A Creed for the 3rd Millennium Believes in a Protector
The fastest growing religious group in America is called "the nones" (Time, March, 12, 2012, 68). The have no religious affiliation. They don't reject God or even necessarily Jesus. What they reject is dogma, creeds. They think this is something new, cutting edge. It's not. In the 19th century John Nevin surveyed the statements of belief of 53 American denominations and found that "no creed but the Bible" was the distinctive feature of American religion (Democratization of American Christianity, 166).
These "no creed but the Bible" folks believe they're above dogma, above Creeds, but what they are is out in the halls of the visible Christian church unwilling to go into any room, into any creed. But the food and shelter, more or less depending on how faithful a church's creed is to what the Bible really says, is found not in the halls but in the rooms. Wander the halls long enough and these "nones" will die as Thomas Aquinas is said to have. On his deathbed, so troubled by the devil about what he believed he grabbed a Bible and said, "'I believe what is written in this book.'" If you believe nothing more than that you will believe yourself right into hell (Luther, in Walther Form of a Christian Congregation, 101). Saving faith is not a general belief in the Bible but a correct belief in what the Bible teaches about salvation.
But can our statement of faith from the 1st millennium survive in the 3rd? Can it face death and live? I say sure until I get to the part where we confess we believe God is a Protector. We say we believe the Bible teaches that "God defends me against ALL danger and guards and protects me from ALL evil." All?! Can this really most certainly be true?
Only if we first confess that we really don't know what danger and evil are. Think about it. Who among us if we had held one of the winning Power Ball lottery tickets would have thought danger or evil were lurking? Yet books have been written about the trouble, misery, tragedy lottery winners have found at the end of their pot of gold. How many people, far too many for me to count, have been led away from the Church not by obvious danger or clear evil? It wasn't that they wanted false teaching; they wanted to do more good works. It wasn't that they loved the bad; they loved something or someone who was good. It wasn't that they were failures as Christians; they were successes in their fields.
Eve could see no danger in dialoging with the Devil or obvious evil in eating from the fruit. Saul didn't think it was evil or dangerous to keep the best spoils of the Amalekites for sacrificing to the Lord. David didn't see it as wicked or dangerous to number his soldiers. "And how was eating with the gentiles sometimes and not others evil or dangerous?" thought Peter. "And what could be evil or dangerous about asking Jesus to set my sons beside Him in His kingdom?" their mother wondered. And surely there's no danger or evil in you only understanding the reference to Eve. Where's the danger or evil in your not being familiar enough with Scripture to get the other references to evil looking good and danger looking safe?
Our Creed for this 3rd millennium that God defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil can only be Biblical if it's true that I don't see what real danger and evil are. It can't be that traffic accident I got into in 2004 or the death of my father in 2001. Evil or dangerous can't be the sicknesses, sadnesses, or sorrows I think because I'm not defended or guarded from them. Wait a minute; in a sense, I am, have been, and will be.
I am no more satisfied with the safety and provisions God gives than Eve was. I am the one who goes where I ought not to be in thought, word, or deed, but who really suffers the true evil and danger of these sins of mine? God the Son who was always satisfied with His Father's provisions and never strayed from the path of godliness was driven from the face of God to suffer the consequences of my rebellion. And who is the one who like Eve plays with the knowledge of good and evil, who continually strays from what Scripture reveals, who doesn't even know what Scripture says about half the things he wonders about? And yet who was delivered over to the Evil One and to the powers of darkness? Not me, Jesus.
I deserve for God to do to me what David commanded be done to Uriah. I deserve for God to put me in the front line of danger and to withdraw from me, to not defend me. But what do I find? I find that God promises me for Jesus' sake that He will never leave me or forsake me. I deserve that God not guard and protect me as the black smoke devils of hell swarm me. But that's what the Father did to His Son who bore your sins, your guilt, your shame in Gethsemane. The Father stepped back and said, "He's all yours." And the beating, ridiculing, spitting, whipping, nailing, crying and dying that followed were all ours.
