"Play Your Part"#87-02
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 8, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 2
Did you ever get to be in a school play? I got to be in a couple of them. I still remember my line from one of them. That's right I said my line. It wasn't a really big part, but I still remember it. The play was called at Fat Fat Jehoshaphat. It was a chronicle of an ancient Middle Eastern king, and my friend Steve, he got to be the King Jehoshaphat. Steve was as skinny as a rail and so the teacher had to put a couch cushion under his robe so that he could be Fat Fat Jehoshaphat. And in act one of the play, the king, Steve's character, declares a fast, no food. And then in act two, he comes back out on stage minus the cushion, because of the fast, and then we all sang a song about flat, flat, Jehoshaphat.
So, I had a small role in the play. I got to be one of the generals in Jehoshaphat's army. And I got to wear a beard—not one of those hokey beards that you put on your head with an elastic band but the kind they actually glue on your face. And I think about it, it was a lot of work for one line but the line, I remember it, it was when the messenger comes in and tells the king that there's this giant army coming to fight and attack us. And the messenger says, "The Moabites are coming! The Moabites are coming!" And my line was "The Moabites, not the Moabites! They're so tough they gargle peanut butter in the morning."
Science, technology, engineering, math: STEM. STEM is all the rage in education these days, but every drama teacher will advocate to keep the performing arts in the curriculum. Every kid who has a part in the school play no matter how big or how small gets the firsthand experience of the real-life tension between freedom, on the one hand, and responsibility, on the other—between creative expression and constructive criticism. Life is like that, right? You have a part on the stage of life. It's your part, no one else can play it. And within that role, within that part, you have freedom of creative expression. At the same time it is a role. There are boundaries. There are limitations, and when you transgress those boundaries, things don't go well for you.
It's like the softball team that I played on in high school. I was playing third base, but I didn't trust the guy playing shortstop. And so I tried to play my position and his as well. It didn't go well for the team dynamics. When you pull a stunt like that, you get destructive criticism from the other players on your team because every role has its limits; it has its boundaries, and when you transgress them things go poorly. It's a good way to understand life in general and a good way to understand life as a follower of Jesus.
Through faith in Jesus, you have been set apart for a part on the stage of God's creation. God is the playwright, the creative genius, the Shakespeare behind this play. And Jesus is the star performer, the Holy Spirit is the director, and you have a part. How do you play your part? You play it with a script. You play it without a tryout. You play it with freedom, and you play it with responsibility.
First of all, you play it with a script. Where do you get your script? Immerse yourself in Scripture, and you'll find your script. You could start with this Scripture from Genesis 2. Listen to it and see if you find your script. Genesis 2:7, "And the Lord God formed the man." In Hebrew the word is Adam. The Lord God formed the Adam, Adam, "The Lord God formed Adam out of the dust of the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Adam became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there He set Adam whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasing to the site and good for food. And the tree of life was there in the middle of the garden also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
"So, the Lord God took Adam and placed him, rested him, in the garden of Eden, to work it and to keep it, to cultivate it and to guard it. And the Lord God said to Adam, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat. Because in the day that you eat of it you will certainly die.' Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good for Adam to be alone. I will make a helper fit for him.' And out of the ground, the Lord God had formed all the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and He brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, and whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name. And Adam named all the beasts and the birds of the heavens and the animals of the field. But for Adam, there was not found a helper fit for him.
"So, the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon him, and He removed one of his ribs and closed its place up with flesh, and from the rib that the Lord God had taken from Adam He made into a woman. And He brought her to him, and Adam said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She will be called woman because she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man leaves his father and his mother and holds fast to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the two of them, Adam and his wife, we're naked and they were not ashamed before each other." The Word of the Lord from Genesis 2.
I just graduated from college. I was 23 years old, I had just gotten married, and I had started a new job in the military. The Lord God had placed me in the garden of my new profession, and I was reaping the fruit of my labor in the form of a paycheck. For eight months I had received a paycheck on the first and the 15th of the month, but I had never taken the time to look at the details of the pay stub. But that day I did, and I noticed that something was amiss.
So, I called up the finance department and I told them, "I think there's a problem with my pay." And the representative on the other line, she took my information and I hear her clicking on the keyboard and she says, "Yes sir, there is an error in your pay. You've been overpaid for the last eight months, and you now owe $2,160. Would you like to pay all that in one lump sum or in 12 monthly installments?"
And I say, "What? How much?"
"$2,160! That's a whole month's worth of pay. How? I can't pay that. I've got other bills to pay. My wife is pregnant, and we're having a baby. We can't pay that."
"Well, I'm sorry sir that it's your responsibility to make sure that your pay is accurate."
"But I brought the mistake to you. I told you about it." "Yes sir but it's your responsibility to pay the debt."
And so, I hung up and began to think about how I would explain this to my new bride, my wife, who was very pregnant and very much in the nesting phase. How do I play my part in that situation? How do you play your part in your situation? Sometimes it doesn't feel like there's a script. Sometimes it doesn't feel like there is a God, at least a God who knows enough and cares enough to write a good script for your life. And I think when we fear that we are enticed to try to write a script on our own.
