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Being, Doing, & Salvation
F. Earle Fox
F. Earle Fox
Christ Our Savior, Torrance, CA
August 11, 2013 – Pentecost 11 (No Audio)
Gen 15:1-6; Ps. 33; Heb. 11:1-16; Lk. 12:32-40
“Being and doing” may sound like a strange sermon title, and they sometimes seem a bit abstract to get a clear understanding. But understanding the difference and the relation between our being and our doing is very helpful to understanding the Good News of Jesus Christ. In one sense, the difference is quite simple. My being is not the same as my doing. My being is my “self”. I am an individual who does things. My being stays the same over time. I am the same Earle Fox that I was at birth. But my doings have changed considerably. My capacities have changed because I have grown physically, intellectually, and spiritually over my lifetime.
People can ask me, “Are you the same Earle Fox who was born in Colorado Springs and then moved to Denver, and then to Kalamazoo? I would not be puzzled at the question, and would be quite ready to give a true answer: “Yes, I am that same person.” And everyone would understand what that little exchange meant. Moving from Colorado Springs to Denver and then Kalamazoo was something I did, not who I was or am. I am the person who did the moving. That distinction between my being and my doing has to do with the Fall and of our salvation from out of the Fall.
God is primarily two things: God is our Creator, and He is our Sovereign. From the Bible’s point of view, if you are creator and sovereign over the world, then you are God.
Adam and Eve were originally undamaged goods, they were whole, perfectly formed human beings. But when they separated themselves from their Creator, they lost contact with their source of being.
We can visualize this dependency upon God for our being by imagining ourselves standing on the Hand of God, with the power of being flowing to us through His Hand. Sometimes we talk about “our ground of being”. That is exactly what the Hand of God means. He is our Creator, the source, the ground of our being. So, we sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hand...” We are standing then, on solid ground.
We can also talk about the Voice of God as the way we hear God telling us what to do. God tells us what to do by giving us His laws, the Decalogue, summed up in the two Great Commandments. God is in that way our Sovereign. He is our sovereign because He is our creator-ex-nihilo. Only the creator of something can give it its reason for existence. And our reason for existence is the basis of all moral law. So God, our creator, is the only one who can give us a moral law. Only He can be our sovereign.
Thus, if we stay on the Hand of God and listen carefully to His voice, we will hear God telling us why He has created us. He gives us a reason for our existence. We have a purpose for being here. As we learn in the Summary of the Law, our existence, life itself, is all about loving God and loving one another.
Where else in all of human religious history do we hear such a thought? Nowhere. As the Bible teaches, love, doing good for one another, is the very essence of the law. If we are truly doing good for one another, we are thereby obeying the law of God. The Decalogue is ten examples of what loving God and one another looks like.
So God gave us two kinds of stabilities as our eternal inheritance, which will thus lead us to eternal life. We have a stability of our being, and a stability of our doing. We know who we are (children of God), and we know what we are to do (love God and one another). We know where we are going, what the world is all about.
But when we step off the
Hand of God, trying to be (as Satan tempted) independent of God, we descend, we
fall into a wholly different kind of world, a world with no Hand of God and with
no Voice of God. We descend into a world without God. It is as though something
had closed us off, a shroud has encircled the world, as described in
Isaiah 25:6 ff. – God “... will destroy...the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever....”
The veil is a shroud of death, cutting us off from our source of life because there is nothing in that now Fallen world which can do what God was doing for us: stabilizing our being and giving us a purpose for life, a moral order. We are born an accident, we live an accident, we die an accident.
The fallen world of paganism and secularism has never been able to come up with any adequate substitute for God. We invent gods and goddesses, we invent civilizations, we invent power structures, but we only raise up towers of Babel, with a confusion of voices which we can never bring back into harmony. The union of the world has permanently been broken, being restored only where the law and grace of God has been restored by God reentering the world to save us from ourselves.
In the Fallen world, we are literally our own worst enemies, both against ourselves and against each other. We cannot save ourselves or our neighbors. Life disintegrates into endless power struggle, with the devil taking the hind-most.
So, when we lose those
two stabilities of being and doing, we spend the rest of our lives searching,
scraping, begging, borrowing, or stealing to give ourselves some semblance of
what we yearn for, and once had from the Hand and Voice of God.
