1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” (Gen. 1:1) The “heavens and the earth” is the realm of God, where He rules with total power and authority. The “heavens”, the rest of this universe, the cosmos, with its galaxies and “dark matter”, its suns and comets and planets, here and light years away, is the realm of God. God owns it all. So also the earth: this planet. (Psalm 24:1) God has arranged and established it (among many others?) for the purposes of the gift of life: plant life, wildlife, marine life, avian life, human life.
2. This planet, this “corner” of creation has been formed and arranged for the benefit of its occupants (Isa. 45:18), chief among them being humanity. The earth is assigned to us by God to be humanity’s realm, our “estate”, to share, enjoy, preserve, develop, manage and preside over. (Gen. 1:26, 28, 2:15; Psalm 8:6).
3. Unlike other creatures, humans alone have been gifted with the tools to “take charge” of more than the affairs of their own lives. (Psalm 8:3-8) They have the tools to care for their communities, their cultures, their environment, their realm. Endowed by their Creator with powers to think, decide, plan, sense, feel, dream, work, build, trust, confer, learn, they were called to fulfill their human potential to sustain, reproduce, subdue, have dominion over, and “dress, till, and keep” their realm. Beneath and within the overall realm of God, humans were given their own realm. God made this world, this planet, to be the place where life under His righteous reign would mean their/our fulfillment. He made them/us to be His creatures, nothing less, nothing more. This is whyevery human being has value and purpose and dignity.
B. HOW IS ALL THIS SUPPOSED TO WORK?
1. It can only work according to God’s perfect will. That IS how it works. His good and gracious will for us is revealed to us humans as both promise and direction: Promise – He will never abandon us. (Heb. 13:5b) He will forever love us and all of His creation. That is “good news” (gospel). He invites us to trust Him. We have His Word on this. Direction – He calls forth righteousness and justice from us. He will judge us when it is called for (Heb. 12:5-11). That is “tough love” (law). We have His Word on this also.
2. With God, His perfect will is always at work, in all creation, all the time. How could it be otherwise? Who could trust a fickle god who now and then, “willy-nilly” doesn’t exercise his own will?
The realm ofnature: plant life, wild life, marine life, avian life, this realm is governed by “the laws of nature” (the will of God), i.e., the laws of survival, reproduction, predation, gravity, thermo-dynamics, genetics, momentum , climate, etc. Violation of the laws of nature will result in damage to, or destruction of nature and/or humanity.
The realm of humanity: personal and corporate/community human life, is also governed by certain laws of nature, and by “moral law” as well (the will of God), i.e., the laws regarding human life and property. Violation of the moral laws will also result in damage to, or destruction of nature and/or humanity. (Gal.6:7).
3. Humanity’s assignment,(every human;regardless of nationality, culture, current belief system, history, sexuality, race, age)on this earth is: Trust God’s promises and Obey God’s directions. Take care of/for each other and preserve this “cosmic garden” (this earth).
Because of these assignments every human being has dignity, worth, and purpose.
Be satisfied as a human. Humans are the stewards of this earthly “estate”. Be satisfied to BE a human. Humans aren’t equipped to be more than human, to be “like God” (the 1st temptation: Gen. 3:5), to “lord” it over anyone. That’s not their realm, their territory. That is the classic example of sin as “trespassing”.
4. Humanity’s powers and humanity’s limitations.
God has gifted humanity with the talents to deal with the affairs of this realm, this world. Humans have been given brains, intelligence, reason, conscience, and willpower to do this. Science and the Arts are the categories in these affairs.
The Arts allow us to give expression to what our senses and imagination reveal to us. The Arts are of human origin; from exquisite to grotesque.
Science (all branches) throws its considerable attention on all the elements, materials and powers pertaining to this realm. It serves God’s gift of reason, to sort out the “what, where, when, and how” of this cosmic planet and its cosmic “neighborhood”; from seed-time and harvest, to wildlife and wilderness preservation, to raw materials and oceans, to the bright and dark matters of space; in other words, nature and all itscomponents. And that is as far as science can go. It is not in competition with the Bible. Faith and reason are not enemies. Reason employs science in the management of this realm; not always perfectly, because we aren’t perfect.
Faith is also a gift of god; indeed it was His first gift. Humans were created to trust God – both His promises and His wise guidance. Faith permits humans to “see” the “who” and “why” behind and above the “what”, “where”, “when”, and “how” of our realm. Faith connects us with God’s meaning and purpose and the fulfillment of our lives.
C. SOMETHING’S NOT RIGHT!
1. All humans must and will believe. It’s “in our DNA”. On our own, our imaginations and reason and willpower will move us to believe something or someone. We are bound to. Unless God, the Creator, reveals Himself to us, we will inevitably settle for trusting someone or something in creation (the created rather than the Creator) to solve our ultimate predicaments. After all, what else is left to trust? Here we meet the limitations of all humanity.
