"It's All Good--Even When It's Not"#90-40
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 4, 2023
By Rev. Dr. John Nunes, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2023 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 1
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Turku is the oldest city in Finland. And it was unseasonably cold that November, some years ago now, when Monique, my wife, and I visited there. Thankfully, we were warmed up by the Christian youth gathering we were attending. These 15,000 young people were obviously unaware or didn't care about the reports that it wasn't cool to be a Christian in Europe. Breathing the air of their exuberant joy in Jesus was one of the most hopeful experiences I've ever had. Preaching and presenting at their event was fun because as an English speaker using an English-to-Finnish translator, I got two reactions from the crowd for every reaction-worthy comment—whether a laugh or a groan or an applause, it was double the response, the first reaction, when I spoke in English—which is really a global language, especially among young people, and the second, when the crowd heard something in their mother tongue, in Finnish, through the translator.
There also was a young lady assigned to be our personal host. She herself spoke what she would be the first to call "intermittent English"—though way better than my Finnish. She spoke English unsurprisingly with a noticeable Finnish accent, and that was until she got to a certain phrase she'd mastered in English, which she told us she'd learned from watching her favorite American sitcom character. And this particular phrase, she spoke in flawless English even with a twist of what sounded like American urban slang—she'd say: "It's all good!" No doubt about that this was her favorite, most "go-to" thing to say, in response to almost everything. "Thank you for hosting us here in Finland." "You're welcome," she'd say. "It's all good! "We'd like to visit the 14th century cathedral tomorrow?" "It's all good! What time?" "It's been a long day. We're really ready to turn in for the night." "Sleep well. It's all good," she'd say. It was a cute and unforgettable experience. It's all good.
Imagine God stepping back to see what His hands had made or better to see what His speaking had created, when God said, "Let there be"... and there was. Imagine God saying, "It's all good." A clear blue sky, a crystal blue sea, clean, pure air to breath, it's all good. Lights at night shining like chandeliers in the heavens, stars sequined against the midnight sky, "it's all good." Snow-peaked mountains majestically silhouetting the horizon like a post card landscape, "it's all good." Green vegetation growing up from coffee-colored dirt, smiling magnolias, and gently waving jacaranda trees, "it's all good." Little bitty creatures crawling at the feet or humorously huge and humongously big beasts of the field, "it's all good." And finally, human beings, created in God's own image, male and female, two distinct and complementary varieties of one humanity created in the image of the Father, Son, and Spirit, that One God. But this time, God said, "It's all very good!"
Genesis tells us about the eye-popping majesty and breathtaking beauty of creation, describing it six times like our host's favorite phrase, "it's all good." And then, a seventh, only once used, the superlative, "it's all very good" Why? Because humans have been created. You, me, we, them, as well as us, those people as well as our people. Here we are in the theater of life. Making our debut on the stage of creation. Our common ancestors in that one race called "human." Adam—meaning "from the earth" and Eve—meaning "the mother of all living." Very good! Because of all things that were made humans alone are made in the image of God. We, despite how we feel, despite those attacks we all experience from our greatest antagonist called sin, we are the crown of creation. Which is why we need Trinity Sunday.
Trinity Sunday reminds us of the unity of God and the unity of those created in the image of God, of the community of faith. This divine image of unity goes against the grain of Western culture's self-centered individualism. Pastor Larry Vogel just received his doctorate from Concordia Seminary in St Louis, and in his research he wrote these words—and sidebar: yes, I am that kind of person who actually enjoys reading things like Ph.D. dissertations. Dr. Vogel writes, "This is where the danger of individualism lies for the church. It reads the Bible as if its focus is exclusively individual, without a concern for the whole of God's people. It encourages a narcissistic kind of music centered on me. It undermines corporate identity, any sense of the church beyond one's individual, narrow field. So, it is unable to address social needs or structural evils."
We, despite our track record of divisiveness and warfare and the wicked ways in which we treat one another, we, despite our social and structural evils, caused by the collapse into sin, we, by a miracle of God's grace are the centerpiece of the divine design. I gasp each time I read Psalm 8: "When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place," how is it that You, Lord, care so much for humans? Yet You have made us a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned us with glory and honor." The phrase "It's all very good" is stamped on human life from conception to natural death, from the womb to the tomb to be made in the image of God, Father, Son, Spirit is to be made to be in relationships of love. Loved, first and foremost, by the God of love, in order to love one another with a rightly ordered love. With a love that's appropriate for the kind of relationship we have with the other persons. Not all loves are the same.
