Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Creatures Designed for Moral Integrity

Preached on Sunday, August 22, 1999 and on Sunday, November 25, 2012

Scripture readings: Psalm 33:1-11, (13-15); Romans 1:18-25

Fall '12, My Back Yard
A four-year-old girl was jumping up and down, up and down, on her bed, and her mother heard the noise and came into her room. And the mother said to her, “Honey, you’ll get hurt if you jump on the bed.” But the little girl just said, “I won’t get hurt, Mommy.” And the Mother said, “You’ll break the bed!” And the little girl said, “I won’t break the bed.”

At that the mother gave up. “Fine then,” she said, “You’ll just have to learn live with the consequences.” 

The little girl froze when she heard this. She was suddenly almost in tears. “No Mommy, I don’t want to go and live with them... I don’t even know the Consequences.”

It is an important thing to get to know the consequences; but the consequences of what; the consequences of our mistakes? Yes! The consequences of our sins? Yes!

 What is sin? Anything we think, or say, or do, through which we raise a wall against a holy God who loves us: this is sin. Anything we think, or say or do, that raises a wall against others or damages them, even though they are creatures who belong to God: this is sin. Anything we think, or say, or do, to deceive ourselves or to damage ourselves, even though we are creatures who belong to a holy and loving God: this is sin.

There are consequences to our mistakes. There are consequences to our sins. But I don’t think we will ever really know the consequences unless we look deeper, or go further back beyond sin, before sin.

Fall '12, My Back Yard
Down at our roots, deep in our bones, back in our genes, human beings are creatures designed and made in the image of God. Part of what this means is that God’s plan was for us to live, day by day, knowing the reality of the power of God, and the goodness of God.

Paul says it is God’s eternal power and divine nature. For divine nature, the King James Version has a really strange word, the word “Godhead”, which means the “godness” of God. Maybe you could even call it the godliness of God, or the fitness of God to be God.

It is the excellence of God: God’s faithfulness, holiness, the compassion of God, the justice of God, all the attributes, all the characteristics, all the virtues of God that make God beautiful, and magnificent, and desirable. When you know what is beautiful and magnificent about God then you know what is good, and you know how to listen to God, and you know how to treat others, and you know how to live.

Once I was talking to a youth group about who God is, and about what we are. And I asked them how they would grade the human race, how would they grade human nature. And I forget whether they gave humans a “D” or an “F”. Either way, it wasn’t a good grade.

In the lines we have read in the letter to the Romans, Paul is just beginning to make the case for how bad things are, how far away each one of us is, unless we receive God’s mercy, God’s help, God’s rescue, unless we let the Lord give us a new life, through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Fall, My Front Yard
But Paul is saying that no matter how far away we are, there is still something in us that ought to recognize who God is and what goodness is. The Psalm we read talks about the human heart as belonging to God, because God made the heart.

The heart is not just the big muscle in our chest that pumps our blood. The heart is not just our feelings. In the Bible the heart means the core of you, the real you within, that decides what you want, and what you don’t want. Your heart is what holds onto dreams, or it is the part of you that schemes and connives. Your heart is the inner part of you that chooses friends, and the object of your affections. Your heart is the real, inner you that sets your course and makes your choices. Your heart is you.

And the Psalm tells us that a heart which is right with God is a life where you are able to give praise, where you are able to sing, and you know what you are singing about. Why does it say you sing? It says you sing because “the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice, and the earth is full of his unfailing love.”  This is a Psalm about those who know what the Lord loves, and they love it too: truth, faithfulness, righteousness, justice, and unfailing love.

They see it. They taste it. They want it. They follow it. They live it out. The Lord made their hearts, and this means that the Lord is the one who should be in charge of their hearts.

They don’t mind this. No, they are glad about who they belong to. And as a result they can sing. They can experience the reality of God, and see in God what is good, and they live accordingly.

Fall '12, Washtucna
The psalm also tells us that some people are in a state of war with God. The Lord made their hearts, and they ought to acknowledge that they belong to God, that the Lord is the one who has authority over them. But they don’t. They fight and do whatever they can to cut the ties.

