We take nothing, because God gives everything
At first glance these words of David don’t seem too controversial. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” But what David does next reveals the controversial nature of these words: “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” That makes sense if everything belongs to the LORD. If it’s the LORD’s, He gets to set the rules. He gets to determine who comes and goes and how and when they come and go. He gets to include and exclude. It’s His, after all.
And so these words are bitterly controversial, for they are confrontational. They confront us with the issue of ownership. Ownership brings to mind the law. You invent something and you take out a patent to prove that it’s your idea and your product. You write some book or poem or piece of music and you copyright it, to prove that it’s yours. You own it. An ancient rule of law says that possession is nine-tenths of the law. If you’ve got it, the burden of proof falls upon the person who does not to show that it’s theirs. “How can I have stolen this? It’s in my house. I have this receipt. I’m here.” Squatter’s rights, we sometimes call this. Among siblings and families and friends the words commonly used are “shotgun” and “dibs.” You call “shotgun” to reserve your seat in the car, or announce “dibs” on your favorite part of the Christmas turkey
And here’s the Holy Spirit, through King David, announcing a copyright and patent, calling “shotgun” and “dibs,” on behalf of the LORD. On everything. The earth is the Lord’s. Everything in the earth is the Lord’s. The world is the Lord’s. All who live in it are the Lord’s. And so, very quickly, every moment of our lives becomes a moment in which the Seventh Commandment is in play.
“You shall not steal,” the LORD told Israel, and we must understand that to really begin with, “You shall not steal…from me, the Lord your God!” He has money and property, both material and intellectual. In fact all money and all property, all things material, all things intellectual, all things physical and spiritual, human and animal, they are His. He owns them. For the simple reason, David says, that the LORD made them. They’re His, “for,” or “because,” “He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”
Genesis 1 announces that the LORD possesses all things, for all things come from Him as the Source. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said….” From the waters God made emerged the land. From that land emerged the plants and trees and animals. And finally man from the dust of the ground and Adam’s rib.
But, as Peter says, man forgets this. Stronger than that, Peter says, “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heaven’s existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” It’s so plainly and clearly the Lord’s that it takes a deliberate act of will to turn your back on this and cling to that one-tenth possibility that the possessor is not the owner and source. And in that forgetfulness is the cry of ownership: “It’s ours!” This is a raging, not against the machine, but against the Lord, the Lord whose glory is written in the heavens and stars, which is plain to see from nature, which even our own conscience admits in the acknowledgement of right and wrong. He owns all. And yet…
And yet every defense of evolution says, “It’s ours!” And yet every abortion says, “It’s ours!” And yet every defense of a deviant lifestyle says, “It’s ours!” And yet every faithless thing we do with our bodies and our lives says, “It’s ours!” And yet every offense we commit against our neighbor says, “It’s ours!” And yet every offense we commit against this world says, “It’s ours!” And yet every offense we commit against God’s Word and His sacraments says, “It’s ours!” Not God’s, but ours. In our lusty defense of whatever it is we’re defending against God’s Word, be it a word, an action, an institution, is our sinful nature crying out, “Stay away from me, God! Don’t dictate anything to me, God. It’s mine, all mine!”
But it’s not. None of it is. Nothing you have is yours. It’s the Lord’s. He loans it out. He gives it as gifts. He offers it to you on a temporary basis. But it is His, nonetheless. Your body and soul, your eyes and ears and all your members, your mind and all your abilities. Your clothing and shoes, your food and drink, your house and home. Your wife and children, your land and animals. You yourself. This congregation and school. Our Synod. Our city, state, and country. Even your faith in Christ. All God’s. All His. Not yours. He’s the Potter. We’re the clay. All rights belong to Him. He holds the copyright and the patent. He has eternal dibs on shotgun. And faithlessness with this stuff means faithlessness to the Source of all things, to the Lord God of heaven and earth, to that King of Glory David says we lift up our heads to see and let in, because “those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” Exactly what our Lord said in Mark 13 today, no? “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch….If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
And so we go begging. Because that’s all we are: beggars. We own nothing. We must receive everything. All we have to offer are filthy rags. We go begging to the LORD and Owner and Source of all. We go to our God on our knees and say, “Please, Lord. Let me ascend your hill. Let me stand in your holy place. Clean my hands. Purify my heart.” And God still preserves us by richly and daily providing…. And God still redeems us thieves by the holy, precious blood of His Son…. And God still calls us with the voice of His Spirit in the Word into his holy place and says, “Let me give you of what is mine!”
And what He gives first is what He gave before sin entered the world. He gives back the image of God we lost in sin. He restores that perfect first creation. He makes things as they once were. He does this all in Christ as he says to us what He says to Mary, “You are highly favored!” A blessing from the LORD! And we say what Mary said, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Vindication from God our Savior! He uses the things of this earth to accomplish this. The words of those who dwell in it speak a word, God’s Word, that purifies us from all sins. The water upon which he founded the earth, in this act of new creation called Baptism, cleanses not merely our hands but our hearts. In the bread and wine of the simplest meals God gives you what is His. He gives you Himself first. Not after He has eaten, handing it over to you as scraps and leftovers, but He gives you the first portion and says, “Lift up your heads! Look around you. Everything I have is yours, including my one and only Son, the strong and mighty Lord, the King of Glory!”
In the womb of the highly favored one rests the LORD our God, preparing to take His eternal seat upon the throne of Jacob, adorned with the scars of the nails which made the wounds in which lay our forgiveness, our life, our salvation. In which lay the source of everything, because the Source of everything went to His death for our sins, rose to life for our justification. We take nothing, because God gives us everything in Christ. Amen.