Revelation history tells us of a God who enters our lives doing things which only God could do, miracles from our point of view, but quite ordinary from God’s point of view. God does miracles as part of the evidence for who He is. John the Baptist from prison sends two disciples to Jesus to ask whether Jesus is the coming Messiah. Jesus does not say, “Yes, I am the Messiah”. He replies instead, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed,and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
Nobody but God could do those things. Nevertheless, many did take offense at Jesus precisely because He did do such things. As even Pilate saw, the Jewish officials were insanely jealous of Jesus. Jesus forced them to choose: to either follow Him or kill Him. Given their self-centeredness, Jesus left them no choice. The rebellious worldly are not interested in evidence, they re not seekers after truth, they just want their way. Jesus comes for those who want the truth – at any cost to themselves.
So Jesus does things which will point to Himself as the true provider of those two stabilities, the answer to the human quest for our lost stability. But our rebellious hearts want those stabilities on our terms, not God’s. We want to be self-made, not God-made, and we want to define our own right and wrong, our own moral order, not submit to God’s morality.
Nowhere in all of human history has mankind even come close to guessing what the real truth was. We had to be told by God Himself, or we would never know. So, God got right in our faces – which required an Incarnation. God got right into our tunnel vision so we could not mistake His message, right astride our paths. But, as Jesus knew, His being open and honest with the human race would lead to His crucifixion. The human race, especially the power structure, does not want what God is offering. We seem to have to learn the hard way.
So, thanks be to God, He
to do it the hard way, the way of crucifixion. Jesus, Son of God, representing
the Father and bringing the Holy Spirit, will pay whatever price He must so that
we can be saved from our own self-destructive disobedience. Abandoning God is
The collect for today starts us right off on these themes of being and doing. We pray, “Grant to us, Lord, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without You, may by You be enabled to live according to your will....” We cannot even exist without God because He is the giver of our being. And it is our stability of being received from Him that enables us then to actually do what He commands of us.
Persons whose being is
still insecure cannot obey God because they are too busy trying to get their
stability from other human beings. They do things to please certain others whom
they admire, respect, or fear – to get their good opinion. They think, wrongly,
that if I just have that person's admiration, I will feel OK about myself.
It does not work. Good opinions of other persons are good to have, but
to establish our own sense of worth. That comes rightly from God alone. God
alone is my creator, and God alone judges me, my worth, and my behavior.
In the Old Testament
lesson, Abram is worried that he has no children, and therefore could not
possibly receive the promise from God that he will have a multitude children who
will be a blessing to the whole earth. God replies,
“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield...”
In other words: Don’t worry, Abram, I am the one who holds you in the palm of my
hand. Your life depends on your trusting and obeying Me, not on the temporary
circumstances of your life, whether you currently have children or not.
The Epistle lesson from Hebrews is that wonderful passage on faith, which the writer expresses as, “...the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” That passage is often wrongly taken to mean that faith is a blind leap in the dark, that we have an arbitrary assurance and conviction about God.
That is not true to the Bible. God gives us good reasons to believe in Him, He is not asking for a blind leap into the dark, hoping for the best. God is asking us to believe the clear and unassailable evidence which He will provide for any one of us, as He did for the Hebrews and then us Christians.
The assurance and conviction come from the activity of God in our souls, not from a blind leap. When one has heard God speak to him or her, there is a conviction of truth which is as real as any physical perception. That was made clear at Pentecost, when the still frightened disciples suddenly became bold and forthright in their public preaching of the Gospel. The spiritual perception of “standing on the hand of God” or hearing His voice, is just as objective and real as any physical perception. Indeed, it can be real in a much greater sense than any perception with the five senses. The spiritual is the source of the physical, not the other way around.
St. Paul three times (2 Col. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14) refers to the perceived presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a “guarantee” of things to come in the future, that is, the Kingdom. To be a guarantee, there must be something objective about the experience, it cannot be merely a passing phantasy. The primary power of the Holy Spirit is not speaking in tongues, healing, prophesy, etc., it is the gift of our being, the power of being, the ability to be ourselves – with anyone, any time, any where. The experience of the stable ground of one’s being is one of the most powerful experiences one can have. Upon it rests all the other gifts of the Spirit. Only when my sense of being is secure can my service to God (my doing) be stabilized.
