mean, then, to live by faith? It means that God has given us eyes to see. It means learning to see the world as God sees it—through His works of creation and redemption.

It means we must learn to distinguish between God’s good work and sin’s corruption of that work. This physical world, our bodies, and all other creatures come out of God’s outpouring love. Creation is very good—just as God designed it to be. It was beautiful. Everything functioned just as God intended. Everything functioned harmoniously.

But this is hard to see. Sadly, we no longer see this perfect creation. When we look out in the world, it looks more like the world is going down the drain into the sewer. It seems easier to say that the world out there is bad. Doesn’t the Bible talk that way? Absolutely! Creation groans. We are in the world but not of it. And Luther warns us against the dangers of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh.

Let’s remember, though: we’re not talking about the physical world—the stars or trees or animals or mountains or oceans. We’re talking about the human misuse of creation. We’re talking about human sin, human evil. It’s also how we treat people. We look at people and attach labels—they’re Democrats, they’re Republicans, they’re acceptable, they’re deplorable, and so on. But they are also God’s creatures. Even though we are sinners, we are still God’s creatures, God’s handiwork—creatures whom God loves and redeems.

Why is it important to distinguish between God’s good creation and the corruption of it? Not only because God created it, but also because this creation becomes the stuff of God’s redemption. God created it all, and He called it “very good.” It’s valuable to Him, so He chooses to redeem it, cleanse it, and restore it. Even more, Jesus took on a human body—without sin. When Jesus becomes a man—a human creature—He affirms the goodness of creation. God did not destroy His material creation. Instead, He took it upon Himself.

And this leads us to the second point for living by faith: Jesus’ resurrection points the way. Ponder this: We marvel at this beautiful, wondrous creation—a gorgeous golden sunset or magnificent mountain vista. But we marvel at a creation marred by human sin. So what will it be like when Jesus makes all things new again (Rev. 21:5)? After all, He is the One through whom all things were made. Now He takes on the task of renewing and re-creating His world! The beauty of what we see in creation is but a sneak preview, a small glimpse, dim reflection of the world to come.

Again, this is hard to see. Sin and corruption are so intertwined with our world that we cannot imagine escaping one without escaping the other. My physical body is aging. It may be sick and frail. We think it’s the physical that causes our pain and suffering. “Free me from this body!” we cry. “Free me from this physical world! Take me to a spiritual, pain-free world!” However, our prayer should not be “Deliver me from this body.” Instead, it should be, “Deliver my body from the sin that ravages and destroys it.”

The resurrection of Jesus opens the door to thinking and believing this way. What we see happen in Jesus’ body, we will see happen with our bodies and with all of creation. Did Jesus rise with the same body He had before? Yes—but now glorified. Will we rise on the Last Day with these same bodies? Yes. But they will be transformed, glorified, renewed, made better. What happened with Jesus will happen with us, and with all of creation. The Bible speaks not only of the “new heavens,” but also of a “new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13).

This is why prophets like Isaiah describe the coming age in terms that remind us of the Garden of Eden. When you wonder what eternal life will be like, look around! The beauty that you see? It will be even better! The problems you see? The sadnesses? The conflicts? They will all be gone. Here’s Isaiah:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea (Is. 11:6-9).

In the meantime, we live between God’s first creation and His new creation. And God does not stop creating. He did not stop creating after the sixth day. God keeps on creating to this very day. Living by faith begins by grasping God’s ongoing work in, with, and under His creation. No, let’s not identify God with creation or creation with God! And let’s not view God as some aloof absentee landlord. He does not leave His creation to a management company. No, God is a “hands-on” God, deeply involved in His creation.

What does this mean? Now He no longer creates out of nothing; now He creates through His creatures. Not only has God made room in His life for us and His creation, but He also makes room in His creation for our activity and contributions to His creation. So as we deal with God in, with, and under His creation, we also deal with His creatures. And He gives His creatures some freedom. And with that freedom comes risk—the risk that God’s creatures might not carry out His will. They might not be good instruments in His hand.

Ever since Genesis 1, God invites His creatures to be His partners and helpers. He tells the earth to sprout forth vegetation—even as dandelion seeds are blown this way and that in the summer breeze. He blesses the animals to be fruitful and multiply. And He gives us humans the special task of looking after His creation so that all of life can flourish. Luther called all of these “God’s masks.” We can also call them gloves on God’s hands. Let the earth sprout forth…Be fruitful and multiply—this is more than mere preservation; this is God continuing to create.

And God does all of this—partnering with His creation, working through His creatures—in spite of all the sin and death around us. Yes, death reigns, but we see life come forth every day. Babies are born. Plants sprout in the spring. The sun continues to shine and give light and energy. Why? For what purpose does God continue to create every day? For the sake of redemption. Even now that Jesus has accomplished our redemption, God keeps the world going for the sake of the Gospel and the restoration of all things.

In the 1530s, Luther recommended a way to cultivate the eyes of faith. He said that when you see a cow in the field, imagine that cow saying, “Rejoice and be glad. I bring you milk and butter from God.” And when you see chickens in the henhouse, imagine them saying, “Rejoice and be glad, we bring you eggs from God.” And when you see pigs in the pigsty, imagine them saying, “Rejoice, we bring you brats and bacon from God!”

So what do we owe God for all this? Thanks and praise. No, not to feed God’s ego, but to acknowledge our dependence on Him. When we go about without thanksgiving, we end up boasting as though we have all these things by our own hands, smarts, or abilities. But when we give thanks and praise to God, we remind ourselves how we live on the receiving end of His gifts. Amen.

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