I mean I love my auto-mechanic, but it's nothing like the way I love my cardiologist. There's a difference between my car and my heart, which is also nothing like the way I love my wife Because there's a difference between my physical heart and my the one who is the heart of my life. And we who struggle to be in right relationship with one another, we, who limp our way through life and love, need the sign and the reality of Trinitarian love. This God who is perfect loving relationship with God's own self: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St Augustine, the North African bishop who lived 1,600 years ago once said, "When you see the Trinity, you see love." That's the perfect love of the Father, Son, and Spirit. God, after all, is love 1 John tells us.
Augustine again: "People go to gaze at mountain peaks, to gape at the boundless tides of the sea, to admire the broad sweep of rivers, the encircling oceans and motions of the stars; and yet they leave themselves unnoticed: they do not marvel at themselves." And for Christians this does not mean self-centered, individualistic navel-gazing, it means praising, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for making the community of humans, especially communities of love, for placing us into families, and giving us friends who are sometimes closer than our sisters or brothers, for providing us with allies and supporters, who help us to realize the fullness of our own humanity because they treat us with respect, divine dignity. It means marveling at the sacred gift of other persons who come into our lives in the Name of Jesus as opportunities for us to return love. Of course, we hardly understand ourselves, or understand others, never mind understand the mystery of the Trinity. Maybe we should try it the other way around, maybe the closer we grow in the mystery of the Trinity—God in three Persons, each Person being the entire fullness of God—maybe growing closer to God is the key to growing closer to others, and the key to understanding ourselves even more.
I will be the first to admit that the mystery of the Trinity is almost impossible for me to wrap my mind around—Three in One and One in Three, blessed Holy Trinity which is one of the reasons I need the creeds, The Apostles Creed, the little-longer Nicene Creed, and the super-long Athanasian Creed. Three Creeds help us to confess what Scriptures and church teachings tell us to be true, whether we can logically understand it or not, we believe these truths. We don't just recite them. In any case, marveling at the sacred gift of other persons placed into our lives as opportunities to show love is not easy either. For those of you who are married. Hang in there. Even Christian marriages between husband and wife experience irreconcilable differences and periods where family life is far from us being able to say, "It's all good." Monique and I have our stories! But we can also tell you about divine intervention where faith comes in, when God shows up, how God's mercy carried us into deeper understandings of love more times than we care to admit. Our prayers are so much more than mere decoration. God cares about our real lives. And we believe these prayers; we don't just recite them. I say as long as your relationship doesn't risk your safety or your sanity, it's probably better to dig in right where you are. Marriage is hard. Divorce is harder. Some waste a lifetime hunting for another human to provide the sort of love that only God is able to give.
In the Old Testament, Joseph was once seeking as well. Genesis 37:15 tells us: "A man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, 'What are you seeking?'" I wonder how we might answer that question. What kind of love are you seeking? It's likely going to be unfulfilled until you are filled with the love of the One who made you for Himself, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, The perfect God of perfect love, perfectly Three in One. Some of us have been wandering for years, maybe decades, unwilling to be found, fearing that we'll be found out. It's not all good, not at all, and we sometimes resist being held in the arms of forgiveness, unwilling to be fully forgiven by the mystery of a mercy that has loved you since before time began. Some of us have been searching for something we can't find words to describe, bouncing from job to job, from bed to bed, from church to church, from website to website. surfing, scrolling, searching, sleeping around. Exactly what is it you are seeking today? Quick hitches aren't quick fixes. I tell my own grown children, "When in doubt, go home." Go home and make things right. Take the first step from bad to good. I know it's not what you hoped for or dreamed for it to be, I understand that it's not all good. But God is at work for good in all things. So since God is at work, dare to forgive as you've been forgiven. Dare to love as you've been loved by the dying Christ wearing a crown of thorns. Dare to live up to the level God has in mind for you, a coronation of glory and honor. Dare to pray together. Just reach out and take hold of his or her hand and pray together this short seven-word prayer: "Lord Jesus, we need your help. Amen."
So, build up one another, Encourage one another, be vulnerable, laugh together, and let the Spirit mold you through the Word and Sacraments. Go to church together and get God's message into your ears, into your life, into your relationships. And the Spirit who created you and recreates you into the best version of yourself, that self that God has in mind for you, will work in your relationship and make it into one that is life-giving. But married or single, divorced or twice-divorced, widowed, brokenhearted or thriving, we all live in the echo of Easter: Christ is risen. Indeed. Alleluia. We walk in the power of Pentecost. Alleluia.
