Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mother Nature, Father God

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3
Trinity 21
Pastor Aaron A. Koch
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
Greenfield, Wisconsin
Sermon Audio

✠ In then name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠

    Throughout much of the history of mankind, there has been a battle going on between the religion of mother earth and the religion of Father God.  The religion of mother earth is paganism, where different elements of creation are thought to have some sort of supernatural or divine power.  Certain gods would be connected to certain pieces of land, or the sun, or the water.  Pagans would speak of the spirit of the trees or of the animals as forces they would have to appease or show proper respect to.  In other words creation itself was seen as being divine.  All the worship of idols was at its root a worship of the creation rather than the Creator.  Romans 1 speaks of this when it says, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things . . .  (They) exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator.”  The very term “mother nature” or “mother earth” is really a sign of our who we are as fallen creatures.  Formed from the earth, we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

    Of course, in this scientific age, we believe we’ve advanced beyond all the superstitious paganism of the past.  In our technological wisdom we can now explain everything logically and rationally, even down to the level of subatomic particles.  The wisdom of this age is that there is no personal, transcendent being called God.  Rather, it is said, through chance random processes spread out over billions of years, dead elements came together to form living things which developed over time into the vast variety of living plants and animals that we see around us today.  In this way all living things are connected because we are all joined somewhere on that same evolutionary tree of life. 

    But do you notice where that leaves us?  Right back with the pagans.  After all, if there is no eternal Creator God, then nature, the stuff of the universe must be eternal.  The material world is the only thing that’s real and everlasting.  And so, once again, man ends up giving his honor and love to the creation rather than to the Creator. 

    And it goes even further than that.  This evolutionary mindset inevitably begins to take on the characteristics of the old pagan religion.  We are intrinsically religious beings.  And if the Creator is excluded from the scene, then even a supposedly logical and scientific culture will begin to speak of the creation in spiritual terms.

    For the pagans of our culture, if you want to get closer to the divine you don’t go to church, you go to nature–so you can find inner peace and your spiritual connection to the universe.  Their temple is the forest or the mountains.  Cutting down a tree or retrieving natural resources from the earth is often viewed as an act of desecration.  It is seen as an attack on something sacred.  You hear the same sort of reverence and awe being shown for whales and dolphins and other animals, a mystical and worshipful tone being used to describe these creatures.  The whole Biblical order is turned upside down as animals are often implicitly portrayed as being higher than human beings because they are more in harmony with nature and with the “circle of life.” 

    Being spiritual today for many means being “green,” honoring mother earth.  And so the worst sort of sins don’t involve breaking the 10 commandments but rather not being environmentally pure.  In today’s society it would be a worse sin for me not to recycle properly than it would be for me to misuse the holy name of God, more immoral to have a large “carbon footprint” than to download pornography.  There is more outrage over someone abusing an animal than there is over the abortion of an unborn child.  And don’t even think about questioning the seriousness of global warming; just bringing that up is sheer blasphemy!  Environmentalism has become a religion in our day, as dogmatic as any medieval church.

    But here’s what the Scriptures say to all this: Human beings are not merely animals who happen to have highly developed brains.  God created man in distinction from the animals.  Only man is created in the image of God.  Only man is given that value and that status far above the animals.  Human beings are given a unique role as stewards of God’s creation.  God commanded man, “Fill the earth and subdue it.  Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  As those who bear the image of God, human beings are given to be the overseers of God’s creation, managing it, taking good care of it according to His purposes as His representatives.  We are even commanded by the Lord to subdue and have dominion over creation. In that way we continue His work of setting creation in order.  Man, therefore, is not below nature, in a position where he must reverence and worship her.  He is over creation by God’s own design to be a good steward and caretaker of what the Lord has made.  It is not to creation but to the Lord alone that all reverence and worship belongs.

    When there is a shift away from the worship of the Creator to the worship of the creation, from Father God to mother earth, then there is also a shift away from objective truth to a moral relativism, whatever suits our needs and our feelings at the moment.  For the Creator is unchanging and eternal; creation on the other hand is constantly changing and shifting.

    For instance, rejection of God the Father as our Creator has led to a rejection of the distinction between the sexes in our culture, as if man and woman were interchangeable.  The truth of our creation as male and female for the purpose of marriage and procreation has been corrupted.  Let me say it very clearly: acceptance of homosexual behavior is pure paganism.  It’s no longer about the unchanging God who ordered us as male and female, but the disordered and changeable nature of our inner thoughts and desires.  You know that you’ve been influenced by pagan thinking if you are tempted to believe that it’s actually a virtue to accept and approve of someone’s gay relationship or gay marriage.  Evil is called good and good is called evil.  “But what if they love each other?” it is said.  Not only is that a disordered and sinful love, it is a relationship that by definition cannot fulfill one of the primary purposes of marriage, namely to “be fruitful and multiply.”  Homosexual relationships are lifeless when it comes to producing children, not by health defect or by age but by their very nature. 

