Saturday, June 30, 2012

(Re)Created to Serve and Give

Apostle St. Paul - El Greco, c.1612

The text for today is our Epistle, 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15, which has already been read.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
I often marvel at the spiritual insights of children.  One week during chapel services I was teaching the preschool children about David the Shepherd Boy as part of a series of lessons on loving our neighbor.  I showed the kids two pictures: one of David as a young boy watching over his family’s sheep, and another of David as the grown-up king of the nation of Israel.  And then I asked them, “Which one of David’s jobs was more important—shepherd or king?” 
Most of them replied predictably: “King!”  But one of them stole my thunder.  “It depends upon whether or not you’re one of the sheep,” he said.  And he was exactly right.  Both jobs are important for those who are under their care and influence.  For the sheep, the shepherd is going to have much more direct impact.  He serves them.  They depend upon him for food and water and protection.  The king might be able to help provide those things for the people of the nation, but he won’t be too concerned about a few sheep.
Both positions of shepherd and king are God-given vocations—callings or stations in life.  God gives the shepherd the privilege and responsibility of caring for the sheep in his flock.  God gives the king the responsibility to care for the people in his nation.  God gives you each of your various vocations. 
God created humans to work and to serve.  If you look back at life before sin, you’ll find work and service there.  When God created Adam and Eve, it wasn’t for them to lounge around.  As He worked to serve them, they were to work by caring for creation and by serving one another.
This is important: before there was sin in the world, there was work and service.  To be sure, it was easier back then, as work wouldn’t be bothered by thorns and thistles, crabby customers, unreasonable supervisors, and the like; but even today, God has created you to work and serve in the place He puts you.  This is true of everyone, regardless of whether they are a believer or not.  Regardless of whether or not they know their vocation is a calling from God.
This means a king has no higher calling than a shepherd.  If either one neglects to do his duty, those under his care are going to suffer.  A doctor has no higher calling than the woman who cleans and disinfects the operating room.  If either one does not take her work seriously patients may get sick and die.
For Christians, this gives a completely different understanding of our daily life and a greater appreciation for all vocations.  If you’re a Christian, whatever you do according to God’s will is sanctified, your vocation is holy and given by God for the purpose of serving your neighbor.  Work should not be considered a “four-letter word,” but a gift of God. 
Now, if work and service are gifts from God, you can bet the devil is going to do his best to ruin those gifts and your perception of them.  Look at the popular notion of work today: a job is something you have to do Monday through Friday, so that you can get the days off to do what you really want to do. 
But if you’re working for the weekend, you’re not going to see your job as a holy vocation, but rather as a hassle, or boring and unfulfilling.  Aren’t you?  Instead of rejoicing in the quality of work, you’re more likely to settle for “good enough.”  Right?  But what would happen if the weekend was a time that refreshed and prepared you to return to that holy vocation you wanted to do?  That’s how it is, once you’re set free from the sins of sloth and selfishness.  It’s another good reason to repent when you find yourself resenting the prospect of going to work.  Remember: God created you to work and serve whatever stage of your life. 
We’ll add one more: God created you to give.  Giving is part of serving.  As God gives us to do to serve others, so He also gives us to give to serve others.  Where the Lord gives us abundance, He also gives us the opportunity to support church and charity, to help our neighbor, to assist a relative in need. 
Now, if we’re tempted to deny that work is a gift from God, it’s going to be that much easier to deny that giving is a gift from God.  It’s all too easy to see giving as an ugly test that comes with salvation, as in, “I have to give so that I can prove I’m not guilty of being greedy or to show I am truly thankful.”  But both of those are attempts to motivate with the Law; and Law can cannot properly motivate or empower.  It only kills and condemns.
