Thursday, November 13, 2014

Partners

Partners
Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 5:11-21[1]
It seems to me that there have been two extremes in the way Christians throughout history have viewed our participation in God’s work in the world. Some have made it out as if everything depends on what we do. It’s as if God got the whole thing started, and then handed it over to us. And if we don’t do it all, it won’t get done. I think that perspective has probably inspired a great deal of effort that comes from guilt, but I’m not sure that’s the best way for us to participate in what God is doing in our world. After all, we are talking about God’s work here. It’s always been my opinion that if God doesn’t “provide the growth,” then what we do will not last. And yet neither do I endorse the opposite view which says that everything is in God’s hands, that God has to do it if it’s going to get done, and that we really have no place interfering in what is essentially God’s business and not ours! That view frees us from the pressure of results, but I’m afraid it lets us off the hook too much. The simple truth is that, for whatever reason, God has chosen to accomplish his purposes in this world through flawed and fallible creatures like you and me!
It seems to me that the biblical perspective on our participation in what God is doing in this community and in our world is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. We’re not responsible for everything that happens, but neither can we just hand it all over to God and sit back to watch what happens. I think the concept that best describes our role in what God is doing in this world is partnership. We have the opportunity and responsibility to join with God as partners in what he’s doing in this world. I don’t know about you, but when I think about that, I feel both humbled and overwhelmed!
We see this partnership reflected in our lesson from the Psalms for today. The Psalmist expresses his wonder that God pays such careful attention to the human family in view of the vastness of creation. Then he goes on to recall that we mortals were created in the first place for the purpose of serving as partners with God in his work of creation. He recalls that when God created humankind in his image, he gave them “dominion over the works of your hands” (Ps. 8:6). [2] If you think about this, again, I think it is both humbling and overwhelming. God goes to all the trouble to create a beautiful world full of life, and then he entrusts it into our care! In a very real sense, God created us to be his partners in caring for and sustaining his creation.[3] What an incredible opportunity and responsibility! [4]
Unfortunately, there has been some confusion about this word “dominion.” There have been some who have taken it to mean that we can “rule over” the created order and do whatever we please with it.[5] In essence, this approach gives us permission to tear down and use the created order for our own benefit, regardless of whether what we do actually helps or hurts the natural world.[6] And yet, from a biblical perspective, nothing could be further from the truth! Our calling is to serve as God’s partners in creation, which means it is our responsibility to make sure how we treat the world around us actually preserves and sustains the delicate balance of the natural world.
That is an awe-inspiring calling. And yet there is more to our partnership with God. As St. Paul reminds us, we have not only received the wonderful gift of new life through our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Again we have been given the  responsibility of joining God’s work of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).[7] We have calling and the opportunity to share this new life with those around us who still feel separated from God, alone and forgotten, lost and left out.[8] Once more, I have to say that the notion that God has called us to be partners with him in “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) leaves me feeling humbled and overwhelmed. What an amazing task we all share: “we are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20)! And Paul explains what that means: he says “God is making his appeal through us.” I don’t think that Paul was thinking only of himself. I think he was speaking of all Christians as partners with God in the work of healing our world.
The bottom line here is that there is a balance to be maintained. God’s purposes for this world are not solely our responsibility. The work of creation and redemption is essentially God’s work, not ours. And yet, neither is this work something that God does while we sit back and watch. God has chosen to accomplish his work of sustaining his beautiful creation and his work of reconciling the human family to himself precisely through us. We have been given a calling to be God’s partners in the work he’s doing in our world, a calling that is both humbling and overwhelming.[9]
When we think about our stewardship, it seems to me that what we may or may not give to support the church’s budget is a token of our response to that calling. Our giving through this church represents the level of our commitment to join in the joyful and exciting work of sustaining God’s beautiful creation and bringing all those who are estranged from him back into the fold.  And this commitment is one that calls for all that we have to give--not just money, but also our time, our energy, our intelligence, our imagination, and our love. And when it comes to stepping up and accepting this role as God’s partners, it will take all the energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that we can muster.



[1] ©2014 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 11/9/2014 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. James L. Mays, Psalms, 67, where he reminds us that the Psalmist’s language is a close reflection of the original wording in Genesis 1:26-28.
[3] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 69: “God didn’t just make us; God made us both a representation and representatives of the reign of the Lord to the other creatures.”  Cf. also Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., Christian Doctrine, 150: “God has graciously invited and commanded us to participate in God’s own creative work in and for the whole world.” Cf. also Donald K. McKim, Introducing the Reformed Faith, 38.
[4] Cf. H.-J. Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 185, where he points out that while the Psalmist expresses the idea that “The world and the human being are permeated by the radiating power of diving creation and ordaining,” he also adds that “the insight into this permeation awakens in the event of the revelation of salvation,” which points forward to our calling to be partners in the work of reconciliation.
[5] Cf. Mays, Psalms, 70, where he points out the “disparity between the vision of humanity and the reality of human culture.” He says it this way, “Dominion has become domination; rule has become ruin; subordination in the divine purpose has become subjection to human sinfulness. The creatures suffer.” Cf. also Guthrie, Christian Doctrine, 196-97, where he says it is a “fatal misunderstanding” to thinking that dominion means the power to dominate rather than the responsibility to care for creation.
[6] Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 3.4.349-50 et passim where he contrasts this perspective with Albert Schweitzer’s views on respect for all of life.
[7] Cf. J├╝rgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 64 “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill to the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church, creating the church as it goes on its way.” 
[8] Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.3:826, where he observes that the church’s existence “finds not merely its meaning but its very basis and possibility only in its mission, its ministry, its witness, its task, and therefore its positive relation to those who are without.”
[9] On this balance, cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics CD 4.3:842, where he says that the church “works in the power of His work, of the name hallowed in Him, the kingdom come in Him, the will of God done on earth as it is in heaven in Him. Not in its own power, but in His, its work is neither meaningless nor futile.”

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