Adam and Eve in the very next chapter of Genesis are afraid in that way, and they are enticed to write a script on their own. And we do that when we don't trust the Playwright to do right by what He started. When you try to write a script on your own, things don't go well. When I've tried things have not gone well for me. You have a part to play on God's stage. God created you for it. Jesus redeemed you for it. The Holy Spirit gives you breath, so you can speak your lines and fill your part. Within your role you have freedom. You have room for creative expression. God encouraged Adam to be creative in his role. Remember, the Lord God brought to Adam all the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens to see what he would call them, and whatever Adam called every living creature that was its name. God did not string up Adam like a puppet. You are not a puppet. You have a part to play. You have freedom in your role. At the same time, you have responsibility not only to God but also to the others on the stage.
The good news is that you and I have a brilliant playwright, and He has not lost control of the stage. Not only is He loving, not only is He powerful, He is a creative genius. What else would you expect from the God who created Shakespeare and Mozart and Einstein? Now He will let you go your own way. He will let me go my own way. He'll let us make mistakes, and He'll let us do things wrong, and you can see it all throughout the book of Genesis. You can see it through the whole Scriptures, and at the same time, you can see Him working through it, and in it, and in spite of it. Out of the strutting and the fretting, out of the sound and the fury, He is crafting an all-encompassing-of-life-giving, a redemptive drama.
If you doubt it, look to the cross of Jesus. It was the worst evil and God flipped it, He turned it to the highest good. And the cross has become the sign of His sacrificial love, the sign of His resurrection power, the sign of His creative genius, for the sake of all who remain in the ensemble of His Son. Jesus the Messiah is risen from the dead. He is the star performer. Let His Father be your playwright. Let His Spirit direct your script. You have a part to play, and you have a script. You don't have to write the script on your own.
Where do you find your script? Immerse yourself in Scripture. You can start with Genesis 2. There's more than enough to start with there. The first thing I want you to notice in Genesis 2 is that there were no tryouts for these parts. There were no tryouts for Adam and Eve. Did you try out for your birth on the world stage? No. It is simply by the gracious choice of the playwright that we get to be a part of it.
Let me illustrate. I want you to take a deep breath through your nose and let it out. That breath that's in you is the same breath that was in the first human character on this stage. That breath that's in you is the same breath that the Lord Jesus breathed out in His life-giving final breath from the cross. That's your breath. That's God's breath. He gave it to you so that you could play your part. You have a part. God created you for it. Jesus redeemed you for it. The Spirit breathes life into you for it. You have freedom of expression in your part, creativity in your part.
Think about how God brought the animals to Adam. God brought the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens to see what Adam would call them. God encouraged creative expression and whatever he called every living creature that was its name. You have the freedom to create within your role. At the same time, you have responsibility within your role—not only responsibility to God but responsibility to everybody else on the stage. This is not a solo performance. "It is not good for Adam to be alone," the Lord God said. "I will make a helper fit for him." Now the word "helper" it is not a derogatory term. Again and again, in the Psalms it is God who is referred to as the Helper. And so Eve, she is not there just to do Adam's bidding without question, she is there on a mission from God to help Adam in his mission, to work and keep, to cultivate and guard, to care for the creation. She has a mission. He has a mission. You have a mission. You have a part. Your part is like theirs but not exactly.
Every part in this drama is custom fit. It's your part. No one else can play it. Are you a son or a daughter? Are you a man or a woman? You don't have to try to be something else. Are you a husband or a wife? Are you a part of a household or an extended household? You don't have to look for other people. You have a part right there with them, so play your part because you are a part of God's household, of the body of Christ, of the bride of Christ. So play your part.
So, it was time for me to play my part. I went home that afternoon and had to explain to my new bride that we owed a debt of $2,160 to the United States Government. And she said, "What!?"
I said, "It was their mistake, but we have to pay it."
And she said, "Why do we have to pay for their mistake?"
"I don't know. That's what they said." I told her.
"We can't pay that. We're going to have a baby. We haven't even bought a crib."
And I said, "I know. I explained the situation to them. I called the finance department, but they said, 'There's nothing we can do.' We just have to trust God to get us through this."
And she said, "I know God will get us through this, but you can't give up that easy. You need to do something. Isn't there someone else you could talk to?"
And I said, "No. I talked to the finance department. There's no one else I can talk to."
And she said, "I don't believe that there's no one else you can talk to. There's always someone else you can talk to. You need to talk to somebody else."
I said, "I tried. There's nothing I can do. It's out of my hands."
And she said, "So you just, you're not going to do anything more? You're not going to try any more?"
I said, "No, I did everything I could."
And she said, "You're just giving up then?"
And I said, "Yeah, what do you want me to do?"
And she said, "I want you to fight for our family. I want you to fight for our family," she told me. "I want you to play your part."
