21 June 2015

Christ Orders His Creation in Peace

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.  By His Word and Spirit He brought forth light out of the darkness, and He established a beautiful and brilliant order throughout His Creation.  It is still by His Word and Spirit that He creates and gives life and upholds all things in their proper place.  Whereas, apart from His Word and Spirit, creation collapses back into chaos.

Now there is such chaos in the world on account of man’s sin.  For the Lord God, who made the man in His Image, also gave the man dominion over the creation.  By the Word of the Lord, the man was to exercise authority over the earth, to govern it according to the good order that God had put into place, and to act as God’s own agent and representative.  Thus, for example, it was the man who gave names to all the animals.  So, too, the man and his wife were to fill the earth with children, and to subdue it, not as tyrants, but as a godly king and queen over God’s good creation.  When the woman and the man deviated from God’s Word and reversed the order of His creation, they opened the floodgates to the deep dark waters of chaos: Real storms that wreak havoc on land, at sea, and in the air, and a host of metaphorical storms that threaten you inside and out.

Even after the fall into sin, man still attempts to exercise dominion; and so you should, in keeping with your place in life, your office and station, according to the Ten Commandments.  The chaos of sin and death is undone by the right logic of the Word of God, by the keeping of His good and acceptable will.  When you fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and you listen to His Word and call upon His Name, and you honor your father and your mother, and you faithfully love and cherish your spouse, and you do no harm to your neighbor but help him in every way that you can, then the light shines in the darkness, and the chaos gives way to a beautiful order and form.

Yet, man attempts to exercise dominion, not by living under the authority of God’s Word, but by imposing his own will against his neighbor, and by pitting his own strength against the challenges and dangers of life in a fallen world.  He sets his own wisdom, ingenuity, and skill to the task of survival.  He takes on the chaos like an exhilarating adventure.  He thrills at the prospect of riding the storm out and forcing it to serve his purposes.  He harnesses the wind and dams the water.

It can be an invigorating contest, up until the point when it all goes horribly wrong and becomes life-threatening.  Then it’s no fun anymore, but scary.  Not only the danger that threatens your body and life, but the overcoming of your will, that is the most disturbing chaos.  The danger can be a thrill, but not the realization that you are powerless, that you are at the whim of wind and wave.  That is when the chaos rolls over you completely and drags you down into its depths of darkness.

The external chaos is bad enough, whether it be a destructive storm, an oppressive boss, unruly children, or financial calamity.  Those outside forces make you angry or afraid, or both, and they can fill your days and nights with anxiety.

Even more alarming and disarming than the outward turmoil is the chaos within you which drives your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions.  You would like to believe that you’re in charge of those things; that, whereas others may push you around and refuse to listen to you, at least you have your own mind, your own will, and that you’re still your own person.  Except that the storms inside of you are tossing you about and threatening to overwhelm you as much or more than anything that rages against you from without.  Even there, within yourself, you’re powerless to take control.  Lustful thoughts seize your mind, no matter how hard you try to resist them.  Envy and jealousy drive you to resent and avoid the very neighbor you are called to love and care for.  Bitterness and regret cast long dark shadows across your heart, no matter how pleasant your outward demeanor may be.  Failure and disappointment rob you of any confidence or ambition.

In the face of all such storms, within and without, the Lord Jesus has come to help you, and He is here with you.  He is the Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, who with His Word brings peace and calm to His Creation.  He undoes the chaos and orders all things rightly with His divine Wisdom.  Even the winds and waves obey Him.  For He is the Word-made-Flesh by whom all things are made, and He is the true Man who exercises godly dominion over God’s Creation.

But why, then, are the disciples even more afraid when Jesus has quieted the wind and stilled the waves than they were of the storm in the first place?  That is what St. Mark has written:  Before, they were afraid because they were perishing, but afterwards they are very much afraid.  Why?  And why are you so afraid of the good and right ordering that Jesus establishes by His Word?

Such fear is another aspect of the chaos inside of you.  It is the fear of sin and death, instead of the faith and love of God.  For in your fallen state, the power and authority and right ordering of the Word of Christ confronts you and challenges you with the force of the Law, with the imposing of His will upon whatever is contrary to His Word.  So, yes, all the chaos in the world that threatens you must obey Him and submit to Him.  But so is your own chaotic and sinful behavior confronted by the authority of His commands, and your own stubborn will is silenced and stilled before Him.

That recognition of the Lord and His authority, according to the power and judgment of His Law, is even more frightening than the chaos that rages all around you.  For it presses upon you and contradicts your will, and in a single stroke it undoes all of your self-righteousness and sin.

That’s what you hear when Jesus speaks and the winds and waves obey Him.  And that’s what you hear when the Lord speaks to Job in response to that poor man’s worries and complaints.  That’s what you hear in response to your own sufferings, your struggles and sorrows.  After all, who are you (a finite fallen creature) to call into question or complain about the judgments of the Lord?

But God is not backhanding Job with chastisement when He speaks.  He does not add yet another crushing blow atop the assaults and accusations of the devil.  He does not compound the chaos, and neither does He calm things down by constraining and compelling Job to “shut up.”  Rather, He quiets Job with comfort and consolation in his suffering.  The Lord reveals the mysterious truth that suffering is not a mark of His displeasure, nor is it foreign to His good and gracious purpose.

