The Twenty-sixth Sunday After Pentecost November 9, 2008
Genesis 8:22; Proverbs 30:7-9
2 Kings 4:1-7
581, 569, 428, 36
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.
Two things I request of You (deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.
In the name of the God of Heaven and Earth who preserves and sustains our lives, dear fellow redeemed:
When making a major purchase the final decision may come down to which seller will provide the best service. If you are about to make a purchase and your decision comes down to two brands that are basically equal, but one offers a better warranty and better ongoing support, you are likely to choose the brand with the better service plan. When we invest in something we want whatever we purchased to last and to be “backed up” by its maker.
God as the manufacturer—the Creator—of all things continues to service His creation and provides ongoing support. God didn’t just create the universe and then say, “World, you’re on your own.” No, He keeps it going. When Adam and Eve rebelled and brought sin into the world, God didn’t forsake His creation. Instead, God promised to send a Savior from sin and continued to maintain the world and everything in it. “O Lord, You preserve man and beast” (Psalm 36:6).
What God says about the preservation of the earth and how that applies to us individually comes in the form of a promise. Turning to God’s Word we will consider GOD’S PRESERVATION PROMISE and OUR PRESERVATION PRAYER. I. God promises to preserve us in this life and II. We pray to be content with His preservation.
The ears that first heard God’s preservation promise would have marveled at its content and been immensely thankful for it. Noah and his family were the first to hear this promise after they left the ark. They had been preserved by God in the ark through all the days of flooding. They and the animals in the ark had been preserved by God when every other creature on the earth had been destroyed in the floodwaters. To these survivors God promised that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood. God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of that promise and then made His straightforward preservation promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.”
God’s words promise that He will preserve the earth, the cycles, the course of the universe. He will keep the earth spinning on its axis as it has done. He will keep the earth revolving around the sun as it has done. He will keep all of this going until the day He brings the earth to an end on Judgment Day.
In a universal way this promise means that God will continue sending rain. He will continue sending sunshine. He will continue granting harvests and crops. As Paul and Barnabas told the people in Lystra, “[God] did not leave Himself without witness (on the earth), in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17, cf. New Testament reading). God gives these things as a testimony of who He is and what He does to preserve the earth.
Nor does God discriminate in giving these blessings. Jesus said, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). You are not able to drive down the street and see needed rain falling on believers’ homes while seeing dry scorching heat on unbelievers’ homes. Nor do you see the beautiful morning sun rise on only believers’ homes while unbelievers sit in darkness and emptiness. God gives universal preservation for all living things on the earth.
This promise of universal preservation allays many fears. About thirty years ago while I was in grade school, the world was led down a path of fear because of global cooling. We were warned that we were in danger of entering a new ice age and great catastrophe would result if not the death of the world and all that was in it. The ice age never came and we didn’t need to fear because God promises that He will keep the earth going until He destroys it on Judgment Day.
A few years later and extending into my high school years, the big fear was the threat of nuclear war. We were warned again and again that if we weren’t careful we would enter into a nuclear world war. The result of this would be a nuclear winter that virtually none could survive, and those few who did survive would pray they hadn’t. Doom loomed as nation warring against nation would destroy the earth. But again it didn’t happen and there was no need for fear because God promises that man will not destroy the earth through nuclear war or any other means. God will preserve the earth, seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, day and night until He destroys it on Judgment Day.
Now we are hearing again and again that we are in danger of destroying the universe through global warming. We are told that if we don’t do something it will lead to the destruction of the earth. We would be led to believe that we are responsible for the preservation of the earth. But we do not need to fear because “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat…shall not cease.” God’s preservation promise still stands! And it will stand until He brings the earth to an end on Judgment Day.
You can be sure that in the future there will be a new fear, a new set of circumstances that are supposed to destroy the earth. Whatever that new fear might be, God’s preservation promise overcomes it all. God will keep the earth and everything in it until He ends it.
The promise of preservation also applies in a very personal way. Martin Luther wrote in his explanation to the first article of the Apostles’ Creed: “[God] also preserves me richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, land cattle and all that I need to support this body and life…” God’s preservation promise of keeping the universe going extends to each of you. He will keep your life going for the length of time He has appointed for you on earth.
Generally speaking, God provides for our lives through natural means. This doesn’t mean that He couldn’t do it through miracles, but generally speaking He does not. However, it is also important to see the miraculous in the ordinary. As God provides for us day by day, as we go to the grocery story and find a wide array of breads and every other needful food, we understand that it is God’s wonderful and miraculous power, grace, and mercy that give us such abundance day by day. King David acknowledged God’s preservation promise and His faithfulness to it when he said, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous (a believer) forsaken nor his descendants begging bread” (Psalm 37:25).
God’s preservation of our life involves more than just food and clothing. It extends to anything that is needed to support your life—medications, treatments that the doctors might give, and everything else for your physical needs.
God’s preservation can also include keeping harm away from us or preserving us in the midst of danger. It is part of God’s preservation that He governs all things in the world—He arranges when and where He will allow this or that to happen, or does not allow them to happen. It is God who has had you in the right place at the right time to accomplish whatever purposes He had in mind for you. It was God’s preservation that had you in the right place at the right time to meet that young man or woman who eventually became your husband or wife. It was God’s preservation that had you in the right place at the right time so that you could give aid or counsel to someone in need, or so that you could receive aid or counsel from someone else. All of this is part of God’s preservation and providence which guides and governs everything for His purposes.
When we consider God’s preservation promise it is important that we are careful so that we don’t make it into something that it is not. There are some important things that God does not promise.