2. The harmonies described in the opening chapters of Genesis established for human life have been disrupted. The carrying out of creaturely assignments to live together as caretakers has been interrupted and corrupted on this planet. Suffering and pain is known to everyone. An alien and hostile element has inserted itself into human existence, resulting in enmity, conflict, abuse, anxiety, disharmonies; what the news media reports daily, world-wide.
3. What is the source of evil, hatred, greed, fear, suffering? Here, all humanity collides with a most profound mystery. With or without any explanation, we know that somehow a powerful “spoiler” has invaded every human. Somehow we allow ourselves to be convinced that humanity is on its own. Everything depends on us. We must call our own shots. We decide how we are going to deal with ourselves and others. “After all, it’s OUR realm, isn’t it?” (Not ultimately!) We can do as we “see fit”. But, left to ourselves, defining what “fit” means causes arguments which lead to wars which lead to hatred. Deciding for ourselves what is “right” and “wrong” was never assigned to OUR realm. God retains that authority in HIS realm. He sets the standards.
4. The Creator’s word to us has been from the beginning: “Trust My promises. Trust (obey) My instructions. I tell you the truth: both are for the purposes of protecting and preserving your life, all life; providing for your good. Both are expressions of my perfect love for you and all”.
D. THE REAL PROBLEM
1. Evil raises its ugly head, camouflaged as a great new idea. Someone (Satan) said, “Humans can have more power and authority than they were led to believe they could. They don’t have to settle for being human, or being a caretaker creature. They can be ‘like God’, or at least like ‘a god’ – deciding for themselves what they are willing to accept as ‘right and wrong’, ‘good and evil’.” “Did God say…?” is their/our favorite phrase.
2. Humanity’s problem isn’t making mistakes, being uninformed, falling from some original state of perfection, and now only needs some correcting, repairs, and mending, some “tweaking”, some “assistance”. Humanity’s problem is its fall from its primary posture of faith (yes, even in the “Garden of Eden”), from trusting God’s promises and God’s wisdom. It is a fall FROM faith.
3. Humanity’s problem is thus a misplaced faith, a displaced faith, a replaced TRUST, now inevitably limited to the realm of nature. Again, after all, what’s left? In ancient days, humans worshiped nature gods: fire, wind, mountains, rivers, stars, etc. Today, we still worship nature gods: science, for some, holds the answer to everything. Celebrities, athletes, astrology, earthly wealth and power, etc., all can also be false magnets of faith, false sources of meaning and value, false answers to our ultimate predicaments; all found in “nature”, the worldly order.
4. Humanity’s problem is its attempt to be something other, something more, than human; more than steward, manager, caretaker of this planet with all its wealth and resources and beauty and rights and privileges to enjoy life; trying to be something we can’t be; super-humans, god- like, assuming way more responsibility than our shoulders and wisdom can or were ever meant to bear. “Sin” is the Bible’s word for all of the above.
5. Humanity’s problem ultimately and finally and, worst of all, is its total lack of wisdom and power to fix any of this. It’s simply “beyond” us.
E. WHERE THIS LEAVES US
1. It leaves us alienated, separated, estranged from our Creator and each other; and we are lonely.
2. It leaves us “harassed, helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. “Adrift, tossed about by every wind and whim;” “with eyes that cannot see”, “ears that cannot hear”, “loving darkness rather than light”. And, worst of all: He (the Lord) gave them up to their own devices”. His will will be done. He will judge us when it is called for. He will discipline us because He loves us. (Heb. 12:5-11)
3. It leaves us with a desperate need to realize our predicament; with a desperate need to find a genuine solution beyond and outside of ourselves because there is none in us or in all creation.
4. The most tragic, devastating and destructive consequence we are left with is our desperation to construct a religion of our own making. We all were, and are always, meant to be believers. It is the one unique characteristic of human existence. The God who made us all intends to walk with us in His garden, this “garden”, this planet, and beyond, to His new eternal GARDEN. But we would rather “walk in a garden of our own making”. And in our hubris and religious pretensions, we will construct every reason and alibi and justification to have it our way. All religions, local and world-wide, are nothing but our self-righteous, self-made substitutes at work. And devastating religious wars are the result. It’s what we do in “our garden”.
4. Our Lord will have the final word on all of this. Unless something else happens, it will not be “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master”. God’s final justice awaits.
F. THE REAL SOLUTION
1. If the “fix” is really beyond our reach, what then is the solution? It is also found in the “will of God” where it has been and will always be found. “The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer. But we pray in this petition that it may be done among us.” –Martin Luther
2. The real solution remains in God’s control, God’s realm. He reserves the right, the authority, the power, and the glory in this matter because only His solution can and will be perfect. God has insisted on taking full responsibility for the solution. He refuses to share that responsibility with anyone. He doesn’t need or seek our “help”. Our “help” can only “poison the well”.
