Which End Is Up
February 23, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Verse: Psalm 11:3–11:4
WHICH END IS UP?
"If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man." Psalm 11:3-4
As you travel by Hoover Dam in Arizona, as you consider the massive buttresses, think for a minute about the foundation on which all that concrete rests. The engineers who build this wonder of the world sank their pilings down 130 feet. They knew which end was up, and wanted it to stay there. Likewise New York City, tower after tower of steel and concrete which are not build on topsoil. Those buildings rest on the rock that lies beneath Manhattan Island. Societies need a foundation too. In Plymouth, Massachusetts, they have built the Mayflower Monument. This structure consists of five statues, the four allegorical figures of law, morality, freedom, and education, and surmounting them all the figure of faith. We may well wonder to what extent that was ever true. Was this society ever held together by faith? Those who built that monument thought so.
What holds society together today? Not the banks, for we survived the Great Depression when most of the banks went under. Not on the land - the Dutch once inundated their entire country to drown the Spanish armies, but the Netherlands is still whipping along today. Does it depend on the people? Hardly! In 1348 the bubonic plague killed 1/3 of everyone in Europe. But there's still a Europe, and has been without a break since that plague. Society depends on the truth, justice, and order that filter down to us from the righteousness of God, whose ultimate essence is divine love. God's love is the very center of the universe. The distorted but nevertheless divinely ordained justice and order are above all societies. They are objectively present. And it is on the residue of them that all earthly societies are built.
The world outside the church may never appreciate this. So we, the church, must model it for the world. That means our Foundation must be perfect. We cannot found any society on the things the world praises. Do we found it on human dignity? Certainly not, because there is always pride attached to that. Do we found it on human rights? Certainly not, for these are merely the rebellious claims of personal benefits over which sinners compete with one another. On human achievement? Certainly not, because there is no human achievement that is not mixed with evil.
The world praises these things, but we cannot, because we know which end is up. Is our foundation the earth? I see bumper stickers that say The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth, usually capitalizing the name. Christians cannot accept that sentiment. There is a concerted effort today, perhaps not conscious but nevertheless concerted, to re-introduce Pagan religion centered in a semi-divine earth. We must reject such idolatry. Our song shall ever be The Church's one Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. Like David of old, who saw the foundations crumbling around him, we can also look up. Like David, we can affirm that the Lord's throne is in heaven, that we have an inextinguishable hope that He will deliver us. Which end is up? David answers that when he says The Lord is in His temple. That's which end is up. And from the temple the Lord sees and knows all things. You, my friend, have been called to testify to this truth, this objective and absolute truth. That's difficult because the world is upside-down, but doesn't realize it. Instead, it thinks there's something wrong with us.
As a matter of fact, there is something wrong with us. We are part of that world, just as sinful as anyone else, and just as likely to become confused. We might not even be convinced in our own minds that the world is upside-down, so how could we witness to it? We have to take marriage seriously in our own homes before we tell others that God wants them to live this way. We have to discipline our own children before we criticize other people's children. We need peace within our homes, our congregations, and our church bodies before we can contemplate peace between nations. We need to pray with our children and bring them to church before we criticize those who do not attend.
We still have not cut deep enough. We cannot have homes and congregations rightside-up unless our own souls are rightside-up. The only way any soul can be right is to be planted on the firm Foundation, unless its roots cling to the cross. The one place the soul can find its gyro is the place where heaven touches earth in mercy. There it must dig in and find the water of life. From the cross we can approach the heavenly throne, assured that God's perfect righteousness comes to us through Jesus' blood. The righteousness of God is never upside-down. Although the physical cross has long ago deteriorated into dust, it's perfect grace comes to us now through the Word and Sacraments, for they are now the places where heaven touches earth in mercy. We need that mercy every hour of the day. Part of that mercy is the gracious activity of the Holy Spirit, who turns every soul rightside-up.
In the New Testament we have the record of Jesus' death and resurrection, along with the explanation of how this brings God's love to us. There are also instructions as to how we might respond. Standing on that perfect Foundation, we can acknowledge our sins without fear, being certain that God forgives us. The Holy Spirit, through revelation, then tells us which end is up, so we can stand accordingly. Next step, as we stand rightside-up, we can call the upside-down world to turn itself around, to adopt the attitude we are modeling for it. Is that an exercise in futility? The world is badly deceived. It is not disposed to listen to us. But that is not for us to judge. It is for us to witness to it that it is completely out of order. The world needs our Gospel. There is one faith, our rightside-up faith, rooted in the cross, which actually stands on God's Cornerstone. Our knowledge is always being corrected by Jesus, the Messiah. Our will is adjusted to His love. Our emotions are controlled by His moderation. If we are so ordered, we can turn our homes, churches, and other bits and pieces of society in which we have any influence into alignment with the righteousness of God. Never will this be easy. But it is always worth the effort. AMEN.