It would not be accurate to turn this preservation promise into saying that we can determine how God will preserve us, how much he will give us, and when or how He will do it. If we were to believe that God’s preservation promise suggests that God will always give an abundance, we would be trusting in something God does not say. We might conclude that God promises that He will always preserve us in good health. He doesn’t promise that either.
There are those who suggest that God does promise that we will always prosper, and if we’re not prospering in material things then we should look at ourselves because our lack of success means that our faith is too weak. In other words, they suggest that if we had more faith we’d have more material possessions and that God promises so! Such a belief would suggest that we are determining what we receive. It would further suggest that we are earning God’s grace and that God could never see fit to bring us a lack of anything.
God’s preservation promise is that the world’s systems will continue. He will preserve and not forsake His children, but beyond that the details are His. God promises that seedtime and harvest will continue and so they will, but it may not always be with a bumper crop. Whether bumper crops or hard times fall on us, God is preserving seedtime and harvest.
God promises that cold and heat, summer and winter will continue. It doesn’t meant that those seasons will always be mild. They might be harsh and troublesome and even deadly.
God preserves us and protects us in our country with freedoms we enjoy. But God doesn’t promise that the United States will never fall. He doesn’t promise that the governments He puts in place for our blessing will always be there. To say that would saying too much and extending His promise beyond what He has said. God promises to preserve our life for the days He has allotted to us, but that may involve health or sickness and one day death will come.
If we change God’s preservation promise into an expectation or entitlement that says we deserve this, this, and this, then we have said more than what God says.
God has a distinct purpose in mind for His preservation promise. In Psalm 121 we read, “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul” (Psalm 121:7). God’s decisions and way of preserving us in this life always depends on His desire to preserve our soul. So whether he extends our life or shortens it, whether He prospers our life with many material blessings or gives us lack and need, all of what God does in the details of our preservation is for that greater goal of our spiritual life and health. God guides and preserves our life on earth so that through faith in Christ we might live with Him eternally.
God’s greatest gift to us is that which redeemed us in the first place—giving us His Son to redeem both body and soul. Being redeemed means that the things of this earth, the ups and downs, the needs and lacks don’t matter in the end because our sins have been forgiven and we have an eternal home in Heaven.
We may be tempted to worry about the level of blessing God brings to us in His preservation. Jesus says not to worry about tomorrow because today has enough troubles of its own. Center on the matters of the day and in so doing focus on the truth that God knows your needs and will provide. Look at the birds of the air, they don’t worry, and God provides for them. Each one of you is of far greater value than the birds. Jesus points to the flowers and says they are beautiful and arrayed in gorgeous color. But you are of much greater value than the flowers. Don’t’ worry about what you’re going to wear. Jesus directs us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). This too is part of God’s preservation promise. God directs our hearts and minds to focus on our soul’s needs and its preservation, and then He says: “Trust me for all of the other things you need in this life. My preservation promise will fill in the gaps. All of these other things will be added to you and I will preserve you for eternity.”
What is our prayer in view of God’s preservation promise? It is that we would be content with whatever and however God sees fit to preserve us. From Proverbs… “Two things I request of You (deprive me not before I die): Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
The preservation prayer of a believer begins with humility: “Feed me with what You have allotted to me.” It is a humble spirit that goes to God and throws itself upon Him, trusting Him to know what I need, what I should have, and what I shouldn’t have. Humble submission to God’s will trusts Him even in the midst of the sorrow that comes should God take away something. In that sorrow we trust that it is His will and that His wisdom that has made the decision. It is a humble approach that says, “God give me—in food and in everything—what you wisely choose for me…not my will, but Yours be done.”
Our preservation prayer humbly submits to God’s will and wisdom but also knows that He is the place to go to find the solution for our needs, that He is the one who can carry our worries and our sorrows. Peter said, “Cast your cares on Him (throw your worries on Him), because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). As we pray our prayer of contentment, we come to God humbly submitting to whatever His will is while throwing our every care and need and concern upon Him.
Our prayer of preservation also involves thanksgiving. Jesus tells us that God already knows what we need, but that we should pray for daily bread anyway. Why should we pray for what we daily need when God already knows? We are to pray daily for the things that we need so that we remember from whom everything comes and so that we receive those daily blessings with thanksgiving (cf. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, 4th Petition).
Our preservation prayer acknowledges day by day that every good and every perfect gift comes from God (cf. James 1:17). Our preservation prayer is filled with thanksgiving for all of the blessings that God showers abundantly on us every day, and trusts Him to provide for each new day.
Our preservation prayer puts all of these things together and concludes with a petition for contentment: “Lord, give me that middle ground which You have designed for me so that I am content. So that when You give what You have declared for me I say, ‘it is enough.’ If You give me more, I rejoice with thanksgiving. If you take away, I rejoice with thanksgiving (cf. Job 1:21) because I know and am content with what You decide.”
This contentment prayer also includes a prayer for the preservation of the soul. The writer of the Proverb has his soul in mind when he prays, “Give me the middle ground and make me content lest You give me more and in that wealth I forget what You have done for me and lose sight of my faith. Lest I become proud and look at what I have done and forsake You. But also, don’t take so much from me that I am tempted to steal and profane Your name.”
In the end, our prayer of contentment is a prayer to preserve our souls so that in the course of this life, whether the measure of material blessing be great or small, God will preserve our faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and through that faith give us life everlasting.
We have a wonderful preservation promise from our God. He is a God who is able to preserve us because He has all power in Heaven and on Earth. He is a God who loves us with an everlasting love and so will preserve us according to His will and by His grace for that greater goal of saving and preserving our souls.
To Him be all praise and glory with thanksgiving, Amen!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.