On the one hand, when someone speaks of your “privilege” of giving, you’re always going to wonder if they’re more concerned about their own getting.  And sadly, there’s little doubt that many—some scurrilous preachers included—are trying to get you to give so that they can avoid an honest day’s work.  On the other hand, there’s also the temptation to believe that giving is only for the wealthy, and that’s not us.  But “wealthy” is a relative term: while no one here is in the 1% the “occupy” folks criticize, neither is anyone here dying of starvation. 
God created you to give, which is why the devil will do his best to prevent you from giving to others.  Beware, too, because greed acts much like sloth.  The less you give, the less you want to give; the more you keep, and the more you’ll focus on keeping.  And rather than seeing the proper solution is giving more, you’ll be inclined to believe that happiness will be found in gathering more for yourself.
The Macedonians were not like this at all.  They were afflicted and poor, yet they continued to experience an “abundance of joy,” which “overflowed in a wealth of generosity.”  The word translated “generosity” comes from a root word meaning “single-mindedness of purpose, without any ulterior, self-serving motives,” thus pointing more to the attitude of the giver than the amount given. 
This single-minded generous giving was an act of grace—God’s grace in Christ.  Generous givers aren’t born that way; such an attitude is a result of being reborn, recreated in the image of Christ.  The grace of God that brings salvation also inspires a new life of service that includes unselfish, generous giving.
The generosity of the Macedonians was exhibited in three ways.  First, they gave not just as much as they could, but even more than that.  Like the widow with her mite, they had given in a way some might consider reckless or imprudent.
Second, no one had pressured them into giving.  They had decided “of their own free will” to be so overwhelmingly generous in their offering.  They had, in fact, “begged earnestly for the favor of taking part” in “this act of grace.” 
And third: “They gave themselves first to the Lord…”  The Macedonians gave something much more important than money with their offerings—they gave themselves back to the Lord who had given Himself into death for them. 
Paul ties everything connected with giving to the grace that God has given and continues to give His people.  God’s grace centers on His gift of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on our behalf.  That grace moves the Christian to be gracious—to freely, gladly give everything, including his material goods, back to the Lord.  The offerings of a Christian, then, are much more than bills and coins.  They are part of one’s worship, one’s response to God’s grace. 
Notice how evangelically Paul encourages the giving of the Corinthians!  He doesn’t bargain with them.  He doesn’t harangue them.  He doesn’t exploit their guilt.  He doesn’t threaten them.  He doesn’t try to squeeze dead works out of their old Adam.  He addresses the new man who loves to do God’s will and welcomes opportunities to express the gratitude of a reborn heart.  The offerings a Christian brings are a fruit of faith, the response of a grateful heart to the goodness of God.  That is why Paul is careful to say, “I am not commanding you.”  He does not want this offering to be given reluctantly or grudgingly, but freely and generously. 
As always, Paul points to Jesus, the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” in fact.  Paul uses the same terms, “rich” and “poor,” he had been using in talking about the offering of the Macedonians.  “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor so that you by His poverty might become rich.”
It is not difficult to see that the Jesus who Paul holds up as a perfect model of sacrificial giving is much more than just a model.  He is first of all a Savior.  Through His humbling Himself all the way to death, the Corinthians were now spiritually rich beyond compare.  Their sins were forgiven.  They were enjoying brand new lives as part of God’s family.  An eternity of joy awaited them. 
They knew all of that, but like you and me, they needed to remember it daily.  If their eyes turned from the Christ, every area of their Christian lives, including their stewardship practices, would soon degenerate into dead works instead of being good works.  To be “acts of grace” their offerings must be gifts driven by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Christ who became poor to make us rich is the foundation on which all Christian stewardship rests.  He is our Savior.  He is our motivator.  He is our example.  And in that order.  Saved by His grace, we are then motivated to follow His example, also in the areas of serving and giving.  Knowing the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we learn to be sacrificial and generous in our giving.  And in the process, we are surprised to discover joy.  One of the mysteries of God’s grace is that joy grows out of unselfish, sacrificial giving.  The suggestion is not “Give until it hurts” but “Give until it feels good.”  Only those who get beyond giving only what they won’t miss will find that joy. 
