23 March 2017

Homily for Lent 3 Evening Prayer

"Redemption--Second Article"
Apostles' Creed, Second Article
(fourth in a catechetical series)

Here we are. The Second Article of the Creed. The heart of the Christian faith. Jesus’ work of redemption for us. Why must Jesus redeem us? Our human sin. Here we deal with human sinners and God the justifier. But notice this: the problem is not that we are creatures. The problem is not that this world is a material world. As we heard last week, these are God’s good works and gifts. In addition, animals did not sin; the physical world did not sin. In a way, they are “innocent” even as they have suffered because of human sin.

No, the problem is us. The problem is that we, God’s prized human creatures, have misused and abused His world. Martin Luther made a very insightful statement in his theses for debate at the town of Heidelberg. He said that “we use the best things in the worst way.” We don’t use bad things in the worst way; we use the best things in the worst way. What do we mean by best things? God’s great gifts to us: our bodies, our lives, our family, our work, our income, and so on. What does it mean to use these things in the worst way? It means we idolize them. We force them to do things for us that they were not created to do. We try to get our security and happiness from them. And when we do that, we further misuse them by keeping them for ourselves rather than for serving our neighbor.

So we become enslaved to and trapped by these best things. Or, better, our desires for them entrap us. Then we become disappointed. You see, these best things cannot give us what we seek from them. Satan has lured us, God’s beloved human creatures, into captivity. We have become POWs behind enemy lines.

But here’s the wonderful and remarkable thing about this Second Article. Since God has created this world, He refuses to let go of His creation. He made it good. He loves it. The world is not the problem. So God does not scrap His creation and start over. No, He sets out to reclaim and restore His creation—beginning with us, because the problem began with us. Just as God made room in His creation for us creatures, now He makes room for us sinful creatures who rebelled against Him. He who created us is He who redeems us—true God and true Man.

How does God redeem us? First, God dives down into the depths of His creation, to take up residence in it and fix it for good. But He does this in a completely unexpected way. Ponder this: God has always been present and active in His creation. The universe cannot contain Him, but, as Luther noted, God is still present and active in the smallest flower petal. It’s how He keeps His creation going. Also ponder this: God revealed Himself in many ways in the Old Testament—the angel to Abraham, the burning bush to Moses, the pillar of cloud and fire to the Israelites.

But now in Jesus Christ, God reveals Himself and intervenes in His creation in a most personal and intimate way. He takes a created body into Himself and He lives a creaturely life. He makes room in His life to take on a human body and all that entails—a human mind, a human history, and human DNA that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. He is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary”; Creator of the universe and a creature within that creation, all at the same time. Who would have imagined this?

Jesus’ incarnation affirms the goodness of creation like nothing else. God is saying His creation is good and important to Him. And Jesus does more than just take on a human body to live in the midst of sin and evil. He becomes human in order to do away with, to destroy, and to overcome sin and evil and everything that pollutes and disfigures His beautiful world.

What does this mean for the art of living by faith? First, it means that we cannot and should not look for God anywhere else than in this Man, Jesus Christ. Faith does not look to some spiritual, ethereal realm. It does not look to some impersonal “force” on the outer fringes of the galaxy. No, faith looks to this one Man, our brother, as God Himself. Where Jesus is, there is God. This Man is God; God is this Man. As Jesus said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So, whoever rejects Jesus also rejects their Creator God. It’s personal—a personal rejection.

Second, Jesus’ incarnation also means that God’s work of redemption does not devalue the physical creation nor our physical bodies. They are just as important as our souls. They are so important that God Himself has embraced them by becoming part of His own creation. He comes to redeem both body and soul.

Not only does God redeem us by taking on a physical, creaturely, human body, but He also works through that creaturely body to accomplish our redemption. You see, our sin and rebellion were deeply personal. They offended God because they showed our rejection of Him and His good purposes for us. They showed our betrayal of God. And yet God in the most personal way enters His creation, personally takes our sin and rebellion upon Himself, personally does away with it, and personally conquers it.

Our loving God works through His creation—His human body—to accomplish the redemption of all human bodies and all of creation itself. How so? As Luther wrote, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” The Creed itself hammers it home. In His very body Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” And He rose again in that same body.

C. S. Lewis spoke of Jesus as a pearl diver who strips himself, then dives into the murky depths in order to reclaim a priceless pearl, and then bursts back up through the surface with that pearl firmly in his grasp. The entire Christian story turns on this point. As Lewis said: “God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders [emphasis added]. The miracles that have already happened are, of course…the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.”

In the First Article, we cannot deal with God apart from His creation. Now in the Second Article, we cannot deal with God’s graciousness in redeeming us from sin apart from the creaturely human body of Jesus. Through this physical human body of a Jewish man we encounter our Redeemer and Lord!

What does this mean for the art of living by faith? It means that we seek God’s gifts only in Jesus Christ, only because of Jesus Christ. Only in the body of Christ does God reveal His attitude and His intentions toward us. Like a devoted parent, God will stop at nothing to reclaim and restore His creation. That includes taking upon Himself a frail human body—a body that He keeps into all eternity. It also includes suffering and dying in that human body at the hands of His rebellious, lost human creatures. All this He does for us—creatures made in His image, creatures made to manage all creation, creatures who rejected Him and tried to usurp His glory. All this He does to restore us and adopt us as His children and heirs of His kingdom.

This changes everything for us. It means that when things happen—things we cannot understand, tragic things that defy explanation, things we cannot make sense of—faith turns to the person and the work of Jesus Christ.

This is what Luther gets at when he speaks of the “hidden God” and the “proclaimed God.” When we look for answers in places other than Jesus, we often get lost, frustrated, and angry. When we look elsewhere, we encounter the silence of God. He doesn’t always give us the answers we want, because, after all, He is not answerable or accountable to us. But in the flesh and blood of Jesus, in His life, and especially in His death and resurrection, we encounter God speaking to us. And what does He say? He speaks His word of love. As Paul said in Romans 5[:8], “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So, when I cannot answer a question, when I have no explanations, I can say, “I don’t know why this happened. I don’t know what this means. But I do know this: nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.”

C. S. Lewis once said that Jesus is the missing chapter to our lives, the missing chapter that makes sense of our lives. In Jesus, our stories now make sense. You see, in Jesus, we see our true story, the entire story of our lives. We see in Him our past and our present—He created us and He preserves us. We see in Him our present and our future—He redeems  us and will raise us from the dead. Since He is our Creator and Redeemer, our past, present, and future are all found and united in Him. Amen.

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