    Of course, we must also point out the heterosexual rejection of Scripture, too, where not only is marriage ignored or cast aside, but where the words “be fruitful and multiply” are conveniently ignored or rationalized away, and the sexual relationship simply becomes an instrument of one’s personal pleasure.  How far we’ve fallen, where if someone has more than a couple of children, they’re treated almost as if they’re polluting the earth and needlessly burdening themselves rather than being abundantly blessed by God.

    Romans 1 speaks of how pagan belief leads to sexual immorality.  It is written, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

    Don’t be fooled–this blurring of the lines between male and female isn’t just a side issue.  It is intimately connected with who God is as our Father and what He has done for us in Christ and our relationship to Him as a bride, as His chosen people who look to Him as the source of every good and perfect gift.  This stuff matters deeply.  For instance, in the ELCA, which bears the label of “Lutheran” in its name, there are congregations which pray not to Our Father in heaven but to Our Mother within us or some other non-masculine name.  Such churches, which of course approve of female priestesses to lead the worship of their god/goddess, are of a very different spirit from us.  Just because they use the name Lutheran doesn’t mean that they are.  Our culture’s incessant push to make the sexes interchangeable isn’t without consequence for the church.  Not only does it blur the distinction between Creator and creation.  It also blurs the distinction between the Redeemer and the redeemed.  It affects our faith in Jesus.

    You see, we believe that creation today is far different from what it was in the beginning.  Before man fell into sin, all was good; there were no cycles of death or decay or evil.  But, as proof that man is over creation, when he rebelled against God, all creation fell and was cursed with him.  Romans 8 says that all creation groans and is in bondage to decay.  While nature can be beautiful, it can also now be harsh and desolate and dangerous.  The circle of life is really the circle of death, where the strong survive and the weak die–and even the strong are eventually overcome. 

    All of this is the wages of our sin, which is death.  We have turned away from God and what He created us to be to try to become like God Himself.  We wanted to treat creation not as something that belonged to God that we were stewards of but as something that belonged to us to use however we pleased.  We ended up becoming like the animals, living according to our own instincts for survival or pleasure.  The image of God has been corrupted and broken in us, cutting us off from eternal life with Him.

    However(!), (and I know it took me a long time to get here, but here’s the most important part:) the same God who created us in love has entered into His fallen creation in order to redeem and recreate us in Christ Jesus.  Colossians 1 says that Christ Himself is the image of the  invisible God.  In other words, when man was created in God’s image in the beginning, that means he was created in Christ, who is the image of God and His eternal Son.  Already then, from the foundation of the world, Jesus was the heart and source of our life.  And in order to restore the image of God to us who had lost it, the Son of God came and shared in our humanity, true God became true man, that our humanity might be restored and the image of God might be imprinted on us again. 

    When God created all things in the beginning, He did so through His Word.  He spoke, and it was so.  “Let there be light,” and there was light.  The Gospel of John tells us that the Word was the Son of God, Jesus, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity.  It is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . All things were made through Him . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”   Jesus is the One who became a part of His own creation to renew it.  As your blood brother, He took your place under judgment and was held accountable for your sins.  Just as all creation groans, so He groaned and breathed His last for you on the cross to break the curse of death and free you from your bondage to decay.  The shed blood of Christ cleanses you and renews you and puts you right with the Father again. 

    And the creation account itself foretells and foreshadows this saving work of Christ.  For notice how the days are marked: it’s not morning and then evening the way we usually think of it, but first evening and then morning.  First it’s darkness, then it’s light.  First it’s the shadow of death, then it’s the light of life.  Jesus dies in the darkness of Good Friday to subdue creation, and then He rises at the dawn of Easter on the first day of the week to be the Light of the world, to put an end to death and to bring about a new creation. 

    The Scriptures say that in the world to come there is no night.  For the light of Christ will be all in all.  And that light of the new world has shined on you already, for it is written, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come.”  As the Spirit of God hovered over the waters at creation, so you were given a new life by water and the Spirit in baptism.  You descended into the depths and rose again with Jesus to a life that never ends, enlightened with His gifts.

    So do not think of the earth or nature as your mother; rather let us speak of mother church.  For the saying is true, “No one has God as his Father who doesn’t have the church as his mother.”  Here is the source of your life.  For here is Christ your Savior, who continues to speak His powerful, creative Word: “Your sins are forgiven,” and they are.  “This is My body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” and it is.  Jesus is the new Adam who has dominion over all creation for your good.  He has subdued creation and set things in order again and made them new by His death and resurrection.  He is crowned with glory and honor at the right hand of the Father.  Considering all of this creating and saving work of God in Christ, we can only repeat what He Himself said: It is very good.

✠ In then name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