How much should you give?  God doesn’t give us percentages or amounts.  Giving is to be an act of grace.  As you see needs arise—be it disaster relief after a hurricane, a family that is struggling with economic hardship, or the weekly giving report in the bulletin, you’re created to help and to serve as you are able.
Given all this, what would keep you from giving?  What would prevent you from doing what God has created you to do? 
It might be fear, fear that if you give you may end up not having enough for yourself.  If that is the case, remember to be sensible in what you give and what you keep, but also be careful that fear is not the master who dictates what you do, because fear is a terrible idol to have.
It might be selfishness.  You have plans for some luxuries in life, and you’d rather spend your money on those.  While luxuries are not intrinsically sinful, take care that selfishness is not defeating your God-given desire to give and to serve.
It might be a restless feeling that you need more than you have because you are not satisfied.  But contentment springs not from having much, but from doing what God has given you to do with what He has given you.
It may be that you feel that giving to a certain need is money ill-spent.  That may be true in some case, but that’s hardly an excuse to give nowhere, for there will always be plenty of other legitimate needs around.
So God has created us to work and to serve and to give.  But with all those temptations out there and that sinful nature within, we’ll never work and serve and give as we ought.  As we do our best to do these things, we will likely avoid much of the restless desperation that haunts those who live only for themselves, but our best efforts are still hardly enough to earn eternal life.
That is why, although Paul praises the generosity of the Macedonians, he speaks of this all the much more: “But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.”  What does Paul mean?  He means that while it is good to excel in giving, it is far more important to abound in God’s gift of grace.  One can give billions to various causes and perhaps even make the world a better place; but if his sins are not forgiven, he loses all because he has forfeited his soul. 
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, abound all the more in this act of grace—“the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  You do not rejoice today simply in your own working and serving and giving.  Those would never be enough to gain you favor with God.  No, you rejoice today because of the Lord’s working and serving and giving.  You rejoice today, because the Lord who created you to work and serve and give, is recreating you in His own image. 
In His love for you, the Lord Jesus Christ took on the poverty of human flesh, then as both God and man, He worked for your eternal life.  Jesus served you by living a perfect life to give you the credit for it.  And He served you by going to the cross, where He gave up His body to death and shed His blood so that you could be forgiven for all your sins.  He joyously, generously, selflessly gave up His life so that you might become rich—rich in grace, rich in faith, and rich because the kingdom of heaven is yours in Christ forever. 
And He still gives you grace!  In Holy Baptism Jesus gives you forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.  In Holy Communion, Christ gives you His very own body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and to strengthen you in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another.
So you rejoice this day.  God created you to work and to serve and to give: therefore, your labors each day are what He has given you to do.  Where sin sought to destroy those gifts and even rob you of life, Christ died to redeem you, to set you free from sin.  Therefore, you are set free to work and to serve and to give.  Therefore, your labors each day are holy, because they are sanctified by God.
But all the more, you rejoice in this: while sin still taints your work and your service and your giving, this does not harm your salvation—because your salvation doesn’t depend on your work and your service and your giving.  This is an act of grace.  Salvation is yours on account of Jesus Christ, because He has worked and served and given and lived and died for you.
Therefore, in whatever you do, you rejoice this day to be God’s holy people, recreated to serve and give freely.  For Jesus’ sake you are forgiven for all of your sins.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blessed Be the Lord God of Israel