The Holy Spirit shows up, our ultimate Advocate, our Friend when we are friendless, our Guide when we are directionless. He has come down to us to translate our groans and moans and sighs "too deep for words" and carry our cries and prayers for love to the throne of the Father and He does that for you. We live dripping with the promise of Baptism. We live fueled by the fire of God's Word. We live created on the sixth day and re-created by God's grace to be followers of Jesus seven days of the week. Until that great eighth day, called eternity, when we will sing praise in His presence forever. We live and we love and we are loved in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, sin forgiven, shame erased, status: all very good. Amen.
Reflections for June 4, 2023
Title: It's All Good--Even When It's Not
Mark Eischer: And joining us now, here's Lutheran Hour Speaker, Dr. Mike Ziegler.
Mike Zeigler: It's good to be with you, Mark.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Nunes talked about what it means to be created in the image of God. He talks about that in terms of how we relate to others. When we hear that phrase, what comes to mind: is it that people physically resemble God or that God resembles us, looks like us?
Mike Zeigler: One thing that might come to people's mind is a mirror. So, you look in a mirror, you see your image, you see your reflection. Another way that people use the word is with the phrase, "That boy is a spitting image of his old man." So, he resembles his father, maybe not just in physical characteristics, but also in mannerism and character. Now, in the ancient world, the word image is also used to speak of a representative. It would mean a physical statue or an imprint that is created to represent something or someone else. So if you think about the question that Jesus asks the religious leaders in the temple after they gave Him the coin and ask Him the complicated question about taxes, what did He say?
Mark Eischer: He said, "Whose image and inscription is this?"
Mike Zeigler: Right.
Mark Eischer: So, in the ancient world then, an image was less about resemblance or reflection and it was more about representation.
Mike Zeigler: It's probably both. If you think about a good representative also has to resemble the person he or she is representing, either if not their physical characteristics, at least their moral character.
Mark Eischer: What does it mean then for humans to be the image of God?
Mike Zeigler: I think we got to understand how that phrase is used in other contexts in the ancient world. So for example, in ancient Babylon, the king of Babylon was called the image of God or the representative of God. And God in this case is the God they called Marduk. This is Babylon's high God. And the Babylonian king is supposed to represent Marduk by doing the things that Marduk did. And they learned about the things that Marduk did from their account of the creation of the world. It's one of these ancient Babylonian accounts that archeologists have dug up. It's called the Enuma Elish, and it's a story that was being told around the same time the creation account in Genesis was being told.
Mark Eischer: Let's compare and contrast those two accounts.
Mike Zeigler: Okay. So you heard the Genesis account from Dr. Nunes today. In the Babylonian account of how the world began, it's all warfare, warfare all the way down. So there's this war between the older gods and the younger gods. As the younger kids want to do, they don't like how things are being run by the older gods. And so, Marduk becomes one of the leaders of the younger gods and they murder the older gods. And then, Marduk leads the younger gods to create the heavens and the earth out of the dead bodies—
Mark Eischer: Wow!
Mike Zeigler: —of the loser gods. And then they use the other dead bodies to make humans beings. And what it does is it justifies the Babylonian king's behavior. He's the representative, he's the image of god, he does what Marduk did, that is destroy enemies, enslave peoples to maintain order. And when you hear that account, you can see just how different it is from the Genesis account. God in Genesis has no rivals. There's no war, He isn't a warlord, He's a Creator who delights in His creation.
Mark Eischer: And as we heard in the sermon, He pronounced it good.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, it's all good, as the student from Finland like to say. So according to the Bible, which is the true account of how things began from God Himself, our world began in peace. But it wasn't perfect in the sense of being all finished and all complete. And there's more work to be done. There's a garden to be cultivated. And this is where God's image comes in. God creates His image not to be a slave, but to be an adopted son and daughter to co-rule with God. So we got two very important differences between the Genesis account and the Babylonian account. First, God's image isn't limited to a single king, and second God's character is very different.
So first, God's image isn't limited to a king, it's all humanity, male and female. All are created in God's image to co-rule with Him and represent Him. And second, God's character that the image is supposed to represent is not a warlord, isn't an enslaver, but a caretaker, a gift-giver, even a servant. And as the account of the Bible is completed in Jesus, the eternal Son of God, we can see how by faith in Jesus, we are remade in that image by God's Spirit. We are adopted into God's family. And so, as Dr. Nunes said in the sermon, we are made in the image of God, which means for relationships in love. So this is one way you could say the good news of the Bible, is that Jesus came to restore that lost image of God so that we could rule alongside Him, serving others in love.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"O Blessed Holy Trinity" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House) Used by permission.