3. In order for us to know God’s good and gracious will, we will need to meet Jesus!
G. THE WORD OF GOD
1. Jesus is what God has to say to us about our condition, our human predicament. (John 1:1)
2. Jesus is what God has to say to us about our foolishness and failures, our self-righteousness and pretensions, our weaknesses and misplaced trust. Jesus is God’s Word for us about His will for us. It is as if God were to say (the Old Testament prophets would have said, “Thus says the Lord”): “I know all about you and what you’re thinking and what you’re going through. I know all about your doubts and your frustrations, your fears and hopes and pretensions. I know all about the consequences you find yourselves facing. I’m really sorry you and your families and neighbors (world) have to suffer the way you do. I said you could trust me, but you didn’t.”
3. “Listen! What I made I loved. What I made I still love. Through your parents, I made you. And I love you. I always have and always will love you, weak and wounded as you are. Sometimes it will be ‘tough love’. I still expect mercy and justice to be at the top of your earthly assignments list. (God is not mocked. Whatever we sow we will reap; Gal. 6:7.) Even then, my perfect love for you will come in perfect justice. My will will be done, for you.
4. “Though you must die, I still want you to trust me. I want you to believe my word about my will for you. I want you to know my love for you is without condition, without limits, without question. I have chosen to say that to you in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, my beloved son.
5. “Predictably, with your misplaced trust, you rejected Him. You killed Him. You thought you didn’t need Him. You trusted your own solutions. You thought you were done with Him. But you weren’t. ‘I am the Lord; there is none besides me’ (Isa. 43:11-13). ‘I kill and I make alive’ (I Sam. 2:6). Even here, in the death of Jesus, my will is done (Isa. 53:10-11). You killed Him. I raised Him from the dead for your justification, and I will also raise you from the dead. Now you can know that nothing will keep you from my love. Now you can know that when I say I love you, I forgive you! I am serious; forever serious. You are forever loved. You are forgiven, and forever mine.”
H. THAT’S THE GOSPEL TRUTH.
1. Is that Good News? What could possibly be better news than that Good News?! God has reclaimed us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s His decision. That’s done! He did that! Period! Not comma! Period!
2. Don’t even think you can add anything to this to complete it, or improve it, or make it valid. You can’t. If and when you try, you compromise your claim to faith. You demonstrate your insistence to trust something in yourself. To insinuate any human thought, word, or deed here is to retreat back into human effort. No matter how pious, it accomplishes nothing.
3. The Gospel, in “its truth and purity”, is the Gospel without any human elaboration, embellishment or contribution. The gift of God’s love, which means His grace and forgiveness and life in His presence is truly and purely and simply yours. “The King has spoken.” His edict is issued.
4. Don’t mess with it. Rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. It’s yours because God said it’s yours. Period!
5. This is why Luther gave this explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, in the same manner as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
6. We may not realize it, but this act of God (the death and resurrection of Jesus) is the source of --the deepest love you can possibly have --the deepest joy you can possibly have --the deepest peace you can possibly have --the deepest reason you can live with thanksgiving everyday of your life.
I. HOW CAN WE KNOW THAT?
1. The Word: It’s His promise – for all people – “we’ve got it in writing”, from His Word, the ancient Scriptures, the Bible (II Tim. 3:14-16). But, how can I know that promise includes me? I can know it because God has also chosen to bring this truth home to me as a “special delivery”, via:
2. The Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the very promises in His Word are the same promises offered in the Sacraments and aimed precisely and personally at each of us.
Baptism: God says, “Let me underline my indelible promise given in My Word with earthly water at your Baptism. This water is splashed on your head. The Cross is traced on your brow. You were brought to Him. You were drawn to Him. This promise is “for you”. You are washed, named, claimed, “adopted”, forgiven, sealed in God’s love, now and forever. At your Baptism, God’s good and gracious will is aimed right at you, and delivered -- personally. His aim is perfect then and there! Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
The Lord’s Supper: “It is finished” was true for Jesus. Not so for us. The devil, the world, and our own “flesh” still assail us. Their doom is sure, but it is not yet. So our Lord chooses to drive home His promises again and again and again, until He calls us home. The death He died, He died for you. His body broken, His blood shed, for you. He really died. And He was really raised from the dead and promised “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them”. So He gave them bread and wine and said “This is my body. This is my blood.” Remember this. This is always “Foryou”. “Do this for the remembrance of me.” So again, God aims His forgiving and life sustaining grace right at you. The bread is in your hand and mouth. The wine is on your lips and tongue. This is our “altar call” where God reminds us of His decision to hold us in His arms. His aim is perfect. His good and gracious will is aimed right at you, and delivered -- personally, right then and there. Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice!