The Naming of St. John the Baptist - Fra Angelico, 1434-1435
The text for today is our Gospel, Luke 1:57-80, which has already been read.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  It seems a little out of place, doesn’t it?  We’re used to hearing about John the Baptist in Advent or in Lent.  His message of repentance fits very well with those two penitential times of the church year.  But here it is…the early part of Pentecost.  So why are we hearing about his birth?  Well, do the math.  When do we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord?  December 24th and 25th.  And how far along in her pregnancy is Elizabeth when the Virgin Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel?  Six months.  So, back up six months from Christmas and you land on June 24th.  That’s why we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on this date.
St. Luke, ever the historian, begins his account of John’s birth this way: “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest name Zechariah, of the division of Abijah.  And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years” (Luke 1:5-7).
Only those who have experienced the heartbreak of barrenness can truly appreciate the anguish of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  They have prayed earnestly to the Lord that He would grant them a child.  However, Elizabeth has reached the point in her life when women normally no longer can conceive children.  So when the angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he will father a child, this old man is dumbfounded—and he does not believe.  As a chastisement from God, Zechariah is unable to speak for the entire nine months of his wife’s pregnancy.
At last, the time comes for the child of Zechariah and Elizabeth to be born.  Neighbors and relatives share the mother’s joy.  Zechariah hardly seems to be in the picture.  But his time is coming.  The Old Testament law decreed that sons were to be circumcised on the eighth day.  Circumcision took place in the home, and the child was named at the same time.
So on the day of circumcision, the eighth day after birth, the neighbors and relatives again gather.  They propose to Elizabeth that she give her child the name of his father.  But Elizabeth needs no advice from others as to what name this child should have.  The name had already been given by the angel: “You shall call his name John.”  No amount of persuasion could change her mind.
Having failed to budge the mother, the well-meaning family friends turn their attention to the long silent father, Zechariah, hoping that he might overrule his wife.  To the astonishment of all, Zechariah writes the words on a tablet: “His name is John,” which means “the Lord is gracious,” a fitting name as that would be the sum and substance of his prophetic message when he would come of age.   
At once Zechariah’s tongue is freed.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, words of praise flow from his mouth.  Here is conversion—doubt turned to faith, skepticism replaced with adoration.  No wonder the people of the hill country of Judea talk of hardly anything else.  “What then will this child be?” they ask. 
It is a question the new father answers in a song: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
This is an important canticle of praise, worthy of a closer look.  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” Zechariah begins.  Why is the Lord God of Israel worthy of such praise?  He remembers His holy covenant, His oath, His promise of salvation for His people.  He has promised it from the very beginning.  Before He even described the consequences of the Fall to Adam and Eve, the Lord God made them a promise.  He promised that a Savior would come from the Seed of the woman to crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15).  From then on, He would keep sending prophets to call His people to repentance and to declare His promise.   
The Lord God renewed His promise with Abraham.  When animals were sacrificed and blood was shed at His command, the Lord came to be present with Abraham, passing through the midst of the sacrifice itself.  He promised Abraham a land.  Then He promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, of numerous descendants.  And most importantly, the Lord God of Israel promised that one of Abraham’s descendants would be the Savior of the world, and that through Him all nations would be blessed. 
Throughout the centuries, the Lord repeated His promise through His prophets.  Nathan declared that a son of David would rule from David’s throne forever (2 Samuel 7:13).  Isaiah prophesied this Savior would be born of a virgin and be called Immanuel (7:14).  And Micah added He would be born in Bethlehem (5:7).  The Old Testament Zechariah declared the Savior would ride into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey (9:9-10).  While David vividly described His crucifixion (Psalm 22) and prophesied His resurrection (Psalm 16:10). 
Each time one of these prophets spoke the Word, the Lord God provided more information about the coming Savior.  And in each of these prophecies, there was encouragement: Do not despair.  The Savior is coming. 
The blessed Lord God of Israel remembers and keeps His promises.  That’s what Zechariah sings.  The Lord God remembers His promise and John’s birth is further confirmation.  He will be the prophet who bridges the Old Testament and the New Testament.  He will prepare the way of the Most High, and the Most High will save His people from their enemies.  He will set them free to serve the Lord without fear and sin—all the days of their lives.
How will this deliverance take place?  Zechariah tells us as he speaks of his son’s message.  John will “give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins.”  John will tell them of their sin, and John will tell them that the Lord is at work to take their sins away—to deliver them to holiness and righteousness forever.  In other others, John will call them to repentance and faith in the Lord God of Israel, Jesus Christ.
How is the Lord at work?  By visiting them.  By coming to them.  The Lord God of Israel—the Son of God, the Dayspring from on high—comes to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death.