Now the rebellion we see even in the psalm, and especially in Romans, is a universal inherited trait. It is a part of each one of us that we cannot undo by ourselves, and if we do not give ourselves up to God the rebellion will spread inside us. It will poison our life, and spread over into other people’s lives. It will take over, and win, and make us all blind to God; and it will blind us to the life God offers to us.

Now I still haven’t told you about the consequences of being moral creatures, creatures designed to know God and to know what is good. All sin comes from a rebellion against what Paul calls God’s “eternal power and divine nature.”

All sin comes from the desire that there be no one in charge and no one to tell them what is right and good. It seems to me that even a child can understand that.

All sin is destructive.

Paul says that the reality of God and the reality of goodness can be seen in what God has made. Sin destroys the ability to look at a sunrise, or a sunset, and see that it has a purpose. They say that if you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with an agnostic you get a person who knocks on your door and doesn’t know why.  Sin makes it harder and harder to look around you and see the assurance of God’s love that is written in what God has made.

God’s creation is a gift, a personal gift from God to you. Sin makes it harder and harder to see the gift. And without a gift there is nothing to be thankful for.

And part of what God has made is people. Sin makes it harder and harder to see other people as God’s creation, and harder to treat them accordingly. 
Fall '12 Historical House Washtucna

Sometimes preachers doing a wedding describe husbands and wives as being God’s hammer and chisel for each other. And I hear that it can really feel like that. But when we don’t want to be ruled by God’s power and God’s goodness we won’t see God’s hand behind the hammer and chisel.

We won’t listen because the other person is always wrong. But maybe they are not completely wrong. Maybe they only seem wrong because God has a difficult truth to give you. Part of the message of the difficult truth from God would say, “Listen, and let my power motivate you, and let my goodness lead you.” 

Your neighbors, and the people you work with, and the pool of people you have to volunteer with are all the same, all part of what God has made, all part of the message. And listening is one of the symptoms of whether or not we want to have a God who rules us and shows us his standard for what is good.

Listening! I am not sure if I am good at it. I find myself being pretty eager to prove that I am right, instead of listening to a difficult truth. I wanted to justify myself.

But justifying me is God’s work. My work is to listen. Wanting to justify myself is the same as wanting to be God on my own, and not listening to the God who rules and has the say over what is good.
Fall '12 Looking toward Bassett Park, Washtucna

This is sin. And this is destructive.

Sin is destructive because it is like a self inflicted lobotomy. A lobotomy is brain surgery where a certain part of the brain is removed. In the past lobotomies were done on criminals or the mentally ill, in order to make them controllable.

When we sin we take away part of our ability to think, and understand.  Paul says that the mentality of rebellion in us suppresses the truth.

We have a case of use it or lose it. God gave us the capacity to absorb the truth, but if we spend all our energy suppressing or ignoring the truth, we will lose the capacity. Paul uses the phrase that when rebels insist on their own way, God gives them over to what they want, God lets them live with the consequences.

They didn’t want to give thanks, so God lets their minds be darkened, because what else is thanklessness but darkness? They wanted to be wise without seeing the way God sees, so the Lord let them become foolish. They wanted freedom from the only one who gives us worth, so the Lord let them become slaves.

C. S. Lewis says (“The Problem of Pain”) that the lost, “enjoy the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self enslaved.”  When we live with unseeing, unhearing hearts, this is what happens, and this is the consequence of sin. But, deeper, this is the consequence of being created for moral integrity and abusing our creation.

'12 It Looks Like Fall, Feels Like Fall: Sign Says "Spring"!
Now, where is the gospel here? Where is the good news? Remember that God is the maker of hearts. The maker is also the owner. Even those who have done a lobotomy on themselves have, within themselves, a gap that God can fill. Someone once said that every human being has a God shaped gap that only God can fill. Augustine said, “We are restless until we find our rest in him.”

God is the maker of our hearts and lives, and God will give us a new heart in Jesus Christ. Christ died on the cross so that we could see our sin, and give ourselves up, and die to ourselves. Then we will have a new heart and a new life where we can live everyday knowing God’s power and God’s goodness, and living in what we know.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked your joke about the Jehovah's Witness and the agnostic.
    How about this: Women have many faults but men have only two: everything they say and everything they do.
    Your sermon reminded me of this joke but I realize you couldn't really use it within the sermon, it would seem to pit women against men!
    As always, a good sermon. Thank you for posting it.