1st Sunday in Lent
March 5th/6th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
The most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the average American spends almost 3 hours a day watching television. That’s over 20 hours each week spent absorbing information, worldview, and perspective from the world around us. That’s almost a full day of each week spent letting the world tell you how to view sexuality and gender, how to view religion and ritual, how to understand the flow of history and our place in it. That’s almost a full day each week where the sinful and unbelieving world gets to mold and shape your perspective according to its assumptions, creeds, and worldview. It’s well over 1,000 hours each year where the chisel of the world gets to sculpt you in its own image.
This is not to say that Christians shouldn’t watch television – that’s not the point at all. The point is to emphasize how important it is to understand the world in which we live. Christian speaker Tim Elmore says that Christians are to be like thermostats, not simply thermometers. Thermometers tell the temperature. They monitor the temperature, but they don’t do anything about it. Thermostats, on the other hand, don’t merely monitor the temperature – they respond when the temperature gets too high or too low. While a thermometer passively lays there and lets the air around it affect it, the thermostat responds. He says Christians are called to be thermostats, not simply sitting by passively as the world around us changes the temperature, not merely reflecting the too hot or too cold temperature of our world like a thermometer would, but responding when the temperature gets out of balance. My point in bringing up the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not to say Christians should stop watching all television, but that Christians should be aware of how great an impact our entertainment culture has on shaping our perspective, our assumptions, and our presuppositions. It is a competing voice, and we should not sit back passively and let the competing voice control our thoughts. Instead, as Paul says, we should take every thought captive to Christ.
God’s people have always struggled with competing voices. In fact, there are many theologians (myself included) who would argue that each temptation, at its core, is the temptation to listen to a competing voice above the voice of our Lord. We see it in the very first temptation, the very first sin. Our Lord placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to tend it and work it. He gave them everything they would ever need. He gave them food through the trees of the Garden. He gave them companionship in each other. He gave them purpose through their task of tending the Garden. He gave them language not only to name the animals but also to communicate with each other. He gave them the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to remind them that they need not eat of that one, for all their needs were provided by their loving Creator. The tree was a reminder of their creatureliness, of their place as those who relied on God to provide for them, to protect them, and to act in their best interests. He gave them himself to tie it all together in perfect harmony. Their life was perfect.
But a competing voice came in and said, “So God has told you not to eat from this Tree? It is not because he loves you, but because he knows that in day you eat of it you will become like him, knowing good and evil.” And Eve listened to the voice of the Serpent instead of to the voice of her Lord. She ate the fruit, and she fell. Adam listened to the voice of his wife instead of to the voice of his Lord. He ate the fruit, and he fell. Make no mistake about it – it was a voice crafty in its deception. “You will not surely die,” the voice said. And they did not keel over immediately the instant the forbidden fruit touched their lips. There was a truth-sounding deception in the temptation. “You will be like God, knowing good and evil,” the voice said. And it was right. After the bite Adam and Eve did indeed know evil for the first time. Before that, all they had known was good. Now, they knew good and evil. Of course, the question, “Is evil something you really want to know?” was never asked. There was a truth in the voice’s deception. But Adam and Eve found out too late that knowing evil is not all the Serpent had said it would be. But the voice is sweet sounding. It is seductive. It is temptation.
And it’s not the voice of our Lord. It’s not the voice of the Creator. But it is a voice that whispers into our ears today. It is a voice that has already seduced the world in which we live, and it’s message is not so different than it was in Eden. The voice tempted Adam and Eve to reject their place as the creatures of God. “Become like God,” it said. “Be a creature no more.” The voice speaks the same temptation today, and sadly, much of our world has listened. Even worse, much of the church has listened, for Christians are not immune from the temptations of the evil one. “Are you really content to be merely a creature?” the voice asks. “Aren’t you so much more than that? Has God really created you male or female?” the voice says. “It is not for your good,” the voice says, “but this talk of creatureliness is simply holding back your true authentic self. Your body is not part of who you are,” the voice says, “who you really are is inside. Maybe your body reflects your identity, maybe it doesn’t. But that doesn’t matter,” the voice says. “Just embrace your true identity. Be a creature no more. Do not let some Creator God control your identity. Determine it for yourself, however you see fit.”
