- In Strength and Faith
- On Firm Foundation
- Our Fatherâ€™s World
- Knowing How, Knowing Why
- With Love and Hope Surrounded
- To Sacred Truth
- Play On Your Harp
- Coming Through Home
- Yesterday, Today, and Forever
- The One Thing Needful
- In the Face of the West Wind
- To Sacred Truth
- Not So Wild a Dream
- From Redemption to Renaissance
- Salty Days and Starry Nights
- A Holy Restlessness
- The Cross and the Glory
- Remarks - Chapel Dedication
Text: Genesis 1:26-31
This sermon was presented with the dedication of the Jones Science Center.
If a stranger came into our midst today and observed here the readers and the readings, the liturgy and the banners, the choirs and the singing of God’s people, he might logically ask, “What’s this all about? What’s all the commotion?” Well, we would answer, we have come here to dedicate a building. It is not just any building. It is a building devoted to the study of the earth and its inhabitants, the rocks and the plants, the animals and the people, the fish and the birds, the reptiles and the insects. It is the world the Psalmist spoke about as being full of beauty and wonder.
But the stranger in our midst would say, “There must be something special about this building and about what will be studied here.” That is true, for us there is something special about it. The study of life and the world is not some disconnected, isolated, esoteric discipline, because this is our Father’s world! In the First Article of our Creed, we express our belief that God created it. Indeed, we Lutherans have always affirmed the beauty and the joy of the created order. We are a culture-affirming church. So for us, to discover the truth about our Father’s world is a calling, in and of itself.
This is our Father’s world. But the stranger in our midst would say, “What do you mean by such talk?” It does not mean that we, as believers in the God, know how it was all done, but we do claim to know who did it. The church has always been in trouble when it has tried to take over science, whether we go back to the period centuries ago when well-intentioned Christians tried to write the theories of Copernicus and Galileo out of the church, or to the modern time when some claim a narrow answer, sacred or secular, to the “how” question. How the world began is an important question and we address ourselves to it with rigor in the study of science and human life. But the central question of Genesis chapter one is not how it was done, but whose world it is. Genesis speaks to that question – it is God’s world. As one commentator put it, “If this is not God’s world, even the most frenzied arguments could not make it so. But if it is God’s world, we do not need to be afraid of anything it actually reveals.” On that we base, finally, our academic freedom to pursue the facts and to test all things, for in God’s world, we need not fear what is revealed about how the world was created. This, we believe, is the key to both right-minded science and sound theology. God created it. It is His world. That is an article of faith.
Another of the revelations of Genesis about God’s world is that we have a special place in it. First of all, we have a special relationship to the Creator. In the book of Genesis, the plants and the animals are referred to in impersonal terms, but God refers to human beings in personal terms. Indeed, God spoke to Adam and Eve as “thou” and “you.” Unique among all the elements of creation, we are designed to be in fellowship with God. The history of Israel, the life of Christ and the ministry of Paul all underscore that promise. Relationship and family, parent and child, many members of one body with Christ as the head – our tradition is built on the images and reality of relationships. As Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist, once put it to a group of scientists, “The mystery of man can be understood only if you put him into relation to Him who gives him his life, calls him by name….” Martin Luther put it similarly when he said that our dignity as human beings does not rest on our own human qualities, but rather upon the relationship with which God dignifies us. “He makes us His partner, He addresses us, He allows us to deal with Him.”
The second quality of human beings is that we were given special sovereignty. We are told in Genesis that after God created male and female, He blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply; 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 that that moves upon the earth.” A biblical scholar described this sovereignty in these words: “If a man is cold, he may light a fire; and if he is hot, he may build an air conditioner. Animals within the limits of their instincts must adjust to the environment, they cannot change it. Man can change it for better or for worse.”
This sovereignty does not mean that we are to despoil the earth and make of it what we will, no, it’s a delegated sovereignty, and therefore we stand in a position of responsibility. The noted theologian Helmut Thielicke put it, “We are not to rule and subdue the earth because we stand above the other creatures, but only because we stand under God and are privileged to be His viceroys.” The sciences of earth and humanity that will be pursued in this building we dedicate are means by which we are privileged to exercise the sovereignty of God. Doctors will be trained to discover the orders of creation and push back the barriers of disease, teachers will be prepared to understand people and communicate truth, and future servants in society will discover and embody the things that make for community.
We humans are special in that we stand in relationship to God and we have been given sovereignty. We are special in still a third way – we have been given a particular freedom. We have been given the freedom to choose between good and evil, between justice and injustice, between obedience and rebellion. While the other creatures of the world cannot fail to fulfill their destiny, human beings were given that capacity. We may find great joy, great fulfillment, or great tragedy according to our exercise of that freedom. We can understand our relationship, our dominion, and our freedom as gifts of God, giving us a special place in His world. They were given to us as blessings so that we would have the potential for joy, for fulfillment and for fellowship with the Father. “For God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
But the stranger in our midst, hearing the story I have told, might still say, “Well, things were great to start with, but what happened?” More particularly, he might charge that a funny thing happened on the way to the garden. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. These people with a special relationship to God, individuals with special sovereignty and freedom, they did the wrong thing after all!