You know what this part of our 3rd millennium Creed all comes down to? Who Jesus is and what He does. I use the word all' here advisedly. Did you notice the prominence of the word all' in this part of our Creed? We use it 9 times. God hasn't just made me but all creatures. He hasn't just given me my body and soul, eyes and ears but all my members and all my senses. He doesn't just give me some physical blessings but all I have. In fact He provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. And it's all danger and all evil that He defends, guards, and protects me from, but we're not done yet. We come to where we are now: all this God does only out of Fatherly goodness and mercy.
So the all in our Creed isn't limited to God's protection. It extends to His creating and providing too. God's "all-ness" in every area only comes to fallen humans only out of Fatherly goodness and mercy, i.e. for Jesus' sake. To whom is all power in heaven and earth given? To Jesus. In whom are all the promises of God yes and amen? In Jesus. On whom do all the guarding and protecting angels of God go back and forth between heaven and earth? On Jesus. You have Jesus and you have all the alls of God, don't you?
After the Words of Institution, after Jesus has once more kept His promise to come back to us in Bread and Wine, I put my hand on the altar and say, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." That's a blessing on all the congregation, not just on those who commune. Luther said it is the public absolution of all present. See how all powerful the Person of Jesus is? Where He is graciously present His peace is present always.
Without the presence of Jesus without you taking shelter in His clothing of you in Baptism, in His sending away your sins by the mouth of a man, in His being present for you to eat and drink to be forgiven, to live, to go to heaven not only is nothing holy to you, nothing is good for you, nothing is safe for you. There's danger in not only that cheeseburger but that soy burger outside of Jesus. Outside of Jesus there's danger in not only that couch-potatoing you do but that morning run. Apart from Jesus not just the Devil is evil but the Holy Communion is; it's sickness, weakness, and even death. Apart from Jesus prayer, worship, faith, even Christmas itself is evil.
Jesus is the One with whom all is safe, blessed, good. Jesus says the thorn in Paul's flesh is grace. Surely that had to feel and look evil to Paul, but Jesus calls it grace thereby guarding and protecting Paul from all evil. Surely being sold by your brothers into slavery was dangerous and evil, but in Jesus, Joseph can say God meant it for good. Joseph saw that God had defended him from all danger and guarded and protected him from all evil.
Surely the most evil thing in the world would be the good God coming to His people and His people rejecting Him. This is the stuff of Christmas specials. This is the guy who won't believe in Santa or worse yet the little girl or boy who won't. Horror of horrors! Santa is only kind, jolly, and giving who could reject him, who would? How much more so the God who is love, grace, and mercy? Yet Scripture says God came to His own in flesh and blood and they rejected Him, not only rejected Him but nailed Him to a cross after almost torturing Him to death. He came doing nothing but good and they called for Him to be crucified as a criminal.
Have you heard of the controversy concerning a painting depicting President Barack Obama crucified like Jesus on the cross? You know what would be even more offensive to people? Crucifying the big guy in the red suit, but this horrible evil wasn't done to him but to God in the flesh. And here's the real kicker. It is beautiful to us, isn't it? We would never hang a crucified Obama or St. Nick around our neck or in our home, but we do Jesus. The cross or crucifix doesn't signal danger to us at all but all delight. The image of a dead Savior, a dead God, doesn't scream evil to us that we need guarding or protecting from, but salvation and hope we embrace.
How can what appears evil to the mind and dangerous to any sort of triumphant, confident faith be safe and good and draw us as the proverbial moth to the flame? There is a scientific experiment where a person puts on goggles that make him see the whole world upside down. At first there is extreme disorientation and even acute personal crisis, but after awhile the person's field of vision flips back over even though he hasn't removed the goggles. I'm quoting now, "Literally as well as metaphorically, the man accustomed to inverting lenses has undergone a revolutionary transformation of vision" (Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 112).
Those who believe this Creed for the 3rd thousand years see all things through goggles made up of 2 lenses: one the Person of Jesus and the other His Work. When you first come to the Faith the world is upside down. What you see as safe is dangerous and what you see as good is evil. Gradually as you grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, i.e. you use the Means of Grace and study the only source of accurate information about Jesus, the Bible, you are transformed. You see danger and safety, good and evil how God in Christ reveals them: A thorn in the flesh becomes grace; being sold into slavery good, and the bloody, gory crucifix a joy. And then you can confess: God defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent Midweek III (20121212); First Article