It is true that the Law reveals the good and right order of God’s world, as He intends it to be and to live.  But there is a deeper and different authority of the Law than its demands and prohibitions, than its threats and punishments.  All of these confront you and accuse you, and weigh so heavily upon you, but only because your heart and mind, your body and spirit, and the whole sinful world around you, are out of order and chaotic with sinful unbelief and stubborn disobedience.  At the heart of the Law itself, however, is the harmony of faith and love, the peaceful unity of the Holy Triune God, who lives in perfect freedom and acts in perfect love, who gives life to those who are His own creatures, to those whose very existence is brought about by His free choice of grace.

Which is also to say that the foundation and good order of Creation, as well as the fulfillment of the Law, is finally nothing else and nothing less than Christ the Crucified.  He is the Cornerstone, not only of His Church, but of the heavens and the earth and of all things, visible and invisible.  From before the foundation of the world, this Lamb was slain for the life and salvation of all flesh, and God’s good Creation is now completed and perfected in the Resurrection of this same Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.  His Self-sacrifice upon the Cross is the Self-giving Love of God, the divine grace by which and for which whatever is made has been made.

As the Lord your God established His Creation upon the dying and rising of Christ Jesus, so does He renew His Creation and bring it into peace and quiet, not by imposing His sovereign will upon it, nor by forcing and constraining it to obey the rules and behave, but by entering into it, becoming part of it, and establishing the good order of His Word and Will in Himself, in His own flesh.

The Son of God enters the waters of St. Mary’s womb, and He is born from those waters under the Law, in order to redeem those under the Law.  He then enters the waters of St. John’s baptism in the Jordan River, thereby submitting Himself to sacrificial death as the Lamb of God for the sins of the world, and from those waters He emerges to make His way steadfastly to the Cross.  So does He also embark upon the sea, in order to cross over with His people — through death into life — and He too is found on the boat in the chaotic storm, amid the raging winds and thrashing waves.

He is on board “just as He is.”  He has flesh and blood like you.  He sleeps because He is true Man.  That means, not only that He has gotten tired and must sleep, just as you must take your rest, but also that He lives by faith, as you are called to live.  Only, where you often cannot sleep but toss and turn at night, He rests in peace and quietness while the winds and waves toss the boat about.  It is neither exhaustion, nor laziness, nor a lack of care and concern for His fellows, but faith and trust in His Father which enable the Lord Jesus to sleep in peace even in the midst of chaos.

He lives as true Man by entrusting Himself entirely to His God and Father, in order to live entirely from Him.  This is how all of Creation, and man in particular, is created to live.  So that is how Jesus lives, and that is how He dies.  For not only does He lay Himself down to sleep in the peace of His Father, but so does He lay down His life, even unto death, in the confidence of His Father’s love and care for Him.  But consider the striking contrast between His peaceful sleeping and His panic-stricken disciples, who wonder whether He even cares that they are perishing.

And yet, it is in His sleeping, even unto death upon the Cross, that He fully sets Himself, His faith, and His love against the chaos of sinful unbelief.  His voluntary suffering and death, in faithful obedience to His God and Father, atones for all of man’s sin and remedies the brokenness of the Creation.  So, too, it is in His rising from the dead that all of Creation is fully restored in peace, as life and immortality are brought to light through the preaching of the Gospel.  When He wakes and rises from His sleep, He speaks, and all becomes perfectly calm.

It is in His dying and rising that Christ Jesus receives the authority to exercise a godly dominion of love over all of His Creation.  For He is the one true God, who has become true Man and given Himself for all mankind.  Because He has risen from the dead, the whole earth is full of His Glory.

Nowhere is that Glory of God more clear than in the Holy Communion.  There the Lord exercises dominion over His Creation by taking bread and wine and giving them to you as His own Body and Blood, crucified and risen, as Meat and Drink indeed for your own body of flesh and blood.  He uses His dominion to bless and sanctify Creation, to love and to give life by giving Himself.  And right there, in His Body and His Blood, is the heart and center of His Peace.  For the Peace of the Lord, the Pax Domini, is with you in this Holy Sacrament, given and poured out for you, for the forgiveness of all your sins.  With this forgiveness, the winds and waves are hushed and stilled.

This, then, is how He truly cares for you in all things, in body and soul, both now and forever.  Not by enslaving you, but by feeding you with Himself, with His own flesh, and by forgiving you with His own voice of the Gospel.  He speaks, and it is so.

As you hear this Word of His and receive His gifts, remember that you are baptized into Him; that you are in the boat with Him, and He is in the boat with you, that is, within the Holy Ark of His Church.  And here you are safe in the midst of the storm, even though you are sometimes so afraid, and even though it seems as though your Lord were sleeping and not very much concerned about you.  He has laid Himself down to sleep in flesh and blood like yours, so that you may find your peace and rest and quiet sleep in Him, and that He should raise you up with Himself in His rising.

By the authority of His Cross and the Resurrection of His Body, by the power of His indestructible life, He stills the storm, He quiets the waves, He calms your heart and mind with His Peace, and He brings you through the deadly waters into the safe harbor and salvation of His Kingdom.  For all of Creation is made brand new and beautiful in His crucified and risen Body.  And you are a member of His Body, here and now and hereafter in eternity, even as you eat His Body and drink His Blood.  So does He abide in you, and so do you abide in Him in perfect Peace.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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