3. And it’s unconditional. There are no qualifying steps you have to take, no hoops to jump through, no ”decisions” to make, no promises or pledges to keep. You simply have God’s faithful Word which draws you to Him and creates faith in Him (Rom. 10:17), that faith which He so lovingly seeks in you because “…the words ‘for you’ require simply a believing heart”. Thus you live in joy and peace and gratitude as you are gifted to do so.
J. WHERE THIS LEAVES US
1. It leaves us, in a certain sense, back in Genesis. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”. Faith enables us to “see” God’s realm and our realm and know the difference. We are enabled to see and know His good and gracious will, and our place in it. It finally “dawns” on us. (II Pet. 1:19)
2. In the first place, what this means for you as a Christian is that everything is new (Gal. 2:20; II Cor. 5:17). You have a new past. It is a forgiven past. And you have a new future. It is filled with hope and anticipation, not foreboding or despair. And you have a new now. You are captured by Christ’s love for you. You hold a deep joy because He holds you. You now are given a peace which “passes all understanding”. Your heart is at rest. You are a newyou!
All because you have been given the gift of faith, the same gift God gave Adam and Eve. Your trust in him is precisely what God has always sought in all his human creatures. You become the very kind of creature God seeks to bless; bathed in His grace and promises, and robed in His righteousness, you have a new vision, a new heart, a new mind. You have been made new.
3. It also means for you as a Christian that you are made free. (John 8:32; Rom. 8:1-17; Gal. 5:1) Free from pervasive guilt (Your new past). Free from the fear of death (Your new future). Free from being self-absorbed, wondering, fretting, worrying about whether you have done enough, been sincere enough, good enough, faithful enough, nice enough (Your new now). You are freed from such self-centeredness, being so “self-conscious”. You don’t need to worry about whether you qualify for God’s grace. You don’t! Jesus claims you anyway! You have His word on it. (See above).
Such freedom allows us to see our world, our realm, as the arena of our proper and assigned stewardship. Here our life takes on meaning and purpose. We are free from worrying about ourselves and our spiritual destiny to seek the welfare of our neighbors. We are free to engage in the affairs of our communities. Indeed, we are free to live our lives with our vocations, at our stations in life, our “standing places”, as expressions of God’s good and gracious will for us in our daily actions and involvements: family, schools, government, work and play, here to be humans, truly humans, simply humans, His creatures living and trusting Him for the outcome of all things; nothing more and nothing less.
4. Our Lord will have the final word on this also. “In my Father’s house are many rooms. I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also”.
K. IN THE MEANTIME
1. We live in “the meantime”. We live between the time when Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” (now exalted “to the highest place…with…the name that is above every name”) and that time determined by the will of God, when “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:8-11). The will of God moves His world, our realm, inexorably toward that end, the fulfillment of our history, the fulfillment of our lives.
2. Until we arrive at that fulfillment, that climax of history and all things pertaining to this realm, our gracious Heavenly Father has given us “rest stops” and companions along the way. Every Lord’s Day, the weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we, together with our brothers and sisters in the faith, are invited to “the foretaste of the feast to come”. Here God has promised to meet us in His Word and Sacraments, to be proclaimed and administered in their truth and purity; faithful to the Gospel of “comfort and joy”, faithful to the prophetic Word moving us to acts of mercy and justice, faithful to the mutual edification of/for/from our brothers and sisters in the fellowship we share as we live out our salvation as disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
3. For the time being, we hold a dual citizenship; here in this “kingdom” and in “His Kingdom to come”. In this “meantime” God has called His people into His Church, “the assembly of believers where the Gospel is preached in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel”; which is where we also confess our faith, bear witness to God’s saving acts in Jesus; hear His Word proclaimed for our growth and development in this faith. There is no other type of community, institution, organization, or source, where this Biblical view of our world and our lives in it will be proclaimed. Until “His Kingdom comes”, and the great bell of this age tolls one final time, this is where we belong.
L. SO, DEAR READER, I COMMEND THIS WORLD VIEW TO YOU I have nothing of greater value to give to you than this: what I have written for you to cherish and hold to all your life. I am indebted to many pastors and teachers who shared their insights with me through the years. I am especially indebted to Dr. Gerhard O. Forde, deceased, former Professor of Theology at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. His insights from two of his publications have been especially helpful in clarifying for me the great truths of the Christian faith. I commend them both for your growth in Christ. They are:
Where God Meets Man, Luther’s Down-to-Earth Approach to the Gospel, 1972, Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, MN On Being a Theologian of the Cross, 1997, Bethany Press , St. Paul, MN
By the Rev. Gordon Huesby Lutheran Pastor September, 2014