How?  By His sacrifice.  The Most High will be made the lowest.  Born to humble Virgin Mary and laid in a manger is pretty low.  But He will be made even lower by His holy suffering, death, and shedding of blood in order to reconcile us to His heavenly Father.  He will be falsely accused and condemned, spit upon, struck in the face with fists, hit, whipped, crowned with thorns, and treated wretchedly, like a worm not a man.  Despised and rejected by men, a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief, He will be counted as a sinner and hung up between two evildoers as a curse.  There on the cross He will be reduced to the object of God’s judgment for all sin there, so that His people might be delivered. 
This will all take place, says Zechariah.  Why?  Because the blessed Lord God of Israel has promised.  And He always keeps His promises.
In fact, the promise has not ceased.  The blessed Lord God of Israel comes and redeems you, too.  Zechariah’s song is not some little ditty that applied only to his household.  We don’t just hear it for the sake of some quaint history.  In fact, his song, called the Benedictus (the Latin word for “blessed”), is part of our Matins or Morning Prayer liturgy down to this day.   You are in this song.
As a priest, Zechariah devoted his life to serving the Lord by representing the people in the temple.  Led by the Holy Spirit, Zechariah prophesies of a new era when all believers as priests will worship their Savior, a day when there will be no need for a temple made by human hands, but when all of God’s people will be temples of the Holy Spirit. 
He’s talking about you!  You, dear Christians, are God’s people.  You are children of Abraham—not by bloodline perhaps, but by faith.  St. Paul declares that those—and only those—who are of faith in Christ are sons of Abraham (Galatians 3:7).  As God remembered His promises to Abraham and his descendants, so He remembers His promises to you.
For another thing, you have enemies.  Oh, not so much that co-worker who you can’t stand, or the hostile neighbor who doesn’t like your kids walking across his lawn.  Not even those who would seek to destroy your home or nation—though you certainly should pray that God would keep you safe from them.  These are enemies, certainly.  But your real enemies are a far more threatening trio: sin, death, and the devil.  It is sin that seeks to keep you in darkness, tempting you to follow any desire that will take you away from the light of Christ.  It’s death that’s always shadowing you, catching the corner of your mind, hoping to haunt you with its inevitability.  The devil is already defeated; but sore loser that he is, he seeks to take as many with him as he can to the depths of hell for eternity. 
Oh, yes!  You have enemies… and you’re no match for them.  But blessed be the Lord God of Israel.  He visits and redeems you, His people.  He saves you from the hand of your enemies.  He remembers His promises.  He renews His oath and covenant with you—personally, individually.
Hear His oath which He promised to you: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  “I baptize you,” not “them out there somewhere.”  The blessed Lord God has made His promise to you.  There, at the font, He works forgiveness of sins and washes yours away.  He makes you His own dear child and heir of His kingdom.  He delivers you from death and the devil, and promises salvation to you who believe—as His Word and promises declare.  He has given His Son to die so that you might be forgiven.  He delights to cleanse you by the waters of Holy Baptism.
And the blessed Lord God remembers His oath and reminds you each week.  Through the lips of the pastor—His called and ordained servant—He declares to you: “I forgive you of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  In other words, He declares, “I made you Mine in Holy Baptism.  By this Holy Absolution, I declare to you that I remember My promise:  I have given My Son for you, and I have made you Mine.  You are forgiven.”
As He was present to make His covenant with Abraham, so the Lord is present to proclaim it to you.  “Take and eat—this is My body… Take and drink; this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Did you hear it?  Given and shed for you.  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; He remembers His promise, and He remembers you.
And here’s the thing.  Remember those enemies you have; the ones that you’re no match for?  He is.  He’s already defeated them at the cross.  Apart from Christ, you dwelled in the darkness of sin.  But Christ has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.  “I am the Light of the world,” He promises.  “Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  You can’t defeat sin, but Jesus defeats your sin.  All it takes is three simple words.  That’s right—three simple words: “I forgive you.”  That does it.  Sin can’t kill you, because Jesus takes your sin away.
Apart from Christ, you lived in the shadow of death.  It shadowed your every move, whispering, “Go ahead.  Do whatever.  Run as long as you like, but I’ll catch you in the end.”  True enough—apart from Christ.  But Christ the Lord has defeated death:  His resurrection proves to you that the grave has no hold over Him.  And since you have been baptized into His death and resurrection, death has no lasting hold over you, either.
And this blessed Lord God remembers you.  He proclaims that He comes to give you life.  Death is reduced from an enemy that won’t be denied to a shadow; and it can hurt you no more than a brief shadow.  Oh, it may leave you cold and fearful for a moment.  That’s to be expected.  You were created to live forever, so it’s no wonder that death and dying can shake you up.  But remember the Lord’s promise: He will raise you up, with a body incorruptible, unto life everlasting.  You have eternal life, because the Lord remembers you.
Therefore, so much for the devil as well.  You’re no match for him; it’s true.  But the Lord has stripped him of his weapons of sin and death, and all the devil has left are empty threats, empty promises, empty lies. 
In place of those empty lies, the blessed Lord God declares this fullness of truth: “I have come and redeemed you.  I have saved you from the hands of your enemies.  I have shown you mercy.  Go, in the way of peace.  You are forgiven for all of your sins.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Promise in the Midst of a Curse