If we read that passage in Hebrews and understand the word ‘faith’ to mean ‘a living perception of the presence of God’, it all makes perfect sense. The greatest evidence which God gives of Himself is not miracles of healing or moving mountains, that is mostly to get our attention. The greatest evidence is His own presence before us, as on the Mount of Transfiguration. When that happens, you know like you never knew before. That assurance and conviction come from standing in the presence of Reality – capital ‘R’ – than which there can be nothing more real.
Hebrews tells us: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”
So, even at its best, we
are strangers and exiles on earth. We need to understand that so we do not get
wrongly comfortable in the world. The homeland is the restoration of those two
primal stabilities, where we can stand on holy ground, the Hand of God, safe and
secure, and thus next to His heart, hear His voice.
In the Gospel from Luke, we read: “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”
That is another of those many, many passages in the Bible which have no parallel anywhere else in all religious literature. The pagan and secular worlds have kingdoms, to be sure, but they are not being given for free to anyone else. They are usually being defended to protect the authority and power of those at the top. There are no little flocks with whom the powerful want to share their kingdoms.
With God, our ministry
here on earth is to attend to things so that when the Master comes home, He will
find things ready and waiting for Himself. But then the unexpected: if He
finds the servants doing their jobs well, He, the Master, God Himself, will
dress Himself for service, put on servants clothing, and have you recline at the
table, the place of honor. And, as Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, He
will serve you, us, the feast prepared for the faithful.
The themes of being and doing are woven throughout the Biblical story, but not often spelled out. Understanding the two can help us, for example, with our guilt conflicts. We can feel guilty in our very being, feeling like we are inherently defective, inherently broken, inherently bad, unacceptable. But God said as He created the cosmos, it is good. Then, on the sixth day, when man was created, God said it was very good. Are we to say that the Fall overpowered all the goodness of creation? I think not.
If God is still, even in the Fall, our creator, if we are at all times held in existence by the Hand of God, regardless of whether we know it or believe it, and if God creates only good things, then it follows that there is at some depth of our being a residual goodness. If at the core of my being is the Hand of God holding me in existence, then being Earle Fox is always a good thing. It is always a good thing for me to be myself, and for you to be yourself. My behavior might be terrible, and I might be compulsively locked into that bad behavior, like an addiction. But there remains at the bottom of it all, the Hand of God holding me in existence, which means that there is always the possibility of the spark of life at the bottom being fanned back into a blaze of Godly glory.
In other words, redemption is possible. The grace of God has a way into all life, no matter how badly one has behaved – if one will consent to it.
It means that I never have to repent of being myself. Having a "self" is not the same as being selfish. That is true because my being is not my activity, my being is God’s activity, who never sins, who creates only good things. Are we to tell God to repent of creating us? My being is what is being saved from self-destruction and the condemnation of God. My doing is what is being changed by the judgement of God. I must repent of all bad intentions and deeds, and change my ways to God’s ways. I must change my ways to conform to the ways of God -- who is willing to die for me. We must likewise be willing to die for one another -- as the song goes, "Be like your Father in heaven above....."
But that repentance for my doing can take place successfully only as my being is restored to its wholeness. Until I can accept being myself, until I am set free from self-hatred and self-condemnation, I will be inhibited from repentance of bad deeds and intentions. "Hate the sin, love the sinner," is good for all occasions, including oneself. A self broken by sin and by distancing from God is not capable of deep repentance. But as I am drawn back onto the Hand of God where my being is totally and unconditionally safe and loved, healed of brokenness, I find the freedom to repent more and more fully of my evil thoughts and deeds. The restored stability of my being enables the fullness of repentance for bad deeds.
That is why it is important to love those with whom we have disagreements, whom we feel need correction. They (and we) can accept correction far more easily and fully from someone whom they know to love them. Acceptance and love of my being by either God or others who correct me means that my being is no longer an issue. I no longer feel I must defend my self. So then I can freely attend to my doings in an objective and helpful way.
So, when you might be
struggling in your own spiritual life, especially with matters of sin and guilt,
remember that there is at the bottom of your being the Hand of God, and that the
Word of God dictates His love for you, no matter how badly you might have
behaved. In all circumstances, it is a good idea for you to be your real
self, and that God created you to be your real self. Only from that
reality are we able then to go on to a full and deep repentance of our misdeeds.
The collect once again:
Grant to us, Lord, we beseech Thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without Thee, may by Thee be enabled to live according to Thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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