And so, the next day I went back to work, and I discovered that there was an appeal process that I had overlooked. It was lengthy, there was a lot of paperwork. We worked on it at the kitchen table for several nights the rest of that week. We got all our documentation in order, and I took it to work, and I showed it to some of my coworkers, and asked them for feedback, and they gave us advice on how to strengthen the case. And then, we folded it all up, and sealed it in an envelope, and stamped it, and sent it off, and we prayed, and we also planned. We planned how we would adjust our budget and start saving so that we could pay off the debt if it came to that. We played our part, and we turned everything over into the hands of the One who holds the script.
And a few months later in classic government speed, we got a letter back, and they had erased the debt—everything except for about $141 and change. The only thing that I wished we would have done more of is sing like Jehoshaphat. The Bible doesn't tell us whether or not Jehoshaphat was fat, but the book of 2 Chronicles reports that when he got the news that the army was coming to attack, and they fasted, and they sought the Lord, Jehoshaphat played his part. And he sent out the army to meet them, but he sent the choir out ahead of them to sing praise to God in anticipation of the victory to sing in advance of the victory. That's also our part.
Would you pray with me? Father, You have brought us into the drama of Your creation and the redemption through Your Son Jesus, and we didn't even try out. He has fought for us. He has won the victory for us. And so, help us play our part. In His Name. Amen.
Note: The Lutheran Hour is produced for the ear and designed to be heard. If you are able, we encourage you to listen to the audio at lutheranhour.org. It includes emotion and emphasis not reflected in the transcript.
Reflections for September 8, 2019
Title: Play Your Part
Mike Zeigler: We're continuing our series on the book of Genesis, and we're in Genesis 2 and 3 today. Also as a part of this, we've created a sister program, a new podcast called "Speaking of Jesus." And so that's a conversation that took place after The Lutheran Hour message was recorded. If you wanted to check that out, find that wherever you get your podcasts, it's called "Speaking of Jesus."
Mike Zeigler: Again, I have my friend and Professor Dr. Chuck Arand joining me from Concordia Seminary, St Louis. Good to have you back.
Chuck Arand: Thanks Mike. I always look forward to our conversations.
Mike Zeigler: We listened to Genesis 2 and 3. What does this account show us about what it means to be human? I know this is a question you've been asking for decades is—"What does it mean to be human?" And it's a question our culture asks all the time, and we struggle with.
Chuck Arand: Yeah, it is a big question in our culture given artificial intelligence. Once upon a time, human was defined in terms of rationality. Well, what do you do with computers and artificial intelligence?
Mike Zeigler: And we talk about host-humanism and transhumanism, and what's the future ... we can engineer ourselves.
Chuck Arand: Exactly.
Mike Zeigler: Big questions.
Chuck Arand: So now, we're going to answer the question in just a couple minutes.
Mike Zeigler: Right. Have at it.
Chuck Arand: Well, this won't be an exhaustive answer, but I think in light of Genesis 2, you can at the very early say that having been created in the image of God, according to Genesis 1, we were created for the purpose of looking after God's creation. And so you have the sense already in Genesis 2 that there was nothing sort of growing in the field. Why? Because there was no human to tend the field. And so God creates a human being out of the dust of the ground, breathes life into him, and then puts him in the garden in verse 15, for a purpose: to work the garden and protect the garden, or to care for the garden.
Mike Zeigler: It goes with what we were talking about last week with those words, "rule," "subdue," "exercise dominion." You have two new words introduced in Genesis 2, which I think is roughly translated "to guard" or "to keep," "to serve," even. The word is ...
Chuck Arand: The word `abad could literally be translated "to serve," but it's generally translated as "to cultivate."
Mike Zeigler: Cultivate.
Chuck Arand: Yeah, and you can kind of see there the word "culture"—that we cultivate, are creators of culture. And the other is to guard, almost in the sense of, I suspect, maintaining the fruitfulness of the garden.
Mike Zeigler: What about this calling? Say more about what we are called to do.
Chuck Arand: Richard Bauckham, an English New Testament scholar, suggested then this is why God also created us out of the ground, in the same way He create all the animals out of the ground. So we have that in common, you might say.
Richard Bauckham suggest that an analogy might be is when Israel decided they wanted to have a king because all the other nations had a king, and they want to be like the other nations. God didn't initially want them to have a king, but He says, "Fine, you can have a king, but here's the deal. You are not to make a foreigner or choose a foreigner, as a king. You must choose a brother as a king." Bauckham suggests, and I think he's right, that the reason for that is if you choose a foreigner, he might want to become a tyrant. But if you choose a brother, that brother is to remember that he's ruling over brothers and sisters.
In an analogous fashion, God doesn't give angels the responsibility of having domain over his creation. He gives human creatures that responsibility. Creatures were made out of the ground like all the other creatures. In other words, when we rule, we got to remember that we are ruling over, or governing over, or looking after, fellow creatures of the ground.
Mike Zeigler: That is quite profound when you think that God would send His Son to become a fellow creature.
Chuck Arand: Exactly. To redeem human creatures, and by redeeming human creatures, to bring the rest of creation with us.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)