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden - Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1530

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

There is something wrong, my friends!  There is something wrong with this world!  There is something wrong with this nation!  There is something wrong with your neighbor!  There is something wrong with me!  And there is something wrong with you!  That something is sin, an awful, broken condition that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve’s and their fall into sin in the Garden of Eden. 

Sin.  Not simply a “mistake” or “error.”  No, what happened with Adam and Eve was not merely “poor judgment” or “misinformation” as some may label it.  It was lawlessness.  It was rebellion.  It was outright disobedience to God’s specific command.  And their sin had enormous consequences for all of creation, a creation that God had declared “very good” upon its completion in six days. 

The sin of Adam and Eve brought misery on the entire human race, for there is no such thing as a “private sin.”  Every sin has consequences that are suffered not just by the offender but by many others as well: spouses, children, whole families, complete strangers, even whole nations.  And as we discover today, not just for those living in the present time, but for generations to come. 

A famous Lutheran theologian (Gerhard, IV, 315) explained, “We must not regard the sin of our first parents and its consequences, as if they had respect only to them, and did not in any way affect us; because afterwards Adam begat a son, in his own image and likeness, Gen. 5:3.  As he [Adam] was, such also did he beget his children, despoiled of the image of God, destitute of original righteousness, subject to sin, to the wrath of God, to death and damnation.… Adam perished, and we all perished in him” (quoted in H. Schmid, Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, p. 238). 

And as goes man, the highest of God’s creatures, so goes all of creation, which also groans under the weight of sin’s wages—death, decay, and decadence—all waiting in eager expectation for the day of our redemption.

Our text for this morning, Genesis 3:8-15, picks up the account right after that first sin, and shows us the devastating consequences—both personally and universally—of that first sin.  Let’s take another look.

“The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” and they ran out and said, “Here we are!  We’re sorry, we blew it, please forgive us…” 

No.  You know the story.  “They hid from the Lord God…”  That’s what you do, too, isn’t it, when you sin?  You hide.  Don’t be surprised because you haven’t been to church in a while, or that you struggle to get out of bed on Sunday morning to get to worship services, or that other people don’t seem to want to go to church.  You’re still hiding!  Deep down inside, you know of your sin and don’t want to come to the light where it can be exposed.  That feeling is called shame.

A feeling of shame was the first consequence Adam and Eve experienced because of their sin.  This became obvious when the Lord God came into the garden looking for them.  How did they respond when they heard the sound of His footsteps?  “They hid themselves.”  Here, surely, are symptoms of a frightfully serious condition: foolishly imagining they could hide their own transgression or protect themselves from God’s punishment.  For what can be termed more horrible (or more foolish) than to flee from God and to desire to be hidden from Him? 