We call it “the Fall.” I think the first thing we want to recognize about the fall is that it was really quite a subtle thing. The devil was a wily person. He made an offer that seemed innocent, “Why don’t you have this apple?” Indeed, why not? Isn’t it so that our decisions often turn on subtle points? A voice within us says, “I’ll show you a fascinating thing, I’ll give you a comfortable place, wouldn’t you enjoy some prestige, some social acceptance? Why not have a little fun and it won’t even cost you anything! After all, you deserve to be happy.” There are lots of apples in the garden – sweet, delicious and innocent enough. The tempter often comes to us in the guise of respectability, in the pursuit of happiness. And, after all, it should be our right in the pursuit of happiness to produce as much as we can so that we may eat as much as we like. That is also like picking an apple from a tree in an abundant orchard.
A recent report on the future called “Global 2000” tells us that the world’s population will increase 55 percent by the year 2000, the world’s tillable soil will be menaced by erosion and the buildup of salt and alkali will contribute to hundreds of millions of people being hungry. By one estimate, “between half a million and two million species – largely insects and plants – could be extinct by 2000, mainly because of air pollution and the loss of natural habitats.” And because we have to protect ourselves, we and the Russians build armament upon armament. I mean, we want security and so it seems as easy as picking an apple from a tree to build more missiles. But with each decision we increase the chances of unintentional missile flights and world holocaust. And, mind you, each of the decisions leading to these consequences is subtle – kind of like deciding whether or not to take an apple from the garden.
But sin does not come only in the form of the subtle choosing of an apple. It also comes to us in the form of murder in the field, acts of calculation and volition. When Cain slew Abel it was an act of volition, a murder in the field. So it was when David slew the husband of Bathsheba. So, too, it was in Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that were warned of their impending doom. The holocaust was no set of subtle decisions but a grand design for evil, made by knowing and rational men. Today when millions of people are sent out of a South Asian country to become the innocent victims of starvation, it is indeed murder in the field. Even now, the suppression of freedom to the innocent millions in Namibia stands as an indictment of our brand of civilized conduct.
Adam and Eve were given the knowledge of good and evil and the freedom to choose between the two. It was part of their sovereignty. It was integral to their freedom. Cain and Abel had that choice, too, and all the rest down through the ages to ourselves. Sometimes the choice is like choosing an apple from a tree in the garden and other times like committing murder in the field. This is our Father’s world, but when you look at our record in this sophisticated and scientific age, you are pretty confident that God would say, “It is not good.” And so, like Adam and Eve, we want to run and hide, whether we have been taking apples from the garden or committing murder in the field.
But in the face of all this, the most important truth of all is that the Father of our world continues to claim us. Indeed, God’s creative activity goes on. He did not windup the world like a clock and go away to leave us to our own devices and the world to some inevitable catastrophe. No, God created us to be in relationship to Him and God continues to create relationship. Because of their choices, Adam and Eve were turned out of the garden and made to labor, but they were not removed from God’s presence. And Cain, who slew Able, God did not send him to some ultimate fate. No, instead, God put His mark of protection and providence on him. And David -- who killed the husband of his lover -- David, who lamented over his enemies and pain, God stayed in touch with David. God did not abandon Job, who felt put upon and tested. And He would not let go of Paul, in spite of his persecution, or Peter, in spite of his denials. Each of these people and hundreds of others in the Bible story chose to break relationship with God, but in each case, God reached out to re-create their relationship. And then, God sent His Son to make the statement for all time and all peoples, and He sent His Spirit, who dwells with us still, restoring and renewing relationship.
This God, who counts the hairs on our heads, you better believe He knows our daily anxieties. And this God, who cares about one lost sheep, you can be sure, knows about those starving in Uganda and seeking freedom in Namibia and South Africa. If a thousand years in his sight is like a day, then He is the God of our history – yours, mine and this college’s. This is our Father’s world and God continues to create relationship with us. Yes, and He also renews the invitation to have dominion over the earth. Paul tells us that reconciliation and wholeness is the plan. In Christ, God renewed the call to have dominion over the earth by calling us to be His disciples, to feed His sheep, to look after the hungry and diseased and to be His ambassadors in reconciling the world to Himself.
We are partners in the ongoing work of creation, this is the premise for this college, for the building we dedicate, and for the teachers and students who will inhabit this place. Look at the history of the partnership in creation through the graduates of the departments we recognize today:
- a home economics graduate combines a career in university teaching with pioneering educational efforts in the underdeveloped nations of South America
- a biology graduate attains international prominence in parasitology, while pushing back the night of one of the largest groups of killer diseases in the world
- another graduate is in charge of providing food for university students in Tanzania
- still another is recognized as the outstanding high school biology teacher in his state
- other alumni serve on the medical staff of the most prestigious clinic in the world
- while yet others provide for the health needs in isolated rural areas, serving as both community leaders and health specialists
- and there have been medical missionaries by the dozen, and school and university teachers by the hundreds, all involved in continuing, creative activities in our Father’s world
God saw everything He made, and behold, it was very good! Not the sins of Adam and Eve, or David and Paul, or Hitler and the Viet Cong, or you and me – none of that can separate us from the re-creating love of God. And surely, we have experienced the creative work of God in our lives, in this place, among our people. In that sure and certain hope, we dedicate a place of study to be part of God’s continuing creation. In this sure and certain hope, we, the citizens of God’s world, can sing a new song. Amen.