And our world, seeing that the notion of being god of my own identity is desirous for eating, reaches out and takes a big bite. And they turn and offer you a bite with every television show, internet meme, or expert interview that argues biology simply gets in the way of identity. And Christians are tempted to take the bite. We know what our Lord’s Word says, but we are confused. We want to be compassionate. We want to be helpful. We want to be people of mercy. The problem is, like Adam and Eve had no notion of what it really meant to know good and evil, we have no idea where this ideology ends. Like Adam and Eve had no idea what it meant to know both good and evil, we have no idea what is at stake if we give up the notion of being God’s creatures and try to be like God ourselves? We are called upon to trust our Lord’s Word in this matter and to faithfully confess that biology matters when it comes to identity, marriage, family, parenting, and every other aspect of life. God created them male and female for a reason. God created you male or female for a reason. The voice of God says to receive your sexuality as a gift, a fundamental part of your identity given not by mistake, but by design. The competing voice says differently. The temptation is there.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just about gender or biology. Already through something known as CRISPR technology scientists possess the ability to manipulate genomes. It basically works like editing a document on your computer. Scientists can look at the genetic coding of a living thing, isolate certain aspects of the genetic code, and change it. What does that mean? It means they can manipulate an embryo’s genetics to rid that person of potential diseases, but they can also manipulate the embryo to choose eye color, hair color, height, and other physical characteristics. They can manipulate it to increase athletic ability, intelligence, or other desirable traits. The world in which we live, and we the people living in it, are always tempted to cast aside our rightful place as creatures and to try to be a god unto ourselves.
The examples multiply quickly, but the central point remains the same. Like Adam and Eve, we live in the midst of competing voices. Like Adam and Eve, the competing voice is seductive and sounds truthful. But it is not the voice of our Lord. The voice of our Lord points to Jesus and says, “Listen to him.” He is the image of the unseen God. And he took on human flesh. As we considered this past Ash Wednesday, his incarnation makes it clear that our place as creatures in God’s creation is not a place of shame or dishonor. The creator became a creature to save his creatures. He lived, suffered, and died as one of us in order that we might live in him. There’s no shame in that. He endured the cross, despising its shame. Our merciful Lord saves us body and soul. He forgives our sins in soul and body. He speaks his life-giving word of forgiveness into our ears to save our soul. He feeds us with his own body and blood in the sacrament of this altar to save our bodies. He places us into families and communities and congregations to live lives of faith toward him and love toward others, love that expresses itself bodily, physically, as we live out the Ten Commandments and God’s design for creation.
There is no shame in being a creature of God. You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand that you might walk in them. Don’t be a thermometer that sits passively by and changes with the world as the temperature of public opinion rises and falls. You are a thermostat, called to measure the world’s temperature according to the Word of God. The world who does not know God is destined to cast aside its place as his creatures. We embrace it. We receive it for the gift that it is. And we look forward to the day of resurrection when we, the creatures of God, will be given new and perfect bodies in a new and perfect creation.
Until that day, we listen to the voice of our Lord. We come to the services of his house to hear the proclamation of the gospel. We make time for Bible Study and personal devotion, allowing the voice of our Lord to speak to us each day, competing against the voice of the television shows and movies we watch. For he is our Creator, the one who knows what’s best for us and for this whole creation. He is our Redeemer, the one who reached out in love to save us and this whole creation when we brought the curse of sin upon it. He is the one who crushed the serpent’s head, the one who continues to speak to us in love.
May God grant us the ears of faith to hear his voice and to live lives that reflect the hope that voice gives us.
 1 Cor 10:5