“Where are you?” the Lord asks.  Of course, He already knows the answer.  But His is a call of anxious love.  God is moving to restore His fallen children to Himself.  He wants Adam and Eve to realize the dangerous situation they have put themselves in.  He is really asking, “Do you know where you are?  Do you realize what has happened here?” 

At the same time, God’s words are also a call of stern justice.  The Creator is demanding an answer from His rebellious creature.  “What have you done that you should be hiding?”  God is trying to give His creatures an opportunity to repent.  To say, “Here I am.  I confess.  I blew it.  Please forgive me.”

Instead, Adam answers, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”  What Adam says is true… so far as it goes.  He’s experiencing emotions he’s never felt before.  From this time on, fear will mark man and woman’s relationship to their Maker, rather than love and trust. 

Adam’s response shows the ugly effects of sin.  It is evasive and deceptive.  It is also stupid!  So thoroughly has sin deprived Adam of all discernment and good sense, the man wants to inform God that he is naked—God, who created him naked.  By this, he betrays and condemns himself with his own mouth.  This is always the case.  Sinners accuse themselves by their excuses and betray themselves by their defense—especially before God. 

In the same way the ungodly will condemn themselves at the Last Judgment, when the dark recesses of human hearts will be revealed and, as though in open books, the evil deeds of every single being will be read.  All who attempt to cover themselves with their own righteousness will be cast into the fiery lake.  Only those who cast themselves at God’s mercy for the sake of Christ will be saved. 

Such is the nature of sin: unless God immediately provides a cure and calls the sinner back, he flees endlessly from God.  And, by excusing his sin with lies, the sinner heaps sin upon sin until he arrives at blasphemy and despair, until finally the sinful person would rather accuse God than acknowledge his own sin.  But before you point your finger at Adam or wag your tongue at “those sinners out there,” take stock.  You do the same thing when you have become guilty of sin.  Every son and daughter of Adam and Eve prefers to accuse God rather than acknowledge his or her sins before Him.  And that is a dangerous stance to take.              St. John warns: “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  But he adds: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9).

God’s questions become more pointed as He seeks to bring the sin of these two trembling sinners out into the open.  “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten of the forbidden fruit?”  Obviously, God knew what had happened.  But He was giving the man an opportunity to take responsibility, to repent. 

Adam seeks to shift the blame to Eve—and even to God Himself.  “It’s not my fault, God.  It was that woman You gave me.  Perhaps if You had made her a little better this would not have happened.”  There is no end to sinning once it has turned away from the Word.  Adam doesn’t want to acknowledge his sin; he wants to be regarded as pure and innocent.  And the Lord sees no need to continue such a fruitless and foolish line of conversation for the time being.

So the Lord confronts Eve: “What is this you have done?” again, giving her the opportunity to take personal responsibility.  But she attempts to shift the blame, too: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  And that’s been a pretty popular excuse ever since the fall: “The devil made me do it.”  Of course, the devil never makes us sin; he just displays our options and packages them attractively.  

In Eve’s answer we note something else that must have been distressing to God.  Both she and Adam are concentrating on the sinful deed of eating.  God is much more concerned about the sinful attitude that produces the sinful deed.  After all, sin does not begin with the hand but with the heart. 

Let this be a warning.  Sin is just as deceptive in your lives today.  You also sense the consequences of your sins much more readily than the attitudes that produced the results.  From your first parents, you, too, have learned to love yourself and to fight for yourself and to blame others, even if that means disagreeing with the faithful God who has come to save you.

God turns to the serpent, allowing Adam and Eve to listen.  God wants them to hear this judgment and be comforted by the realization that God is the enemy of that being which inflicts so severe a wound on mankind.  Here, grace and mercy begin to shine forth from the midst of the wrath which sin and disobedience aroused.  Here, in the midst of the most serious threats the Father reveals His heart.  This is not a father who is so angry that he would turn out his son because of his sin, but one who points to deliverance.  Here is a promise in the midst of a curse. 

God wants His man and woman to know that although Satan has won his little victory here, he will not triumph permanently: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.”  

These words also show us another consequence of the fall into sin—enmity, the quality or state of being an enemy, a feeling of hostility or ill will.  The enmity God speaks about is on three different levels.  First, He tells Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.”  There had been friendship between Eve and Satan.  She had regarded him as her friend.  She had believed him when he spoke.  And if God had not intervened, Eve and all her descendants would have gone to live forever with this “friend” in hell.  Fortunately, God’s promise to send a Savior to redeem lost sinners creates faith in Eve’s heart, and that friendship she had once felt toward Satan is now replaced with enmity. 

The enmity God announces is also going to extend further between Satan’s followers and those of Eve’s descendants who will share her opposition to the evil one and her trust in God’s grace.  This hostility exists between God’s believing children and the unbelieving world down to this day.  Perhaps you’ve never thought about it before, but what a blessing it is that you have learned to look upon Satan as your enemy!  For though he is a deadly foe, the devil is a much more dangerous friend.

This enmity will reach its climax in one of Eve’s descendants—her Seed.  God warns Satan: “He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel.”  It is at this one descendant of Eve that Satan directs his most vicious enmity, realizing just how much was at stake.  Herod seeks to kill the newborn King of the Jews.  For forty days in the wilderness Satan tempts Jesus to forget His Father’s plan.  And then, on that evil Friday that Christians call “Good,” Satan strikes his enemy’s heel with a ferocity that costs the Savior His life on the cross.

Yet Satan’s enmity will prove futile.  Death will not hold this Holy One, the Seed of the woman.  In rising again to life, Jesus will forever crush the head of the serpent.  Just as it is through the woman that Satan brings sin and death into the world, so it is through the woman’s offspring that God will conquer sin, death, and Satan.  St. Paul writes, “When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). 

Paradise will be restored in Jesus—the second Adam—who will fully obey the Law of the Creator, the Law the first Adam broke (Romans 5:18-21) and give up Himself for His bride, the Church that He might sanctify her. 

The scene in Genesis 3 is so bad that generations of believers have puzzled over how God could have permitted such a disaster.  While there is a mystery about the fall into sin that will escape our complete understanding, it is natural to ask what caused this condition.  The consequences were so catastrophic! 

Perhaps an example will help us begin to understand it.  Do you recall when you were a teenager?  Most of us are familiar with that delicate period that comes before independence and adulthood.  There is a time when parents must permit young adults to have their own will.  As painful as it can be, parental love risks rejection and failure.  To pressure them to the point they lose their own will would be wrong.  We want our children to become responsible adults, not robots. 

That’s what God wanted too.  He did not program Adam and Eve for rigid obedience that permitted only zombie-like compliance.  No, in a remarkable extension of His grace, He created Adam and Eve with their own will!  They could freely love and obey Him.  But that freedom opened another possibility.  They could freely reject His love and disobey as well.  That’s what freedom means. 

When our own sin and the sin of others bring pain into our lives we sometimes second-guess God.  Might we have been better off as robots?  But such thoughts grow out of sinful, prideful hearts, hearts that accuse God—along with Eve and Adam.  Could our Creator be holding out on us?  Could He deny us the best things, giving us only the second-best gifts?

You know the answer to that.  You’ve seen the answer to that in Jesus, who hung and bled and died for you on a cursed cross.  God is not a withholder.  He gives you His very best.  God’s love for His creation moves Him to redeem rather than destroy you.  While you endure the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve—the shame, blame, and enmity—you can take comfort in the promise of a Savior and rejoice in the knowledge that Christ Jesus has won God’s victory over sin, death, and the devil for you.  God gives you a promise in the midst of a curse. 

The Seed of the woman has crushed Satan’s head.  In Him, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.  Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Into the Wilderness

"Christ in the Wilderness" by Ivan Kramskoy Click here to listen to this sermon. “The Spirit immediately drove [Jesus] out ...